Permissible Arms

Memory (Stop) Loss: Counterinsurgency Edition

My office is knee-deep in a full-scale move to a larger suite, which has eaten away at this week like a particularly adventurous pika with stack of vegetation. I’ve been spending my limited spare time finishing Tamim Ansary’s compelling, thoroughly wonderful Destiny Disrupted, a history of the world from the Islamic perspective (more on that later) and reading the Qur’an for the first time. At some point I realized that, while I had read excerpts from the Qur’an, and interpretations of bits of the Qur’an, I had never actually read the Qur’an itself. This is an attempt to rectify that, though it’s a bit slow going as I try to digest the translation, the footnotes, and the meaning of the suras.

A US Army soldier looks over a note containing Pashto translations of frequently-used phrases June 14, 2010 in rural Dand District, just south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

In other reading, Ann Jones, author of Kabul in Winter, has a raw and incendiary op-ed in the Asia Times Online. I disagree with much of the substance of Jones’ article–that counterinsurgency is a failed policy that has not worked in Afghanistan–and, fundamentally, with her understanding of what counterinsurgency is and how it works. She seems to think that proponents of counter-insurgency consider it to be a panacea, a trick that will work to end violence and poverty and insecurity overnight, or at least in the nine months since it was implemented in Afghanistan. But that is simply not so–most expressions of the doctrine pair it with the idea of entrenchment, of a substantial period of time. To look at a policy that has been in place for less than a year, a policy which explicitly requires a substantial duration of time (the relative softness of the July 2011 withdrawal date notwithstanding) and say that it has failed is either a deliberate misreading of the situation or a lack of understanding about the doctrine itself. I won’t recommend that you read the op-ed–it comes across more like the teenaged rage of someone who has just understood what poverty means for the first time rather than a thorough criticism of doctrine as it’s applied in country. And it pains me to say that, because Jones has spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan and certainly has earned her bones on the subject. But the piece is sloppy, poorly understood, and far too loose with tone for me to be anything but critical.

Tim Hsia, at the NYT At War blog, has a compelling piece on the military and politics, which is probably another wave in the hopefully terminal RollingStan flap. Worth reading both for commentary about personal politics of soldiers and the larger political frameworks of both the US and Afghanistan/Iraq.

In other words counterinsurgency turns Clausewitz’s famous maxim that “war is an extension of politics” on its head. Military officers in a counterinsurgency environment realize that “politics overseas is an extension of a counterinsurgency war.”

Counterinsurgency is not just about eliminating insurgents; at its core it is a political struggle that requires identifying and separating political irreconciliables, whilst also shepherding former insurgents into reconciliation meetings. After all, if one has won the hearts and minds of the populace, then one has just as likely won their political affiliation to the incipient national government of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Soldiers with whom I have worked have been more versed in the politics of Iraq and Afghanistan than in domestic politics. Back home, I have yet to meet any American civilian who is more knowledgeable about the politics of Afghanistan or Iraq than the typical Army company commander. This perhaps is the real “political” problem: a civilian population detached from the nation’s foreign policy issues.

Great start to a discussion from that post.

Laleh Khalli at the Middle East Report writes on The New (and Old) Classics of Counterinsurgency, running through names and works familiar to most who are well-read in the subject. However, it does offer a nice overview of COIN literature and a healthy bibliography for someone interesting in wading more deeply into doctrine.

This, frankly, creeped me out. Wanted: Jihadists to Marry Widows at the NYT:

A snippet of news from a shadowy corner of Iraq: Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia recently issued a fatwa telling its fighters to marry the widows of those who have fallen…“Asking current or future fighters to marry the widows means either that they are seeking to re-establish marital ties in an effort to regain some traction in the tribes, or that they have completely moved away from the ideological foundation that fighters are to come to Iraq and immediately die in suicide bombing attacks,” Mr. [Malcolm] Nance said.

“It’s fascinating either way. If it’s the former, then they must believe there is a glimmer of hope that blood ties with these Iraqi women will gain them an edge of protection in a country that wants to be rid of them. If it’s the latter, it’s akin to a call for their fighters to settle down and gain an earthly reward by having a wife and children and to start a new generation of jihadists.”

Mr. Nance said the fatwa was “so absolutely desperate” that it could have come from only the highest levels of the organization.

Either way, it reinforces an idea that women are a possession, and that their husbands, as jihadists, have made them part of a kind of tribe of jihadists who can now claim them for other jihadists. That’s one meta-reading. It also speaks to a consolidation of power and assets within a group that can be controlled. Mostly, I figure it has to do with financial insecurity among widowed families, but the implications are unsettling.

Jason Sigger’s Civilian Strategists Should Be Better is a must-read for the last week(ish).


