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Posts: 42518

« Reply #450 on: June 15, 2009, 11:32:43 AM »

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is revamping its detention policies in Afghanistan, borrowing practices from Iraq that are designed to rehabilitate detainees by teaching them moderate Islam, literacy and vocational skills.

Senior U.S. military officials said the new approach is meant to separate extremist Afghan detainees from more moderate ones. Militant detainees will then be isolated, while the remainder will be given job training and courses in civics, mathematics, and other subjects. U.S. officials say they hope these detainees will eventually be freed.

"You can't lock guys up forever," said a U.S. military official in Afghanistan. "The idea is to change how they see the world and give them the tools that at least give them a chance at a decent life."

The new effort is being temporarily overseen by Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, a Marine who ran a similar effort in Iraq that led to the release of tens of thousands of detainees. It is the latest sign that the Obama administration's new commanders in Afghanistan aim to revitalize the war effort there with methods honed in Iraq.

The shift comes as the Pentagon restructures its management of the war effort and floods Afghanistan with 21,000 American reinforcements. Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ousted the top American officer in Kabul, Gen. David McKiernan, and replaced him with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is set to assume command Saturday.

On Friday, Mr. Gates said Gen. McChrystal would work to minimize Afghan civilian casualties, a source of growing public anger within Afghanistan.

"Every civilian casualty -- however caused -- is a defeat for us and a setback for the Afghan government," he said during a stop in Brussels.

The new effort is based at the U.S. detention facility at Bagram Air Base, near Kabul. The facility is being renovated to create separate holding areas -- similar to conventional U.S. jails -- for detainees judged to be extremist. Construction is set to be finished this fall.

The remaining detainees will be allowed to take carpentry, sewing and classes in moderate Islamic thought, taught by Afghan contractors and clerics.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, alluded to the new approach in a speech in Washington Thursday. He said it reflected lessons learned in Iraq, where moderate and extremist detainees were for years held in the same facilities, giving militants ample opportunity to win over new recruits.

"We had created terrorist university," he said. "We had the baddest of the bad guys right in with the not-quite-so-bad guys, and they were recruiting al Qaeda in Iraq operatives."

Gen. Stone, a Marine reservist who has run software firms in civilian life, worked to change those dynamics in Iraq by separating out hard-core detainees, which he saw as a minority of the total population, and rehabilitating the remaining detainees.

"Make no mistake, detainees operation is certainly a battlefield," Gen. Stone wrote in a strategy document for Iraq. "It is the battlefield of the mind, and it is one of the most important fights in counterinsurgency."

Senior military officials said Gen. Stone and a small group of other military personnel from Task Force 134, which ran detainee operations in Iraq, will be at Bagram for several weeks conducting a broad review of American detainee operations.

As in Iraq, part of his work is designed to improve the public reputation of the detention facilities themselves. Army investigators found evidence that two Afghan detainees -- one a taxi driver arrested after driving near the base -- were beaten to death at Bagram in 2002 by U.S. personnel. The incidents were later featured in a documentary film, "Taxi to the Dark Side."

More recently, Bagram has been at the center of a legal battle over detainee rights. A U.S. district court judge ruled that non-Afghans seized overseas and then brought to Bagram had the right to challenge their detentions in American courts. The Obama administration is appealing the ruling.
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« Reply #451 on: June 15, 2009, 12:26:10 PM »

Perfectly reasonable policy to me- maybe we should be applying it more often domestically.
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Posts: 192

« Reply #452 on: June 17, 2009, 08:22:34 AM »


The other Islamist threat in Pakistan


THE DANGER of an Islamist takeover of Pakistan is real. But it does not come from the Taliban guerrillas now battling the Pakistan Army in the Swat borderlands. It comes from a proliferating network of heavily armed Islamist militias in the Punjab heartland and major cities directed by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a close ally of Al Qaeda, which staged the terrorist attack last November in Mumbai, India.


Pakistan’s failure to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba militias and the recent release of two of its leaders jailed after the Mumbai attack led to an angry exchange on Monday at a meeting in Russia between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari.

No new US aid commitments should be made to Islamabad until it takes decisive action to disarm Lashkar-e-Taiba in accordance with Article 256 of the Pakistan Constitution, which bars private militias. The administration wants to provide $3 billion in new military aid on top of the $10 billion already showered on Pakistan since 2001, together with a five-year, $7.5 billion program of economic aid. Surprisingly, while congressional leaders are seeking to attach a variety of conditions to the aid package, they have so far ignored the critical issue of the militias.

Disarming Lashkar-e-Taiba should be the top US priority in Pakistan because it would greatly reduce the possibility of a coup by Islamist sympathizers in the armed forces. The closet Islamists in the Army and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) are not likely to risk a coup in Islamabad unless they can count on armed support from Lashkar-e-Taiba and its allies to help them consolidate their grip on the countryside.

Equally important, a strong US stand on Lashkar-e-Taiba is necessary to defuse India-Pakistan tensions that could lead to another war and to sustain the improvement now taking place in US relations with India, a rising power eight times larger than Pakistan.

New Delhi fears a repeat of the Mumbai massacre, in which 166 were killed, and views US readiness to pressure Islamabad on the militias as a litmus test of US friendship.

To be sure, the Pakistan government did make a show of cracking down on Lashkar-e-Taiba after the Mumbai tragedy. It banned it, placed two of its leaders under house arrest, and jailed and arrested six of its operatives on charges of “facilitating a terrorist act.’’ But the two leaders were released on June 2. The government stopped short of breaking up the militias and destroying the weapons stockpiles at their four training camps near Muridke and Muzaffarabad, and it has yet to prosecute the six prisoners or to arrest Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, identified by US and Indian intelligence sources as the ringleader of the Mumbai attack, who is still at large.


Under a new name, Jawad-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba has continued to operate its militias, its FM radio station, and hundreds of seminaries where jihadis are trained, in addition to its legitimate charities and educational institutions. When the UN designated Jawat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist group, the Pakistan government issued another ban and Jawat-ud-Dawa changed its name to the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

The “foundation’’ now has 2,000 members doing relief work in war-torn Swat with the approval of the Pakistan government, amid credible reports that it is using its humanitarian cover to recruit new members as it did after the 2002 Kashmir earthquake.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is on the Sunni side of the Sunni-Shia doctrinal divide in Islam and has its deepest roots in a 20,000-square-mile swath of southern Punjab between Jhang and Bahawalpur, where it champions the cause of landless Sunni peasants indentured to big Shia landowners.

“It is common knowledge that the local police are in their pocket in much of that area,’’ retired diplomat Tariq Fatemi, a former ambassador to Washington, told me recently.


Sunni extremist groups have been active in the Punjab since the creation of Pakistan and became the nucleus of Lashkar-e-Taiba when the ISI, with US funding, built up a jihadi movement to fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba and key allies such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi still get ISI support and have close ties with other intelligence agencies, but how much and how close remain uncertain.

Like Al Qaeda to Americans, Lashkar-e-Taiba is a powerful emotive symbol to the 1.2 billion people of India. Hindu nationalists use this symbolism to fan fears of another Mumbai and to step up demands for reprisals against Pakistan. Increasingly, they are criticizing the United States for giving Pakistan money and weaponry without monitoring whether they are being used to strengthen Pakistan forces on the Indian border.

Why, they ask, should the United States give another $10.5 billion in aid, on top of the $14 billion already provided since 2001, to a government in Islamabad that is unwilling or unable to disarm home-grown terrorists who threaten India?


Why, indeed.

Selig S. Harrison is author of “Pakistan, The State of the Union,’’ a report just published by the Center for International Policy, where he is director of the Asia program.


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« Reply #453 on: June 18, 2009, 05:59:08 AM »

Best-selling Co-author of “Three Cups of Tea” and Noble Peace Prize Nominee to Hold Event on the U.S.S. Midway Museum-

Greg Mortenson, co-author of the New York Times best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea” and current Nobel Peace Prize nominee, will be in San Diego on Wednesday night, July 1st, to continue his bridge building efforts with the military community by addressing a largely military audience on the U.S.S. Midway Museum. The event will also be open to the general public with proceeds donated to the Central Asia Institute, Greg’s non-profit organization, with the mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A former world-class mountain climber who has devoted the past 16 years to building schools in Central Asia, Mortenson has attracted the notice (and the readership) of both General David Petraeus and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan becoming more problematic, the military leadership is increasingly gravitating to Mortenson’s advice on how to build stronger relationships with tribal leaders and village elders – a key to winning the “hearts and minds” aspect of the conflict in the region.

Since 1993, Mortenson has built 78 schools, which are currently educating over 28,000 children with an emphasis on teaching girls. “If you educate a boy,” says Mortenson, “you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

Mortenson has had more than his share of close calls while leading this unique effort. In 1996, he survived an eight-day kidnapping and in 2003, managed to escape a firefight between feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under a pile of putrid animal hides. Readers of his best-selling book (122 weeks on the NYT best seller list, #1 for 41 weeks, translated into 29 languages, with a children and Young Readers edition available as well) gain an intimate look into his efforts and challenges and no doubt feel an admiration for his passion and persistence.

In the past two years, the Taliban have shut down 500 schools in Afghanistan and 175 in Pakistan, almost all of them schools for girls. But only one school built by Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute has been attacked. That school was reopened after two days via a counterattack by a warlord whose own daughters were attending students. The key difference has been in Mortenson’s approach to building and maintaining the schools – with a keen understanding and respect for local culture and authority.

“Education is a long-term solution to fanaticism,” says Colonel Christopher Kolenda, who commanded an Army brigade in a part of eastern Afghanistan where Mortenson founded two schools. “As Greg points out so well, ignorance breeds hatred and violence.”

Initially resistant to working with the military, despite being an Army veteran himself, Mortenson has rethought his approach. “I get criticism from the NGO community, who tell me I shouldn’t talk to the military at all,” he said. “But the military has a willingness to change and adapt that you don’t see in other parts of the government.”

Tickets for the event will be $25.00 purchased in advance at Search on keyword “Mortenson” and click on the July 1 event. Active duty and retired military personnel can reserve Free tickets by e-mailing This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it by June 24th (military ID will be required).

For more information, visit: – Greg Mortenson - book - Central Asia Institute

Photo Editors:
Free editorial images available on.

Literary/Book Editors:
"Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace and Build Nations ... One School At A Time," by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin; ISBN: 0670034827/Viking/Hardcover/338 pages/$25.95.

Contact information:
Event contact: Gretchen Breuner, GJBB@COX.NET This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Press contact: Cynthia Guiang, CG Communications, 858-793-2471, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
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« Reply #454 on: June 19, 2009, 01:06:13 PM »

Even today the Pak army is focussing only on the "bad talibunnies". problem is that the "good talibs" from the puki perspective, are bad from the US I can see no benefit from the continued drain of US money in Pukistan. Pak needs to focus on all Talibs. As a reminder the bad Talibs are anti-Pak and active inside Pak, the good Talibs (eg Haqqani group) are against the US and active in Afghanistan. From one of the blogs I frequent...
If Estimates of Taliban Forces Are Correct, Pakistan Cannot Win


For many years, each time the Pakistan Army has said it lacks the resources to fight the Taliban, at we've engaged in rude sniggering. The Pakistan Army has close to 30 division-equivalents worth of troops, 80% infantry. It is one of the largest armies in the world. Its men are long-service professionals - long service means 10, 15, and 20 years for the soldiers and NCOs. It is well-trained, reasonably well equipped by Third World standards and well led.

How then could Pakistan claim it cannot fight the Taliban?

Of course, it didn't/doesn't want to fight the Taliban because even today with the exception of Baitullah Mesud whom the Pakistan Army says it is hunting, the other three major commanders are pro-Government, as are a host of minor commanders.

But from June 17, 2009 we learn that this Mesud gentleman has 30,000 fighters under his command and another 20,000 in allied/associated groups. The three other major commanders have 50,000 fighters. AQ in Pakistan has 10,000. This makes 110,000 fighters, and it doesn't take too much math to calculate that at 600 fighters per Pakistan army battalion (rifle and weapons companies) the Pakistan army has 130,000 infantry to the Taliban's 100,000. Of course, that doesn't count the Pakistan Army's approximately 130 or so towed artillery battalions and the approximately 300 or so fighter aircraft in the Pakistan Air Force.

No one can argue that the Pakistan Army has firepower superiority. But the Taliban's forces, for all they operate in units as large as brigades, do not fight a conventional fight when facing the Pakistan Army. They are guerrillas, and while that firepower comes in handy if the Taliban commander makes a mistake, it is of basically no help except to make holes in the ground and kill civilians.

So Pakistan could send every single soldier it has facing India to the west, it is absolutely, completely, totally not in a position to fight the Taliban and win. Even the US, for all its phenomenal surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, mobility, and firepower resources cannot win at such odds.

So - something we'd better get used to as a concept - even if Pakistan suddenly got religion and decided to go after the Taliban, it is not going to win. You are going to get one ghastly mess that will, within a year's of fighting, destroy what remains of Pakistan's economy and unity because all out wars inflict unbearable stress on any country, leave alone a 3rd world nation riven by ethnic divides on every side.

Now, Pakistan is not going to get religion. It's going after the Mesud because the US has given the 10-centimer diameter steel shaft and because it seems the Pakistan Army has decided to come down on the Government's side - at least for now. You must keep in mind the Army's leadership is totally opportunistic. At any rate, its not going to go after the other commanders because they are vital strategic assets against the US in Afghanistan and India.

The prospect of taking on the Mesud and his 50,000 own/allied fighters is bad enough, AQ will have to join in because the Pakistan Army is intruding into its safe havens. Now here's what's really scary: the Pakistanis are doing their level to keep the "good" Taliban out of this battle and perhaps even get some of them to help with eliminating Mesud. But, as Bill Roggio at LWJ says, basing his opinion on local information and media the good Taliban are tied by promises and ethnic loyalties to the Mesud fellow. The Pakistan army can say all it wants "we are only targeting an anti-Pakistan person", and it is true in the Frontier money does run thicker than blood, but if for no reason other than that the "good" Taliban have to wonder if Mesud is knocked out the Pakistan state is not going to go after them to bring them under control they way they were under control before the fall of Kabul in 1996.

So: to sum up. Mesud and AQ have 60,000 fighters which is way too many for the entire Pakistan Army to take on to begin with. The whole kit and kaboodle has 110,000 fighters. This is not a winning situation no matter which way anyone looks at it.

Here's more bad news: according to the Indians, Pakistan has deployed 22 brigades against the Taliban. That's almost a third of its infantry, and people, you have to realize that so far the Taliban haven't really put up up a fight. For all the drama the ISPR tries to keep going, if 390 Pakistan soldiers/Frontier Corps have been killed, that's 65 a week. That's not a war, its a bunch of skirmishes.

As someone who has closely studied the Pakistan Army for forty years, Editor can testify that by its lights, the Pakistan army is doing what it can.

Because - please don't forget - there's the equivalent of 40 powerful Indian divisions sitting to the East of the Kashmir Cease Fire Line and International Border, excluding the minimum defense against China and the 70,000 specialized CI troops - who are all regular soldiers, by the way, not paramilitary. You want paramilitary, India can deploy 500,000 against Pakistan if it needs to.

Beyond a point, if anyone thinks the US is going to be able to restrain India indefinitely so that Pakistan can shift all its infantry to the west is plain dreaming. Study the history of the subcontinent for just the last 1000 years and you will see this is just the right time for Delhi to start preparing to bring India's fractious and turbulent northwest under control. In case someone doesn't get it, India's northwest includes ALL of Pakistan.

The Pakistanis would have to be absolute lunatics to even think of moving many more troops to the west. Now if an Editor as an Indian citizen is saying that, think what the Pakistanis will say if the US wants them to move more troops. And that's if they want an all-out war with the Taliban that they cannot win. And they don not want such a war.

My best guess is, we can slow the pace, but not the outcome (talibanization of Pak). What frustrates me is that we are not seeking genuine change from Pak, but are satisfied with cosmetic change to show the US populace that Obama is getting things done. So what exactly is being achieved in Pak. A few random thoughts.
1. IDP's (internally displaced people): About 2 million IDP's have been generated, their homes have been flattened by indiscriminate use of Pak fire power, more civilians have been killed than Taliban. It is guaranteed that these 2 million will form the seed for the next generation of talibunny recruits.
2. Many of the soldiers who fight the Taliban have their homes in the pashtoon areas. They do not appreciate seeing their homes blown up. If Pak instead utilises punjabi troops (pakjabi in Indian vernacular), then it generates a punjabi-pashtoon ethnic divide. Of note the army is considered to be mostly Punjabi. This is corroborated by reports in the media (India Today) that many are deserting their units.
3. The claimed victories in Swat, remain to be confirmed. They are fighting a guerilla force, who disappear into the mountains when the going gets tough. Its guaranteed that the Talibs will be back, once the army withdraws. I dont see the army maintaining a perpetual presence in NWFP.
4. The US is asking Pak to go after the "bad guys". This is against Pak national interest. Their military doctrine talks about strategic depth in Afganistan and the use of proxies to fight their wars with India. This is not going to happen, unless the US is willing to threaten break up of Pak.
5. Note the motto of the Pak army "Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah", translated as "Faith, Piety and Fight in the path of God". The army is doing jihad, the talib's are doing jihad. So the question to the common abdul is, who is the purest of them all. Also of note "pakistan" means land of pure. In this contest of purity, the Talibs are considered purer. Is it then any wonder that the Pak army hesitates to fight the Taliban mano a mano, but rather just lobs bombs on them from a distance.
6. If we look at the madarassa curriculum, its full of hateful propaganda. Unless they can change the curriculum, there will be no shortage of little mujahids. There is no one in Pak who is powerful enough to do that.
7. Look at the internal contradictions in Pakistan, Balochistan is simmering, The NWFP/FATA appears lost.
We cannot win the AFPak war this way. We got out of Iraq with atleast a semblance of a draw or perhaps even a victory. The difference was that in Iraq, the US did the heavy lifting and the fighting. In the FakAp region, we are using the Pukes as our proxy. If history is any guide, the Pukes will take the money, and do the minimum necessary. They will never go for the kill. Why would they kill the golden goose ?. If they knock off the Talibs, who will pay them for holding a gun to their head ?.
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« Reply #455 on: June 21, 2009, 11:02:55 PM »

Afghan fight shows challenge for U.S. troops
Bloody summer in forecast as Washington tries to turn around the war
The Associated Press
updated 11:44 a.m. PT, Sun., June 21, 2009

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan - Missiles, machine guns and strafing runs from fighter jets destroyed much of a Taliban compound, but the insurgents had a final surprise for a pair of U.S. Marines who pushed into the smoldering building just before nightfall.

As the two men walked up an alley, the Taliban opened fire from less than 15 yards, sending bullets and tracer fire crackling inches past them. They fled under covering fire from their comrades, who hurled grenades at the enemy position before sprinting to their armored vehicles.

The assault capped a day of fighting Saturday in the poppy fields, orchards and walled compounds of southern Afghanistan between newly arrived U.S. Marines and well dug-in Taliban fighters. It was a foretaste of what will likely be a bloody summer as Washington tries to turn around a bogged-down, eight-year-old war with a surge of 21,000 troops.

"This was the first time we pushed this far. I guess they don't like us coming into their back door," said Staff Sgt. Luke Medlin, who was sweeping the alley for booby traps as Marine Gunner John Daly covered him from behind when the Taliban struck.

"And now they know we will be back," said Medlin, from Richmond, Ind.

Symbol of what went wrong
The fighting was on the outskirts of Now Zad, a town that in many ways symbolizes what went wrong in Afghanistan and the enormous challenges facing the United States. It is in Helmand province, a center of the insurgency and the opium poppy trade that helps fund it.

Like much of Afghanistan, Now Zad and the surrounding area were largely peaceful after the 2001 invasion. The United Nations and other Western-funded agencies sent staff to build wells and health clinics.

But in 2006 — with American attention focused on Iraq — the insurgency stepped up in the south. Almost all the city's 35,000 people fled, along with the aid workers.

British and Estonian troops, then garrisoned in Now Zad, were unable to defeat the insurgents. They were replaced last year by a small company of about 300 U.S. Marines, who live in a base in the center of the deserted town and on two hills overlooking it.

The Taliban hold much of the northern outskirts and the orchards beyond, where they have entrenched defensive positions, tunnels and bunkers.

The Marines outnumber the Taliban in the area by at least 3-to-1 and have vastly superior weapons but avoid offensive operations because they lack the manpower to hold territory once they take it. There are no Afghan police or troops here to help.

"We don't have the people to backfill us. Why clear something that we cannot hold?" said Lt. Col. Patrick Cashman, head of the battalion in charge of Now Zad and other districts in Helmand and Farah provinces, where some 10,000 Marines are slowly spreading out in the first wave of the troop surge.

'A bad situation'
Cashman said the Marines did not intend to allow the Taliban free rein in parts of Now Zad, but was unable to give any specific plans or time frame for addressing what he acknowledged is "a bad situation."

Saturday's mission was aimed at gathering intelligence and drawing a response from enemy positions close to a street called "Pakistani alley" because of one-time reports suggesting fighters from across the border had dug in there.

"We're bait," one Marine said as the convoy of five vehicles left the base at 8 a.m. and trundled north.

It quickly came across a roadside bomb — the kind which killed a member of the company on June 6 and has wounded at least seven others in the four weeks since the company has been stationed here. An engineer was dispatched and came back an hour later carrying the parts of the bomb — two 82mm mortar shells attached to a pressure plate.

Heading to inspect suspected tunnel
The vehicles were heading to inspect a suspected tunnel when the Taliban struck, firing mortars that landed close by. Machine gunners atop the vehicles and troops in an open-sided truck scanned the scene for plumes from weapons fire.

"We're taking fire from both sides here!" Lance Cpl. James Yon yelled.

"Hit 'em Yon!" came the call from below.

Hours of exchanges followed, with the Taliban opening fire with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, machine-gun fire and rockets from the orchards or inside walled compounds.

A mortar punctured the tire of a Humvee; a grenade swooshed just over a troop truck.

"That was close," Daly said. "If they were a better shot, we'd be canceling Christmas."

Each time the insurgents attacked, the Marines returned fire if they could spot their foes or radioed in coordinates for air strikes.

"Bombs are away," a voice crackled over the radio as Dutch fighter jets dropped laser-guided bombs on a compound, sending clouds of dust mushrooming into the air. The planes then strafed the position, leaving a line of fire and destruction 50 yards long. Other times mortar teams back at the base in Now Zad pummeled enemy positions.

Final close call
The Marines left their vehicles twice. Each time, they came under attack as they entered maze-like, high-walled compounds with ill-fitting, aging wooden doors and small windows, ideal for sniper positions.

In the late afternoon, U.S. forces fired two missiles from 55 miles away to hit a compound being used by the attackers. Minutes later, Marine Harrier jets strafed the compound, setting fire to a wheat field outside it but sparing a poppy patch — an irony not lost on the troops.

The Marines got their final close call as they assessed the compound for damage.

After blowing a hole through the wall, Medlin and Daly were met by a hail of bullets as they pressed up an alley.

"Gunner, are you good? You need to come back!" one Marine shouted into the gathering gloom. "I'll cover you!"

The two man leapt to safety. Daly sprained his ankle as he leapt from a wall, but that was the only Marine injury.

Twenty minutes after the troops withdrew, two Cobra helicopters fired a Hellfire missile that streaked at a 45-degree angle across the night sky into the building, then bombed and strafed it, igniting a blaze.

"Payback time," one Marine muttered in the dark of a truck; cheers erupted in another vehicle.

There were no confirmed Taliban casualties, but observers later spotted a funeral, and video images suggested others were killed in the aerial attacks.

Capt. Zachary Martin said such sustained contact sent the militants a message that they were not safe anywhere and bought the Marines — and the few civilians in the area — some "security space."

"We kicked the snot out of these guys," he told the Marines on their return to base, some 14 hours after they left.


June 22, 2009

With a Plan and a Rope, Captives Escaped Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan

An Afghan journalist who was held captive by the Taliban for more than seven months along with a New York Times reporter revealed details on Sunday of a nighttime escape that included weeks of careful plotting, taking advantage of weary guards and dropping down a 20-foot wall with a rope.

The Afghan journalist, Tahir Ludin, 35, said in an interview that the escape early Saturday from the second floor of a Taliban compound in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, was a desperate attempt by two severely demoralized reporters who believed that the Taliban were not seriously negotiating and would hold them indefinitely.

Mr. Ludin and David Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The Times, along with their driver, Asadullah Mangal, were abducted outside Kabul on Nov. 10 as Mr. Rohde traveled to interview a Taliban commander for a book he was writing about Afghanistan.

Mr. Ludin said that he and Mr. Rohde had been threatened with death by their captors. The past two to three months were so “hopeless,” Mr. Ludin said, that he considered committing suicide with a large knife. Mr. Rohde, who was reuniting with his family on Sunday, confirmed the accuracy of Mr. Ludin’s account but declined to comment further.

The three men were abducted on a road just a few minutes from where they planned to meet the Taliban commander, known as Abu Tayeb, in Logar Province, southeast of Kabul.

Mr. Ludin had previously escorted two other foreign journalists to safe interviews with the commander, and during those meetings the two established a degree of trust. Mr. Ludin said Mr. Tayeb had betrayed that trust by directly orchestrating the kidnapping.

The reporters and the driver were shuttled to various houses in Pakistan’s tribal areas while they were imprisoned, Mr. Ludin said.

