I’m still pretty shattered, so I apologise for not blogging in my usual form, but right now I’m pretty happy that I can read again instead of staring blankly at the wall, so please forgive my brevity. Two things of note:
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.
The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.
The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.
But I do wonder at the timing of the story. It breaks just as the processes for the 7 November runoff began, illuminating the ties between the US and the Karzai family, and seems to undermine those relationships in odd ways. Food for thought, anyway.
Drew Brown at S&S published an article on Stryker colours Monday that I had noted because the framing of it interested me: More than six years after sending the first Stryker armored vehicles into desert combat, the Army has decided that it’s probably a good idea to start painting them tan so they will blend in with the environments in Afghanistan and Iraq. And then also: But with the war in Afghanistan heating up, soldiers with a Stryker unit there welcomed the news — even if it has taken more than five years for the Army to make the change.
It’s kind of an odd way to criticize the decision, and Michael Yon seems to agree:
The story is datelined to Zabul Province, Afghanistan, and true enough, the color out there should be desert brown. (Or perhaps, in some places at some times, white.) But elsewhere in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, civilians mostly live near water, so colors around their homes generally are green during the green months. In Afghanistan, the “Green Zone” (GZ) is the area around the rivers and lakes, and much or possibly most of the fighting occurs in these green areas. The enemy fights more when the GZ is green than during the winter brown.
Just as important, predicting camouflage needs for Strykers can be incredibly difficult. Stryker units tend to get moved around more than other combat units because Stryker units can project so much force quickly. Afghanistan’s geography doesn’t help: Down in the Helmand River valley where Brits, Danes, Yanks, and others are fighting, you can go from strict GZ to 100 percent desert-brown conditions in just a few seconds. The border between verdant and seemingly endless cardboard brown is usually only the width of an unpaved road — literally, a line in the sand and rocks. One side of the road can be dry as bone, while just meters away on the other side of the road, the mud tries to suck the boots off your feet. (The Brits have the opposite problem; they have very good desert-brown camouflage, but do most of their fighting in the GZ.)
Also, even if brown is a better overall camouflage for Afghanistan — though this is unclear even to many experienced soldiers and me — it is unfair to imply (by datelining the story to Zabul Province and referring to more than six years of Strykers in desert combat) that the Army has had Strykers there during the entire war. The first rotation of Strykers to Afghanistan arrived only some months ago; before that, they were in use only in Iraq.
Anyway, thought it was interesting.
Finally, from Nightwatch yesterday, this analysis of Pakistani politics is well worth reading:
In 2008, as part of the election compact with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari agreed to repeal Musharraf’s measures to re-engineer the government. Zardari apparently has enjoyed the power, but not the accountability. In addition his abuses of patronage have eroded respect for the elected government, whose chief executive is Prime Minister Gilani, not the president, who is head of state. Zardari has promised to honor his promises on this issue in the past, but this is the first time his Information Minister has spoken as his agent to a national audience. Still, seeing is believing in the case of Zardari.
The move would have implications on many levels, assuming Zardari executes this undertaking. For example, it would restore the National Assembly to its Westminster roots in which the legislative and executive powers of the government reside in the National Assembly.
The Presidency would revert to its British model, of a ceremonial figurehead. That would pretty much nullify an enormous amount of diplomatic energy during the past two years devoted to persuading Zardari, instead of trying to persuade Prime Minister Gilani.
Military hostility to Zardari – for example, for having misstated in public in 2008 Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons use policy — would become pointless and misdirected. Reversion to a ceremonial presidency would relieve military pressure for political change. In other words, it would reduce the threat of a military coup or other action against the President.
It would complicate foreign diplomatic initiatives which would need to be redirected to the parliament (National Assembly). The Presidential system is convenient as a one stop shop, compared to the parliamentary system.
Finally, it would give direction to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political ambitions. In a strong presidential system, Nawaz must court the provincial legislators as well as the national assembly because in combination they make up the electoral college for the president. In a restored parliamentary system, Nawaz only needs to get elected to the National Assembly. From there he can do all that would be necessary to become prime minister, including changing constitutional term limits on holding the office of the prime minister.
And now I crawl back into bed.
H/t Dawn Patrol, Obama’s press conference with Maliki:
From the Times of London, Violence threatens Barack Obama’s pledge to pull troops out of Iraq:
General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.
“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”
As the fourth of five parts of David Rohde’s account is published, Noah Schachtman at Danger Room draws this criticism from it about the use of drones in Pakistan: But, in the next breath, Rohde also validates some of the criticisms of the robotic assaults — that the drones are handing the Taliban a propaganda win, and driving fresh jihadists to their ranks. Interesting. Also, on Pakistan, Ahsan Butt makes four good points about what we don’t know about Pakistan’s offense against the Taliban in Waziristan.
Starbuck collects a couple thoughts on terrain and the Battle of Wanat; I read Hershel Smith’s post at The Captain’s Journal this morning and think he has a point, though I remember reading somewhere that the placement of those bases had as much to do with usable MSRs as anything else. Though I can’t remember where I read that, so I might be misremembering.
The UN says Afghan opium fuels ‘global chaos’, which seems to be a surprise to squarely no one:
Afghanistan produces 92% of the world’s opium, with the equivalent of 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year.
Most of the opium that leaves Afghanistan makes its way through Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran, leaving a trail of addiction, criminality and death in its wake, according to the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
It says more people die globally from Afghan opium than any other drug but just a tiny percentage of what is produced is seized on route.
From Afghanistan–My Last Tour, I found the account of Drinking Tea with the Sgt. Major to be illuminating:
As we sipped our tea, the conversation switched to the HA drops in the villages. The CSM gave me some insight about how people steal these items and who to trust and who not to trust. I was totally dumbfounded when he said, “Please don’t give me any of those items, because I would be tempted to steal them too.” I explained our process on how we hand out items. We do not give them to select families, instead we provide to an entire village or school. He nodded in agreement.
Our conversation continued to revolve about the corrupt government and how millions if not billions of dollars of foreign aid have been siphoned off by corrupt government officials. But he put it into perspective and compared it to the United States. Afghanistan doesn’t have the lobbyist organizations like the US. Instead it utilizes tribal connections and nepotism. Enterprising businessmen and government officials who receive the money subcontract out using inferior quality and then pocket the rest. As a result, individuals who are illiterate become millionaires over night. We also discussed about US contractors working in Afghanistan. Most of them get paid over $100,000 and then the parent company charges the US government double or triple this rate, but nobody in the US seems to complain about this. It’s just a different way of doing business.
Well, not nobody.
Stratfor’s account of the US Challenge in Afghanistan is well worth the read, as is Tom Ricks’ article at the Daily Beast. See also Gilles Dorronsoro’s op-ed and Diplopundit’s following of the Department of State’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.
I’m going home to the dog and chicken alfredo over homemade pasta. Take it easy, blogosphere.