“Counterinsurgency,” by David Kilcullen

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 15 June 2010

Please join me in welcoming Starbuck from Wings Over Iraq, guest posting today with his review of David Kilcullen’s Counterinsurgency. In turn I’ve guest-posted over at WOI with my review of Counterinsurgency; check it out here!

David Kilcullen’s “Counterinsugency” is a must-read for counterinsurgency practitioners at the tactical and strategic levels, as well as for policymakers, government officials, and NGOs. At a minimum, it should be in the cargo pocket of every officer and NCO headed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Though the book is not without its flaws, Kilcullen has taken a number of critical counterinsurgency lessons–some gained through harrowing experience–and packaged them in a handy, notebook-sized publication. I’ll examine each section of the book in turn.

Introduction: Understanding Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

The book begins with a touching dedication to Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle, administrators of Small Wars Journal, before moving to a base discussion on the fundamentals of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Often, I’m compelled to skip over the introduction of a book, but the introduction to Counterinsurgency is laden with great information.

Much to my amusement, in offering a brief primer on counterinsurgency, Kilcullen addresses, though does not name, “armchair chickenhawks” who advocate the “brute force” approach to counterinsurgency (this guy, perhaps?), noting that the Romans and even the Wehrmacht implemented state-building approaches in their times.

Though I agree with the argument, I found that it wasn’t as thorough as I would have liked, and some might mistakenly find contradiction in the case of the suppression of the Darul Islam movement, which came to an abrubtabrupt end shortly after the capture of its leader and key lieutenants, which Kilcullen discusses later. Again, greater clarification of supporting factors–even a primer on why insurgencies lose–might have been helpful. However, the chapter is, overall, an excellent foundation in the basics of counterinsurgency; though, those familiar with The Accidental Guerrilla might find themselves skipping ahead to the next chapter.

The Twenty-Eight Articles

I have to admit that I skimmed through this chapter, having read Kilcullen’s Twenty-Eight Articles a few times before. For those unfamiliar with Kilcullen’s work, “Twenty-Eight Articles” are short anecdotes, written in the style of T.E. Lawrence’s Twenty-Seven Articles, which Kilcullen penned his Moleskine notebook as he sat in a Starbucks coffee shop in Washington. Many of the lessons were learned though practical experience, presumably through some very…difficult…lessons. Take a look at number nineteen.

Engage the women, beware the children. Most insurgent fighters are men. But in traditional societies, women are hugely influential in forming the social networks that insurgents use for support. Co-opting neutral or friendly women, through targeted social and economic programs, builds networks of enlightened self-interest that eventually undermine the insurgents. You need your own female counterinsurgents, including interagency people, to do this effectively. Win the women, and you own the family unit. Own the family, and you take a big step forward in mobilizing the population. Conversely, though, stop your people fraternizing with local children. Your troops are homesick; they want to drop their guard with the kids. But children are sharp-eyed, lacking in empathy, and willing to commit atrocities their elders would shrink from. The insurgents are watching: they will notice a growing friendship between one of your people and a local child, and either harm the child as punishment, or use them against you. Similarly, stop people throwing candies or presents to children. It attracts them to our vehicles, creates crowds the enemy can exploit, and leads to children being run over. Harden your heart and keep the children at arm’s length.

This reminds me very much of the situation I faced in Honduras, where we would often conduct joint airborne operations with the Honduran parachute battalion. Without exception, children would hide in the tall grass of the drop zone, waiting for American parachutists–recognizable by their uniforms and distinctive MC-1C parachutes–to land. The children would chase American paratroopers as they fell to the ground and beg them for money; even going so far as to actually roll and pack the parachute for them. While I would always give them candy and a little money, I understood the same thing Kilcullen did. By giving out candy and money, we were reinforcing behavior, and our very presence often created the same crowds Kilcullen described.

I won’t comment more on Kilcullen’s Twenty-Eight Articles. Far better counterinsurgency practitioners than I have already commented on Kilcullen’s work in Small Wars Journal (Pt. 1234). Suffice to say that if you haven’t read “Twenty-Eight Articles”, you need to.

Measuring Progress in Afghanistan

At this point, we move from a tactical view of counterinsurgency to an operational perspective, with a chapter on effective “metrics”–measures of performance in counterinsurgency. Those that follow Kilcullen and the CNAS gang may have already gotten a large portion of this already during a week-long segment on metrics at Tom Ricks’ blog (here’s part two of five).

As soon as Small Wars Journal linked to the series on metrics, the trolls came out of the woodwork bashing them, crying that human endeavors cannot be encapsulated into equations, diagrams and statistics. This echoes a recent trend, identified not too long ago in SWJ, which suggests that the study of warfare is–rightly so–moving away from a “scientific” study in a more “humanist” direction. Indeed, complaining about statistics is hardly a novel idea.