As their captivity dragged on, he said, he and Mr. Rohde began plotting their escape by surveying the compound and its surroundings.

Once, Mr. Ludin said, he faked illness to visit a doctor outside the complex. Other times he asked his captors if he could watch local cricket matches — a sport he pretended to adore — so that he could study potential escape routes.

Still, it seemed impossible to escape from a town controlled by Taliban and foreign militants.

On Friday evening, in a planned bid to keep their captors awake as late as possible to ensure that the men would eventually sleep soundly, Mr. Ludin challenged the militants who slept beside them in the same room to a local board game.

When at last the games ended at midnight, the journalists waited for the militants to fall asleep.

At 1 a.m., Mr. Rohde woke Mr. Ludin and sneaked out of the room. Mr. Ludin recited several verses of the Koran and followed him. They made their way to the second floor, and Mr. Ludin got to the top of a five-foot-high wall.

When Mr. Ludin looked down, he said, he was greeted by an unnerving view: a 20-foot drop.

Mr. Rohde handed Mr. Ludin a rope that he had found two weeks earlier and had hidden from the guards. They fastened the rope to the wall, and Mr. Ludin lowered himself along the rope before unclenching his fists for good.

He crashed to the ground, leaving him with a sprained right foot and other injuries. He cut his foot, he said, pointing to his swollen and heavily bruised ankle and his bandaged big toe.

Mr. Rohde then lowered himself along the wall and jumped down without injury, Mr. Ludin said.

When asked why their captives did not hear the thump of their impact with the ground, Mr. Ludin said they waited to make the escape attempt on a night when the city had electrical power. At night, an old, noisy air-conditioner that ran masked the sound.

As the two men walked away, dogs barked at them from nearby compounds. At one point, barking stray dogs rushed at them in the darkness. To their surprise, no Taliban members emerged from nearby houses.

After 15 minutes, Mr. Ludin said, they arrived at a Pakistani militia post that he had spotted during one of his daytime trips outside the house. In the darkness, a half-dozen guards who suspected they were suicide bombers aimed rifles at them and shouted for them to raise their hands and not move.

“They said, ‘If you move, we are going to shoot you,’ ” he said.

Mr. Ludin said he was shivering in the darkness, and it took 15 minutes of anxious conversation to convince the guards that he had been kidnapped along with an American journalist — who hardly looked the part, with his long beard and Islamic attire.

The men were eventually allowed in the compound, ordered to take off their shirts, searched, blindfolded and taken to the base’s headquarters. After Pakistani officials confirmed their identities, they were treated well. Later that day, they were transferred to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and to an American military base outside Kabul.

While telling his story, Mr. Ludin showed flashes of his exuberant personality, as when he waved his arms and proclaimed “the food was excellent,” or when he joked about the gray hairs he had grown since his abduction. He spoke with his seven children gathered around him.

But more often than not, Mr. Ludin spoke in a burst of sentences and alluded several times to being in a confused mental state. On three occasions, he mistakenly referred to a visiting journalist as “David.”

Mr. Ludin said the driver, Mr. Mangal, appeared to be overwhelmed by fear of his captors and had not participated in the planning or the escape.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2009, 11:20:59 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #456 on: June 24, 2009, 08:27:58 AM »

The Pakistani military is coming closer to launching a full-scale assault against Taliban militants in South Waziristan, one of the lawless tribal areas in Pakistan’s northwest where the Taliban are most deeply entrenched. The offensive will be Islamabad’s second attempt in recent months to strike at the roots of an insurgency that has advanced beyond the fringes of the country to threaten its very core.

The first attempt took place in Swat, a critical district that is too close to the capital for comfort. There, a failed cease-fire with the Taliban forced the government to rethink its policy of preferring compromise to confrontation. In April and May, Pakistani air and ground forces moved into the region, destroying some of the insurgency’s infrastructure and reclaiming urban areas. The operation was a dubious success: It displaced millions of people and stirred up local resentment that could feed into the insurgency, while requiring a long-term commitment from Pakistani troops.

Operation Salvation Path, as the developing assault in Waziristan is called, is Islamabad’s next step in taking the fight to the Taliban’s largest grouping. It is the logical continuation of the campaign, after having gained some momentum in Swat. But this time the challenge is far more formidable. Unlike Swat, North and South Waziristan historically were relatively autonomous regions, ruled by traditional tribal leaders. It was not until 2004 that the Pakistani state, goaded by the United States, even attempted to show force in the region. In Swat, militants were more local in their interests and emerged mostly because of a power vacuum that was waiting to be filled — whereas the Taliban commanders who established themselves in Waziristan took advantage of the region’s rugged terrain to hide out and plan attacks against high-level targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to train militants from around the world. The Taliban in Waziristan have withstood several attacks by the Pakistani army: Each time they have fought the army to a standstill, reinforcing their position. And while Swat is nestled within the North-West Frontier Province, giving the Pakistanis a better chance at entrapping the militants, Waziristan has a long, traversible boundary with Afghanistan that allows militants ample supply and escape routes.

The Pakistani army will confront these and a host of other obstacles as it attempts to subdue a large area with inadequate forces — while also trying to save face with the public as refugees spill out of Waziristan and collateral damage increases. The greater challenge is not winning the immediate battle, but consolidating gains and building institutions of governance and security that will last.

Waziristan’s location along the Afghan border calls attention to the fact that the ongoing offensive is not just an internal Pakistani issue, but a wider geopolitical one. The timing of the army offensives coincides with a broader shift in U.S. and NATO strategy against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The latest unit to deploy as part of the U.S. surge in Afghanistan will focus its efforts in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, far from North and South Waziristan. But the question is what will happen when Taliban militants from Waziristan are pushed into Afghanistan by the Pakistani assault from the east, leading U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to step up operations. Will the parallel counterinsurgency campaigns force loosely affiliated elements of Taliban to coalesce into a coherent fighting force, or wedge them apart as each element focuses more intently on its own objectives and survival?

As Pakistani soldiers are preparing to move into Waziristan, U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones is planning a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India this week. The United States is in an interesting position: Pakistan is finally doing what Washington has wanted it to do all along — spearheading attacks directly against Taliban positions on its side of the border, so as to deprive Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan places of refuge and to secure supply lines essential to the U.S.-led effort. While the Pakistanis are acting out of fear for their own security, rather than out of sudden eagerness to earn their billions of dollars in U.S. assistance, their moves are nevertheless an indication of the fighting spirit Washington needs to see if its own plans are to have even a chance at success.

But the deeper worry for the United States is this: It is by no means a foregone conclusion — or even necessarily likely — that the Pakistani military will be able to succeed in the mission at hand. There are too many variables, boiling down to how much of a fight the militants put up and whether Islamabad will be capable of a sustained campaign that will carry a high rate of attrition and exact high political costs. And Washington knows that its own plans — which extend much farther than South Asia, and well beyond the next two years — will be affected by Islamabad’s performance now.

« Reply #457 on: June 27, 2009, 09:43:08 AM »

Wow, finally a BHO policy I can get behind:

U.S. reverses Afghan drug policy
Sat Jun 27, 2009 10:06am EDT
By Phil Stewart and Daniel Flynn

TRIESTE, Italy (Reuters) - Washington is to dramatically overhaul its Afghan anti-drug strategy, phasing out opium poppy eradication, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan told allies on Saturday.

Richard Holbrooke, attending a G8 conference on stabilizing Afghanistan, also discussed efforts to support its August 20 election. Washington has nearly doubled its troops to combat a growing Taliban insurgency and provide security for the vote.

"The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure. They did not result in any damage to the Taliban, but they put farmers out of work," Holbrooke told Reuters after a series of bilateral meetings in Italy.

"We are not going to support crop eradication. We're going to phase it out," he said. The emphasis would instead be on intercepting drugs and chemicals used to make them, and going after drug lords.

He said some crop eradication may still be allowed, but only in limited areas.

Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's heroin.

Despite the millions of dollars spent on counter-narcotics efforts, drug production kept rising dramatically until last year -- U.N. figures indicate Afghanistan's opiate output has risen more than 40-fold since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Holbrooke told delegates the United States planned to cut back funding for eradication while allocating several hundred million dollars to support legal crop cultivation.

The head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, told Reuters the old U.S. eradication strategy had been "a sad joke."

"Sad because many, many Afghan policemen and soldiers ... have been killed and only about 5,000 hectares were eradicated, about 3 percent of the volume," Antonio Maria Costa said.

Iran declined to attend the event but Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, told Reuters it was strongly committed to a regional effort to tackle trafficking from Afghanistan and had begun joint counter-narcotics operations with Afghan and Pakistani authorities.

"This is very new, it has not happened in the past."

U.S. President Barack Obama has put Afghanistan and Pakistan at the center of his foreign agenda and launched a new strategy aimed at defeating al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan.

The 45 nations and multilateral organizations at the conference issued a statement pledging to look at ways to boost humanitarian aid to Pakistan, where nearly 2 million people have been displaced by fighting.

Holbrooke said allies were not doing enough.

"The U.S. is by far the largest contributor (of aid) to the refugee relief crisis in Pakistan. I don't mind that ... But other countries are not doing the right amount in my view," he said, adding some foreign ministers had told him privately that their countries could do more.


Afghanistan's upcoming vote is seen as a crucial moment for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and for Washington and delegates -- with Iranian post-election turmoil fresh in their minds -- stressed the importance of it being free, fair and credible.

Karzai called on the Taliban and their allies on Saturday to vote rather than attempt to disrupt the polls, a call applauded by Frattini, who said Arab League and Gulf countries were "particularly interested" in encouraging them to vote.

Holbrooke said senior members of the U.S. government were calling the vote "the most important event of the year."

"The fairness of those elections will determine the credibility and legitimacy of the government. We have just seen a spectacularly bad example just next door in Iran," he said.

"And in these situations, governance becomes more difficult. So, at the end of the process, we would like to see a government elected by its people in a way that is credible and viewed as legitimate by the people and the international community."

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told Reuters that Kabul aimed for a free and fair election, but added: "We have to recognize the reality, and the reality of Afghanistan, regarding violence, regarding the weak state."

Holbrooke said it was too soon for Pakistan to declare victory in its Swat valley, where the army has driven back Taliban insurgents.

"The true test is when the refugees go back to Swat. Will they have security? Will they be protected?," he said.

"Will the army be able to keep the Taliban from coming back down over the hills? And the bill for reconstruction in Swat is going to be enormous -- over a billion dollars, maybe over 2 billion."

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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« Reply #458 on: June 27, 2009, 11:06:23 AM »

Well, if we are not going to decriminalize/legalize opium/heroin here, the logic eludes me.

To repeat a point I have raised here various times for quite some time now, if we are unwilling/unable to go after a/the primary source of money to the enemy, WTF are we doing?  WTF is our strategy?!?  These crops are in plain site in an arid climate (i.e. no coverage by a jungle canopy), so as best as I can tell BO's "new" policy has been our policy all along.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2009, 04:54:03 PM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
« Reply #459 on: June 27, 2009, 04:26:11 PM »

I don't see how alienating Afghanis in the hinterlands serve our ends, and if the Taliban is no longer needed to protect and distribute a product it certainly doesn't serve their ends. I've said it before: it'd probably be cheaper to buy all the opium and burn it than to maintain the present course. Interdiction hasn't worked in Mexico with pot, didn't work in Columbia with cocaine, and continues to fail in Southeast Asia. Don't see how continuing on a failed course does any good, and if it means the US starts working toward decriminalization--as it appears it may be--I might have found a policy with which to agree with BHO on.
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« Reply #460 on: July 02, 2009, 08:12:09 AM »

Its the NY Times, so caveat lector:


QASIM PULA, Pakistan — Islamist charities and the United States are competing for the allegiance of the two million people displaced by the fight against the Taliban in Swat and other parts of Pakistan — and so far, the Islamists are in the lead.

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Times Topics: Pakistan
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Mehmood Hassa, president of Al-Khidmat Foundation, gave a speech to displaced people living with host families in Yar Hussain in Swabi District in June.

The New York Times
Two million people have been displaced by the fight against the Taliban in Swat and other parts of Pakistan.
Although the United States is the largest contributor to a United Nations relief effort, Pakistani authorities have refused to allow American officials or planes to deliver the aid in the camps for displaced people. The Pakistanis do not want to be associated with their unpopular ally.

Meanwhile, in the absence of effective aid from the government, hard-line Islamist charities are using the refugee crisis to push their anti-Western agenda and to sour public opinion against the war and the United States.

Last week, a crowd of men, the heads of households uprooted from Swat, gathered here in this village in northwestern Pakistan for handouts for their desperate families. But before they could even get a can of cooking oil, the aid director for a staunchly anti-Western Islamic charity took full advantage of having a captive audience, exhorting the men to jihad.

“The Western organizations have spent millions and billions on family planning to destroy the Muslim family system,” said the aid director, Mehmood ul-Hassan, who represented Al Khidmat, a powerful charity of the strongly anti-American political party Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Western effort had failed, he said, but Pakistanis should show their strength by joining the fight against the infidels.

The authorities’ insistence that the Americans remain nearly invisible reveals the deep strains that continue to underlie the American-Pakistani relationship, even as cooperation improves in the fight against the Taliban, and public support for the war grows in Pakistan.

Yet Islamist and jihadist groups openly work the camps.

“Because of the lack of international agencies, there is a vacuum filled by actors that are Islamist and more than that, jihadist,” said Kristele Younes, a senior advocate with Refugees International, a Washington group established in 1979.

One of the most prominent jihadist charity groups, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, had been barred from the camps, according to Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmad, the head of the Pakistani Army’s disaster management group. The group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council in December.

Nonetheless, it set up operations in Mardan under a new name, Falah-e-Insaniyat, according to Himayatullah Mayar, the mayor of Mardan. After the order to leave the area, Falah-e-Insaniyat went underground but still appeared to be operating to some extent, Mr. Mayar said.

Signs of the organizational strength and robust coffers of Islamist charities were easy to see around the camps, often in contrast to the lack of services offered by the government.

For example, Al Khidmat, Mr. Hassan’s group, arranged to bring in eye surgeons from Punjab to staff a free eye clinic for the displaced, offering cataract operations and eyeglasses.

“Government hospitals are nonexistent here, and we are able to treat not only the displaced but the whole community,” said one of the surgeons, Dr. Khalid Jamal.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hassan was busy checking new temporary schools, health clinics and four ambulances on 24-hour service that Al Khidmat had set up.

Every day, he said, he personally supervised the distribution of food at three different places — sometimes at a home, sometimes in a camp. So far, he said, he had covered 400 of 450 villages near the city of Swabi. Always, he said, before the food is distributed, he delivers his exhortation to jihad.

By contrast, although a substantial amount of American aid is getting through, it is not branded as American, and Pakistani authorities have insisted that it be delivered in a “subtle” manner, General Ahmad said.

The general said he had told American officials that there would be an “extremely negative” reaction if Americans were seen to be distributing aid, particularly if it was delivered by American military aircraft.

“I said they couldn’t fly in Chinooks, no way,” General Ahmad said, referring to American military helicopters. The United States, he said, was seen as “part of the problem.”

That is not what American officials had hoped for. At first, the exodus of people from Swat, many of whom had suffered from the brutality of the Taliban, seemed to present a chance for Washington to improve its image in Pakistan.

“There is an opportunity actually to provide services, much as we did with the earthquake relief, which had a profound impact on the perception of America,” Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who serves as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said at a hearing attended by the Obama administration’s special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, at the start of the exodus.

In an effort to highlight American concern for the refugees, Mr. Holbrooke visited the camps in June, sitting on the floor of a sweltering tent and talking to people about their plight. “President Obama has sent us to see how we can help you,” he said. One result of the trip was an effort to send Pakistani-American female doctors to assist women in the camps.

According to the State Department, the United States has pledged $110 million for food and logistical support. In late May, the Defense Department sent several flights to Islamabad carrying ready-to-eat meals, environmentally controlled tents and water trucks. But ideas of winning back popularity with a big show of airlifts of American assistance on the scale of American earthquake relief to Kashmir in 2005 were rebuffed, and not only by the Pakistanis.

American nongovernmental organizations in Pakistan discouraged high-profile deliveries of United States government aid because anti-American sentiment was too widespread and the security risk to Americans in the camps was too high, said the head of one of the groups, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. There were many Taliban in the displaced camps, and they believed the Pakistani military was fighting against them in Swat on orders from Washington, the official said.

The restrictions on American assistance are clear in the camps and in villages like this one deep in the countryside around Mardan and Swabi, where Pakistani families have opened their homes to large numbers of displaced people.

American officials and their consultants were barely able to move beyond the highly visible refugee camps set up along the main highway between Islamabad and Peshawar, said Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American businessman who has visited the area to help find ways to bring additional aid.

“They have been almost completely neutered,” he said.
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« Reply #461 on: July 02, 2009, 08:17:04 AM »

second post of morning

NY Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Almost 4,000 United States Marines, backed by helicopter gunships, pushed into the volatile Helmand River valley in southwestern Afghanistan early Thursday morning to try to take back the region from Taliban fighters whose control of poppy harvests and opium smuggling in Helmand provides major financing for the Afghan insurgency.

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U.S. Marines waited for helicopter transport as part of an operation in Helmand Province on Thursday. More Photos »

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U.S. Increases Troops in Afghanistan
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Four thousand troops entered the Helmand River valley. More Photos >
The Marine Expeditionary Brigade leading the operation represents a large number of the 21,000 additional troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year amid rising violence and the Taliban’s increasing domination in much of the country. The operation is described as the first major push in southern Afghanistan by the newly bolstered American force.

Helmand is one of the deadliest provinces in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters have practiced sleek, hit-and-run guerrilla warfare against the British forces based there.

British troops in Helmand say they rarely get a clear shot at Taliban attackers, who ambush them with improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. The explosive devices — some made with fertilizer distributed to Afghan farmers in an effort to wean them from opium production — are the most feared weapon. The Taliban favor ambushes in the morning and evening and do not often strike during the blazing afternoon heat.

In recent weeks some British troops have been setting up what are known as “blocking positions” on bridges over irrigation canals and at other locations, apparently to help stop the flow of insurgents during the main military operation and to establish greater security before the presidential election scheduled for August. The British forces, whose main base in Helmand is adjacent to the main Marine base, will continue to support the new operation.

The British have had too few troops to conduct full-scale counterinsurgency operations and have often relied on heavy aerial weapons, including bombs and helicopter gunships, to attack suspected fighters and their hideouts. The strategy has alienated much of the population because of the potential for civilian deaths.

Now, the Marines say their new mission, called Operation Khanjar, will include more troops and resources than ever before, as well as a commitment by the troops to live and patrol near population centers to ensure that residents are protected. More than 600 Afghan soldiers and police officers are also involved.

“What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” the Marine commander in Helmand Province, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, said in a statement released after the operation began.

The Marines will be pushing into areas where NATO and Afghan troops have not previously established a permanent presence. As part of the counterinsurgency strategy, the troops will meet with local leaders, help determine their needs and take a variety of actions to make towns and villages more secure, said Capt. Bill Pelletier, a spokesman for the Marines, according to The Associated Press.

“We do not want people of Helmand Province to see us as an enemy; we want to protect them from the enemy,” Captain Pelletier said, The A.P. reported.

The goal of the operation is to put pressure on the Taliban militants “and to show our commitment to the Afghan people that when we come in we are going to stay long enough to set up their own institutions,” he said.

The 21,000 additional American troops that Mr. Obama authorized after taking office in January almost precisely matches the original number of additional troops that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq two years ago. It will bring the overall American deployment in Afghanistan to more than 60,000 troops. But Mr. Obama avoided calling it a surge and resisted sending the full reinforcements initially sought by military commanders.

Instead, Mr. Obama chose to re-evaluate troop levels over the next year, officials said. The Obama administration has said that the additional American commitment has three main strategies for denying havens for the Taliban and Al Qaeda: training Afghan security forces, supporting the weak central Afghan government in Kabul and securing the population.

In late March, Mr. Obama warned Congressional leaders that he would need more than the $50 billion in his budget for military operations and development efforts.

Asked by lawmakers about the prospect of reconciliation with moderate members of the Taliban, officials said Mr. Obama replied that he wanted to sift out hard-core radicals from those who were fighting simply to earn money.

Eros Hoagland contributed reporting.
« Reply #462 on: July 02, 2009, 12:05:04 PM »

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment in Afghanistan

Posted by Christopher Preble

In yesterday’s Washington Post, veteran newsman Bob Woodward recounts a recent meeting between National Security Advisor James Jones and a few dozen Marine officers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province under the command of Marine Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson.

The subject on everyone’s mind: force levels. Saying that he was “a little light,” Nicholson hinted that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

Of course he doesn’t. One senior military commander confided, in Woodward’s telling, ”that there would need to be more than 100,000 troops to execute the counterinsurgency strategy of holding areas and towns after clearing out the Taliban insurgents. That is at least 32,000 more than the 68,000 currently authorized.”

So, Nicholson and other commanders were asking: Can we expect to receive additional troops in Afghanistan any time soon?

Jones’s answer: don’t bet on it.

The retired Marine Corps general reminded his audience in Helmand that Obama has approved two increases already. Going beyond merely an endorsement of the outgoing Bush admiministration’s decision to more than double the force in Afghanistan, Obama accepted the recommendation of his advisers to send an additional 17,000, and then shortly thereafter another 4,000.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops,…if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq – seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Nicholson and his Marines should be concerned. But so should all Americans. The men and women in our military have been given a mission that is highly dependent upon a very large number of troops, and they don’t have a very large number of troops. The clear, hold and build strategy is dangerous and difficult – even when you have the troop levels that the military’s doctrine recommends: 20 troops per 1,000 indigenous population. In a country the size of Afghanistan (with an estimated population of 33 million), that wouldn’t be 100,000 troops, that would be 660,000 troops.

Pacifying all of Afghanistan would be nearly impossible with one half that number of troops. It is foolhardy to even attempt such a mission with less than a sixth that many.

So, what gives? (Or, as the military folks might say, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot?”)

It is doubtful that anyone in the White House, the Pentagon, or on Capitol Hill honestly believes that 70,000 U.S. troops can turn Afghanistan into a central Asian version of Alabama – or even Algeria, for that matter. They might reasonably object that they aren’t trying to pacify the whole country, but rather the most restive provinces in the south and east. Perhaps barely 10 million people live there (which my calculator says would require a force of 200,000). Besides, they might go on, the 20 per 1,000 figure is just a guideline, just a rule-of-thumb. Some missions have succeeded with fewer than that ratio of troops, just as other missions have failed with troop ratios in excess of 20 : 1,000.

These seem to be nothing more than thin rationalizations. They reflect the fact that the American public would not support an open-ended mission in Afghanistan that would occupy essentially all of our Marine and Army personnel for many years. The “70,000 troops for who knows how long” is a political statement. They are pursuing a strategy shaped by focus groups and polls, rather than by doctrine and common sense.

No, that is not an argument for more troops. It is not an argument for ignoring public sentiment. It is an argument for a different mission.

The public’s growing ambivalence about the war in Afghanistan reflects a well-placed broader skepticism about population-centric counterinsurgency that are heavily dependent upon very large concentrations of troops staying in country for a very long period of time. Americans don’t support such missions, because the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. And they likely never will. They are equally skeptical of COIN’s intellectual cousin, ambitious nation-building projects.

And if I’m right, and if no one actually believes that killing suspected Taliban, destroying fields of poppies, building roads and bridges,  establishing judicial standards and training Afghan police is actually going to work, then, well,….

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

The mission in Afghanistan, especially the troop increases, appear more and more as face-saving gestures. A show of wanting to do something, even if policymakers doubt that it will actually succeed. It is a delaying action, a postponing of the inevitable, a kicking the can down the road.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that a miracle happens. I hope that the Taliban disappears. That Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and every other bad guy I can name winds up dead on an Afghan battlefield. Tomorrow, preferably. I hope that all Afghans (girls and boys) get an education and earn a decent living. I hope that Hamid Karzai learns how to govern, Afghan judges learn how to judge, and that the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police quickly learn how to defend their own country.

In short, I hope that the people who are crafting our Afghan strategy know something that I don’t.

I fear, however, that the deaths and grievous injuries endured by our military personnel during this interim period, which may run for years or even decades, as we seek “peace with honor” or “a decent interval” (or pick your own favorite Vietnam cliche), will weigh heavily on the consciences of policy makers if, in the end, they have merely burdened these men and women with an impossible task.

Ask Robert McNamara how that feels.
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« Reply #463 on: July 02, 2009, 02:37:25 PM »

My third post of the day:

Pakistan: Expanding the Waziristan Offensive
Stratfor Today » July 1, 2009 | 2112 GMT

A Pakistani soldier at a checkpoint outside of Wana, South Waziristan on June 22Summary
The Pakistani military distributed pamphlets in the restive agency of North Waziristan urging locals to cooperate in the fight against Taliban militants. The move comes as the military seeks to launch a narrowly focused operation against the Pakistani Taliban network of Baitullah Mehsud rather than the broader jihadist movement operating within Pakistan’s borders. The Mehsud network, however, will do all they can to force the military to broaden its operation, thereby stretching it to the limit.

Pakistani army helicopters dropped pamphlets July 1 in Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan Agency, urging locals to fully cooperate with the military against local Taliban elements. The pamphlet stressed that the Pakistani army has no plans to expand its military offensive to North Waziristan, but that it does reserve the right to attack militants who target the army. The text added, “The army guarantees protection from internal and external enemies and its security is the security of Islamic Republic of Pakistan; therefore, you should support Pakistan Army.”

