This morning kind of sucked. I spilled coffee on myself and my books not once, but twice; missed my bus this morning; and spent the first hour putting out work-related brushfires. I guess everyone has to have a bad hump day now and again, but did mine have to involve ruining all the papers, books, and magazines in my bag?
Linkdump time. Danger Room’s interview with Admiral Mike Mullen was great, but I was way too taken with the confession that Adm. Mullen actually does tweet over at @thejointstaff. Oh, Twitter. You are a Chinese curse.
Stratfor’s security brief this week is on the relationships of India, the US, and Pakistan to Afghanistan, which I weirdly feel like I scooped (even though I clearly didn’t). To wit:
Ultimately, with long experience bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States was inherently wary of becoming involved in Afghanistan. In recent years, it has become all too clear how distant the prospect of a stable Afghanistan is. A tribal-ethnic balance of power overseen by Pakistan is another matter entirely, however. The great irony is that such a success could make the region look remarkably like it did on Sept. 10, 2001…The Indians are concerned that with American underwriting, the Pakistanis not only may be about to re-emerge as a major check on Indian ambitions, but in a form eerily familiar to the sort of state-militant partnership that so effectively limited Indian power in the past. They are right.
From At War, “Military Disputes Taliban on Korangal Valley Outpost:”
The absence of the Americans from the valley has made the area somewhat less secure, according to local people and the Afghan army. That would be in line with American expectations about the impact of their withdrawal. The American military had expected there might be some decline in security, but also thought it was possible that without the presence of the Americans to provoke the insular Korangalis, the area eventually would become calmer. That has not seemed to be the case — at least not yet.
“People are trapped in Korangal because of repeated fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban,” said Major Turab.
Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann have recently published an Almanac of al-Qaeda over at Foreign Policy, which details the rise of the organization and a fascinating data dump with some rockin’ graphs. One of the best contemporary briefings on the subject, I think, from two trusted authors.
Gunslinger over at Ink Spots posted a criticism of Michael O’Hanlon’s article on non-lethal weapons (NLW) that I found clearheaded and compellingly argued. There’s some good discussion in the comments too.
Anne Marlowe has a column over World Affairs Journal that takes a long view of COIN and Afghanistan. I’ve read it a couple times now, and I’m reacting against it for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. I think it has something to do with the claim about the effectiveness of insuring the security of the population over engaging the enemy with arms, and the implication that that isn’t by definition an underlying principle of COIN. Still mulling it over.
David Wood reports on when Iran goes nuclear, confirming my general hapless view on the matter:
Relying on traditional deterrence against a nuclear-armed Iran would be a mistake — that is the cautionary conclusion of a two-year study at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. It saw three problems with trying to deter Iran:
- The regime is split into factions, making it difficult to know whether to deal with clerics or civilians like Ahmadinejad, the military or the ultra-hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.
- Rather than threatening to launch a nuclear attack, a nuclear Iran would likely be more aggressive in backing terrorist attacks or even minor conventional or very low-level nuclear operations against U.S. interests in the region — nuclear sea mines along the Persian Gulf’s oil routes, for example. Such operations would complicate U.S. decisions about whether a nuclear response would be justified.
- Domestic political instability could affect how Iran’s leaders play their nuclear weapons card, making it difficult to predict how they would react in a crisis.
And finally, also at Danger Room, the Army has been reading you! and you! and you! (Okay, maybe not you.)
Every week, the defense contractor MPRI prepares for the brass a “Blogosphere and Social Media Report,” rounding up sites’ posts on military matters. It’s meant to be a single source for top officers to catch up on what’s being said online and in leading social media outlets. Items from about two dozen national security and political blogs are excerpted, and classified as “balanced,” “critical,” or “supportive.” The vast majority of the posts are considered “balanced” — even when they rip the Army a new one.
I downloaded & read the three reports that were made available, and they’re depressingly poorly researched. I dread knowing how much money gets shelled out for these, and levied some further criticism in the post over at SWJ. Since when are HuffPo and World News Daily balanced?
The third installment of David Rohde’s account of his capture and imprisonment by the Afghan Taliban is out today, and it is worth the read. Reader questions are being answered in the NYT At War blog, and this stood out to be as being of particular relevance:
Many readers criticized my statement that I was surprised by how extreme many Taliban had become since 2001 and called me naïve.
The Taliban wanting to brutally impose hard-line Islamic law in Afghanistan was not new to me. What surprised me was that they wished to join Al Qaeda in imposing it across the Islamic world.