We all complain about metrics. To a large extent, I sympathize with the critics. It’s impossible to capture the broad range of human behavior in equations, computer models and statistics. T.E. Lawrence once noted that “nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals”. Indeed, metrics in any field of human endeavor–from business, to battle, to baseball–only tell a portion of the story. As one commenter in SWJ noted, you couldn’t measure the improvements in security by mere numbers. You could feel the difference.

Nevertheless, as much as I believe in Jedi senses, they can’t alwayalways accurately measure intangibles. We–and more importantly, the American public–need to communicate security improvements with statistics.

Using metrics to gauge intangibles is by no means limited to the military. We measure the health of our economy with the Dow Jones and S&P, we measure earned run averages and slugging percentages, and we measure Megan Fox’s hotness in terms of 34C-26-24. Verily, as much as we complain, we’ll always use metrics, and Kilcullen’s metrics are as good as any I’ve seen.

Globalization and the development of Indonesian counterinsurgency tactics

They say that confusion is the first step along the path to enlightenment, and nowhere is that more true than in this chapter. While doing a decent job at highlighting the differences between the organizational cultures between the armies of Australia and the US, Kilcullen actually gives us some counterinsurgency wisdom which seems to run contrary to current population-centric doctrine. During the 1950s and 60s, the Indonesian Army was faced with the prospect of an insurgency in West Java from the organization Darul Islam.

However, shortly after the capture of the insurgent movement’s leader, Darul Islam began to crumble. Although Kilcullen mentions that civic action followed military success, he doesn’t elaborate fully upon these methods. Thus, those who feel that simple military action can “crush” an insurgency might look at the suppression of Darul Islam as an example. (For more on this issue, see Pat Porter’s excellent analysis at The Offshore Balancer)

Fortunately, Kilcullen expands upon his analysis of the Darul Islam insurgency by noting that it was a very leader-centric insurgency–one of the greatest flaws an insurgency can have–some critics of counterinsurgency might see this as a misreading of COIN doctrine. In Kilcullen’s defense, though, he does mention that the advances in communication and information technology have led to less transparency, and thus, a decline in “crushing” insurgencies. I think it’s a topic worth researching more, in full.

Reflections on the Engagement at Motaain Bridge

Some reviewers have felt that this was an unnecessary distraction. I disagree, as it demonstrates the types of situations our troops, particularly our junior leaders, might find themselves in “small wars”. From Kilcullen’s lessons on dealing with the international media (get the right message out, and get it out quickly), to lessons on the psychology of combat (post-traumatic stress, “tunnel vision”, hyper-alertness, etc), Kilcullen’s vivid description of combat made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, as I nervously chewed on my highlighter.

Deiokes and the Taliban

A short chapter, Kilcullen explains the need for effective governance in counterinsurgency using a vignette from Herodotus’ Histories. Structurally, it seems as if it might fit well in the earlier portions of the book, as it once again serves as a short introduction to counterinsurgency, though in operational and strategic terms.

Kilcullen paints a very grim picture of Afghanistan, in which ISAF controls the central government in Kabul, but the Taliban hold sway throughout the countryside by practicing effective “bottom-up” governance. Kilcullen proposes a “bottom-up” counter to Taliban influence, strengthening national leadership by improving governance at the local level. Using the example of Somalia/Somaliland, Kilcullen asserts that nation-building efforts in Somalia, led by the UN, have performed poorly in relation to those practiced in Somaliland due to the fact that the UN focuses on central, national governments while Somaliland built its peace dealings from the grassroots level.  Kilcullen doesn’t delve too deeply into this example, although he does provide anthropologist Ioan Lewis as a reference for this subject, so I’ll have to check out her report.  (Possibly this one?)

Countering Global Insurgency

The final chapter is by far the longest, and the most controversial.  In it, Kilcullen expands upon and refines an idea he first put forth in The Accidental Guerrilla, where he first theorized that there is a global Islamic insurgency.  According to Kilcullen, global movements such as al-Qaeda attempt to link together disparate movements–Chechen rebels, insurgents in the Philippines, even Muslim groups in South America–into one larger movement.  It’s an interesting, though possibly a little alarmist, look at the larger threat we face from these sorts of movements.

However, addressing the bigger picture might have been a bridge too far for this book.  Though the chapter is fascinating, it could have been greatly expanded upon.  Indeed, though the title of the chapter is “countering global insurgency”, Kilcullen spends a mere paragraph outlining a constitutional approach to reforming the governments of the developing world, quipping that he could write another chapter on the topic.   I would be quite interested to hear his thoughts on this subject.


Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5.  Kilcullen is obviously a master of this realm, yet I feel he cut himself short limiting himself to a pocket-sized book on the topic of counterinsurgency.  The chapters feel somewhat disjointed, as if pieced together from separate works on the topic.  In fact, I think that less might have been better, packaging all but the final chapter, saving that one and expanding upon it for a future book.