Pakistan has ample reason to be concerned about North Waziristan right now. The Pakistani army is still engaged in intensive cleanup operations in Swat and surrounding areas within the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik has formed a habit of making rather sensational claims that the Swat, Malakand, Mingora, Kalam and Buner areas have been cleared completely of Taliban as part of a wider propaganda effort by the state to bolster public support for military operations. But the reality on the ground is much more complex, and Pakistani troops currently have limited capacity to hold their ground in the NWFP and at the same time turn their attention to the next big offensive in the lawless tribal area of South Waziristan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

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South Waziristan is where top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban network is based, along with a number of al Qaeda-linked jihadists. Afghan Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani also uses this area as a launchpad for attacks against U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan. In the Waziristan operation, named Operation Rah-i-Nijat (Salvation Path), Pakistan is primarily concerned with Mehsud and his Pakistani Taliban allies who have turned against the state and have demonstrated a capability to reach beyond the autonomous tribal areas to carry out spectacular suicide attacks in the heart of Pakistan, including the urban areas of Lahore.

Though the United States would prefer otherwise, the Pakistani army has no intentions of expanding its military offensive to the Haqqani network and other Afghan Taliban whose militant focus lies across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has long sought to distinguish between a “good” and “bad” Taliban to avoid having every Pashtun in its northwest become a potential enemy. As far as Islamabad is concerned, there are still Islamist militants operating in Pakistani borders who can be considered assets rather than enemies of the state.

Operation Rah-i-Nijat is thus designed to be extremely limited in scope. This is a significant contrast to the Swat operation in the NWFP, which borders the Punjabi heartland and is still formally integrated into Pakistan’s provincial structure. Whereas the Pakistani military now understands the need to flush the Taliban out of the NWFP, the autonomous tribal regions to the west pose a far greater challenge in terms of political, social and economic integration. Moreover, Pakistani Taliban have done their part to eliminate scores of pro-government tribal elders and chiefs whom Islamabad desperately needs to carry out these military operations and bar the Taliban from setting up parallel governments. In spite of these obstacles, the Pakistani military understands the need at the very least to target Mehsud’s network to protect the Pakistani core from the country’s largest and most capable Taliban grouping.

The Pakistani military is currently focused on the first phase of the operation, the intelligence war, against Mehsud in Waziristan. This involves Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officers mapping out which tribal chiefs and elders it can count on to support a conventional assault in the region so the army can whittle down Mehsud’s base of operations and his escape routes. One such escape route would run through the mountains of North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan’s restive Khost province, where the Pakistani army has much stronger relationships with tribal chieftains than it does in South Waziristan. As long as the Pakistani army can lock down support in North Waziristan, the more capable it will be in interdicting the flow of fleeing Taliban from the southern areas.

But major flaws in this strategy are already coming to light. Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur scrapped a peace deal June 30 signed in mid-February 2008 with the state. That peace deal had the approval of a grand jirga consisting of 286 tribal elders from the Dawar and Wazir subtribes of the Utmanzai tribe in North Waziristan, thus providing the Pakistani military with a tribal barrier to Taliban infiltration. Mehsud and his Taliban brethren, however, were two steps ahead of the army and appear to have succeeded in bringing Gul Bahadur back to their side. Three major attacks in the area — a massive kidnapping of more than 500 students from the Razmak Cadet college June 1, two ambushes on military convoys with improvised explosive devices on Miramshah-Mir Ali road June 26 and another major attack on a 250-member convoy in North Waziristan’s Madakhel area June 28 — all bear Gul Bahadur’s fingerprints. It thus comes as no surprise that the Taliban commander called off the peace deal June 30 to drive home the message to the Pakistani military that the military’s support network in North Waziristan is no longer intact.

Seeing its South Waziristan operation in danger, the Pakistani military has now gone into high gear to try and salvage public support in North Waziristan. The pamphlets are just one of several ways the army is trying to reassure locals that it has no intentions of expanding the offensive to their area and that they are better off remaining on the state’s side.

Speculation is already spreading that the army may have no choice but to expand the scope of the Waziristan operation to the north now that Gul Bahadur has drawn a line in the sand. Still, the Pakistani military would greatly prefer to keep North Waziristan out of artillery range. Expanding the operation to North Waziristan, Balochistan and Kurram agency — all areas where militants are likely to flee — will only stretch the military in multiple directions. And this is exactly what Mehsud’s network is aiming for.

From Mehsud’s point of view, having the government expand its operation not only will take some heat off of his own militant enclaves, it also could well turn tribal loyalties against the state. Moreover, stretching the military operation in the tribal belt also could compel battle-hardened Afghan Taliban hiding out in Pakistan to back up their Pakistani Taliban brethren once they see their own strongholds come under direct threat.

Between cleaning up in and around Swat and struggling to lay the groundwork for an offensive in Waziristan, the problems are mounting for the Pakistani military. Mehsud is clearly waging his own intelligence war to protect key escape routes, divert the military’s focus and transform the state’s allies into enemies. Meanwhile, Pakistani forces are up against the clock to knock the legs out from under Mehsud while public morale is still swinging in favor of the military. While this operation was designed to be narrow in scope, the Pakistani Taliban network has every intent of stretching the military to the limit.
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« Reply #464 on: July 08, 2009, 03:41:53 PM »

U.S.-Russian Summit: Building an Air Bridge to Afghanistan
Stratfor Today » July 7, 2009 | 1955 GMT
A formal agreement was signed July 6 in Moscow that will allow U.S. military transport flights to take a more direct route over Russian airspace to supply the U.S.-NATO war effort in Afghanistan. While it will shorten the supply line, however, the Russian concession will not widen it. Next will come negotiations over a potential Russian land route, which will entail even more political leverage from Moscow.

Related Special Topic Page
Special Summit Coverage
Related Links
Afghanistan, Pakistan: The Battlespace of the Border
Afghanistan: The Search for Safer Supply Routes
Pakistan: Trouble Along Another U.S.-NATO Supply Route
Pakistan: A Strike Against Supply Line Infrastructure
Special Report: U.S.-NATO, Facing the Reality of Risk in Pakistan (With STRATFOR Interactive map)
Afghanistan: The Russian Monkey Wrench
One tangible product of the U.S.-Russian summit is a deal signed July 6 that will permit some 4,500 flights per year by U.S. military aircraft through Russian airspace to supply the campaign in Afghanistan. Significantly, the deal includes flights transporting troops as well as military equipment and supplies (an existing agreement to use Turkmen airspace allows the transport of only non-lethal supplies such as food and spare parts, a common restriction).

The Russian agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, takes effect 60 days from the signing, will last for one year and can be renewed. Overflight fees will not be charged for the flights, which must not stop on Russian territory.

This is no small step for U.S. logistical efforts. Flights from the continental United States, roughly 12 per day, will now be able to fly over the North Pole and reach Afghanistan more quickly than flights going through Turkmen airspace. The Russian route shaves several thousand miles off the air bridge, and annual savings will amount to approximately $133 million. A more direct route is especially valuable as the United States moves more troops into Afghanistan. The total U.S. force in country is expected to double by the end of the year compared to 2008 levels, to some 68,000 troops.

But the U.S. air bridge to Afghanistan, whether it traverses Russian airspace or more circuitous routes, will not be able to accommodate much more traffic. The surge is straining already packed supply lines, not to mention the very vulnerable land routes through Pakistan. Most “lethal” military equipment and supplies (weapons, ammunition, etc.) and virtually all sensitive equipment must be flown in. And limited land routes will be even more strained when a new version of the “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” (MRAP) vehicle used in Iraq and now being modified with an all-terrain chassis is shipped to Afghanistan by sea and land (as it must be, though the first units may be delivered by air).

In other words, the Russian air-bridge concession will lessen the complications of supplying the Afghanistan campaign but it will not actually allow any additional volume, particularly as the surge progresses. Bulk fuel and food, for example, are simply consumed too fast on a daily basis to be supplied by air. Bringing in all of the various forms of fuel needed in Afghanistan on transport aircraft would require literally dozens of daily flights — so many that the major airfields in Afghanistan would likely lack the tarmac space necessary to receive and unload the shipments. As far as other consumables are concerned, some 90 container trucks carrying supplies for the campaign in Afghanistan currently cross the Afghan-Pakistani border each day.

The Kremlin has already agreed to allow the United States land access as well, but the details have yet to be worked out, and negotiations will take weeks, if not months, since routes would have to wind their way through long stretches of Central Asian as well as Russian territory.

Indeed, the land deal with Russia is the key, something the Kremlin knows all too well. As with the long-contentious (and resolved-for-now) issue of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, Moscow can continue to manipulate negotiations by tugging on American vulnerabilities. Land route negotiations, in particular, could turn into a messy process that Moscow could politicize, making Russia even more of a key player in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
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« Reply #465 on: July 13, 2009, 07:34:13 AM »

Several Taliban training camps in the Pakistan hinterland were hit last week by missiles fired from American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, reportedly killing some 20 terrorists. Remarkably, some people think these strikes are a bad idea.

To get a sense of what U.S. drone strikes have accomplished in the past two years, recall the political furor that followed a July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that al Qaeda had "protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland [i.e., U.S.] attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. . . . As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment." The media declared we were losing the war.

Less than a year later, then-CIA director Michael Hayden offered a far more upbeat assessment to the Washington Post.

Associated Press
Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamat-i-Islami rally in Lahore on July 3rd against reported U. S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghanistan border.
What changed? At least part of the answer is that the U.S. went from carrying out only a handful of drone attacks in 2007 to more than 30 in 2008. According to U.S. intelligence, among the "high-value targets" killed in these new strikes were al Qaeda spokesman Abu Layth al-Libi, weapons expert Abu Sulayman al Jazairi, chemical and biological expert Abu Khabab al-Masri, commander and logistician Abu Wafa al-Saudi, al Qaeda "Emir" Abu al-Hasan al Rimi, and, in November, Rashid Rauf. Rauf, who had escaped from a Pakistan jail the previous year, was a coordinator of the summer 2007 plot to blow up passenger planes over the Atlantic.

Is the world better off with these people dead? We think so. Then again, Lord Bingham, until recently Britain's senior law lord, has recently said UAV strikes may be "beyond the pale" and potentially on a par with cluster bombs and landmines. Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen says "the Predator [drone] strikes have an entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability." He adds, "We should be cutting strikes back pretty substantially."

In both cases, the argument against drones rests on the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds. If you glean your information from wire reports -- which depend on stringers who are rarely eyewitnesses -- the argument seems almost plausible.

Yet anyone familiar with Predator technology knows how misleading those reports can be. Unlike fighter jets or cruise missiles, Predators can loiter over their targets for more than 20 hours, take photos in which men, women and children can be clearly distinguished (burqas can be visible from 20,000 feet) and deliver laser-guided munitions with low explosive yields. This minimizes the risks of the "collateral damage" that often comes from 500-pound bombs. Far from being "beyond the pale," drones have made war-fighting more humane.

A U.S. intelligence summary we've seen corrects the record of various media reports claiming high casualties from the Predator strikes. For example, on April 1 the BBC reported that "a missile fired by a suspected U.S. drone has killed at least 10 people in Pakistan." But the intelligence report says that half that number were killed, among them Abdullah Hamas al-Filistini, a top al Qaeda trainer, and that no women and children were present.

In each of the strikes in 2009 that are described by the intelligence summary, the report says no women or children were killed. Moreover, we know of planned drone attacks that were aborted when Predator cameras spied their presence. And an April 19 strike on a compound in South Waziristan did destroy a truck loaded with what the report estimates were more explosives than the truck that took out Islamabad's Marriott Hotel last September. That Islamabad attack killed 54 people and injured more than 260 others, mostly Pakistan civilians but also Americans.

Critics of the drone strikes ought to ask whether, based on this information, the April 19 strike was worth the bad publicity. We'd say yes. We'd also say that the Obama Administration -- which, to its credit, has stepped up the use of Predators -- should make public the kind of information we've seen. We understand there will always be issues concerning sources and methods. But critics of the drone attacks, especially Pakistani critics, have become increasingly vocal in their opposition. They deserve to know about the terrorist calamities they've been spared thanks to these unmanned flights over their territory.

We're delighted to see that Pakistan's military is finally taking the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda after ill-conceived truces that were a source of the country's recent instability. When Pakistan's government can exercise sovereignty over all its territory, there will be no need for Predator strikes. In the meantime, unmanned bombs away.
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« Reply #466 on: July 19, 2009, 01:23:42 PM »

Marc: The Greg Mortenson book IMHO required reading for any serious student of the situation in Afg.


Thomas Friedman
Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No.

AfghanistanI confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.

But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand. This week it was something very powerful. I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of “Three Cups of Tea,” open one of his schools for girls in this remote Afghan village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after witnessing the delight in the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, “Let’s just get out of here.”

Indeed, Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the “war on terrorism” is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam — a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men. America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.

Which is why it was no accident that Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — spent half a day in order to reach Mortenson’s newest school and cut the ribbon. Getting there was fun. Our Chinook helicopter threaded its way between mountain peaks, from Kabul up through the Panjshir Valley, before landing in a cloud of dust at the village of Pushghar. Imagine if someone put a new, one-story school on the moon, and you’ll appreciate the rocky desolateness of this landscape.

But there, out front, was Mortenson, dressed in traditional Afghan garb. He was surrounded by bearded village elders and scores of young Afghan boys and girls, who were agog at the helicopter, and not quite believing that America’s “warrior chief” — as Admiral Mullen’s title was loosely translated into Urdu — was coming to open the new school.

While the admiral passed out notebooks, Mortenson told me why he has devoted his life to building 131 secular schools for girls in Pakistan and another 48 in Afghanistan: “The money is money well spent. These are secular schools that will bring a new generation of kids that will have a broader view of the world. We focus on areas where there is no education. Religious extremism flourishes in areas of isolation and conflict.

“When a girl gets educated here and then becomes a mother, she will be much less likely to let her son become a militant or insurgent,” he added. “And she will have fewer children. When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother. The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”

It is no accident, Mortenson noted, that since 2007, the Taliban and its allies have bombed, burned or shut down more than 640 schools in Afghanistan and 350 schools in Pakistan, of which about 80 percent are schools for girls. This valley, controlled by Tajik fighters, is secure, but down south in Helmand Province, where the worst fighting is today, the deputy minister of education said that Taliban extremists have shut 75 of the 228 schools in the last year. This is the real war of ideas. The Taliban want public mosques, not public schools. The Muslim militants recruit among the illiterate and impoverished in society, so the more of them the better, said Mortenson.

This new school teaches grades one through six. I asked some girls through an interpreter what they wanted to be when they grow up: “Teacher,” shouted one. “Doctor,” shouted another. Living here, those are the only two educated role models these girls encounter. Where were they going to school before Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and the U.S. State Department joined with the village elders to get this secular public school built? “The mosque,” the girls said.

Mortenson said he was originally critical of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he’s changed his views: “The U.S. military has gone through a huge learning curve. They really get it. It’s all about building relationships from the ground up, listening more and serving the people of Afghanistan.”

So there you have it. In grand strategic terms, I still don’t know if this Afghan war makes sense anymore. I was dubious before I arrived, and I still am. But when you see two little Afghan girls crouched on the front steps of their new school, clutching tightly with both arms the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first dolls — it’s hard to say: “Let’s just walk away.” Not yet.
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« Reply #467 on: July 20, 2009, 08:17:15 AM »

The NYT is often a suspect source, particularly on issues such as this one.  Caveat Lector

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — A sweeping United States military review calls for overhauling the troubled American-run prison here as well as the entire Afghan jail and judicial systems, a reaction to worries that abuses and militant recruiting within the prisons are helping to strengthen the Taliban.

In a further sign of high-level concern over detention practices, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a confidential message last week to all of the military service chiefs and senior field commanders asking them to redouble their efforts to alert troops to the importance of treating detainees properly.

The prison at this air base north of Kabul has become an ominous symbol for Afghans — a place where harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used routinely in its early years, and where two Afghan detainees died in 2002 after being beaten by American soldiers and hung by their arms from the ceiling of isolation cells.

Bagram also became a holding site for terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq.

But even as treatment at Bagram improved in recent years, conditions worsened in the larger Afghan-run prison network, which houses more than 15,000 detainees at three dozen overcrowded and often violent sites. The country’s deeply flawed judicial system affords prisoners virtually no legal protections, human rights advocates say.

“Throughout Afghanistan, Afghans are arbitrarily detained by police, prosecutors, judges and detention center officials with alarming regularity,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report in January.

To help address these problems, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone of the Marines, credited with successfully revamping American detention practices in Iraq, was assigned to review all detention issues in Afghanistan. General Stone’s report, which has not been made public but is circulating among senior American officials, recommends separating extremist militants from more moderate detainees instead of having them mixed together as they are now, according to two American officials who have read or been briefed on his report. Under the new approach, the United States would help build and finance a new Afghan-run prison for the hard-core extremists who are now using the poorly run Afghan corrections system as a camp to train petty thieves and other common criminals to be deadly militants, the American officials said. The remaining inmates would be taught vocational skills and offered other classes, and they would be taught about moderate Islam with the aim of reintegrating them into society, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the review’s findings had not been publicly disclosed. The review also presses for training new Afghan prison guards, prosecutors and judges.

The recommendations come as American officials express fears that the notoriously overcrowded Afghan-run prisons will be overwhelmed by waves of new prisoners captured in the American-led offensive in southern Afghanistan, where thousands of Marines are battling Taliban fighters.

President Obama signed an executive order in January to review policy options for detention, interrogation and rendition.

The Defense and Justice Departments are leading two government task forces studying those issues and are scheduled to deliver reports to the president on Tuesday. But administration officials said Sunday that the task forces — which are grappling with questions like whether terrorism suspects should be turned over to other countries and how to deal with detainees who are thought to be dangerous but who cannot be brought to trial — were likely to seek extensions on some contentious issues.

Last month The Wall Street Journal reported elements of General Stone’s review, but in recent days American military officials provided a more detailed description of the report’s scope, findings and recommendations. A spokesman for the Afghan Embassy in Washington, Martin Austermuhle, said he was unaware of the review, and did not know if the government in Kabul had been apprised of it.

Admiral Mullen felt compelled to issue his message last week after viewing photographs documenting abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by American military personnel in the early years of the wars there, a senior military official said.  Mr. Obama decided in May not to make the photographs public, warning that the images could ignite a deadly backlash against American troops. The admiral urged top American field commanders to step up their efforts to ensure that prisoners were treated properly both at the point of capture and in military prisons. He told the service chiefs to emphasize detainee treatment when preparing and training troops who deploy to the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

“It is essential to who we are as a fighting force that we get this right,” Admiral Mullen said in the message. “We are better than what I saw in those pictures.”


Page 2 of 2)

American officials say many of the changes that General Stone’s review recommends for Bagram are already in the works as part of the scheduled opening this fall of a 40-acre replacement complex that officials say will accommodate about 600 detainees in a more modern and humane setting.

The problems at the existing American-run prison, the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, have been well documented. The prison is a converted aircraft hangar that still holds some of the decrepit aircraft-repair machinery left by the Soviet troops who occupied the country in the 1980s. Military personnel who know Bagram and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, describe the Afghan site as tougher and more spartan. The prisoners have fewer privileges and virtually no access to lawyers or the judicial process. Many are still held communally in big cages.
In the past two weeks, prisoners have refused to leave their cells to protest their indefinite imprisonment.

In 2005, the Bush administration began trying to scale back American involvement in detention operations in Afghanistan, mainly by transferring Bagram prisoners to an American-financed high-security prison outside of Kabul guarded by American-trained Afghan soldiers. But United States officials conceded that the new Afghan block, at Pul-i-Charkhi prison, could not absorb all the Bagram prisoners. It now holds about 4,300 detainees, including some 360 from Bagram or Guantánamo Bay, Afghan prison officials said.

Officials from the general directorate for prisons complained about the lack of detention space based on international standards in provinces of Afghanistan. They said most of those prisons were rented houses and not suitable for detention.

Gen. Safiullah Safi, commander of the Afghan National Army brigade responsible for the section of Pul-i-Charkhi that holds the transferred inmates from Bagram and Guantánamo Bay, said his part of the prison had maintained good order and followed Islamic cultural customs. But last December, detainees in the other blocks of the prison staged a revolt in an attempt to resist a security sweep for hidden weapons and cellphones. Eight inmates died.

“There’s a general concern that the Afghan national prisons need to be rehabilitated,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a senior associate for law and security at Human Rights First, an advocacy group that is to issue its own report on Bagram on Wednesday.
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« Reply #468 on: July 24, 2009, 09:53:34 AM »

HERAT, Afghanistan — When Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the main election challenger to President Hamid Karzai, arrived here to campaign last weekend, thousands of supporters choked the six-mile drive from the airport. Cars were plastered with his posters. Motorbikes flew blue banners. Young men wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his face leapt aboard his car to embrace him to ecstatic cheers.

Top, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the main challenger to President Hamid Karzai, arriving in Herat last Friday to campaign. Thousands turned out to greet him, in a sign of his growing support.

A presidential rival has support in Herat and in the north.

With only a month to go, Dr. Abdullah has started his campaign late, but in its first two weeks he has canvassed six provinces and drawn growing support and larger crowds than expected. Rapturous welcomes like this one have suddenly elevated him to the status of potential future president.

“I have no doubt that people want change,” Dr. Abdullah said in an interview after a tumultuous day campaigning in Herat, in western Afghanistan, adding that his momentum was just building. “Today they are hopeful that change can come.”

Mr. Karzai is still widely considered the front-runner in the campaign for the Aug. 20 presidential election. But Dr. Abdullah, who has the backing of the largest opposition group, the National Front, is the one candidate among the field of 41 who has a chance of forcing Mr. Karzai into a runoff, a contest between the top two vote-getters if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the first balloting.

Already well known among most Afghans, Dr. Abdullah, 48, an ophthalmologist, has a background that includes years of resistance to Soviet and Taliban rule as well as a crucial role in the formation of the new democratic government after the American intervention.

A dapper dresser, wearing traditional Afghan clothes under a variety of Western tailored jackets, he combines solidarity with the former resistance fighters with the moderation of the Afghan intellectual, giving him potentially broad appeal.

After serving as foreign minister in Mr. Karzai’s government for five years, he left in 2006 and has since become a strong critic of the president’s leadership. He refused an offer to become Mr. Karzai’s running mate, and he contends that the president practices a policy of divide and rule that has polarized the country.

Today, Dr. Abdullah, with a diplomat and a surgeon as his running mates, is seen as part of a younger generation of Afghans keen to move away from the nation’s reliance on warlords and older mujahedeen leaders and to clean up and recast the practice of governing.

To do that, he advocates the devolution of power from the strong presidency built up under Mr. Karzai to a parliamentary system that he says will be more representative. He is also calling for a system of electing officials for Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and nearly 400 districts as a way to build support for the government.

Those provincial governors are now appointed from Kabul, and many have been criticized for cronyism and corruption. Influential Shiite clerics here in Herat, who supported Mr. Karzai in the last election in 2004, are now so fed up with corrupt appointees that they have said they will back Dr. Abdullah this time.

Re-engaging the people is essential to reverse the lawlessness and insecurity that have reached a critical point in much of the country, Dr. Abdullah said. “They have managed to lose the people,” he said of the current government. “In fighting an insurgency, you lose the people and you lose the war.”

Before several thousand people in Herat’s sports stadium, he raised the biggest cheer with his promise to build up Afghan institutions so that foreign troops could go home soon.

He also promised to curb the rampant corruption and review foreign assistance programs to ensure that they focused on grass-roots development and addressed poverty and unemployment. In his public meetings, he emphasized support for the rights of women, the unemployed, the disabled and the victims of war.

He said he would work seriously toward reconciliation with the Taliban, calling the current process a “joke.” Yet in an interview he retained his longtime opposition to the Taliban leadership and said he doubted that the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, was ready to negotiate for peace.

This is only the second national presidential election in Afghanistan’s history, and political analysts warn that it is virtually impossible to predict how the election will go or to read voters’ intentions. Diplomats calculating the numbers of the various factions that have come out in support of Mr. Karzai say that he will just scrape back in, thanks largely to the support from the largest ethnic group, his fellow Pashtuns.

Yet two opinion polls conducted this year suggested that Mr. Karzai had lost considerable support since his 2004 victory with 55 percent of the vote. One of those polls, conducted in May by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit pro-democracy group, showed that Mr. Karzai’s support was down to 31 percent. While only 7 percent said they would vote for Dr. Abdullah, the poll indicated that the election would have to go to a second round.

People interviewed in Herat also spoke of a shift in the public mood. “Karzai has governed for eight years and all the problems have increased, not decreased,” said Hosseini, 47, a farmer who uses one name and who traveled to the city to hear Dr. Abdullah speak.

Although Dr. Abdullah has significant support in the north and the large population centers, he will have difficulty campaigning in the south, where the insurgency makes movement virtually impossible.

And although he may tap into the desire for change after nearly eight years of Mr. Karzai’s rule, supporters and analysts say Mr. Karzai will still dominate in his Pashtun homeland in Kandahar, in the south.

Dr. Abdullah also claims heritage from Kandahar through his father, Ghulam Muhayuddine Khan, a Pashtun who was a senator in the 1970s. Yet he is far better known for his connection to the northern Panjshir Valley, through his mother and his close relationship with the famous resistance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who fought both the Russian occupation and the Taliban.