This is one of the central questions White House officials face as they try to decide whether to increase American troops levels in Afghanistan. Some experts on the region have argued that the Taliban have not grown close to Al Qaeda and the conflict with them can be settled through negotiations. Those Taliban may exist, but the faction that held me showed little interest in compromising. Given the current debate in the United States on Afghanistan, I felt it was important to publicly describe what I found.
Emphasis mine. Rohde was captured in November of last year and released this summer; Peter Bergen’s Senate testimony from 9 October is consonant with this view:
This influence has been particularly marked on the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border. The Taliban were a quite provincial group when they ran Afghanistan before 9/11 and many of their leaders opposed bin Laden‟s presence in their country on the grounds that he was interfering with their quest for recognition by the international community. But since the 9/11 attacks the leadership of the Taliban has adopted al Qaeda’s worldview and see themselves as part of a supposedly global jihadist movement. They have also imported wholesale al Qaeda‟s tactics of planting roadside bombs and ordering suicide attacks and beheadings of hostages, which until recently were largely unknown in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These tactics are a key reason why the Taliban insurgencies have become far more effective on both sides of the Durand line in the past three years.
One of the key leaders of the Afghan Taliban as it surged in strength in 2006 was Mullah Dadullah, a thuggish but effective commander who like his counterpart in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, thrived on killing Shia, beheading his hostages, and media celebrity. In interviews with al Jazeera and CBS Dadullah conceded what was obvious as the violence dramatically expanded in Afghanistan: that the Taliban had increasingly morphed together tactically and ideologically with al Qaeda. He said, “Osama bin Laden, thank God, is alive and in good health. We are in contact with his top aides and sharing plans and operations with each other.”
I think it would be easy to dismiss Rohde’s account as being inaccurate or hyperbolic due to his imprisonment, but I believe that would be a mistake. He, not unlike Bergen, has a very accurate window through which to view the Afghan Taliban. Rohde’s view is from as recent as this summer, and Bergen’s from this month. If we take them seriously, it seems to answer (in the public forum) how al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban are connected today.
With Peter Bergen popping up everywhere these days (including a couple unexpected and more expected ones), I thought it might be worth collecting together some of those links. Which I just did. Admire my hyperlinking skillz.
Other links of note:
Military Women in the Media 22 from akinoluna; wonderful aggregation of a topic of particular interest to me.
According to the Pentagon’s report, the Army’s goal for fiscal year 2009 was to sign 65,000 new recruits. It actually signed 70,045—amounting to 8 percent more than the target.
But the picture is less bright than it seems. Though the Pentagon’s report doesn’t mention this fact, in each of the previous two years, the Army’s recruitment goal was 80,000—much higher than this year’s. The Army met those targets, but only by drastically lowering its standards—accepting more applicants who’d dropped out of high school or flunked the military’s aptitude test.
This year, the recruiters restored the old standards—a very good thing for troops’ morale and military effectiveness—but they signed up 10,000 fewer new soldiers.
That puts a slightly different spin on things.
I have no idea where I got this 2006 Harper’s article from, but wow it was a fascinating read. It’s an account of a discussion between A.J. Bacevich, Charles J. Dunlap Jr., Richard H. Kohn, and Edward N. Luttwak about the US military, democracy, and much else. If you have a little time, I reccommend it.
I wanted to write a post specifically devoted to the PBS Frontline special, but to be honest, everyone else has said all that I though and more. I direct you to Kings of War, whose comments on the subject are something of a microcosm of opinion on the documentary.
Secdef Gates is touring East Asia right now, and will be talking with Japan about Afghanistan. (Did you know new PM Hatoyama is being investigated for fundraising fraud? Guess it’s just getting interesting, in Japan.)
The military in Afghanistan has walked back its decision to ban KIA photographs/videos:
After news organizations protested the amended rule, the Pentagon suggested a rewrite. The new rule released Thursday would allow photography of casualties but said participating news organizations could not use material where there is a recognizable face or other identifiable feature. Journalists could not write about or photograph wounded troops unless those service members give prior permission.
Prior to the AP’s controversial photo in September, news organizations had much more leeway to publish photos of the dead as soon as the next of kin had been notified – even though much less of this material has been shown during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than in past conflicts.
And finally, John McCreary updates me on conflicting things coming out of Iran:
Iran: For the record. Two Iranian news agencies rebutted reports this weekend that Supreme Leader Khamene’i died, while state-run TV ignored the subject. Hunh?
Huh indeed. That would be a rather big deal. I mean, I heard he had a cold…