Nevertheless, Kilcullen’s work is always a joy to read.  Kilcullen, like Lt. Col. T.E. Lawrence, is one of those few people who has not only the penchant for becoming embroiled in incredible adventures, but also possesses the wit to write them well.  For those that are not familiar with Kilcullen’s “Twenty-seven eight articles” or his series on metrics, this book is a must-read.

I did feel somewhat let down that I had read large portions of this book in various articles throughout the blogosphere.  Yet, it’s still well worth the price.  The first 2/3 of the book contains invaluable advice for the counterinsurgency practitioner at the tactical level, and I’ll certainly have it in my assault bag during my next deployment (whenever that might be).  You should, too.

The World, Viewed from a Hotel Basement

I’m hoping to write more on CNAS’s fourth annual conference tomorrow, when my entire day doesn’t get devoted to live-tweeting the event! To read through the day, check out the #CNAS2010 tag on Twitter. But here’s a couple of my particular notes from the day.

Karaka Pend karakapend

Tellis: Mutual suspicions between Pak & Ind over Afgh continue unabated. #CNAS2010 The existential battleground is emplaced in Afgh today.

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Okay, Richard Fontaine wins points for addressing Madam President. #CNAS2010

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Fontaine “…Accepting that a US presence in South Asia has become the new normal.” #CNAS2010

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India is unwilling to push Iran to the point where they might lose a potential ally; but India doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. #CNAS2010

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Flournoy: We are still trying to face 21st century challenges with Cold War systems and projects. #CNAS2010

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Flournoy: “We cannot keep spending more and more to get less and less.” #CNAS2010 as with everything, money talks.

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Fick: Rule #4 for future questions: No quoting TS Eliot! #CNAS2010

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Flournoy: “We have never resourced State to build an expeditionary civilian capacity.” #CNAS2010 There is not enough “word” in the world.

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Sanger: You tend to view the engagement strategy through the most challenging country…it’s only interesting if it’s difficult. #CNAS2010

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Cronin: We have a growing mismatch between our means and needs. #CNAS2010

There’s more at the hashtag, but that gives you a good idea of how the day went. I think overall it was a very strong series of panels, asking difficult questions and providing something of a roadmap towards answering them. We’re still left with a lot of uncertainty in a many different directions–how do we build up a civilian reconstruction program that we’ve never funded or incentivized, how do you balance talking to repressive regimes with the less accessible citizens of repressive nations, what will our conflict environment look like in the next several decades and how should we incorporate lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan–but I think it lived up to its playbill slogan of “Shaping the Agenda.”

More tomorrow.

Hammer, Meet Nail

Posted in iraq, us defense, us military by Karaka on 7 June 2010

I’ve resisted posting about the Wikileaks video from last month because I didn’t really have anything intelligent to add. From every angle there’s acceptable criticism–the burden of freedom of information, the creedo of defence secrecy and security, the very real consequences of the soldiers’ actions, cover-up vs. scandal. In general, my consideration is that leaking this footage has done more net harm than net good; but now that it exists and is out there, it should be dealt with head-on in inquiry and investigative reporting.

The story took a new turn today as news of the arrest of the leaker became public. From Threat Level:

SPC Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Maryland, was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad, where he was arrested nearly two weeks ago by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. A family member says he’s being held in custody in Kuwait, and has not been formally charged.

Manning was turned in late last month by a former computer hacker with whom he spoke online. In the course of their chats, Manning took credit for leaking a headline-making video of a helicopter attack that Wikileaks posted online in April. The video showed a deadly 2007 U.S. helicopter air strike in Baghdad that claimed the lives of several innocent civilians.

You know, he’s just a kid, but spreading bravado over the internet about what you may or may not have done is not the smartest of moves. Especially if you’re on early discharge. The man he spoke to over chat was the person who turned him in, which is where the story takes another twist:

Lamo has contributed funds to Wikileaks in the past, and says he agonized over the decision to expose Manning — he says he’s frequently contacted by hackers who want to talk about their adventures, and he has never considered reporting anyone before. The supposed diplomatic cable leak, however, made him believe Manning’s actions were genuinely dangerous to U.S. national security.

“I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren’t in danger,” says Lamo, who discussed the details with following Manning’s arrest. “He was in a war zone and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air.”

Someone associated from Wikileaks leaked the leaker? Honestly, Stieg Larsson couldn’t have written it better.