Dr. Abdullah dismissed suggestions that he could not raise support in the Pashtun south and said that support for Mr. Karzai in the area had dropped drastically as security had worsened and more people had joined the insurgency. “Southern Afghanistan has nearly announced jihad against Karzai,” he said.
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« Reply #469 on: July 28, 2009, 09:35:20 PM »
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« Reply #470 on: July 30, 2009, 08:22:35 AM »

I found this piece by Stratfor particularly fascinating-- are we actually beginning to have the semblance of a strategy?

Geopolitical Diary: Denial of a Taliban Truce
July 28, 2009
An official spokesman for the Afghan Taliban movement has denied a claim by President Hamid Karzai that the Afghan government negotiated a truce with the insurgent movement in western Badghis province.

The denial on Monday came only hours after a presidential spokesman announced the truce: Siamak Herawi had claimed that 20 days of talks with local tribal elders had concluded on July 25 with the signing of a cease-fire agreement, which led to militants pulling out of three areas in Bala Murghab district and the withdrawal of Afghan National Army units from compounds captured from militants in the region. The subsequent Taliban denial was accompanied by violence: Two militants were killed and two police wounded during an insurgent ambush of a police patrol in Bala Murghab district.

The details suggest that the Karzai government might have reached some form of agreement with local Taliban leaders somewhere in Badghis province. If so, it would be the first such deal between Kabul and the Pashtun jihadists since the insurgency began in late 2001. Truces are indeed part of the overall U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, which is why Herawi described the alleged July 25 agreement as “a model that other provinces and areas are also trying to use.”

But even if an actual truce was achieved, it certainly didn’t last long, and it was reported to have been in effect in only one of seven districts in the province, which itself is a remote Taliban outpost on the border with Turkmenistan, in a region dominated by the Hazara and Aimak ethnic minorities. A backwater in the war, Badghis province has seen little in the way of Taliban activity compared to areas in southern, eastern and northern Afghanistan.

While there might have been a short-lived truce — and such deals are part of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan — a great many obstacles remain before Washington or Kabul will be able to engage in any meaningful dialogue with the Taliban.

Any truce in Bala Murghab district was likely the work of local insurgents who were promptly overruled by the central Taliban leadership, which is most concerned about insulating local Taliban elements from U.S. and NATO efforts to co-opt the insurgency.

This could be one reason why Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a Taliban code-of-conduct manual, as reported by Al Jazeera on Monday. The manual quotes Mullah Omar as forbidding the creation of new jihadist units, and it calls upon his commanders to disband unofficial factions that refuse to subordinate to the central Taliban leadership.

Mullah Omar is clearly trying to consolidate his hold over the various commanders across Afghanistan, who have enjoyed a great degree of autonomy in almost eight years of war. Along with the central shura, Mullah Omar has been in hiding for years. The Taliban, who have the upper hand in Afghanistan’s conflict, have no need at present to negotiate for a slice of the political pie: They can create a new one after, as they expect, they force Western troops out of Afghanistan. But at the same time, the Taliban realize that the United States and NATO are not about to leave the country as long as it remains a sanctuary for al Qaeda-led transnational jihadists who dream of striking at the West.

STRATFOR has learned that Mullah Omar is actually open to the idea of disassociating from al Qaeda as part of a negotiated settlement that would result in Western forces leaving Afghanistan. The collapse of the Badghis truce, if there was one, does not mean the Taliban are not interested in negotiations or cease-fires. They are — but only under certain circumstances. While the government in Kabul and its Western backers see cease-fire deals with local militants as a means of weakening the Taliban (by bypassing the central leadership), Mullah Omar wants any cease-fire talks to be held with the central leadership. He has outlined certain conditions that would make that possible.

These include the Taliban’s removal from the international terrorist list, the release of Taliban prisoners and the freedom of the Taliban to function as a legal political movement. The leaders want to be able to see progress on these demands before they move forward on other issues. For the United States, however, these are unacceptable demands, especially while the insurgents have the upper hand in the fighting and as the United States struggles to develop the intelligence needed to distinguish between reconcilable and irreconcilable elements among the Taliban.

Even the Taliban are not exactly in a condition to come quickly to the table. They have a host of internal issues that must be sorted out, including challenges from hard-line factions allied with al Qaeda — especially the one led by Haji Mansour Dadullah (brother of Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a U.S. air strike). There is also the matter of dealing with Taliban factions across the border, whose war against the Pakistani state is seen by the Afghan Taliban as undermining the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The idea of a truce with the Taliban is not an improbable notion, but it is not likely to be meaningful if negotiated only on a local level. And given the problems facing both sides in the Afghan war, a real truce or even meaningful talks are unlikely anytime soon.
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« Reply #471 on: August 08, 2009, 08:22:23 AM »

Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election represents a critical test for our young democracy. It is a referendum on the lawlessness of the current regime and the future stability of our country.

Over the past five years President Hamid Karzai has turned Afghanistan into one of the world’s most failed and corrupt states. Instead of leading our country toward democracy, he has formed alliances with criminals. He has appointed governors and police chiefs who openly flout the rule of law. And he has turned a blind eye to a multibillion-dollar drug trade that has crippled growth and enabled the insurgency to flourish.

To reverse the insurgency’s gains and begin to rebuild the country, we must elect a more capable and accountable government—one that creates jobs, builds houses, and delivers on basic services like education, electricity and water. This is why I’m running for president. I believe that clear vision, dedicated leadership, careful management, and the creation of an environment of trust are the best ways to restore peace and security to Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai’s government is fiercely divided along ethnic and tribal lines. We need a system based on merit, in which every Afghan could see himself as part of the government.

My vision of an inclusive, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan is based on my experience as finance minister from 2002-04 when I worked with other Afghans to achieve real reform. In just two years we completely modernized communications. Partnering with the minister of communications, I refused to offer sweetheart deals to private companies. Instead, we insisted that private telecoms gain access to the Afghan market by paying real taxes through a transparent process. The number of mobile phones in the country jumped to over a million at the end of 2005 from just 100 in July 2002. There are now 7.5 million phones, and private investment exceeds $1 billion. Private telecom is now the second-highest generator of revenue for the government.

We can follow the model of telecom reform to boost public revenue and create as many as one million new jobs in agriculture, construction, services, mining, communication and transportation industries. We can create model economic zones by targeting provinces with the best potential for growth and increasing budget authority on the local level. And we can use the wealth we generate to build one million new housing units for families. Both my employment and housing plans will focus specifically on creating economic opportunities for our youth, our poor and women. Currently marginalized, these three groups can bring economic growth to their communities.

Women’s rights have been grossly violated in Afghanistan during the past decades. In addition to promoting women-run industries like animal husbandry and food processing, I will fight for women’s property rights, increase female participation in government, and improve women’s access to essential reproductive health care by collaborating with successful midwife programs. Investing in women’s education is a fundamental building block for any developing society and needs to be a top priority. I intend to create a women’s-only university to meet the unique needs of female students for leadership and management skills.

My experience as chancellor of Kabul University from 2005-06 convinced me of the urgency of educational reform. The most talented among our youth are taught on the basis of obsolete curricula that were current thinking at the time of their grandparents. We need to update our national curriculum to reflect contemporary science, engineering, economics, arts and law. And we must aggressively recruit from poor and rural provinces.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 33 million people live in small towns and rural communities. Developing these areas presents a formidable challenge but holds enormous potential. In 2002 I designed the comprehensive Afghan National Development Framework. This included the National Solidarity Program, which allocates block grants to local communities. Today this program has reached more than 23,000 villages in 359 of Afghanistan’s 465 districts, enabling individuals to identify, plan, manage and monitor their own development projects. It promotes good governance, empowers rural Afghans, and supports even the poorest in the community. Today the success of the this model has been recognized globally, and it is being adopted by other developing countries around the world.

It is time to get Afghanistan back on the path to peace and development that we were on from 2002-05. The current crisis was not inevitable. Mr. Karzai abandoned his responsibility to the Afghan people.

Afghanistan’s painful quest for a national consensus has led to the realization that we must both build upon and overcome our past. As inheritors of the classic civilization of Islam, we must embrace the values of tolerance, accountability, transparency, justice, the rule of law, scientific inquiry, and active engagement with other civilizations. Simultaneously, we must overcome the divisions and factions that have brought death and destruction. We appreciate the assistance of our international partners but never forget that we are responsible for our future. This election is our chance to chart that future.

Mr. Ghani is a presidential candidate in Afghanistan.
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« Reply #472 on: August 08, 2009, 10:46:25 PM »

Mr. Ghani (previous post) sounds like a great candidate.  Some polls have him running 3rd and potential spoiler rather than winner.

A UK General (below) says look for a 30-40 year involvement. 

Mindful of Crafty's difficult questions about strategy and mission it occurs to me that maybe this conflict, best case, could be used to give a better name to the phenomema of 'mission creep' and 'nation building'.  Bin Laden is supposedly gone and the Taliban hosted camps but didn't attack us. 

This is a very poor place.  Maybe our job if we have one is to lurk in the background, take out just the largest dangers and allow a better society to form over a couple of generations.

I like that Ghani is more interested in foreign investment than foreign aid.

August 8, 2009

General Sir David Richards, who becomes Chief of the General Staff on August 28, said: “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years.”
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« Reply #473 on: August 09, 2009, 12:10:42 AM »

Michael Yon, to whom I have given his own thread on this nearby, comes to a similar conclusion.
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« Reply #474 on: August 10, 2009, 12:05:11 PM »

If true, the news that a CIA drone killed Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud last week is a notable victory in the war on terror, both for Pakistan and the U.S. Previous reports of Mehsud’s demise were greatly exaggerated, but this time Pakistan and U.S. officials are speaking with higher confidence that they’ve got him. White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones said on Fox News Sunday that “all evidence that we have” suggests he is dead.

The fashionable view in anti-antiterror precincts is that terror leaders are like daisies—mow one down and another will pop up to take his place. But not all leaders are easily replaced, and the charismatic and daring Mehsud is probably one of them. He was by most accounts a key figure in uniting the dozen or so factions of the Taliban under his umbrella group Tehreek-e-Taliban.

He is believed to have masterminded a string of bomb attacks that killed hundreds of Pakistanis, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. His activities contributed significantly to the broader instability along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and put pressure on Pakistan’s democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari. There’s a reason the U.S. had a $5 million bounty on his head.

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Associated Press
Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud
.Unconfirmed reports over the weekend suggested dissension in Taliban ranks as they choose a successor, including reports of a gun battle between rivals for the top job. If Mehsud is dead, now is the time for Pakistan to press the advantage in its own campaign in its frontier provinces before a new leader can establish control.

The attack also shows the continued utility of the U.S. drone campaign along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The CIA-controlled attacks are made with the (nonpublic) approval of Pakistan, but Pakistan leaders have complained that the U.S. cared only about pursuing Taliban who posed a threat to Afghanistan or the U.S. homeland. Mehsud focused his attacks on Pakistan itself. So the strike should underscore the U.S. argument that the Taliban pose as much a threat to Pakistan as they do to U.S. interests, while reassuring Pakistan officials that the U.S. is willing to use its assets to reduce the Taliban threat to Pakistan.

The strike also underscores that Pakistan has been an early Obama Administration foreign-policy success. Only three months ago, the Taliban were marching on Islamabad and U.S. officials were fretting about the lack of Pakistani will to resist Islamist extremism. But the U.S. worked behind the scenes to encourage a counterattack, Pakistan’s military has since retaken the Swat Valley in the north, and Mr. Zardari’s government has put aside some of its petty domestic squabbling to focus on the main enemy.

President Obama has also stepped up the pace of drone attacks, which are now thought to have killed more than a third of the top Taliban leaders. These columns reported a month ago on an intelligence report showing that the strikes are also carried out with little or no harm to civilians.

For cosmetic political reasons, the Obama Administration no longer wants to use the phrase “global war on terror.” Yet in Pakistan and Afghanistan it is fighting a more vigorous war on terrorists than did the previous Administration. Whatever you want to call it, the death of Baitullah Mehsud makes the world a safer place.
« Reply #475 on: August 11, 2009, 12:27:49 AM »

Bodies pile up in Swat Valley as tribesmen turn tables on Taleban tormentors
Zahid Hussain Mingora
His hands tied behind his back, the body of a young bearded man lay in a pool of blood on a busy market road. Two bullets had pierced his skull, indicating that he was shot from close range.

Residents recognised him as Gul Khatab, a notorious Taleban commander. “People remember him for his brutality,” Mohammed Nasir, a trader, said.

Since the body was discovered in the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, other corpses have appeared on the streets. All were killed in the same manner as the security forces cleared the area of Taleban fighters.

The people of Mingora have long been used to the sight of bullet-riddled bodies dumped on the streets. They used to be those of government officials, policemen or women killed by the Taleban who virtually controlled the Swat Valley. This summer the militants were driven out by the army after a month-long battle.

Now the pattern of death has been reversed. The Taleban are being hunted down by the security forces and families of the victims of their atrocities.

There have been reports of militants’ bodies being slung from electricity poles and bridges in other towns of Swat. Last week tribesmen killed two Taleban fighters in a village near Kalam and left their bodies hanging from an electricity pole for several days. Similar incidents were reported in Malakand, Batkhela and Thana. district of Swat Valley.In many cases notes were left on the bodies warning that this would be the fate of all enemies of the state and Swat.

Some of the notes urged people not to remove the bodies, borrowing from Taleban dictats at the height of their power. “It is like repaying the militants in the same coin,” Rahimullah Yousufzai, a local senior journalist said.

Senior army officials deny that troops were involved in the killings but analysts said that it could not happen without the army’s blessing. “There is an element of revenge for the soldiers who were brutally murdered and beheaded by Taleban,” an official said.

The militants used to make videos of the beheadings and distribute them to the media. One of the most brutal incidents happened a week before the army offensive in the valley, when militants captured and beheaded four officers of a commando unit.

Such actions by the insurgents enraged the troops. An officer confirmed that they would not take prisoners. Some officials argue that there was no choice but to eliminate the hardened militants as the judicial system was so weak that suspects often went free. Judges were often too terrified to convict.

Life is fast returning to normal in the valley after the two-month army operation that left 2,000 militants and more than 160 soldiers dead. Schools are open again and civilian administrators are back at work in most areas. Militants are holding on in some remote mountainous districts where their top leaders are believed to be hiding.

People in Mingora appear much more relaxed and optimistic about the future. “There is much more peace here now,” Mohammed Ishaq, a clothing merchant, said. “We hope Taleban would never come back.”

Residents have started co-operating with security agencies in tracking down militants, making it more difficult for them to blend in with the population.

“The security forces are tipped off immediately about the presence of militants in the neighbourhood,” Saeed Iqbal, a local journalist, said. Dozens of militants have been picked up by security agents in Mingora in recent weeks. Some would not return alive.

Security forces are blowing up the houses and properties of Taleban fighters and their leaders who have not been captured or killed. The authorities are arming tribal militias to fight the remaining Taleban. They are mostly led by influential landlords whose properties were taken over by the Taleban. They believe they could not live in peace if the Taleban were not completely eliminated.

In many cases the extended families have also suffered because of destruction of joint properties. In some cases the actions have forced militants to surrender. But some analysts contend that such actions close the door on militants to repent or surrender.
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« Reply #476 on: August 11, 2009, 07:23:51 AM »

The excesses of Islamo-Fascism contain the seeds of its defeat.  Good news there BBG.

Geopolitical Diary: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's Disarray
August 10, 2009
Confusion continued Sunday over the power struggle within the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), triggered by the Aug. 5 killing of its founder and leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. air strike. Wali-ur-Rehman, reportedly Mehsud’s most trusted confidant and member of the TTP leadership council, denied reports that either he or the group’s top operational commander, Hakeemullah, had been killed or that the leadership ever met to pick a new chief. A day earlier, there had been reports of an armed clash within the TTP — the largest Pakistani Taliban grouping — that had led to the death of either Wali-ur-Rehman or Hakeemullah, if not both.

Exactly what is happening within the TTP will not be apparent soon. The elimination of Mehsud, which closely followed the retaking of the Swat region from Taliban hands, does not mean that Pakistan has delivered a death blow to its jihadist rebels. However, Mehsud’s death does mark a major success for Islamabad as it deals with the largest threat to Pakistan’s security. It was under Mehsud’s leadership that the Pakistani Taliban movement evolved from a low-level militancy — located mainly in the Waziristan region — to a raging insurgency that engulfed not only the entire tribal belt and most of the North-West Frontier Province, but also leaped out into Pakistan’s core province of Punjab, with significant suicide bombings targeting the most sensitive security facilities.

Clearly, Islamabad might be able to regain control over Pakistan’s Taliban rebels in the wake of Mehsud’s death — a factor that impacts the broader campaign against Taliban forces in Afghanistan also. Prior to Mehsud’s death, the fears were that the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban actually posed a security threat to Pakistan, as it would exacerbate the insurgency on the Pakistani side of the border. But if the Pakistanis can get a handle on the Taliban forces on their own turf, they might be able to exert meaningful influence over their assets among the Afghan Taliban.

In short, Islamabad’s ability to distinguish between “good” and “bad” Taliban has improved. However, there remains a huge gap between what the Pakistani leadership considers “good” and “bad” Taliban and what Washington has been referring to as “reconcilable” and “irreconcilable” Taliban. Although both sides want to see the Afghan insurgency end in a negotiated settlement, U.S.-Pakistani intelligence and military cooperation has improved (as is evident from reports that it was a U.S. air strike that killed Mehsud), and U.S. officials currently are expressing considerable satisfaction with Pakistani efforts against Islamist militants operating within Pakistan, Islamabad cannot be expected to be completely forthcoming when it comes to helping Washington contain the Afghan Taliban.

More important, the current situation is not one in which meaningful negotiations can be expected. The Afghan Taliban have the upper hand in the war and therefore have no incentive to come to the table at this time. They also have their own internal issues to deal with, in terms of bringing all the factions together under a single umbrella. The United States, despite its efforts to identify and reach out to potentially reconcilable elements among the Afghan Taliban, does not want to negotiate from a position of relative weakness — hence its surge of forces in an attempt to level the battlefield.

Pakistan, likewise, needs time to consolidate the gains it has just made in its fight against the Pakistani Taliban and, in the process, regain its influence over the Afghan Taliban. Meanwhile, al Qaeda and its allies on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border who subscribe to the transnational agenda have yet to be dealt with. Herein lies a noteworthy convergence of interests among the United States, Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban: Each side needs to isolate al Qaeda. For the United States, success in the war in Afghanistan depends on making sure al Qaeda cannot use the country as a launch pad for attacks across the globe. For Islamabad, neutralizing al Qaeda’s presence within Pakistan’s borders is a prerequisite for completely regaining control over rogue militant groups and thus for ensuring security. Similarly, if the Afghan Taliban’s central leadership wants to consolidate control over the various insurgent factions and return to power, it needs to distance the Pashtun jihadist movement from al Qaeda.

The United States might not be able to cooperate with the Afghan Taliban against al Qaeda, but the Pakistanis can. Islamabad also has an interest in seeing the rogues among the Afghan Taliban eliminated. In other words, there is a potential for some level of U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation in rooting out those Afghan Taliban that both sides can agree are a threat.

Eventually, the success of the cooperation on the battlefield also could lead Washington and Islamabad to a common definition for “good/reconcilable” Taliban and “bad/irreconcilable” Taliban, opening a possibility of further cooperation in future negotiations. For now, however, the thing to watch for is the extent to which U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation against Pakistani Taliban can be reproduced in the context of the Afghan Taliban.

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« Reply #477 on: August 11, 2009, 08:51:46 PM »

Jihadis thrice attacked Pakistan nuclear sites
Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN 11 August 2009, 08:35am IST

WASHINGTON: Pakistan's nuclear facilities have already been attacked at least thrice by its home-grown extremists and terrorists in little reported incidents over the last two years, even as the world remains divided over the safety and security of the nuclear weapons in the troubled country, according to western analysts. ( Watch )

The incidents, tracked by Shaun Gregory, a professor at Bradford University in UK, include an attack on the nuclear missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on Pakistan's nuclear airbase at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007, and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan's main nuclear weapons assembly.

These attacks have occurred even as Pakistan has taken several steps to secure and fortify its nuclear weapons against potential attacks, particularly by the United States and India, says Gregory.

In fact, the attacks have received so little attention that Peter Bergen, the eminent terrorism expert who reviewed Gregory's paper first published in West Point's Counter Terrorism Center Sentinel, said "he (Gregory) points out something that was news to me (and shouldn't have been) which is that a series of attacks on Pakistan's nuclear weapons facilities have already happened."

Pakistan insists that its nuclear weapons are fully secured and there is no chance of them falling into the hands of the extremists or terrorists.

But Gregory, while detailing the steps Islamabad has taken to protect them against Indian and US attacks, asks if the geographical location of Pakistan's principle nuclear weapons infrastructure, which is mainly in areas dominated by al-Qaida and Taliban, makes it more vulnerable to internal attacks.

Gregory points out that when Pakistan was developing its nuclear weapons infrastructure in the 1970s and 1980s, its
principal concern was the risk that India would overrun its nuclear weapons facilities in an armored offensive if the
facilities were placed close to the long Pakistan-India border.

As a result, Pakistan, with a few exceptions, chose to locate much of its nuclear weapons infrastructure to the
north and west of the country and to the region around Islamabad and Rawalpindi - sites such as Wah, Fatehjang,
Golra Sharif, Kahuta, Sihala, Isa Khel Charma, Tarwanah, and Taxila. The concern, however, is that most of Pakistan's nuclear sites are close to or even within areas dominated by Pakistani Taliban militants and home to al-Qaida.

Detailing the actions taken by Islamabad to safeguard its nuclear assets from external attacks, Gregory writes that
Pakistan has established a "robust set of measures to assure the security of its nuclear weapons." These have
been based on copying US practices, procedures and technologies, and comprise: a) physical security; b)
personnel reliability programs; c) technical and procedural safeguards; and d) deception and secrecy.

In terms of physical security, Pakistan operates a layered concept of concentric tiers of armed forces personnel to
guard nuclear weapons facilities, the use of physical barriers and intrusion detectors to secure nuclear weapons
facilities, the physical separation of warhead cores from their detonation components, and the storage of the
components in protected underground sites.

With respect to personnel reliability, Gregory says the Pakistan Army conducts a tight selection process drawing
almost exclusively on officers from Punjab Province who are considered to have fewer links with religious extremism (now increasingly a questionable premise) or with the Pashtun areas of Pakistan from which groups such as the Pakistani Taliban mainly garner their support.

Pakistan operates an analog to the US Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) that screens individuals for Islamist sympathies, personality problems, drug use, inappropriate external affiliations, and sexual deviancy.

The army uses staff rotation and also operates a "two-person" rule under which no action, decision, or
activity involving a nuclear weapon can be undertaken by fewer than two persons. In total, between 8,000 and 10,000 individuals from the SPD's security division and from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau agencies are involved in the security clearance and monitoring of those with nuclear weapons duties.

Gregory says despite formal command authority structures that cede a role to Pakistan’s civilian leadership, in
practice the Pakistan Army has complete control over the country's nuclear weapons.

It imposes its executive authority over the weapons through the use of an authenticating code system down through the command chains that is deployment sites, aspects of the nuclear command and control arrangements, and many aspects of the arrangements for nuclear safety and security (such as the numbers of those removed under personnel reliability programs, the reasons for their removal, and how often authenticating and enabling (PAL-type) codes are changed).

In addition, Pakistan uses deception - such as dummy missiles - to complicate the calculus of adversaries and is
likely to have extended this practice to its nuclear weapons infrastructure.

Taken together, these measures provide confidence that the Pakistan Army can fully protect its nuclear weapons against the internal terrorist threat, against its main adversary India, and against the suggestion that its nuclear weapons could be either spirited out of the country by a third party (posited to be the United States) or destroyed in the event of a deteriorating situation or a state collapse in Pakistan, says Gregory.

However, at another point, he says "despite these elaborate safeguards, empirical evidence points to a clear
set of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pakistan's nuclear safety and security arrangements."
« Reply #478 on: August 15, 2009, 09:31:17 AM »

Afghan law: Wife refusing sex? Deny her food

You might recall how just a few months ago fierce global condemnation pushed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reconsider a law allowing Shia men to rape their wives. Remember how Karzai promised that the bill would be reviewed to ensure that it didn't violate women's rights, how he would send it to parliament before it was passed, how we heaved a collective sigh of relief? Well, you might as well hit rewind and pretend none of that ever happened: Human Rights Watch has discovered that a revised version of the law was quietly passed last month and, while those original controversial passages have been rewritten, they are no less disturbing. According to HRW:

    The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

This law patently contradicts Afghanistan's constitutional guarantee of equal rights to both men and women -- but, no matter, Karzai is doing everything he can to secure the fundamentalist vote ahead of the August 20 presidential election. Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director,  puts it best: "The rights of Afghan women" -- particularly those belonging to the Shiite minority -- "are being ripped up by powerful men who are using women as pawns in maneuvers to gain power."
― Tracy Clark-Flory
« Reply #479 on: August 21, 2009, 12:31:51 AM »

Can We Succeed in Afghanistan?
Your nation building is a war crime. Mine is a national-security necessity.

By Mona Charen

He was certainly brave, but was he crazy? That’s what I wondered when I picked up Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between, an account of the Scotsman’s 2002 solo walk across Afghanistan. That’s right, he walked. Many Afghans doubted he would survive the journey. Just weeks after the fall of the Taliban, in the dead of winter, in some of the most remote and difficult terrain in the inhabited world, he went from village to village on foot. Relying on the tradition of hospitality, Stewart found welcome, sustenance, and shelter (mostly, but not always) graciously offered by people who had very little to share.

Stewart, who is both a British Foreign Service officer (he served in southern Iraq after the Iraq War — the subject of another good book, The Prince of the Marshes) and a Harvard professor, relied upon his knowledge of Farsi and Urdu, his understanding of Afghan history and culture, and his own hardy constitution to get him through. For several years, Stewart lived in Kabul, where he established a charitable foundation seeking to promote local crafts. The portrayal of Afghanistan that resulted from his latest endeavor is illuminating and honest. He was unsparing about the deception and cruelty he witnessed (I recall in particular the vignette about local children throwing stones at a dog for fun), but also about the warmth and fellowship he encountered.

So when Stewart raises a yellow flag about our escalating commitment to Afghanistan, we should take notice.

The rationale that President Obama has offered for our ramped-up engagement in Afghanistan, Stewart argues in a piece for the London Review of Books, runs as follows: We cannot permit the Taliban to return to power or they will revive the alliance with al-Qaeda and will plot more catastrophic attacks on the United States. In order to defeat the Taliban, we must create a functioning state in the country, and in order to create a functioning state, we must defeat the Taliban. Obama seems keen to increase our role in Afghanistan to highlight the contrast with his predecessor. Bush, Obama ceaselessly repeats, fought “a war of choice,” whereas Obama will fight only “a war of necessity.”

Obama argues that Afghanistan represents such a war. But does it? In order to achieve the goal of a “stable” Afghanistan, President Obama has deployed (for starters) 17,000 more U.S. troops at a preliminary cost of $5.5 billion. His stated goals for this poor, decentralized, and shell-shocked nation match in ambition and grandiosity the claims that George W. Bush made for a revived Iraq — but with arguably less foundation. “There are no mass political parties in Afghanistan and the Kabul government lacks the base, strength or legitimacy of the Baghdad government,” Stewart writes. There is almost no economic activity in the nation aside from international aid and the drug trade. Stewart notes that while Afghanistan is not a hopeless case, it is not at all clear that it is “the most dangerous place on Earth” as advocates of a massively increased U.S. and British role argue. In fact, neighboring Pakistan, sheltering al-Qaeda (including, in all likelihood, Osama bin Laden), and possessing nuclear weapons, represents a far graver threat to our national security. Stewart believes that bin Laden operates out of Pakistan precisely because it is a more robust state than Afghanistan, and so restricts U.S. operations. Nor is it clear that Afghanistan poses more of a threat than, say, Somalia or Yemen. Obama promises a “comprehensive approach” that will “[promote] a more capable and accountable Afghan government . . . advance security, opportunity and justice . . . [and] develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs.”

This is more than we have the knowledge or ability to accomplish, Stewart argues. As for the necessity, he is unconvinced that the Taliban should loom so large as a threat to the West. He thinks it unlikely that the Taliban will regain control of the entire country (though they do control some provincial capitals). Unlike the situation in 1996, the Afghans now have experience of Taliban rule. “Millions of Afghans disliked their brutality, incompetence and primitive attitudes. The Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek populations are wealthier, more established and more powerful than they were in 1996 and would strongly resist any attempt by the Taliban to occupy their areas.” In any case, a more circumscribed foreign role should be sufficient to prevent the revival of terrorist training camps — as it has since 2001.

One might have thought, listening to the opponents of the Iraq War, that a certain modesty about nation building would be axiomatic among liberals. Instead, we are witnessing something else entirely — the approach is now brainlessly partisan. Your nation building is a war crime. My nation building is a national-security necessity. Stewart’s approach is refreshingly impartial and thought-provoking.

National Review Online -
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« Reply #480 on: August 21, 2009, 01:38:54 AM »

In a related vein to BBG's post, here's this from Stratfor:

Thursday, August 20, 2009   STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives 

Of Afghan Warlords and Polling Places
AFGHANISTAN’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION will take place on Thursday — the second such vote since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Provincial council elections also will take place, but the main event is the presidential vote — in which incumbent Hamid Karzai faces stiffer competition than he experienced in the 2004 election. Though he is expected to win another term, he will have to go through a second round if he does not secure more than 50 percent of the votes outright.

The possibility of the second round, which would come on Oct. 1, stems from the strong challenge posed by Karzai’s former foreign minister, Tajik politician Abdullah Abdullah, who the polls say could win around 25 percent of the vote. Abdullah has been able to attract considerable support by promising development in Afghanistan; he is also promoting the fact that he is half Pashtun in an effort to cross ethnic lines. But there is no way around Afghanistan’s hard-core geopolitical reality — in which power is a function of ethno-regional warlordism.

Despite being Pashtun from his father’s side, Abdullah’s Tajik political identity places significant obstacles in his path as he seeks to make inroads into the Pashtun community. His efforts to put some distance between himself and his past association with the warlords of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance actually have cost him support within his own Tajik constituency. On the other hand, despite Karzai’s initial rise as a leader trying to move the country away from its Taliban and warlord past, the incumbent president in the last seven years has learned that in order to maintain one’s position in Kabul, it is necessary to balance with the regions through deals with strongmen there.

“Political parties have not supplanted ethnic- and tribal-based warlordism. On the contrary, warlordism determines electoral outcomes.”
This is why, despite the growing opposition within his own Pashtun community (especially from the Taliban) and from across the country, Karzai has been able to limit the degree to which his position has weakened. Karzai remains an ineffective ruler, but he is a survivor — and he has been able to survive because of his ability to perfect the art of wheeling and dealing with warlords. His co-opting of top Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek warlords Muhammad Qasim Fahim, Karim Khalili and Abdul Rashid Dostum likely will allow him to secure re-election.

What we have here is a clear indication that the underlying geopolitical nature of Afghanistan has not been altered by attempts to steer the country toward democratic politics. Political parties have not supplanted ethnic- and tribal-based warlordism. On the contrary, warlordism determines electoral outcomes.

Consequently, from the United States’ point of view, the outcome of Thursday’s election is not critical. Regardless of outcome, it will not solve the core issue facing Afghanistan: the intensifying Taliban insurgency, which is a far greater challenge than that posed by warlordism. As far as Washington is concerned, Thursday’s election must be gotten through so that the fragile status quo is maintained and all parties concerned can get back to the business of dealing with the threat posed by the Pashtun jihadists. Dealing with the Taliban obviously entails a military component, but the Obama administration has openly acknowledged that, ultimately, if there is to be a solution to the Taliban insurgency, it will involve a political settlement.

Given the objectives of the Taliban, any political settlement would not come in the form of a democratic framework, and especially not Western-style democracy. Ironically, it is the politics of warlordism that could provide a framework for calming down the insurgency. A wedge will not be driven between pragmatic Taliban elements and the more hard-line ideological types because the pragmatists play by the rules of a Western-style political system; rather it would materialize as deals are cut with various Taliban commanders who would be willing to lay down arms in exchange for recognition of their domains of power.

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« Reply #481 on: September 01, 2009, 12:18:56 PM »

Following up to difficult questions asked by Crafty about what we should be doing in Afghanistan.  Personally I don't know the answers but I am amazed by the silence of the left.  My liberal friends still have 'not one drop' bumper stickers from their opposition to Bush in Iraq as they blindly support Obama's current escalation.  And I am still worn out by the phony debates of the Iraq operation but the questions today about Afghanistan are important.

Here is George Will, who I find to be a very independent thinker and sometimes I agree with him, writing persuasively about how we should be downsizing and moving back in Afghanistan.
September 1, 2009
Afghanistan: Time to Stop Nation-Building
By George Will

WASHINGTON -- "Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a (mine's) pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."

"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!"
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Allen and others of America's finest are also in Washington's hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan, where, says the Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province, walking through the region is "like walking through the Old Testament."

U.S. strategy -- protecting the population -- is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and "'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.'"

Afghanistan's $23 billion GDP is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success," whatever that might mean. Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government -- his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker -- as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, "who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot."

Adm. Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan's "culture of poverty." But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many "accidental guerrillas" to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.
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« Reply #482 on: September 02, 2009, 06:23:18 AM »

The national mood on the Afghanistan war has soured fast, and it's not hard to see why. American combat deaths have exceeded 100 for the summer, the recent Afghan election was tainted by accusations of intimidation and fraud, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen says the security environment there is "deteriorating."

Meanwhile, congressional leaders worry about the war's impact on the health-care debate and the Obama presidency more generally. Antiwar groups are starting to talk about "another Vietnam." Opposition is mounting to the current policy—to say nothing of possible requests for additional troops from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The questions and concerns being raised are legitimate. Clearly, the mission has not been going well. Problems with our basic strategy, especially on the economic and development side, still need immediate attention. Moreover, our Afghan friends have a crucial role to play in both security and development, and if they fail to do so the overall warfighting and state-building effort will not succeed.

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Children reach for candy from U.S. Marines on patrol near Bakwa in southwestern Afghanistan.
.However, it is important to remember our assets, and not just our liabilities, in the coming debate over Afghanistan policy this fall. Democracies sometimes talk themselves out of keeping up the faith in tough situations, and we should avoid any such tendency towards defeatism, especially so early in the execution of the Obama administration's new military/civilian/economic strategy, which combines stronger and more widespread counterinsurgency measures with increased nation-building efforts. Indeed, the U.S., our NATO allies, and the future Afghan government—be it another Hamid Karzai presidency, or a new administration—have a number of major strengths in this mission. Consider:

• The Afghan people want success. There is frankly too much talk of Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires, as land of a xenophobic and backward people who will always resist efforts to enter the modern world. Afghans fought against the British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century because these imperialist powers were pursuing their own agendas. Today, Afghans consistently show a desire for progress, and their support for the Taliban hovers just above 6%, according to an ABC News/BBC/ARD poll taken in February; support is essentially zero among the non-Pashtun majority of the population.

• Afghans are still largely pro-American. As the war slipped away from us in recent years, U.S. favorability ratings fell too, winding up at about 30% last winter, according to polls conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI). But the new Obama strategy, combined with at least some modest excitement about the presidential elections, has changed that. IRI polls this summer show that Afghans now give the U.S. (and NATO) favorability ratings of 60%. A similar percentage express optimism about their own future, despite all the challenges of current life.

• The Afghan Army is reasonably effective. It is too small, with roughly 90,000 total soldiers. But by most accounts, the Afghan Army is fighting well, and cooperating well with NATO forces. Gen. McChrystal's new approach to training Afghan troops will greatly strengthen and deepen this cooperation. Not only will NATO finally field enough personnel to embed with each Afghan unit in mentoring teams, but its combat units will partner with Afghans at every level on every major operation—living, planning, operating, and fighting with each other in one-to-one formal partnerships.

• Even the Afghan police show some hope. This force is too intertwined with drug dealers, underequipped, and overstressed by the hazards of combat, taking up to 100 or more fatalities a month. But it is willing to fight. As a member of an IRI observing team on election day, I was impressed with their professionalism. They did a passable job securing voting sites, and while there were many insurgent attacks that day, there were very few civilian casualties. Also the reform efforts promoted by the very able Interior Minister Hanif Atmar are showing signs of progress.

• The economy is better. Afghanistan remains poor, its economy remains dominated by opium, and the twin scourge of corruption and insecurity plagues efforts to revitalize the agricultural system. Despite all that, legal GDP has been growing up to 10% a year, health care reaches much larger segments of the population than before, and seven million children are in school (in contrast to a nationwide total of less than one million during Taliban rule). What's more, the Afghan people know these things, perhaps helping explain why they are guardedly optimistic about the future despite worsening security.

• The elections were not all bad. Whether President Karzai secures the 50% vote total needed to avoid an October runoff in the presidential race or not, the tainted election process has nonetheless had many impressive attributes. The campaign this summer was serious and focused largely on the issues. Although the state-run media favored Mr. Karzai, Afghanistan's flourishing private media provided balanced coverage, and millions watched or listened to presidential debates. Poll workers were well prepared and serious about their jobs on election day. Independent election groups are now carefully scrutinizing ballots and investigating claims of fraud, and I believe they will probably do their jobs well.

To be sure, our strategy is not perfect yet. Gen. McChrystal may not yet have the resources he needs to connect what counterinsurgency theorisists call "oil spots"—pockets of government control and stability—in the crucial south and east of the country with adequate numbers of NATO and Afghan forces. Economic donors do not yet coordinate their efforts adequately, or involve Afghan businesses sufficiently in the development effort. Pakistan's commitment to its own related fight has improved but remains tenuous. And we do not yet have a sufficiently sophisticated approach to improving law and order. We must still establish a network of courts that work with local and tribal justice systems.

These problems need to be corrected soon. Even then, it will take at least 12-18 months to see results. Our chief challenge in Afghanistan is building state institutions and that is an inherently slow process. But as we debate new changes to our strategy this fall, we would do well to remember all that is working in our favor in this crucial effort.

Mr. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is author of "The Science of War" (Princeton University Press, 2009) and author, with Hassina Sherjan, of the forthcoming Brookings book "The Case for Toughing It Out in Afghanistan." Mr. Riedel chaired President Obama's review on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy.
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« Reply #483 on: September 07, 2009, 02:25:55 PM »

Winning the war in Afghanistan—creating a stable and legitimate Afghan state that can control its territory—will be difficult. The insurgency has grown in the past few years while the government's legitimacy has declined. It remains unclear how the recent presidential elections will affect this situation.

Trying to win in Afghanistan is not a fool's errand, however. Where coalition forces have conducted properly resourced counterinsurgency operations in areas such as Khowst, Wardak, Lowgar, Konar and Nangarhar Provinces in the eastern part of the country, they have succeeded despite the legendary xenophobia of the Pashtuns.

Poorly designed operations in Helmand Province have not led to success. Badly under-resourced efforts in other southern and western provinces, most notably Kandahar, have also failed. Can well-designed and properly-resourced operations succeed? There are no guarantees in war, but there is good reason to think they can. Given the importance of this theater to the stability of a critical and restive region, that is reason enough to try.

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 .Critics of the war have suggested we should draw down our troops and force Pakistan to play a larger role in eliminating radical extremists. American concerns about al Qaeda and Taliban operating from Pakistani bases have led to the conventional wisdom that Pakistan matters to the U.S. because of what it could do to help—or hurt—in Afghanistan. The conventional wisdom is wrong as usual.

Pakistan is important because it is a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world's most populous state and one of America's most important economic and strategic partners. Pakistan has made remarkable progress over the last year in its efforts against Islamist insurgent groups that threatened to destroy it. But the fight against those groups takes place on both sides of the border. The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan.

Pakistan's ambivalence toward militant Islamist groups goes back decades. The growth of radical Islamism in Pakistan dates to the 1970s and '80s when the government encouraged radicalism both for domestic political reasons and to combat Soviet encroachment. The Pakistani government, with U.S. support, established bases in its territory for Afghan mujahedeen (religious warriors) fighting the Red Army.

When Afghanistan descended into chaos in the '90s following the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan intervened by building the Taliban into an organization strong enough to establish its writ at least throughout the Pashtun lands. Links forged in the anti-Soviet war between Pashtun mujahedeen and Arabs from the Persian Gulf remained strong enough to bring Osama bin Laden to the territory controlled by mujahedeen hero and Taliban leader Jalalluddin Haqqani. The 9/11 attacks were planned and organized from those bases.

The 9/11 attacks caught Pakistan by surprise and forced a radical, incoherent and unanticipated change in Pakistan's policies. Under intense pressure by the U.S., including an ultimatum from Secretary of State Colin Powell, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf chose to ally with America against Pakistan's erstwhile Afghan and Arab partners. Mr. Musharraf long tried to channel his own and U.S operations narrowly against al Qaeda while diverting them from the remnants of the Taliban (whom elements of the Pakistani intelligence services continued to support).

But U.S. pressure to act in Pakistan's tribal areas and the inexorable logic of the conflict led Pakistan to take actions that brought it into open conflict with some insurgent groups. Those groups in turn came to see Pakistan itself as their main enemy. By 2004, Pakistan faced a serious and growing insurgency in its tribal areas. By 2008 that insurgency had spread beyond the tribal areas into more settled areas such as the Swat River Valley. By 2009 it had metastasized to the point where Punjabis and not just Pashtuns were fighting the Pakistani government.

Pakistan turned an important—and little noticed—corner in its fight against its own Islamist insurgents this summer. The Pakistani military drove the Pakistani Taliban out of Swat and the surrounding areas, including much of the northern part of the tribal areas. Most recently, Pakistani military operations (with covert American support) decapitated the most dangerous Pakistani Taliban group based in Waziristan by killing its leader, Beitullah Mehsud. He was thought to be responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In contrast with previous such efforts, the current Pakistani government has retained significant military force in all of these areas and so far appears to be continuing the fight even after these successes. Remarkably, the combat divisions now holding Swat and other areas in the northwest of Pakistan are among those most critical to Pakistan's strategy to defend against the always-feared Indian attack.

But as American and NATO forces in Afghanistan discovered, the fight against the Taliban must be pursued on both sides of the border. Pakistan's successes have been assisted by the deployment of American conventional forces along the Afghanistan border opposite the areas in which Pakistani forces were operating, particularly in Konar and Khowst Provinces.

Those forces have not so much interdicted the border crossings (almost impossible in such terrain) as they have created conditions unfavorable to the free movement of insurgents. They have conducted effective counterinsurgency operations in areas that might otherwise provide sanctuary to insurgents fleeing Pakistani operations (Nangarhar and Paktia provinces especially, in addition to Konar and Khowst). Without those operations, Pakistan's insurgents would likely have found new safe havens in those provinces, rendering the painful progress made by Pakistan's military irrelevant.

Pakistan's stability cannot be secured solely within its borders any more than can Afghanistan's. Militant Islam can be defeated only by waging a proper counterinsurgency campaign on both sides of the border.

Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power" (AEI Press, 2008).
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« Reply #484 on: September 12, 2009, 09:52:36 AM »

Not sure this piece's hypothesis holds together once Pakistan and its nukes are thrown in the mix.  Still, several points worth considering:


The road that led to 9/11 was never a defining concern of President Barack
Obama. But he returned to 9/11 as he sought to explain and defend the war in
Afghanistan in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Ariz.,
on Aug. 17. "The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight and
we won't defeat it overnight, but we must never forget: This is not a war of
choice; it is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are
plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean
an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda could plot to kill more

This distinction between a war of choice (Iraq) and a war of necessity
(Afghanistan) has become canonical to American liberalism. But we should
dispense with that distinction, for it is both morally false and
intellectually muddled. No philosophy of just and unjust wars will support
it. It was amid the ferocious attack on the American project in Iraq that
there was born the idea of Afghanistan as the "good war." This was the club
with which the Iraq war was battered. This was where that binary division
was set up: The good war of necessity in the mountains of Afghanistan, the
multilateral war born of a collective NATO decision-versus George W. Bush's
war of choice in Iraq, fought in defiance of the opinions of allies who had
been with us in the aftermath of 9/11, and whose goodwill we squandered in
the cruel streets of Fallujah and the deserts of Anbar.

Our elections last November, this narrative had it, had given us a chance to
bring America's embattled solitude and isolation in the world to an end. A
man with strands of Islam woven into his identity and biography was
catapulted to the presidency. We had drained the swamps of anti-Americanism.
Assalam aleikum (peace be upon you) in Cairo, Ankara and Tehran. The great
enmity, that unfashionable clash of civilizations, was declared done and
over with. A new history presumably began with Mr. Bush's return to his home
in Texas.

But it will not do to offer up 9/11 as a casus belli in Afghanistan while
holding out the threat of legal retribution against the men and women in our
intelligence services who carried out our wishes in that time of concern and
peril. To begin with, a policy that falls back on 9/11 must proceed from a
correct reading of the wellsprings of Islamist radicalism. The impulse that
took America from Kabul to Baghdad had been on the mark. Those were not
Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their
terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their
financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and
Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America
getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a
return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into
the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw.
He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a
lesson was made of him.

No Arabs had been emotionally invested in Mullah Omar and the Taliban, but
the ruler in Baghdad was a favored son of that Arab nation. The decapitation
of his regime was a cautionary tale for his Arab brethren. Grant George W.
Bush his due. He drew a line when the world of the Arabs was truly in the
wind and played upon by powerful temptations. Mr. Obama and his advisers
need not pay heroic tribute to the men and women who labored before them.
But they have so maligned their predecessors and their motives that the
appeal to 9/11 rings hollow and contrived. In those years behind us,
American liberalism distanced itself from American patriotism, and the
damage is there to see.

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Associated Press

In the best of circumstances, this Afghan campaign would be a hard sell.
This is doubly so at a time of economic distress at home. There is no
tradition of central government to be restored in that most tribalized of
countries. The lessons, and the analogy, of Vietnam should perhaps be laid
to rest. This is not Mr. Obama's Vietnam. It is what it is-his Afghanistan.
But there are irresistible parallels with Lyndon Baines Johnson and the way
he committed his presidency, and the nation, to a war he dreaded from the

This is LBJ in 1964, from a definitive history by A.J. Langguth, "Our
Vietnam," published in 2000: "I just don't think it is worth fighting for,
and I don't think we can get out. It's just the biggest damn mess." He would
prosecute what he called that "bitch of a war" with a premonition that it
could wreck his Great Society programs. He knew America's mood. "I don't
think the people of the country know much about Vietnam, and I think they
care a hell of a lot less." Yet, he took the plunge, he would try to
"cheat"-guns and butter at the same time, the war in Asia and the domestic
agenda of civil rights and the Great Society. History was merciless. It
begot a monumental tragedy in a land of no consequences to American

Wars are great clarifiers. Barack Obama's trumpet is uncertain. His call to
arms in Afghanistan does not stir. He fears failure in Afghanistan, and
nothing more. Having disowned Iraq, kept its cause at a distance, he is
forced to fight the war in Afghanistan. So he equivocates and plays for
time. Forever the campaigner, he has his eye on the public mood, the steel
that his predecessor showed in 2007 when all was in the balance in Iraq is
not evident in Mr. Obama.

For the American effort in Afghanistan to stick on the ground in the face of
a Taliban insurgency that's gaining in strength and geographical reach, Mr.
Obama will have to make a hard choice. He will need a troop commitment of
sufficient weight to turn the tide of war. Furthermore, he will have to face
his own coalition on the left and convince it that there is a project in
Afghanistan worth fighting (and paying) for.

By the evidence of things, this is a decision that he has refused to make,
as he pursues his sweeping domestic agenda while keeping Afghanistan in
play. He had been sure that NATO forces would rush to his banners, that
Europe had stayed away from a serious commitment in Afghanistan because it
had been seized with an animus for his predecessor. But Mr. Bush had been an
alibi all along. The Europeans are in no mood for this war.

There is a British contingent of decent size in Afghanistan, but there had
been one in Iraq as well. The likes of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder
(who dabbled in the most craven of anti-Americanism) are gone and forgotten,
but the French and the Germans have not ridden to the rescue of Kandahar.
The stringent restrictions on their forces, their very rules of engagement,
have left Afghanistan an Anglo-American burden in much the same way Iraq had

Eight years ago, we were visited by the furies of Arab lands. We were rudely
awakened from a decade whose gurus and pundits had announced the end of
ideology, of politics itself, and the triumph of the world-wide Web and the
"electronic herd." We had discovered that on the other side of the world
masterminds of terror, and preachers, and their foot-soldiers were telling
of America the most sordid of tales. We had become, without knowing it, a
party to a civil war in the Arab-Islamic world between the autocrats and
their disaffected children, between those who wanted to live a normal life
and warriors of the faith bent on imposing their will on that troubled arc
of geography.

Our country answered that call, not always brilliantly, for we are fated to
be strangers in that world and thus fated to improvise and make our way
through unfamiliar alleyways. We met chameleons and hustlers of every shade
and had to learn, in a hurry, incomprehensible atavisms and pathologies. We
fared best when we trusted our sense of things. We certainly haven't been
kept safe by the crowds in Paris and Berlin, or by those in Ankara and Cairo
who feign desire for our friendship while they yearn for our undoing.

Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced
International Studies and an adjunct fellow at Stanford's Hoover
Institution, is the author, among other books, of "The Foreigner's Gift: The
Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq" (Free Press, 2007).
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« Reply #485 on: September 20, 2009, 05:58:03 AM »

Gen. David Petraeus writing in the Times of London:

In Afghanistan, security is the principal concern, although there are numerous other challenges as well, with governmental legitimacy prominent among them. Clearly, the security trend in Afghanistan has been a downward spiral, with levels of violence at record highs in recent weeks.

At a time when the challenges loom so large, it is important to remember why we are there. That is to ensure that al-Qaeda and other transnational extremist groups are not able to re-establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan like those they had during Taliban rule there before 9/11.

General Stan McChrystal, the Commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force, who has spent most of his career since 9/11 leading the U.S.'s most elite counterterrorist element, the Joint Special Operations Command, is employing a comprehensive, counterinsurgency campaign. He is the first to recognize not just the extraordinary capabilities but also the limitations of counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

In addition to our military operations we are helping the Afghan Government to combat the corruption that has undermined the legitimacy of certain Afghan institutions. We are also working hard to accelerate the development of the Afghan security forces. And we are working to disrupt narcotics trafficking by promoting agricultural alternatives and developing the infrastructure to help Afghan farmers to get their products to market.