What interests me about this whole story, though, is the perception of Wikileaks as editorializing the video–which is certainly true, given the extensive rendering, researching, and editing that went into the video before its posting–when Wikileaks never explicitly claimed impartiality. Its editors almost always provided commentary alongside the documents they exposed, and they never claimed or aspired to be journalistic. It seems rather that Wikileaks, and its founder Julian Assange, intended only to provide documents so that other journalists might pick them up and review them, investigating on their own to verify the documents’ authenticity. That’s a very different spin on the leak from “Wikileaks is showing journalistic bias!” Of course they’re showing bias. But they’re providing the document for all to review to combat their bias.

The New Yorker this week has an in-depth profile of Assange and Wikileaks which actually may do more harm to Wikileaks’ general credibility given the detailed descriptions of Assange’s haphazard lifestyle. But this paragraph (in the very long, but worthwhile-to-read article) stuck out at me:

After the press conference in Washington, I met Assange in New York, in Bryant Park. He had brought his luggage with him, because he was moving between the apartments of friends of friends. We sat near the fountain, and drank coffee. That week, Assange was scheduled to fly to Berkeley, and then to Italy, but back in Iceland the volcano was erupting again, and his flight to Europe was likely to change. He looked a bit shell-shocked. “It was surprising to me that we were seen as such an impartial arbiter of the truth, which may speak well to what we have done,” he told me. But he also said, “To be completely impartial is to be an idiot. This would mean that we would have to treat the dust in the street the same as the lives of people who have been killed.”

Not journalists, but not an organization without commentary. It doesn’t absolve them of anything–and they hardly want absolution anyhow–but it would be a mistake to attribute some lessening of principle to Wikileaks by producing and commenting on the video. It is exactly within the line of their principle, of which another is to invite verification and criticism of what they publish by providing the data. A more sustaining argument would be, how much editing did the video undergo? What did it look like in its raw form?

But I wonder if those questions ever will–or should–be answered. Or asked.

ETA: For more, see Greyhawk.

Just turn off your phone. It’s not that hard.

I don’t care if the Army said it was nifty keen, I can’t get this stupid Lady Gaga song OUT OF MY HEAD and I’m blaming it on paratroopers.

Of note: Stephen McInerney’s article on budget & appropriations for the Middle East in 2011. His analysis notes the increases in funding for Yemen, the withdrawal of support to Iraq in line with the withdrawal of assets and personnel, and the continued increase in funding to Afghanistan/Pakistan. The URL itself is actually a nice brief on Obama’s budget submission, but there’s a longer PDF as well. Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal responds, noting the Problem of Egypt.

USAID has released a couple of reports of note, including a report on internally displaced persons in Iraq, and human resources and logistical support in Afghanistan (both PDF). The GAO has also released Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Facilitate the Efficient Drawdown of U.S. Forces and Equipment from Iraq, which is sure to be a scintillating read, and a report on the problems of aid and contracting in Iraq and Afganistan (both PDF, more at Diplopundit).

Break the Kandahar Mafia:

It’s even worse than that, according to an in-depth poll of Kandahar residents completed last month for the U.S. and ISAF command. Conducted by U.S. Army human terrain teams, the poll found that corruption is viewed as “a widespread problem,” and that “most people have sympathy for the reasons AGEs (anti-government elements, i.e., the Taliban) take up arms against the government.”

A majority of the 1,994 people surveyed said a lack of security was their biggest problem, and that they felt danger mostly from Afghan army and police checkpoints and convoys.

The poll found “almost universal agreement that negotiation with the Taliban is preferable to continued fighting.”

At leas the Human Terrain Teams are working? I feel like my comparison of Ahmed Wali Karzai to Don Corleone is a little more on the nose now. From the Washington Post, the US is shoring up support the actual, technical governor of Kandahar:

In the hope of pushing power brokers such as Karzai to the sidelines, American officials are trying to infuse Wesa and his government with more clout and credibility. They see better governance as a central part of a U.S.-led effort that has brought thousands of troops to the region for a summer offensive against the Taliban.

But the government headed by Wesa has severe problems of its own. It remains understaffed, is viewed by many as corrupt and does not reflect the province’s tribal mix. Karzai and other allegedly corrupt political bosses who dominate Kandahar show no sign of giving way.

“Wesa is a weak governor,” said Rahmatullah Raufi, a former general and Kandahar governor. “If Ahmed Wali Karzai wants him to die, he will die. If he says, ‘Live,’ he’ll live.”

Isn’t that something. If it looks like a warlord, quacks like a warlord, it must be…

AP via Stars & Stripes covers the perils of contracting in Afghanistan:

Afghan companies often bid on projects that they don’t have the money or skills to complete, Wilson said. Quality inspectors end up teaching the basics of drainage or safe electrical wiring.

Small Afghan companies are also under more pressure to pay bribes to local authorities than large international firms, Wilson said. The military has received invoices for as much as $40,000 from Afghan contractors for bogus building permits, he said. International companies either have the power to say no or don’t even try to get their money back from the military.