But we need to be realistic in recognizing that the campaign will require a sustained, substantial commitment. Many tough tasks loom before us—including resolution of the way ahead after the recent election, which obviously has been marred by allegations of fraud. The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant. But the stakes are high. And, while the situation unquestionably is, as General McChrystal has observed, serious, the mission is, as he has affirmed, still doable. In truth, it is, I think, accurate to observe that, as in Iraq in 2007, everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time.

The Trials of a Strategy in Afghanistan
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA said Wednesday that the formulation of a strategy for Afghanistan was an ongoing effort, and that no announcement was imminent on whether more troops would be deployed. In short, the White House continues to struggle with the deeply intractable nature of the mission in Afghanistan.

The challenges of Afghanistan — rugged geography, highly localized loyalties, traditions of governance, warlordism, poor infrastructure — are compounded by the interrelated challenge of Pakistan. Not only do Taliban and foreign fighters receive support and sanctuary across the border, but the Pakistani Taliban has become a problem in its own right. Matters recently have been further complicated by a marked decline in popular support in the West for efforts in Afghanistan, as well as widespread allegations of fraud in the recent presidential election, which would appear to have returned Hamid Karzai to power.

Nevertheless, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pushing forward aggressively with more counterinsurgency-focused tactics and is attempting to squeeze more combat power into the existing force. He is expected to issue a formal request for additional troops soon.

“Ultimately, the question is not how many more troops McChrystal can get in the next six months, but how much the United States can accomplish in Afghanistan with fewer and fewer troops in the coming years.”
McChrystal is laying the groundwork for an extended counterinsurgency effort. In this effort, more troops certainly would help in a tactical sense, but the numbers under discussion — likely a few brigades at best — are far from what would be necessary to impose a military reality. In any event, U.S. troop numbers are going to have to rise simply to keep International Security Assistance Force levels constant in the coming years, as European states and Canada begin following through on their plans to withdraw.

Without sufficient troops to bring about a military reality, the objective of a temporary surge is to establish a semblance of security and change perceptions enough to permit political accommodation (as was the case with the Iraq surge in 2007). However, if political accommodation in Iraq seemed complicated, consider the complexity of Afghanistan’s challenges.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has acknowledged that the Americans lack the situational awareness and nuanced understanding needed even to identify potentially reconcilable elements of the Taliban. Even if some clarity is achieved, there is little incentive for most fighters to come to the table when their own fortunes are on the rise.

The lack of prospects in Afghanistan for the kind of remarkable turnaround that took place in the last few years in Iraq (though the durability of even that turnaround is increasingly suspect) forces the question of how durable the American commitment will be in Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has pointed out that truly turning things around there is a challenge of a decade or more.

Ultimately, the question is not how many more troops McChrystal can get in the next six months, but how much the United States can accomplish in Afghanistan with fewer and fewer troops in the coming years. Indeed, the underlying issue is not simply one of eroding political support, but the disconnect between the Afghanistan mission and the lengthy list of American geopolitical challenges elsewhere in the world.

The White House has problems enough without Afghanistan — and we’re not talking about health care reform (though domestic issues are absorbing a considerable amount of the administration’s bandwidth, and that will not change with the mid-term elections in 2010). Washington continues to deal with the consequences of an invasion that took place eight years ago. Meanwhile, Russia has resurged on the global scene, Iran has become a front-burner problem and the world has experienced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The problem with Afghanistan is that it is detracting the administration from dealing effectively with these issues.

The balancing act continues.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2009, 08:41:46 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #486 on: September 22, 2009, 07:47:36 AM »

WASHINGTON — President Obama could read the grim assessment of the Afghanistan war from his top military commander there in two possible ways.

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He could read Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s report as a blunt and impassioned last-chance plea for a revamped counterinsurgency strategy bolstered by thousands more combat troops to rescue the beleaguered, eight-year mission.

Or he could read it as a searing indictment of American-led NATO military operations and a corrupt Afghan civilian government, pitted against a surprisingly adaptive and increasingly dangerous insurgency.

Either way, General McChrystal’s 66-page report with the deceptively bland title “Commander’s Initial Assessment” is serving to catalyze the thinking of a president — who is keenly aware of the historical perils of a protracted, faraway war — about what he can realistically accomplish in this conflict, and whether his vision for the war and a commitment of American troops is the same as his general’s.

Mr. Obama faces a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, growing opposition to the war at home from Democrats and a desire to put off any major troop decision while he still needs much political capital to pass major health care legislation in Congress.

But even as the president expresses skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he has settled on the right strategy, he is also grappling with a stark reality: it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal.

Mr. Obama has called Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” and in the most basic terms he has the same goal as President George W. Bush did after the Sept. 11 attacks, to prevent another major terrorist assault.

“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it,” Mr. Obama said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“We’re not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said.

The White House expects General McChrystal’s request to be not just for American troops but for NATO forces as well. This week, the White House is sending questions about his review back to the general in Kabul, Afghanistan, and expects to get responses by the end of next week.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Monday that he wants to know how the uncertainty surrounding the recent Afghan elections and a plan to reintegrate Taliban fighters into Afghan society could affect General McChrystal’s troop request.

Mr. Obama has had only one meeting so far on the McChrystal review, but aides plan to schedule three or four more after he returns from the Group of 20 summit meeting in Pittsburgh at the end of this week.

Aides said it should take weeks, not months, to make a decision. “The president’s been very clear in our discussion that he’s open-minded and he’s not going to be swayed by political correctness one way or the other,” Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, said in an interview. “Different people are going to have different opinions, and he wants to hear them, but at the end of the day, he’s going to do what he thinks is the right thing for the United States and most especially for the men and women who have to respond to his orders.”

Senior officers who work with General McChrystal say he was surprised by the dire condition of the Afghan mission when he assumed command in June.

His concerns went beyond the strength and resilience of the insurgency. General McChrystal was surprised by the lack of efficient military organization at the NATO headquarters and that a significant percentage of the troops were not positioned to carry out effective counterinsurgency operations.

There was a sense among General McChrystal’s staff that the military effort in Afghanistan was disjointed and had not learned from the lessons of the past years of the war.

“We haven’t been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years,” said one officer. “We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for one year, eight times in a row.”

In his assessment, General McChrystal also portrayed a more sophisticated Taliban foe that uses propaganda effectively and taps into the Afghan prison system as a training ground.

Taliban leaders based in Pakistan appoint shadow governors for most provinces, install their own courts, levy taxes, conscript fighters and wield savvy propagandists. They stand in sharp contrast to a corrupt and inept government.

And Taliban fighters exert control not only through bombs and bullets. “The insurgents wage a ‘silent war’ of fear, intimidation and persuasion throughout the year — not just during the warmer weather ‘fighting season’ — to gain control over the population,” the general said in his report.

Administration officials said that the general’s assessment, while very important, was just one component in the president’s thinking.

Asked on CNN on Sunday why after eight months in office he was still searching for a strategy, Mr. Obama took issue. “We put a strategy in place, clarified our goals, but what the election has shown, as well as changing circumstances in Pakistan, is that this is going to be a very difficult operation,” he said, referring to the Afghan election. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re constantly refining it to keep our focus on what our primary goals are.”

Peter Baker and Thom Shanker contributed reporting.
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« Reply #487 on: September 25, 2009, 07:37:04 AM »

Commit to Afghanistan or Get Out
We shouldn't send Americans to fight and die if we're not in it to win.

In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy said the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend” in defense of liberty. Less than three months later, he decided not to supply air support to U.S.-trained Cuban exiles who tried to overthrow Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It wasn’t a shining moment for American foreign policy. But JFK was right to turn off the spigot of American assistance if he wasn’t committed to the fight.

President Barack Obama now faces a similar tough decision. The war in Afghanistan is not going well. The rebuilding effort isn't going well. The effort to create a competent government isn't going well. So should he commit American support if he isn't committed to doing what is needed to succeed?

Mr. Obama owns the war in Afghanistan. He bought it, on credit. But he is fulminating at the cost now that the bill is coming due. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made clear what the bill will be in terms of additional troops. And the president now wants a review to determine whether we're pursuing the right strategy.

It is disappointing that this review comes after the president decided to keep 68,000 Americans risking their lives in Afghanistan. But Mr. Obama is right to give himself a chance to decide whether he is willing to follow through on this war, given what it will cost in blood, treasure, and other things.

What the president's review will reveal is a shocking incapacity by the nonmilitary parts of our war effort. Its talk of the need for "smart power" notwithstanding, right now the administration has only a military strategy for Afghanistan. What's more, the administration appears to only be debating the military requirements of the war, not the much bigger challenges—the nonmilitary pieces of the Afghanistan strategy.

When Mr. Obama announced his current Afghanistan policy in March, he said it was "a stronger, smarter, more comprehensive strategy" that would build schools, hospitals, roads, and enterprise zones, addressing issues like energy and trade. Where are those efforts?

He said "to advance security, opportunity and justice—not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces—we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers." Where are those specialists?

The president said "I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground." He directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to develop a diplomatic plan to parallel Gen. McChrystal's military plan. Where is that plan?

The administration has done virtually nothing in these areas. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, sent in a plea for funding for some of these civilian projects last month. It was dismissed as premature. The administration has not named a director for the Agency for International Development. And only 56 additional civilians as part of the "civilian surge" were in place before Afghanistan's August elections.

If the president turns off the spigot of American assistance in Afghanistan, he will pay a substantial price for it. He'll be going back on his rhetoric about Afghanistan as the "good war," a war of necessity. He will cast the withdrawal from Iraq in a different light, endow the jihadist with a public victory (which will only encourage future attacks), and make it more difficult to achieve positive change in Afghanistan as well as collect intelligence on terrorists. He may turn Hamid Karzai's government into an adversary. He will diminish our ability to help Pakistan fight terrorists, and will likely make the U.S. less trusted in the world. But those prices will be less than the cost of sending young Americans to fight and die in a war the president is not committed to winning.

The military is doing its job in Afghanistan. It's time the rest of the government does its job. We need to turn our attention to the failures of the nonmilitary parts of our strategy and bring them up to the standard at which our military is performing. Otherwise we will not be doing what is needed to win.

Ms. Schake is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and an associate professor at the United States Military Academy.
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy DAVID BROOKS
Published: September 24, 2009
Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.

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There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.

The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.

These are the realistic choices for America’s Afghanistan policy — all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building. And we might as well acknowledge that it’s not an easy call. The costs and rewards are tightly balanced. But in the end, President Obama was right: “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror. ... You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”

Since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism. We’ve fought this ideology in many ways in many places, and we shouldn’t pretend we understand how this conflict will evolve. But we should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back — and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither.

Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan. As Stephen Biddle noted in a recent essay in The American Interest, the Taliban is a transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime.

Pakistan has a fragile government with an estimated 50 or more nuclear weapons. A Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would endanger the Pakistani regime at best, create a regional crisis for certain and lead to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda at worst.

A Taliban reconquest would also, it should be said, be a moral atrocity from which American self-respect would not soon recover.

Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway. On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation.

Amidst all the problems, the NATO coalition has a few things going for it. First, American forces have become quite good at counterinsurgency. They have a battle-tested strategy, experienced troops and a superb new leadership team. According to the political scientists Andrew J. Enterline and Joseph Magagnoli, since World War II, counterinsurgency efforts that put population protection at their core have succeeded nearly 70 percent of the time.

Second, the enemy is wildly hated. Only 6 percent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favor. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq.

Third, while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution. Local villages have their own centuries-old civic institutions. The National Solidarity Program was able to build development councils in 23,000 villages precisely because the remnants of civil society still exist.

We have tried to fight the Afghan war the easy way, and it hasn’t worked. Switching now to the McChrystal strategy is a difficult choice, and President Obama is right to take his time. But Obama was also right a few months ago when he declared, “This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. ... This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
« Last Edit: September 25, 2009, 07:40:24 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #488 on: September 29, 2009, 12:05:56 AM »

I am floored.  What is going on in the White house?  Obama spoke to his field commander only 1 time in 70 days? shocked angry cry

p.s.  I have not been following this thread like I should....if this is posted elsewhere I missed it in a brief scan
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« Reply #489 on: September 29, 2009, 07:29:07 AM »

That datum caught my attention too and it speaks volumes.  As low as an opinion as I already have of our President, it just went quite a bit lower.
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« Reply #490 on: September 29, 2009, 02:06:31 PM »

The Taliban in Afghanistan: An Assessment
Stratfor Today » September 28, 2009 | 1148 GMT

STR/AFP/Getty Images
Three suspected Taliban held by Afghan police Aug. 18Summary
Nearly eight years after removing the Taliban from power in Kabul, U.S. and NATO International Security Assistance Force troops continue to struggle against an elusive enemy. As the United States and NATO ramp up their offensive against Taliban strongholds, STRATFOR examines the nature of the Afghan Taliban phenomenon: how they operate, what their motivations are and what constraints they face.

The Taliban are a direct product of the intra-Islamist civil war that erupted following the fall of the Afghan Marxist regime in 1992, only three years after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Dating back to the 1950s, the Soviet-allied communist party in Afghanistan sought to undermine the local tribal structure: It wanted to gain power via central control. This strategy was extremely disruptive, and resulted in a deterioration in order and the evisceration of the traditional local/regional tribal ethnic system of relations. But these efforts could not dislodge regional and local warlords, who continued to fight amongst each other for territorial control with little regard for civilians, long the modus operandi in Afghanistan.

After the Islamist uprising against the communist takeover and the subsequent entry of Soviet troops into the country in 1979, disparate Afghan factions united under the banner of Islam, aided by the then-Islamist-leaning regime in neighboring Pakistan, which was backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. In terms of the Taliban movement, Pakistan was the most influential, but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were also involved — mostly through financial support. The Saudis had political and religious ties as well.

During this time, madrassas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan became incubators, drawing young, mostly ethnic Pashtun youth, who would in turn facilitate the later rise of the Taliban in the early/mid 1990s in the wake of the decline of the mujahedeen factions.

The madrassas were instrumental in providing assistance, allowing orphans or displaced war refugees to study in Pakistan while Afghanistan experienced a brutal civil war. Refugees were taught a particularly conservative brand of Islam (along with receiving training in guerrilla tactics) with the intention that when they returned to Afghanistan, Pakistan would be able to control these groups, maintaining a powerful lever over its volatile and often unpredictable neighbor.

These radicalized fighters, many of whom originated in the madrassas and considered themselves devoted students of Islam, labeled themselves “Taliban.” The name “Taliban” comes from the Pashtun word for student — “Talib” — with Taliban being the plural form. The Taliban restored some sense of law and order by enforcing their own brand of Shariah, where local warlords previously ruled as they pleased — often to the detriment of civilians. The Taliban, issuing arrests and executing offending warlords, avenged injustices such as rape, murder and theft. As a result, the Taliban won support from the locals by providing a greater sense of security and justice.

(click here to enlarge map)
By the mid-1990s, the Taliban had become more cohesive under their nominal leader from Kandahar, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Taliban gained prominence as a faction in 1994 when they were able to impose order amid chaos in the Kandahar region. By 1996, Taliban forces had entered Kabul, overthrown then-President Burhanuddin Rabbani and claimed control, renaming the country “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Omar was named the leader of the country but remained in Kandahar. It was during this rise to power that outside forces began partnering with the Taliban — namely al Qaeda — emphasizing their common radical Islamist ideology, but ultimately putting the Taliban in unsavory company. Pakistan and al Qaeda competed for influence over the Taliban, with Pakistan seeking to use them as leverage in Afghanistan and al Qaeda wanting to use the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan to spread their power throughout the Islamic world.

During their rule, the Taliban attempted to rid Afghanistan of any Western influences that had crept in, such as Western clothing, cinemas, music, schools and political ideologies. The proxy forces of the Pakistanis were now essentially governing the state, providing Pakistan with a tremendous amount of influence in Afghanistan, and, consequently, a very secure western border, which allowed Pakistan to focus on India to the east.

But this situation did not last long. Al Qaeda’s influence was on the upswing in Afghanistan, from which it staged 9/11. As a result, and after the refusal of the Taliban regime to disassociate itself from al Qaeda, the Pashtun jihadist group was forced out of power by U.S. forces in late 2001 following 9/11. (The United States implicated the Taliban for providing sanctuary to al Qaeda.) Instead of fighting against conventionally superior U.S. and NATO forces, the Taliban retreated into the rural southern and eastern traditional strongholds, returning to their traditional support bases. In other words, despite both claims and perceptions of a quick U.S. victory in Afghanistan in 2002, in reality, the Taliban largely declined to fight.

In many ways, there was no real interregnum between the fall of the regime and the insurgency. The West’s earliest attempts to talk to the Taliban occurred in 2003, a sign that the West viewed the Taliban as a force that had not been defeated and was capable of staging a comeback. In the early days, the West’s strategy was to eliminate the Taliban as a fighting force, but they were never successful, due to adverse geography, the lack of forces and the shifting of focus to Iraq in 2003. More importantly, the fight to control the Pashtun areas turned into a fight to prevent a resurgent Taliban. The U.S. focus on the insurgency in Iraq allowed the Taliban to galvanize and regroup, and by 2005, it was clear that they were rebounding. Since 2006, the Taliban insurgency has gained momentum to the point that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus commented in April that foreign forces in Afghanistan are dealing with an “industrial strength” insurgency.

The Current Status of the Taliban
Despite their removal from power in Kabul, the Taliban continue to be the most powerful indigenous force in Afghanistan. Unlike the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police, which are entities built around the idea that Afghanistan can be centrally controlled (although the geography of Afghanistan severely limits the power of any governing body in Kabul to exert power beyond the capital). The Taliban have a much looser command structure that functions on regional and local levels. Various Taliban commanders have attempted to control the movement and call it their own, but the disjointedness of Taliban units means that each commander enjoys independence and ultimately controls his own men. The Afghan Taliban should also not be confused with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban. The TTP are an indigenous movement, and while they cooperate with the Afghan Taliban and share similar objectives, the two sets of groups are independent.

The closest the Taliban have to a leader is Omar, who has no coequal. He has recently issued orders in an attempt to consolidate the disparate forces in various regions. However, these orders are not always followed, largely because the malleable and semi-autonomous command structure allows the Taliban to be much more in tune with the structural realities of operating in Afghanistan than the Afghan forces created by the United States and ISAF (in addition to U.S. and ISAF forces themselves).

Though a loose command and control structure denies its enemies from targeting any central nerve center that would significantly disrupt the group’s existence, the nebulous structure of the Taliban also prevents them from being a single, coherent force with a single, coherent mission. The Taliban fighting force is far from uniform. Fighters range from young locals who are either fighting for ideological reasons or are forced by circumstances to fight with the Taliban, to hardened, well-trained veterans from the Soviet war in the 1980s, to foreigners who have come to Afghanistan to cut their teeth fighting Western forces and contribute their assistance to re-establishing the “Islamic” emirate. This also leads to variable objectives. On the most basic level, the desire to drive out foreign forces from the area and control it for themselves is a sentiment that appeals to every Taliban fighter and many Afghan civilians. The Taliban know that foreigners have never been able to impose an order on the country and it is only a matter of time before foreign forces will leave, which is when the Taliban — being the single-most organized militia — could have the opportunity to restore their lost “emirate.” For now, the presence of foreign fighters restricts their ability to administer self rule. This common sentiment is what keeps the Taliban somewhat united.

However, the Afghan national identity is easily trumped by subnational ones. While there is consensus for opposing foreign militaries, agreement becomes more tenuous when it comes to the presence of Afghan security forces. Tribal and ethnic identities tend to trump any national identity, meaning that the ethnic Baluchi in the south are unlikely to support the presence of an ethnic Pashtun military unit from Kabul in their home village. These tribal and ethnic splits explain why Afghan security forces are frequently targeted in attacks.

(click map to enlarge)
But Taliban forces across Afghanistan share one goal: removing foreign military presence. The Taliban have plenty of fighting experience outside of their opposition to the Soviets. Militants know that direct confrontation with foreign military forces typically ends poorly for the Taliban because, given enough time, foreign forces can muster superior firepower to destroy an enemy position. For this reason, the Taliban rely heavily on indirect fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which avoid putting Taliban fighters directly in harm’s way. When the Taliban fighters do confront military forces directly, it has generally (though not universally) been in hit-and-run ambushes (often supported by heavy machine guns and mortars) that seek to inflict damage through surprise, not overwhelming force.

Rough terrain and meager transportation infrastructure limit mobility in Afghanistan, which limits the routes that ground convoy traffic can choose from, especially in rugged, outlying areas where the Taliban enjoy more freedom to operate. This makes routes predictable and creates more choke points where IEDs can be placed, which have caused the most deaths for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

These tactics do not always inflict damage on foreign forces and are often unsuccessful, but their model is low-risk, cheap and very sustainable. Meanwhile, as Taliban forces inflict casualties against foreign forces, the overall campaign becomes harder to sustain for Western governments.

Additionally, suicide bombings and suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are on the rise in areas like Kabul. However, various elements of the Taliban (as well as entities like foreign jihadists) have not proven to be able to use these tactics as effectively as Iraqi or Pakistani militants. This is because the Afghan Taliban have much more experience using guerrilla tactics, fighting as small, armed units, than using terrorist tactics such as VBIEDs and suicide bombings. VBIEDs are hardly indigenous to Afghanistan and did not become common until around 2005-2006, well after they had become common occurrences in Iraq. As militants migrated from different jihadist theaters and shared information, tactics spread to Afghanistan. There was also an effort by al Qaeda to impart their tactics onto the Taliban. But there is a learning curve for perfecting the construction and tactical expertise at deploying these weapons. While the Taliban have not been as proficient as some of their contemporaries, their capability could be improving.

It remains to be seen what kind of implications the collateral damage that these attacks cause will have on the popular perception of the movement. One clear implication of killing civilians is that it undermines local support for the Taliban, which is why Omar has sought to limit the use of suicide bombings as a modus operandi. (Afghans have traditionally abhorred suicide bombings.) But the continued employment of such tactics against Afghan and Western security forces can be expected.

But areas where the Taliban conduct attacks should not be confused with areas that the Taliban control. Attacks certainly indicate a Taliban presence, but the Taliban would not necessarily need to conduct sustained attacks in an area if they did not feel they were under threat. The issue of controlling territory is, in reality, much more complex. There have been many mainstream publications recently that attempt to calculate what percentage of Afghanistan is under Taliban “control” or where the Taliban have influence. But these terms are misleading and need to be properly defined to understand the reality of the insurgency and its grip on the country.

“Controlling” Afghanistan
Western military forces and the Taliban have pursued different strategies to control territory in Afghanistan. Foreign forces have pursued the model of controlling the national capital and projecting power into the provinces. This means that Kabul is the main objective, with other major cities and provincial capitals being the secondary objective, followed third by district capitals and smaller towns. Foreign forces tend to hold urban areas because they are crucial to maintaining heavier logistical needs, and the supply chains that support them, and are deemed necessary to carry out a more centralized conception of national governance. Holding urban areas and roads allows them to expand further into the rural areas where, conversely, the Taliban derive their power.

The Taliban implement almost the exact opposite model. The Taliban employ decentralized control with a much lighter logistical footprint. The Taliban begin at the local level, in isolated villages and towns so that it can pressure district-level capitals. This scheme, which comes naturally to the Taliban, is much more in line with the underlying realities of Afghanistan.

Both sides have managed to prevent the other from gaining any real control over the country. By holding district and provincial capitals, foreign forces deny the Taliban formal control. By entrenching themselves in the countryside, the Taliban simply survive — and can afford to wait for their opportunity.

Click map to enlarge
Few areas of the country are secure for Taliban, foreign or Afghan forces — or civilians — indicating that no side has absolute control over territory. What STRATFOR wrote in 2007 still stands today: Control in Afghanistan essentially depends on who is standing where at any given time. The situation remains extremely fluid, largely because of mobility advantages on both sides. Taliban forces have mobility advantages over foreign forces due their self-sufficiency. Taliban conscripts do not rely on lengthy, tenuous supply chains that cross over politically and militarily hostile territory. They are local fighters who depend on family and friends for supplies and shelter or, when forced, use intimidation to take what they need from civilians. They can also easily blend into their surroundings. These abilities translate into superior tactical mobility.

An example of the control that the Taliban have on the ground is opium production. In poppy-producing (the flower used to make opium) areas of the south and west, locals rely on the Taliban for protecting, purchasing and moving their product to market. In these areas, the Taliban have not only physical leverage over civilians, but also economic, which helps strengthen allegiances. While opium production in Helmand, the province with the highest rate of poppy cultivation, dropped by one-third over the past year, poppy production continues to increase in other provinces such as Kandahar, Farah and especially Badghis province, where poppy production increased 93 percent and violent attacks have increased over the past year. This province — and the north/northwest of Afghanistan in general — is an area that STRATFOR certainly needs to watch as it has traditionally not been a Taliban stronghold.

Conversely, foreign forces and the Afghan forces modeled on them are bound by supply chain limitations — a weakness that the Taliban have targeted in the past year. This reality constrains their ability to be flexible and spontaneous, resulting in predictable troop movements and requires the reliance on stationary bases, which make for easier targeting on the part of the Taliban.

However, what U.S. and ISAF forces have that the Taliban do not is air superiority. Foreign forces have been able to deny the Taliban sanctuaries by using air surveillance and air strikes that can neutralize large contingents of Taliban fighters and commanders without putting U.S. and ISAF forces in harm’s way. Air superiority gives foreign forces an advantage over the Taliban’s superior ground mobility and denies the Taliban’s complete control over any territory. However, air superiority does not guarantee control over any specific territory, as ground control is required to administer territory through organized government. This arrangement creates concentric circles of influence: The Taliban may patrol one stretch of land one day, but U.S. forces will patrol the next. Similarly, village allegiances shift constantly as they try to avoid being perceived by foreign forces as harboring Taliban lest they are the target of an airstrike, yet also maintain cordial relations with the local Taliban to avoid harsh reprisal.