On NATO bases, hours are also lost each day getting Afghan workers through security.

Despite the problems, Wilson says the “Afghan First” program is the right approach given the new focus on winning over the population. The problem is that this year, in the midst of a troop surge, there’s just too much to build.

Makes you wonder how much of the appropriations for Afghanistan in the budget above will actually be used for stated purposes.

Anthony Cordesman issued a pointed critique of the Obama administration’s communications efforts (or lack thereof) on Afghanistan et cetera via CSIS; some good notes, though I wonder what, if anything, Cordesman might have changed if this had been released after the Afghanistan report instead of before.

In addition to his whirlwind speaking schedule, Secdef Gates published an article in the May/June Foreign Affairs, Helping Others Defend Themselves (PDF). It effectively articulates what Gates (and presumably Clinton) would like to see change in the duration of their time with the Obama administration, perhaps in part from the conclusion of the QDR and QDDR.

The United States now recognizes that the security sectors of at-risk countries are really systems of systems tying together the military, the police, the justice system, and other governance and oversight mechanisms. As such, building a partner’s overall governance and security capacity is a shared responsibility across multiple agencies and departments of the U.S. national security apparatus — and one that requires flexible, responsive tools that provide incentives for cooperation. Operations against extremist groups in the Philippines and, more recently, Yemen have shown how well-integrated training and assistance efforts can achieve real success.

But for all the improvements of recent years, the United States’ interagency tool kit is still
a hodgepodge of jury-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent shortfalls in resources, and unwieldy processes. The National Security Act that created most of the current interagency structure was passed in 1947, the last major legislation structuring how Washington dispenses foreign assistance was signed by President John F. Kennedy, and the law governing U.S. exports of military equipment was passed in 1976. All the while, other countries that do not suffer from such encumbrances have been more quickly funding projects, selling weapons, and building relationships.

Yemen, Yemen, Yemen. The Martha Brady of insurgency-riddled nations. Anyway, I’m curious to see what Gates says in his next speech–he seems to be on something of a campaign. Also, let me point out this rebuttal of Gates’ Navy League speech from Brian McGrath at Information Dissemination; it’s a point by point response, and really gets into the meat of what Gates is proposing.

Thursday Errata

My Google reader just ate the 103 posts I hadn’t read from Small Wars Journal, leaving behind only the most recent of posts.

Sigh. I had been looking forward to reading through it after I’d gotten through everything else; it’s just not quite the same, reading it chronologically in one long page versus navigating forward from post to post.

I had wanted to go to the 2010 Milblogging Conference, take a couple days of vacation and poke around DC while I was up in the area, ’cause I haven’t been there in several years. I ended up taking my vacation a little closer to home, but possibly next year? It’s got to be a lot easier for folks on the West Coast, that’s for sure.

Via @BostonMaggie, looks like the Navy has finally launched NavyLive in an appropriate shade of blue.

Looks like elections in Kyrgyzstan have been scheduled for early October; here’s hoping they keep to their own deadline. Iran is mucking about with war games, which I’m sure has the television pundits in a massive tizzy.

I’m interested to see Danger Room reporting on the deployment of Culture Units from the UK to Afghanistan. It’s a fairly explicit practicum of COIN, no?

I still haven’t worked my way through Joe Klein’s Time Maganize piece on US troops in Afghanistan, but there’s a lot of talk about it out there in the blogosphere.

Musing on Iraq looks at the US Human Rights Report on Iraq, tracking failures and improvements. Worth your time to read.

This week’s public STRATFOR intelligence report has to do with Iraq’s strategic placement near Iran, and how the US might fit into the cracks there.

Washington’s way forward depends upon what the American government believes the probabilities are at this point for a viable Iraqi government and security force able to suppress insurgencies, including those fomented by Iran. If the Americans believe a viable Iraqi government is a possibility, they should roll the dice and withdraw. But it is not clear from our point of view what Washington is seeing. If it believes the probability is low, the United States not only will have to halt the withdrawal, it will have to reverse it to convince the Iranians that the Americans are hypercommitted to Iraq. This might cause Tehran to recalculate, opening the door for discussion.

Food for thought, anyway. And now I’m for home, and cracking open the copy of In the Graveyard of Empires that I finally managed to find a reasonable price for. I mean, I already spent a godawful amount of money on books, but a $30 new hardback is like three or four used paperbacks. Pretty easy math for me.

Today you killed me, but remember.

Posted in iraq, islam by Karaka on 10 November 2009

Right now, I’m reading Richard Engel’s A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest, which is his account of being an American journalist in Baghdad before, during, and after the initial US invasion of Iraq. It’s something of a mediocre book, where the events are more compelling than his ability to write about them, but he certainly does have an understanding of the Middle East/Central Asia borne of a decade of being there.

However, this passage stood out to me today.

I tried to back away, but found myself surrounded by people cheering, “Allahu Akhbar!” Arabic for God is greatest. The phrase is the heart of the prayers pious Muslims perform five times a day. It embodies everything Muslims believe, which is fundamentally that God–Allah–is greater than human existence and that a Muslim–a word that literally mean in Arabic a person who “surrenders”–must submit to God’s greater power.

Calling out Allahu Akhbar was a way for the crowd to try to overcome the tragedy–which they were powerless to prevent–by drawing strength from their faith. To call out Allahu Akhbar meant–perhaps subconsciously–that they would not be defeated because God’s power is greater than what had just happened, greater than death or American bombs. I’d seen Palestinians react similarly to death many, many times. Allahu Akhbar! Today you killed me, but remember, God is greatest.

Page 118.

Lots of goldfish, one tiny fishbowl.

Posted in iraq, terrorism, united states, us military by Karaka on 9 November 2009

I admit, I find it surprising how much Iraq recedes in our view as 2010’s drawdown grows nearer; I suppose there’s only so much ink for a (electronic) page, and Afghanistan is in everyone’s minds. But Iraq remains a fragile state, and the US presence there is significant still. So, a few pieces from here and there that I thought I’d bring to your attention.

First, it did not go unnoticed that the Iraq parliament succeeded in passing election reform [WSJ]:

Lawmakers agreed Sunday on the key sticking point — how the vote will be held in the oil-rich area of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, which is claimed by Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but at least it’s done now,” said Fryad Rawandoozi, spokesman for the Kurdish bloc.

Despite the eleventh-hour agreement, Iraq’s election commission said Sunday that it still didn’t have enough time to prepare for the January 2010 vote. The commission can’t delay the poll unilaterally, however, and Parliament’s agreement appears to have put the election back on track.

In the agreement hammered out over Kirkuk, eligible voters will be determined by 2009 voter-registration records, a condition supported by the Kurds. But a technical committee will be set up to review the votes. If there are a certain number of irregularities, the elections will be repeated in a year, a condition pushed by the Arabs and Turkmen.

I think the key word in the phrase “appears to have put the election back on track” is “appears,” though wrestling with the Kurd bloc is certainly a step in the right direction. Kurdistan has always fascinated me, an island unto itself, almost. However, if things truly proceed only a fortnight or so behind schedule, it shouldn’t compromise the US military withdrawal; though I still remain concerned that security in Iraq is of the smokescreen variety.

From Army News we learn of a key-giving ceremony, granting more MNF-controlled land back to, well, the Iraqis:

The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, part of Joint Area Support Group-Central, helped contribute to that progress, Oct. 25, when they handed the keys to two large properties inside Baghdad’s International Zone back over to the Iraqi government — a symbolic gesture that transferred the property to the Iraqis.

“In terms of square footage of habitable structures, Essayons and Freedom Compound are the largest we’ve turned over so far,” said the 32nd Brigade’s Maj. Gregory Schlub, who is the officer in charge of real properties for Joint Area Support Group-Central, in Baghdad.

The two properties, formerly used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, include about 25 acres of land and buildings with about 380,000 square feet of floor space.

I really hope I’m not the only person rather uncomfortable granting a “key to the city” to the people who in fact possess it; methinks a press pool officer might’ve thought a bit harder about that one.

Stratfor, sharing my wariness about January 2010, writes of Iraq: A Rebounding Jihad:

The Sunni sheikhs are using the [Islamic State of Iraq] to send a message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the Sunnis must be accommodated if there is to be real peace and stability in Iraq. One sticking point for the Sunni elders is that a large percentage of the Awakening Council members have not been integrated into the security forces as promised. Of course, the Shia and Kurds then use these attacks as an excuse for why the Sunnis cannot be trusted — and it all becomes a vicious circle.

The political situation that is driving the security problems in Iraq is complex and cannot be easily resolved. There are many internal and external players who are all trying to influence the final outcome in Iraq for their own benefit. In addition to the internal squabbles over power and oil wealth, Iraq is also a proxy battleground where the United States and Iran are attempting to maintain and assert influence. Regional players like the Saudis, Syrians and Turks also will take a keen interest in the elections and will certainly attempt to influence them to whatever degree they can. The end result of all this meddling is that peace and stability will be hard to obtain.

This means that terrorist attacks likely will continue for the foreseeable future, including attacks by the ISI. If the attacks in August and October are any indication, the remainder of the run-up to the January elections could prove quite bloody.

Granted, had IED defenses not been put into place, the attack on Oct. 25 in Baghdad could have done significantly more damage, but in a sense this is the crucible in which ISF will indeed prove itself. Can ISF keep its citizens secure as the Americans leave? Can it prevent politically motivated terrorist conflict? Can it do so and remain a strong independent force not subject to corruption?