Additionally, foreign forces are able to use air power to overcome some of the limitations of the supply chain vulnerabilities by relying on helicopter transport for shuttling supplies and deploying troops. Helicopters greatly reduce reliance on ground transport and convoys, but are in short supply and, in an environment where counter-tactics develop as quickly as tactics, they have their own vulnerabilities.

The Realities That Remain
Just as foreign and Afghan forces struggle to outright control territory, so do the Taliban. Even during the days of the Islamic Emirate, when the Taliban were at their peak, considerable swaths of territory in the north eluded their control. The fact remains that Afghanistan’s geography and ethnic/tribal makeup ensure that any power seeking to control Afghanistan will face a serious struggle. With flat, unprotected borderlands (where the bulk of the population resides) and a mountainous center, Afghanistan is both highly susceptible to foreign interference (it has so many neighbors who are able to easily project power into it, yet are unable and unwilling to rule it outright) and is governed poorly from any centralized location.
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« Reply #491 on: September 30, 2009, 06:41:31 AM »

US policy-makers had hoped that the taking-over of Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of the US Central Command, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the US Commander in Afghanistan working under Gen.Petraeus would bring about a more proactive strategy to weaken the Taliban and create a divide between it and the Afghan people. The two had earned a reputation in Iraq for reversing the fortunes of Al Qaeda and the former Baathist soldiers of Saddam Hussein, creating a divide between the two and enlisting the support of different tribal leaders and through them their followers for the US military operations. The improvement in the ground situation in Iraq----though not yet irreversible--- was largely due to their thinking, planning and execution.

2. Hopes in Washington that the two Generals would bring about similar results in Afghanistan have been belied so far.The Af-Pak troika of the administration of Barack Obama---- Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative for the Af-Pak region, who handles the political and diplomatic angles, and the two Generals--- has not been able to come to grips with the problem almost six months after the new Af-Pak policy of the Obama adminstration was launched in March last. The present ground situation favours the Pakistan-based Neo Taliban. Since the two Generals took over, the Neo Taliban has been able to increase and strengthen its presence in the north too. The situation is still one of a bleeding stalemate, but the prospects of the US-led forces breaking the stalemate and prevailing over the Neo Taliban are not any the brighter since the two Generals took over.

3. The dilemma posed by the worrisome ground situation is reflected in the growing impression that Obama's Af-Pak strategy has failed to take off and is unlikely to take off and that the time has come to think of a new strategy in which the key to success would be in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan.Vice-President Joe Biden seems to favour a change of focus from a Neo Taliban-centric strategy in Afghanistan to an Al Qaeda-centric one in Pakistan.

4.Presently, the political pressure is on Pakistan to act against the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements operating from sanctuaries in its territory and on the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul to improve governance, reduce corruption and pay better attention to the problems of the people in the areas controlled by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the US-led Western forces.

5. Neither of these pressures has worked. Nor have the never-ending incentives offered by the US to Pakistan---the latest of which is the expected passage by both Houses of the US Congress of the Kerry-Lugar Bill making a long term commitment of US$ 7.5 billion to Pakistan in the form of non-military aid over a period of five years. The military aid, which too continues to increase, will be in addition. Original expectations when Obama assumed office in January last that strict benchmarks would be laid down for the periodic disbursements of this aid in order to ensure that Pakistan does act sincerely and firmly against the terrorists have been belied.The more Pakistan is pampered, the less it acts against the terrorists. That has been the lesson since 9/11 and this lesson has not been learnt by the officials of the Obama administration.This is evident even from the grim Assessment dated August 30,2009, prepared by Gen.McChrystal, on the basis of which he is reported to be planning to ask for another surge of 21000 US troops--- a request over which Obama is reportedly not enthusiastic.

6. The pressures on Karzai to improve governance have not worked either. This is partly due to the difficult ground situation, which would pose a dilemma to any ruler---however democratic and however competent. Moreover, instead of strengthening the position of Karzai, US officials have done everything to weaken his credibility in the eyes of his own people as well as the international community through allegations---some true, many unwisely inspired--- regarding his inability or unwillingness to act against corruption and narcotics production and rigging in the Presidential elections. Even if he wins the elections in the first round itself----as he is expected to--- the importance of that victory has already been diluted by these allegations. US officials take a lot of care not to say or do anything, which might weaken the position of the Pakistani leadership, but they do not take similar care in respect of Karzai.

7.In the existing gloomy scenario, there are only two positive factors, which provide some cheer. Firstly, the improvement in the flow of human intelligence to the US intelligence community from sources in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, which has led to some significant sucesses in the form of eradication of some middle-level leaders of Al Qaeda and even senior leaders of the Pakistan Taliban known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by US drone strikes. After having eliminated Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, the Drone strikes are now focussed on eliminating the Haqqani network consisting of the old Soviet era mujahideen warrior Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons. If the US succeeds in eliminating the Haqqani network--- I hope it will--- the pressure on the US forces in Afghan territory could lessen--- at least in the short term. As against this, the impact of the elimination of Baitullah on the ground situation in Afghanistan would be minimal. His elimination was more a boon to the Pakistani security forces grappling with terrorists of their own creation in their territory than to the US-led Western forces in Afghanistan.

8.The second positive factor is the role of India as a force for stability in Afghanistan. Any objective analyst has to concede that the various road construction, democracy-promotion and people-oriented programmes undertaken by India in the areas controlled by the Government of Afghanistan have benefitted not only the people of Afghanistan immensely, but also the long-term Western objective of a democratic, modern Afghanistan.

9. One would have expected the US policy-makers not only to recognise the importance of retaining the role of India as a force for stability, but also encouraging India to expand further its people-oriented role in Afghanistan. In his assessment, McChrystal recognises --- though somewhat grudgingly-- the beneficial role of India and the support for that role from the Karzai Government, but one is surprised to find that he shows understanding for the Pakistani concerns over India's role and hints that these concerns have to be taken into consideration while formulating any revised strategy. He himself says that no strategy will work unless it is people-oriented, but at the same time wants something to be done to address Pakistani concerns over India's people-oriented role.

10.The Afghan people---whether Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbecks or others--- distrust and hate the Pakistanis after seeing the role played by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the creation and fattening of the Taliban since 1994. One saw the extent of the hatred for the Pakistanis when the American and Northern Alliance troops entered Kabul in 2001 under Operation Enduring Freedom. Pakistanis assisting the Taliban Government in Kabul were hunted, killed and their dead bodies thrown into the gutters of Kabul.

11. Gen.McChrystal's ideas, if implemented, would provide an environment for the re-assertion of the hated Pakistani role by paying attention to Pakistani concerns over India's positive role.This shows how short-sighted US policy-makers and military-officers can be.The General's assessment is disappointing because it fails to put its finger on the crux of the dilemma being faced by the US-led Western forces, similar to the dilemma which the Soviet troops faced in Afghanistan in the 1980s before they decided to quit in 1988.This dilemma arose in the case of the Soviet troops and has now arisen in the case of the US-led Western troops from the absence of a counter-sanctuaries component to the counter-insurgency strategy.

12.The reluctance of the Soviet troops to take their fighting to the sanctuaries of the Afghan Mujahideen in Pakistani territory led to a situation where the Soviet troops kept bleeding till battle fatigue and public disenchantment with the war set in. Similarly, the absence of an effective counter-sanctuaries component is leading to a situation where the US and other Western forces as well as the ANA are bleeding more and more. There are already the incipient signs of a battle fatigue as cound be seen even from the General's assessment and the beginning of a public disenchantment with the involvement in Afghanistan. This disenchantment is already pronounced in West Europe and Canada and one could see the beginning of it even in the US. Instead of allowing the Neo Taliban to infiltrate in increasing numbers from its sanctuaries and recruiting grounds in the FATA and the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan and then fighting or countering their ambushes in Afghan territory, the US should take its counter-insurgency operations to the camps of the Neo Taliban in adjoining Pakistani territory----whether in the FATA or in Balochistan.

13. The US already has an air-mounted counter-sanctuaries strategy in the FATA with the help of the Drones, which provide a deniable way of hitting at the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Neo Taliban. This strategy has had its successes, but, despite them, has proved inadequate. Initially, these strikes were concentrated on the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and its allies in North Waziristan. Earlier this year, when there was a danger of the TTP expanding its presence to the non-tribal areas and posing a danger to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the focus of the Drone strikes shifted to South Waziristan against the sanctuaries of the TTP.During the last six months or so, the objective of these strikes became not protecting the NATO forces and the ANA in Afghanistan from attacks mounted from the Pakistani territory, but assisting the Pakistan Army in reversing the advance of the TTP into the non-tribal areas. After killing Baitullah in the first week of August, the US has again changed the direction and is now focussing on the Haqqani network, whose threat is more in Afghan territory than in the FATA. The US has not been able to mount a full-scale operation against Al Qaeda sanctuaries in North Waziristan due to the dispersal of its resources to South Waziristan for use against the TTP.

14. Even this limited success has not been there against the staging grounds of the Neo Taliban in Balochistan.The US continues to depend on the Pakistan Army for action against the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban. The ISI-sponsored Neo Taliban is the only asset left with the Pakistan Army for regaining its primacy in Afghanistan if and when the US and other Western troops leave Afghanistan. Pakistan wants to regain this primacy without the direct deployment of its own army as it did in the 1990s. If the US is waiting for the Pakistan Army to act against the Neo Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, this is not going to happen. The US has only two alternatives---either itself act against the sanctuaries in Balochistan and destroy the Neo Taliban leadership in order to restore the damaged image of the US forces in Afghanistan, thereby paving the way for an honourable exit or keep its operations confined to Afghan territory, thereby continuing to bleed and face the prospect of an exit forced on the US by the Neo Taliban under humiliating conditions.

15.The role of the Drones---even if extended to Balochistan-- may not be as effective as their role in the FATA. The places in the FATA where the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda,the TTP and the Haqqani network are located are far from inhabited areas. The dangers of civilian fatalities are not large. In the Quetta and adjoining areas of Balochistan, the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban are located in inhabited areas. It would be very difficult---almost impossible---to avoid large civilian fatalities. Deniable ground operations would, therefore, be necessary to eliminate the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban. The US has the capability for such ground operations, but does not have the political will to use it lest it add to the already high anti-US feelings in Pakistan and affect even the limited co-operration which it has presently been getting from Pakistan in the FATA.

16. This danger of adverse reaction in Pakistan has to be faced if the US wants to bring about better ground conditions, which would enable it to contemplate withdrawing from Afghanistan with honour and with some confidence that Afghanistan will not revert to its pre-9/11 position of being the rear base for Al Qaeda. Before contemplating withdrawal, the US has to destroy Al Qaeda sanctuaries, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the FATA, the Haqqani network and the Neo Taliban sanctuaries in Balochistan. It has to come to terms with the hard reality that this is something which the US has to do without depending on Pakistan.Pakistan and Al Qaeda are biding their time hoping that after the US withdrawal, they can move into Afghanistan once again. This should not be allowed to happen.

17. Instead of discussing the various options available in this regard,McChrystal's report skirts the crux of the dilemma and discusses other issues having little relevance to a counter-sanctuaries strategy. His assessment reads more like one prepared by a senior officer attending a joint staff course than a recommendation for action prepared by an officer in charge of command and control. It is possible there is a classified part of the Assessment in which McChrystal discusses a counter-sanctuaries strategy. If not, his thinking doesn't bode well for the ultimate success of the US operations in the Af-Pak region.

18. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier paper of May 13,2009, titled "The Af-Pak Situation--An Update", at (27-9-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )
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« Reply #492 on: September 30, 2009, 07:55:19 AM »

Second post of the morning-- the first is the more important one.

The Taliban’s Toll

How American taxpayer dollars are being used to fund our Afghan enemies

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Forget opium poppies for a moment. The Taliban has another huge source of revenue, worth up to $1 billion a year, which generously supplements its heroin-trafficking income and the cash-flow from rich oil sheiks in the Persian Gulf.

This money comes from you.

The allegation that millions of dollars of U.S aid and military funds have been siphoned off by the Taliban through elaborate extortion rackets is not something government officials readily discuss. But the departing head of the Army Corps of Engineers recently conceded that there was little his agency could do to stop it, and the U.S. State Department launched an investigation after reports of the scandal finally penetrated the mainstream news.

The Pentagon did not respond to TAC’s inquiries about charges that local contractors who deliver supplies and equipment to remote NATO bases in Afghanistan are charging Western governments “protection money” to pay off the Taliban, or Taliban-connected middlemen, to protect convoys along dangerous overland supply routes. Yet a growing consensus supports a fearsome prospect: U.S. taxpayers are funding the enemy.

“If you don’t pay, you will get attacked, you will not get through,” says Peter Jouvenal, a British expat and former BBC journalist who has been living and working in Kabul for nearly 30 years. He has operated several businesses in Afghanistan, including a small trucking company. “Everybody wins in the short-term,” he tells TAC. “The Taliban get their money, and the contractors get their money, and the soldiers get their food and fuel supplies. The only one that loses out is the United States taxpayer, who has to foot the bill for all this. That would be acceptable if we were achieving something, but we’re not.”

In late August, McClatchy News reported that the Taliban now controls districts in two key northern provinces along the new major supply route coming in from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, running through the Hindu Kush mountains and toward the U.S. military’s massive Bagram Air Base.

Yet supplies are getting through. Reports suggest that contractors big and small are paying the price for secure delivery, then off-loading that cost to their clients—the military, USAID, or whatever Western aid organization is footing the bill. There is lots of money to be made. At the beginning of this year, Washington announced it would be spending upwards of $4 billion to construct new facilities and upgrade old ones in order to support the Af-Pak “surge. ” The strategy included three new combat brigades, as well as new facilities for Afghan soldiers, not to mention the accompanying army of private contractors supporting them.

And that’s only part of the story. The U.S. has already appropriated $38 billion since 2001 in humanitarian aid and reconstruction funding for its post-invasion nation-building exercises, and the Obama administration wants to increase spending. According to recent reports, much of this money has already disappeared into the pockets of Taliban racketeers, calling into question the success of Western investment over the past eight years. “Virtually every major project includes a healthy cut for insurgents. Call it protection money, call it extortion, or, as the Taliban prefer to term it, ‘the spoils of war,’ the fact remains that international donors, primarily the United States, are to a large extent financing their own enemy,” wrote Jean MacKenzie, Kabul correspondent for the GlobalPost, in August.

MacKenzie is one of the few reporters who have tried to run the numbers: the manager of an Afghan firm with “lucrative construction contracts with the U.S government” builds in a “minimum” charge of 20 percent for Taliban payouts, she writes. He tells his friends privately that he makes upwards of $1 million per month, $200,000 of which goes to Taliban heavies.

“It adds up, of course,” says MacKenzie, estimating that the “outside limit” of the Taliban’s extortion earnings comes to roughly $1 billion a year. Add to that other sources of corruption in Afghanistan—whether it is the police, the politicians, the elections, or abusive Western contractors—and the picture of the Af-Pak effort starts to look pretty bleak.
Even worse, it seems that insurgents might be ripping off some contractors, allowing them to proceed with their business, only to turn and use their ill-gotten gains to attack other allied convoys. In the Sept. 7 issue of Time magazine, Aryn Baker and Shah Mahmood Barakzai reported from Kabul that a week before a deadly Taliban blast in Kunduz killed four American soldiers, a local businessman, who had been subcontracted by a firm working for the German government, admitted to paying a cash bribe of $15,000 to a “Taliban middleman.” No one can prove that any of that money went toward assembling the makeshift bomb that killed the troops. “Nevertheless,” conclude Baker and Barakzai, “it is likely that a substantial amount of aid money from many countries—including the U.S.—has made its way, directly or indirectly, into the Taliban’s coffers.”

As the Obama administration struggles to come to terms with the looming reality that the Taliban might have the upper hand in this war, the last thing that government officials and members of Congress want to talk about is the idea that the enemy has his hand in the American purse. Requests for comment to key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went unanswered. Requests to House members who had just returned from Afghanistan were met with similar silence.

Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing David Cohen has admitted there is a problem, but will not talk about specifics or scope. In a statement consisting of just two lines, he said, “The Taliban obtains revenues from a variety of sources, including extortion of funds from both legitimate and unlawful activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He finished by saying that an interagency task force had been convened to combat “funding for violent extremist groups.”

Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, overcoming the American chain of command’s habitual preoccupation with opium poppies, has acknowledged that the Taliban does not just make money from the country’s $4 billion drug trade. “In the past there was a kind of a feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” he told reporters in Pakistan in June. “That is simply not true.”

“Rackets, extortion, kidnapping and bank heists are all helping the Pakistani Taliban pay the bills,” wrote Shahan Mufti for GlobalPost in August. In an April report about the NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan, private intelligence provider Stratfor said:

The Taliban and their jihadist affiliates are ideologically driven to target Western forces and increase the cost for them to remain in the region. There are also a number of criminally motivated fighters who adopt the Taliban label as a convenient cover but who are far more interested in making a profit. Both groups can benefit from racketeering enterprises that allow them to extort hefty protection fees from private security firms in return for the contractors’ physical safety.

Holbrooke preferred to steer clear of that particular angle. Instead, he used the apparently candid moment to try to shift attention toward the shady international donors who send gifts to the Taliban through tenebrous charities and the like. It is true that foreign donations represent a thorny problem, though the issue is clearly not as embarrassing for the U.S. government as the thought of some Taliban middleman becoming $10,000 richer so that German International Security Alliance Forces could refill their watering holes.

Over the summer months, the Taliban has revealed, once more, what a cunning adversary it can be—busily skimming off cash from our altruism and manipulating the supply chain, either by bombing our convoys or shaking them down. Thus the destructive cycle evolves. Profiteers and insurgents thrive as long as the payoffs exceed the risks. We deploy more troops, who need more supplies, more fuel, more shelter, which in turn provide more targets for extortion and more revenue for the insurgency.

Jouvenal, a seasoned commentator on Afghanistan, calls it “business as usual.” “Afghans all know the West has failed,” he says. “This time, when the West packs up … the Taliban will come back and a lot of people will become refugees again. The thought is to make as much money as you can because you don’t know when you will be a refugee again.” The scramble to extort money, he explains, “increases, as time runs out.”

The Afghans seem able to grasp the reality of things. How long will it take us to get wise to this self-perpetuating disaster?
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« Reply #493 on: October 02, 2009, 11:49:59 AM »

Pakistan: The Death of an Uzbek Militant
Stratfor Today » October 2, 2009 | 1545 GMT

John Moore/Getty Images
A Pakistani army soldier in Pakistan’s South WaziristanSummary
A U.S. drone strike in Kanigram, Pakistan, killed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) chief Tahir Yuldashev, Reuters reported Oct. 2. The air strike, which happened on Aug. 27, fatally wounded Yuldashev. Although it is unclear that the United States was targeting Yuldashev, his death will exacerbate tensions among Uzbek militants and other jihadist groups.


A suspected U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strike in northwestern Pakistan killed the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Tahir Yuldashev, Reuters reported Oct. 2, citing unnamed Pakistani security officials. The officials said that the top Uzbek jihadist leader was killed when a South Waziristan facility was struck on Aug 27. STRATFOR sources in Pakistan reported that Yuldashev, who was among a group of militants when the strike occurred at Kanigram, succumbed to injuries on Aug. 28 and was buried in Khasori Ladha. Allegedly, the airstrike was not explicitly designed to target him; it is unclear that the United States was aware of his presence at the location.

Yuldashev’s death is a blow to his movement, the Pakistani Taliban, Uighur/East Turkestani militants fighting in China, other Central Asian jihadist outfits and al Qaeda. He is the most significant militant leader to have died after top Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. While Yuldashev was alive, he was instrumental in cooperation between Uzbek and other central Asian militants with Arab and Pashtun fighters. Now that he is dead, the Uzbeks will become more mercenary-like and subservient to non-Uzbek militant forces. This could exacerbate tensions among the Uzbeks and between the Uzbeks and others (Pashtuns, Arabs, Uighurs, Caucasians, other Central Asian, etc.), especially as his successors deal with his death and suspicions of betrayal.

Yuldashev emerged as the top leader of the IMU after his predecessor Juma Namangiani was killed in late 2001 in Afghanistan during the U.S. military campaign that followed 9/11. Yuldashev was a major figure in the movement during the days when Namangiani headed the IMU; that facilitated the succession. But under Yuldashev, no noteworthy deputy has emerged, suggesting that finding a new leader could be an issue.

When the IMU was based in Afghanistan, it was unable to use the country as a launch pad for attacks in Uzbekistan. But hitting Uzbekistan became even more difficult for the IMU after relocating to Pakistan with al Qaeda Prime, when the transnational jihadist base in Afghanistan was destroyed. Yuldashev and thousands of Uzbek fighters moved to the South Waziristan agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where they already had extensive local connections.

The IMU had become more involved in transnational al Qaeda causes while in Afghanistan, and Pakistani Taliban causes after relocating. In March 2004, Yuldashev was reportedly wounded when Pakistani forces launched their first-ever offensive against jihadists in South Waziristan.

Yuldashev and his militants have become a key source of support for the Pakistani Taliban, especially the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) founded by Mehsud. That is because they live in the area controlled by the TTP and have engaged in several battles with Islamabad-allied Taliban factions.

The news of his death also follows the mid-September death of Islamic Jihad Union chief Najmiddin Kamolitdinovich Jalolov, an Uzbek native implicated in terrorist plots and attacks in Germany and Uzbekistan. Jalolov died in a U.S. UAV strike in North Waziristan. In July, two top Tajik militants — Mirzo Ziyoev and Nemat Azizov — were killed by security forces in Tajikistan soon after they had traveled back to Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

For Pakistan and the United States, Yuldashev’s death is a significant victory, as it will facilitate the efforts to root out foreign fighters from the local ones by potentially turning them against one another. It will also be a relief for Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian republics, which fear that the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and their recent rise in Pakistan could undermine their security in the near future.
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« Reply #494 on: October 02, 2009, 04:12:25 PM »
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« Reply #495 on: October 03, 2009, 09:07:16 AM »

This is from Pravda on the Hudson and is about precisely the sort of thing where the NYT is most suspect as a reporting source.  That said the subject matter seems very important-- but caveat lector:

U.S. Review of Battle Disaster Sways Strategy on Afghanistan

Published: October 2, 2009
WASHINGTON — The paratroopers of Chosen Company had plenty to worry about as they began digging in at their new outpost on the fringe of a hostile frontier village in eastern Afghanistan.

Intelligence reports were warning of militants massing in the area. As the paratroopers looked around, the only villagers they could see were men of fighting age idling in the bazaar. There were no women and children, and some houses looked abandoned. Through their night scopes they could see furtive figures on the surrounding mountainsides.

A few days later, they were almost overrun by 200 insurgents.

That firefight, a debacle that cost nine American lives in July 2008, has become the new template for how not to win in Afghanistan. The calamity and its roots have been described in bitter, painstaking detail in an unreleased Army history, a devastating narrative that has begun to circulate in an initial form even as the military opened a formal review this week of decisions made up and down the chain of command.

The 248-page draft history, obtained by The New York Times, helps explain why the new commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is pressing so hard for a full-fledged commitment to a style of counterinsurgency that rests on winning over the people of Afghanistan even more than killing militants. The military has already incorporated lessons from the battle in the new doctrine for war in Afghanistan.

The history offers stark examples of shortcomings in the unit’s preparation, the style of combat it adopted, its access to intelligence, its disdain for the locals — in short, plenty of blame to go around.

Before the soldiers arrived, commanders negotiated for months with Afghan officials of dubious loyalty over where they could dig in, giving militants plenty of time to prepare for an assault.

Despite the suspicion that the militants were nearby, there were not enough surveillance aircraft over the lonely outpost — a chronic shortage in Afghanistan that frustrated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the time. Commanders may have been distracted from the risky operation by the bureaucratic complexities of handing over responsibility at the brigade level to replacements — and by their urgent investigation of an episode that had enraged the local population, the killing a week earlier in an airstrike of a local medical clinic’s staff as it fled nearby fighting in two pickup trucks.

Above all, the unit and its commanders had an increasingly tense and untrusting relationship with the Afghan people.

The history cited the “absence of cultural awareness and understanding of the specific tribal and governance situation” and the emphasis on combat operations over the development of the local economy and other civil affairs, a reversal of the practices of the unit that had just left the area.

The battle of Wanat is being described as the “Black Hawk Down” of Afghanistan, with the 48 American soldiers and 24 Afghan soldiers outnumbered three to one in a four-hour firefight that left nine Americans dead and 27 wounded in one of the bloodiest days of the eight-year war.

Soldiers who survived the battle described how their automatic weapons turned white hot and jammed from nonstop firing. Mortally wounded troops continued to hand bullet belts to those still able to fire.

The ammunition stockpile was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, igniting a stack of 120-millimeter mortar rounds — and the resulting fireball flung the unit’s antitank missiles into the command post. One insurgent got inside the concertina wire and is believed to have killed three soldiers at close range, including the platoon commander, Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom.

The description of the battle at Wanat — the heroism, the violence and the missteps that may have contributed to the deaths — ends with a judgment that the fight was “as remarkable as any small-unit action in American military history.”

The author, the military historian Douglas R. Cubbison, also included a series of criticisms in his review, sponsored by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that laid blame on a series of decisions made before the battle.

The draft report criticized the “lack of adequate preparation time” before arriving in Afghanistan, which meant there was little training geared specifically for Afghanistan, and not even a detailed operational plan for the year of combat that lay ahead.

Pentagon and military officials say those initial criticisms are being revised to reflect subsequent interviews with other soldiers and officers who were at Wanat or who served in higher-level command positions. After a round of revisions, the study will go through a formal peer-review process and be published.

The battle stands as proof that the United States is facing off against a far more sophisticated adversary in Afghanistan today, one that can fight anonymously with roadside bombs or stealthily with kidnappings — but also can operate like a disciplined armed force using well-rehearsed small-unit tactics to challenge the American military for dominance on the conventional battlefield.

Official judgment on whether errors were made by the unit on the ground or by any leaders up the chain of command will be determined by a new investigation opened this week by Gen. David H. Petraeus of United States Central Command at the urging of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The call for such an independent review came from family members of the fallen, including David P. Brostrom, father of the slain platoon commander and himself a retired Army colonel, as well as from a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia.

The history is replete with wrong turns at every point of the unit’s mission, starting with the day it was reassigned to Afghanistan from training for Iraq.


Page 2 of 2)

After having served for more than a year in other hot zones of eastern Afghanistan, the platoon arrived in the village at dark on July 8, 2008, just two weeks from the day it was supposed to go home to its base in Italy.

The men wore their adopted unit emblem — skull patches fashioned after Marvel Comics’ antihero, the Punisher. They unloaded their Humvees, packed with weapons, water and the single rucksack each had kept when the rest of his kit was shipped home. They had plenty of ammunition.

But at the end of an intense tour of combat, they had run out of good relations with an increasingly distrustful population.

They named it Outpost Kahler, after a popular sergeant who had been killed by one of their own Afghan guards early that year. His last words as he moved ahead of his comrades to check whether their Afghan partners were asleep while on duty had been, “This might be dangerous.” (The shooting was ruled an accident, but relations between skeptical American troops and Afghan forces deteriorated.)

Although the 173rd Airborne Brigade had been scheduled to return to Iraq from its base in Italy, the need for forces to counter a resurgence of militant violence in eastern Afghanistan prompted new orders for the brigade to switch immediately to preparations for mountain warfare — many of the outposts were linked only by narrow, rutted trails, and some could be reached only be helicopter — and a wholly different culture and language. “Unfortunately, the comparatively late change of mission for the 173rd Airborne B.C.T. from Iraq to Afghanistan did not permit the brigade sufficient time to prepare any form of campaign plan,” the history reports.

The unit arrived at Wanat ill prepared for the hot work of building an outpost in the mountains in July; troops were thirsty from a lack of fresh water, and their one construction vehicle ran out of gas, so the unit was unable to complete basic fortifications. The soldiers had no local currency to buy favor by investing in the village economy, the history makes clear. The soldiers also said they complained up the chain of command about the lack of air surveillance over their dangerous corner of Afghanistan, but no more was provided.

Even as they settled into their spartan command post, the unit’s commanders were insulted to learn that local leaders were meeting together in a “shura,” or council, to which they were not invited — and which might even have been a session used to coordinate the assault on the Americans that began before dawn the very next morning.

The four-hour firefight finally ended when American warplanes and attack helicopters strafed insurgent positions. The paratroopers drove back the insurgents, but ended up abandoning the village 48 hours later.
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« Reply #496 on: October 04, 2009, 08:35:28 AM »

10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan

: October 3, 2009
Op-Ed page of NYTimes

Reform or Go Home

COUNTERINSURGENCY is only as good as the government it supports. NATO could do everything right — it isn’t — but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government. Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse.

Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do).

Other steps might include a census and district-level elections (promised since 2001, but never held), fair and effective taxation to replace kickbacks and extortion, increased pay to diligent local officials, the transfer of more budgetary authority to the provinces and the creation of local courts for dispute resolution.

If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should “Afghanize,” draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban — which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.

— DAVID KILCULLEN, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and the author of “The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One”

End Suicide Attacks

TO win in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies must prevent the rise of a new generation of anti-American terrorists, particularly suicide terrorists.

The metric for measuring this threat is not the amount of territory controlled by the Taliban or Al Qaeda, but the number of people willing to be recruited as suicide terrorists. These individuals are motivated not by the existence of a terrorist sanctuary, but by deep anger at the presence of foreign forces on land they prize.

This is why the number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, overwhelmingly against military targets, has skyrocketed as United States and NATO forces have increasingly occupied the country from 2006 on. There were nine attacks in 2005, 97 in 2006, 142 in 2007, 148 in 2008 and more than 60 in the first six months of this year.

It is imperative to decrease the number of suicide attacks. Given the ethnic divisions of the country, our best tactic is to use political and economic means to empower local Pashtuns to feel that they have greater autonomy from both Taliban and Western domination, and less need to respond violently.

A similar strategy toward Sunni groups in Anbar Province reduced anti-American suicide terrorism in Iraq and is our best way forward in Afghanistan.

— ROBERT A. PAPE, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”

If You Can’t Beat Them, Let Them Join

WITHIN a year, we must persuade large numbers of insurgents to lay down their arms or switch to the government’s side. Afghanistan’s doughty warriors have a tradition of changing alliances, but success will require both military operations focused on the insurgent leadership and, even more important, incentives for fighters at the local level.

Mid-level insurgents and their followers should be offered a chance to join a revised version of the Afghan Public Protection Force. These local self-defense forces should be expanded and tied to legitimate local governing structures — both official and tribal. The majority of development funds should be funneled to leaders to strengthen local governance and development and pay the militias’ salaries.

Local self-defense forces in Colombia, Peru, South Vietnam and, most recently, Iraq, have proved very successful. The creation of a viable force like this is the single most important benchmark for the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

— LINDA ROBINSON, the author of “Tell Me How This Ends: Gen. David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq”

Pump Up the Police
FOR all the disputes over strategy, virtually everyone agrees that we need to strengthen the Afghan security forces, make them true partners and put them in the lead. Afghans want lasting security, and they want it to have an Afghan face.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, wisely wants to double the size of the Afghan Army and increase the police forces to 160,000 men. This requires not just money, but also a commitment to send more trainers, embedded advisers and partner units. At the moment, international forces in Afghanistan say they still lack about 30 percent of the trainers and mentors needed to train even the current police force.

Creating effective security forces will also require more aid to create a functioning local justice system with courts, lawyers and jails. This will take at least a decade, so for the short term we should assist efforts to revive Afghanistan’s traditional justice systems.

— ANTHONY CORDESMAN, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Kick Out Corruption

TO defeat the insurgency, the Afghan government and its main partner, the United States, need to win the confidence of the public. Accountability must replace the widespread immunity enjoyed by officials who abuse their power.

Despite all the problems with our recent election, the incoming government will have a chance to start fresh, and a proper vetting of all new officials is the place to begin. This means establishing strict accountability mechanisms for high officials in the districts and provinces as well as in the ministries and directorates in Kabul. Simply shuffling abusive and incompetent officials among offices — as has been the norm over the past eight years — keeps the public from getting the governmental services it needs.

While the corruption in Kabul is well known, the alliances that American and other foreign forces have made at the local level with abusive officials and influential figures have emboldened those Afghans and alarmed the Afghan public. These alliances must be examined and stopped. The next government should make a statement by quickly clearing out some of the most blatantly corrupt officials.

— NADER NADERY, a commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

Learn to Tax From the Taliban

SKEPTICS of state-building proposals question whether the Kabul government — now almost fully dependent on foreign aid — will ever be able to support the military and police forces being trained. Yet there has been comparatively little investment by the international community in helping Kabul collect taxes, even though insurgents and corrupt officials have proved it can be done.

In addition to collecting taxes from the illegal opium trade, Taliban forces extort money from trucks carrying legal cargo through their territories and demand “protection fees” from local businesses, even hitting up construction projects financed by NATO.

Government officials also take illegal kickbacks — one governor in the eastern part of the country is reported to earn as much as $10 million a month extorting trucking firms. But this money doesn’t end up in state coffers — it just lines the governor’s deep pockets.

The “civilian surge” should include tax experts who could help federal and provincial officials develop mechanisms for collecting revenue — and make sure that money ends up where it belongs.

— GRETCHEN PETERS, the author of “Seeds of Terror”

Polls Have the Power

BY and large, my generation of military professionals trained for and thought about what we might call “Type A” war — modern war, featuring the clash of mechanized forces fielded by industrial states. Happily, we never had to fight the Soviets on the northern German plain, though Operation Desert Storm showed we might have been pretty good at it, had the balloon gone up.

In Afghanistan we’re fighting a “Type B” war that is in some of its essentials “postmodern.” Like postmodernism itself, the concept has a variety of meanings and may not represent a coherent set of ideas. But one thing is clear: the Type B enemy likely has little to lose — no territory to protect, few important targets at risk, perhaps even no life worth living. Thus the Type A objective of fatally weakening an opponent by destroying assets important to his success — in theory, a measurable process — is replaced in Type B war by the much more complicated, essentially unquantifiable task of defeating him.

In time, democracies tire of war, as well they should. Thus, the single most important factor a Type B enemy counts on is time. The outcome in Afghanistan may be determined already, simply because we’ve been there for eight years. The strategic center of gravity is American public opinion, which will tell us when we’ve run out of time. If you want to know how we are doing in Afghanistan, read the polls in America.

— MERRILL McPEAK, the chief of staff of the Air Force from 1990 to 1994

Take a Risk
Page 3 of 3)

WHILE in Afghanistan last summer as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s initial assessment team, I found many American and other international units more focused on protecting themselves than protecting the Afghan population. Traveling through the allegedly secure city of Mazar-i-Sharif with a German unit, for example, was like touring Afghanistan by submarine. What little I saw of the city was through a small slit of bulletproof glass in an armored personnel carrier. (While I was a light-infantry officer in both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had never before traveled in an armored personnel carrier.) The Germans offered their assessment of security in the region, but since they lack regular face-to-face contact with the people living there, why should I trust their analysis? Can they speak with authority on the degree to which an insurgent campaign of intimidation is having an effect when they themselves keep the Afghans at such a distance?

It’s not just the Germans, though. Some American and other allied commanders also insist on protective measures that hamper troops from interacting with the population and gathering information on what is driving the conflict at the local level.

After eight years of war with little to show for American and allied efforts, many Americans have tired of the campaign in Afghanistan and are wary of putting our soldiers in greater danger. But if we are to be successful in Afghanistan, it is a risk we must take.

— ANDREW McDONALD EXUM, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security

Don’t Believe That We Can Afford to Lose

AMERICA cannot achieve even the minimal objective of preventing Al Qaeda from re-establishing safe havens in Afghanistan without a substantial increase in forces over the coming year. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s south is growing. The Afghan and international forces there now cannot reverse that growth. They may not even be able to stem it. That is the assessment of the top American commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

President Obama said in August, “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” Some of his advisers now say the opposite: Taliban control will not lead to terrorist havens. Why not? Osama bin Laden first built camps in the territory of a Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, in the mid-1980s. Relations between Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain close. Even if they do not invite Al Qaeda in, could they, unlike Pakistan, keep Al Qaeda out? The president was right: the triumph of the Taliban will benefit Al Qaeda.

Rejecting General McChrystal’s request for more forces leaves two options. The United States withdraws and lets Afghanistan again collapse into chaos, or it keeps its military forces and civilians in harm’s way while denying them the resources they need to succeed. Neither is acceptable.

— FREDERICK KAGAN, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and KIMBERLY KAGAN, the president of the Institute for the Study of War

Pakistani Patronage

THE government of Pakistan, through its intelligence agency, has long been a patron of the Afghan Taliban, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently warned that the collaboration continues. Pakistan sees the relationship as a way of hedging its bets in Afghanistan, an asset in its confrontation with India.

It is difficult to define a clear benchmark for ending that aid because the Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge that any relationship exists. But let us consider it to have ended or gone into remission if, a year from now, six consecutive months have gone by with no credible reporting of the sort that underlay the general’s observation.

The significance of this benchmark is threefold. First, Pakistani patronage is an impediment to subduing the Taliban. Second, it is an excellent gauge of how well or poorly NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan is going. Continued Pakistani dealing with the Taliban would reflect Islamabad’s judgment that it is going poorly enough that bets still must be hedged. Third, an end to the relationship would eliminate one of the biggest paradoxes in the rationale for the counterinsurgency: the Pakistani government that our efforts in Afghanistan are supposedly helping to save is assisting the forces from which we are trying to save it.

— PAUL R. PILLAR, a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the C.I.A. and a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program
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« Reply #497 on: October 04, 2009, 11:18:59 AM »

To summarize, if we continue on the course we are on we will fail.  If we increase our presence and the foreign footprint we will increase the flow of nationalists into suicide bomber missions and fail.  And if we retreat or withdraw, terrorists will retake, set up terror training camps and we fail.

Certainly this is a most difficult conundrum.  I can see now why Pres. Obama took 25 minutes out his Olympic journey to meet with our commander.

I don't suppose the villagers along the countryside notice the American lack of commitment shown by our Commander and Chief, while troops are in harm's way,  taking several weeks to re-evaluate our commitment to their security and freedom.

One reason the Iraq surge worked was that the people of Anbar for example saw a) an American President not hedge, flinch or waiver with all the setbacks, b) got re-elected by the American people in spite of it all, and then c) raised up the commitment to win - noticeably - at ground level.
04 Oct 2009: Eight US soldiers killed as Taliban storm outpost
Nato-led forces have suffered their bloodiest attack in more than a year after eight American soldiers were killed in a multi-pronged assault on outposts near the Pakistan border.

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« Reply #498 on: October 05, 2009, 08:27:23 AM »

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG in Islamabad and SIOBHAN GORMAN in Washington
Since first invading Afghanistan nearly a decade ago, America set one primary goal: Eliminate al Qaeda's safe haven.

Today, intelligence and military officials say they've severely constrained al Qaeda's ability to operate there and in Pakistan -- and that's reshaping the debate over U.S. strategy in the region.

Hunted by U.S. drones, beset by money problems and finding it tougher to lure young Arabs to the bleak mountains of Pakistan, al Qaeda is seeing its role shrink there and in Afghanistan, according to intelligence reports and Pakistani and U.S. officials. Conversations intercepted by the U.S. show al Qaeda fighters complaining of shortages of weapons, clothing and, in some cases, food. The number of foreign fighters in Afghanistan appears to be declining, U.S. military officials say.

For Arab youths who are al Qaeda's primary recruits, "it's not romantic to be cold and hungry and hiding," said a senior U.S. official in South Asia.

In Washington, the question of Al Qaeda's strength is at the heart of the debate over whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. On Saturday, eight American troops and two Afghan soldiers were killed fighting Taliban forces -- one of the worst single-day battlefield losses for U.S. forces since the war began.

Opponents of sending more troops prefer a narrower campaign consisting of missile strikes and covert action inside Pakistan, rather than a broader war against the Taliban, the radical Islamist movement that ruled Afghanistan for years and provided a haven to al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden. Their reasoning: The larger threat to America remains al Qaeda, not the Taliban; so, best not to get embroiled in a local war that history suggests may be unwinnable.

Military commanders pressing for extra troops counter that sending more forces could help translate the gains against al Qaeda into a political settlement with less ideologically committed elements of the Taliban. And, they argue, that would improve the odds of stabilizing Afghanistan for the long run.

A key point of contention in President Barack Obama's review of war strategy is the ability of al Qaeda to reconstitute in Afghanistan. Some officials, including aides to Richard Holbrooke, the U.S.'s special representative to the region, have argued that the Taliban wouldn't allow al Qaeda to regain its footing inside Afghanistan, since it was the alliance between the two that cost the Taliban their control of the country after Sept. 11.

A senior military official, however, characterized this as a minority view within the debate. He noted that even if the Taliban sought to keep al Qaeda from returning, it would have little means to do so.

Retired Gen. James Jones, the president's National Security Adviser, acknowledged on CNN Sunday that the links between the two groups had become a "central issue" in the White House discussion. He said he believed the return of the Taliban "could" mean the return of al Qaeda.

Afghan Attack Kills Eight U.S. Soldiers
In the political debate, al Qaeda's diminished role has bolstered the argument of those advocating a narrower campaign. They say continuing the drone campaign is sufficient to keep al Qaeda at bay, said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor who has written extensively on al Qaeda. Mr. Hoffman believes that argument is misguided, however, and that if the U.S. pulls out, al Qaeda will return.

"Al Qaeda may be diminished, but it still poses a threat," he said. The debate will move to Capitol Hill Tuesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on confronting al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Though there is emerging international consensus among counterterrorism officials that al Qaeda isn't the foe it used to be, U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials caution that it doesn't mean the fight in Afghanistan or Pakistan is tilting America's way. "They're not defeated. They're not dismantled, but they are being disrupted," said a senior U.S. intelligence official in Washington.

Mr. Obama himself has argued that al Qaeda could strengthen if the U.S. eases up on the Taliban. "If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting," he said at a speech in Phoenix at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in August, before the current strategy debate heated up. "This is fundamental to the defense of our people."

Al Qaeda apparently retains a global reach, as suggested by the Sept. 19 arrest in Colorado of Najibullah Zazi, 24 years old. U.S. prosecutors allege Mr. Zazi is part of an al Qaeda cell who trained in Pakistan and was trying to make the same kind of explosives used in the 2005 London bombings.

U.S. officials also say al Qaeda remains tight with the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, one of the Afghan insurgency's top leaders. The late leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, was similarly close with al Qaeda before being killed in August by a strike from a U.S. drone aircraft. U.S. officials say they hope his death will weaken al Qaeda's Taliban ties.

For years, the fortunes of al Qaeda and the Taliban moved in tandem. The Taliban hosted al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Mr. bin Laden's network launched its 2001 attacks from there. After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban continued to provide haven after retreating to the tribal areas of Pakistan, while al Qaeda trained Taliban fighters.

But in the past year, the fates of the two organizations have diverged. The Taliban insurgency has become increasingly violent and brazen and spread to areas of Afghanistan that only a year ago were considered solidly pro-government. Al Qaeda, in contrast, has seen its role shrink because it is struggling to raise money from its global network of financiers and attract recruits.

Today there are signs al Qaeda is relying more on affiliated groups to press its agenda world-wide, according to one official briefed on the matter. These groups include Pakistani movements such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and the Islamic Jihad Union, whose roots are in Uzbekistan.

As affiliates like these "continue to develop and evolve," their threat to the U.S. has grown, Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in Senate hearings last week.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the presence of fewer foreign fighters -- Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and others -- potentially changes the dynamics of the fight there.

Foreign militants serve as a battlefield "accellerant," said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, in an interview. "When a foreign fighter comes into Afghanistan, he doesn't have anything else he's going to do -- he's going to fight until he dies or goes somewhere else," he said. By contrast, "an Afghan is fighting for something, and if he starts to get that, his motivation changes."

Right now, Gen. McChrystal said, "we don't see huge numbers of foreign fighters, which obviously makes you believe there's not nearly the presence there was of foreign fighters....I hope it's a trend, but I'm not prepared to confidently say that."

Even if Al Qaeda is struggling, it already has imparted dangerous knowledge -- how to build suicide car bombs, launch complex gunmen assaults and tap wealthy sympathizers in the Persian Gulf -- that made it a key asset to the Taliban several years ago.

Al Qaeda also remains allied with and protected by the Taliban. Allowing the insurgents to succeed would likely give al Qaeda the space it needs to regroup, rearm and, most importantly, reestablish itself as the premier global jihadi movement, U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials say.

Al Qaeda's message of world-wide jihad, however, has lost much of its popularity amid the rise of militant groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere who tend to focus their ire locally. That, combined with a perception among would-be followers that the group has only paid lip-service to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also has reduced its global credibility, officials say.

Support is even declining among some of al Qaeda's allies. It has lost support from a group of Saudi sheiks known as the Sahwa, or "Awakening," movement. (It's unrelated to a similar-sounding group in Iraq.) Some of the sheiks are now trying to persuade members of al Qaeda's North African branch to give up jihad, said Daniel Lav, director of the Middle East and North Africa Reform Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington.

Mr. bin Laden and al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri are believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal lands bordering Afghanistan. But a U.S. campaign of missile strikes by pilotless Predator aircraft has decimated al Qaeda's second- and third-tier leadership.

One example cited by U.S. and Pakistani officials: Usama al-Kini, a Kenyan citizen believed to have been al Qaeda's operations chief inside Pakistan and a key architect of the September 2008 truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which killed at least 50 people. He was slain along with his deputy, Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan, a Kenyan, in a Jan. 1 missile strike, officials say.

Both men's history with al Qaeda stretched back to the group's first major strike, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Officials also pointed to Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of a 2006 plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic, who they say was slain in a drone attack last year, although Pakistani and British officials express uncertainty over whether he is actually dead.

But even if Mr. Rauf is still alive, the fact that he became such a primary target made it tough for him to fulfill his role as a communications link between Pakistan and Britain, says an officer from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. Other operatives who have been detained by British authorizes have further eroded those communications links, an official familiar with the intelligence reports on al Qaeda added.

The drones, operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have so far killed 11 of the men on the U.S.'s initial list of the top 20 al Qaeda targets, the official said. The U.S. has since drawn up a fresh list, including the nine holdovers from the first one. Four of the men on the new list are now dead, too. Those who remain are focused on finding sanctuary, possibly at the expense of operations and training, say officials and militants with links to al Qaeda.

"The Arabs stay out of sight now. They were always secretive. But now they are very secretive...They see spies everywhere," said a man named Walliullah, who Pakistani officials say is an aide to Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Mr. Hekmatyar is allied with the Afghan Taliban and loosely tied to al Qaeda.

At the same time, U.S. intelligence collection in Pakistan has vastly improved, officials say. Western intelligence services have had more success penetrating al Qaeda groups lately, according to Richard Barrett, the United Nations' coordinator for monitoring al Qaeda and the Taliban. "There's many more human sources being run into the groups," Mr. Barrett, a former official with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, told an audience at a Washington think tank last week.

Similarly, the U.S. in the past was unable to comprehensively monitor communications in Pakistan; that has now been rectified, said an official briefed on U.S. operations. Through that monitoring, U.S., British and Pakistani intelligence officials have seen increasing evidence that al Qaeda is having difficulty raising money.

"Al Qaeda is in fund-raising mode, and they seem to be hurting for cash," said another U.S. official. Intercepts of conversations have caught al Qaeda militants complaining they lack cash and supplies, including weapons.

The new intelligence has provided fresh ways to try to undermine the foreign al Qaeda fighters. Pakistani authorities say they've started targeting food shipments believed to be headed for al Qaeda operatives, who prefer their own cuisine over local fare. "The Talibs, they're eating mutton, chicken, bread -- the food ordinary people eat," said an officer from Pakistan's ISI spy agency. "The Arabs want their own food."

—Rehmat Mehsud in Islamabad and Evan Perez and Peter Spiegel in Washington contributed to this report.
Write to Matthew Rosenberg at and Siobhan Gorman at
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« Reply #499 on: October 05, 2009, 10:34:04 AM »

second post of the AM

The ego, the arrogance, the utter cluelessness boggle the mind , , ,

Barack Obama furious at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan

The relationship between President Barack Obama and the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan has been put under severe strain by Gen Stanley McChrystal's comments on strategy for the war.

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Published: 7:00AM BST 05 Oct 2009

According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week.

The next day he was summoned to an awkward 25-minute face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago's unsuccessful Olympic bid.

Gen James Jones, the national security adviser, yesterday did little to allay the impression the meeting had been awkward.

An adviser to the administration said: "People aren't sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn't seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly."

In London, Gen McChrystal, who heads the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan as well as the 100,000 Nato forces, flatly rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces operations against al-Qaeda.

He told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to "Chaos-istan".

When asked whether he would support it, he said: "The short answer is: No."

He went on to say: "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support."

The remarks have been seen by some in the Obama administration as a barbed reference to the slow pace of debate within the White House.

Gen McChrystal delivered a report on Afghanistan requested by the president on Aug 31, but Mr Obama held only his second "principals meeting" on the issue last week.

He will hold at least one more this week, but a decision on how far to follow Gen McChrystal's recommendation to send 40,000 more US troops will not be made for several weeks.

A military expert said: "They still have working relationship but all in all it's not great for now."

Some commentators regarded the general's London comments as verging on insubordination.

Bruce Ackerman, an expert on constitutional law at Yale University, said in the Washington Post: "As commanding general, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements."

He added that it was highly unusual for a senior military officer to "pressure the president in public to adopt his strategy".

Relations between the general and the White House began to sour when his report, which painted a grim picture of the allied mission in Afghanistan, was leaked. White House aides have since briefed against the general's recommendations.

The general has responded with a series of candid interviews as well as the speech. He told Newsweek he was firmly against half measures in Afghanistan: "You can't hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn."

As a divide opened up between the military and the White House, senior military figures began criticising the White House for failing to tackle the issue more quickly.

They made no secret of their view that without the vast ground force recommended by Gen McChrystal, the Afghan mission could end in failure and a return to power of the Taliban.

"They want to make sure people know what they asked for if things go wrong," said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defence.

Critics also pointed out that before their Copenhagen encounter Mr Obama had only met Gen McChrystal once since his appointment in June.
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