I hope so. But the first quarter of ’10 will be an important time to watch Iraq, I think.

Finally, Alissa Rubin’s column in the New York Times, From Iraq, Lessons for the Next War:

And victory in Iraq almost always begets revenge.

In my five years in Iraq, all that I wanted to believe in was gunned down. Sunnis and Shiites each committed horrific crimes, and the Kurds, whose modern-looking cities and Western ways seemed at first so familiar, turned out to be capable of their own brutality. The Americans, too, did their share of violence, and among the worst they did was wishful thinking, the misreading of the winds and allowing what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide” to swell. Could they have stopped it? Probably not. Could it have been stemmed so that it did less damage, saved some ofthe fathers and brothers, mothers and sons? Yes, almost certainly, yes.

Ricks tipped me off to this article, and while I find it to be one of the least compelling styles of journalism–personal experience masked as opinion masked as news–I do find it interesting to read in the context of the leavetaking that is being prepared. Lessons learned, people? Bring ’em here.

In time, a city of wonders

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, isaf, kuwait, nato, pakistan by Karaka on 8 November 2009

I really can’t deal with the incredible swathes of bigotry currently dominating blogs I normally enjoy reading, so instead I’m going to talk about a couple less immediately inflammatory yet still important items I’ve read lately.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Wazhma Frogh’s editorial in the Washington Post. Quick refresher:

Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world — to men who do not view women as human beings — would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country’s women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it’s like to have rights.

Late last month, Michelle Goldberg at the American Prospect filed an article titled, rather leadingly, A Feminist Case for War? In it, she reported on an NGO called Women for Afghan Women, and a suspended representative of Afghanistan’s parliament, Malalai Joya. The two, in the article, represent opposite sides of opinion on the NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

In fact WAW, which has over 100 staffers in Afghanistan and four in New York, is, with some reluctance, calling for a troop increase. “Women for Afghan Women deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops,” it said in a recent statement. “We are not advocates for war, and conditions did not have to reach this dire point, but we believe that withdrawing troops means abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen who will sacrifice them to their lust for power.”

And from the opposite side:

Joya insists that contrary to mainstream American opinion, the war in Afghanistan has done little to liberate women. “As I write these words, the situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse,” she says. “And not just for women, but for all Afghans. We are caught between two enemies — the Taliban on one side and the U.S./NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other. And the dark-minded forces in our country are gaining power with every allied airstrike that kills civilians, with every corrupt government official who grows fat on bribes and thievery, and with every criminal who escapes justice.”

Rock, meet hard place. There are no easy answers, and while I sympathize with Joya’s argument I am inclined to agree with WAW. However, I think Golberg’s intimation, that remaining in Afghanistan as protection for women and children is justified by a feminist argument, is flawed. It would be better to make the argument from humanism, because in truth striving for the basic rights of Afghans–in the context of this article–is not necessarily gender-specific. It is a strong and accurate claim that giving women the right to vote, the right to live free of sharia, the right to enjoy their own person without fear of harm, resulted in part from the toppling of the Taliban in that country and the installation of a Western-friendly leader. But Afghan women were not the only Afghans whose personal power shifted when the Taliban were driven out–the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan, as an example, found their power shifted as well.

This isn’t to handwave away the very real problems of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, or the corruption that appears to be inherent in the Afghan government, or the role that NATO/ISAF played in destabilizing the lives of Afghans when a war was begun there in 2001. But as important as I view championing the voices and rights of women, theirs was not the only power that was shifted in that year, from none to some, and to view any argument solely from that perspective is to be somewhat myopic.

I do, however, wish that more journos would talk to Afghan women. It’s a perspective not heard often enough.


To round out this late weekend post, some recent news articles of relevance:

  • Pakistan models defy Taliban with 1st fashion week: Many of the models, designers and well-heeled fashionistas packing out each night said the gathering was a symbolic blow to the Taliban and their vision of society, where women are largely confined to the house and must wear a sack-like covering known as a burqa.
  • In Kuwait, Headscarf not a must for female lawmakers: Kuwait’s highest court ruled Wednesday that women lawmakers are not obliged by law to wear the headscarf, a blow to Muslim fundamentalists who want to fully impose Islamic Sharia law in this small oil-rich state.
  • Iraqi Women Receive Business Admin Training: Representatives from eight Iraqi women’s associations meet to discuss possible business training with members of the Ninawa Provincial Reconstruction Team in the town of Qare Qosh in Ninawa province, Oct 27.
  • 200 girls complete training courses in Kandahar: As many as 200 girls completed training courses in different skills and were awarded course completion certificates during a ceremony in this southern city on Tuesday. The training programme, organised by the Afghan-Canadian Social Centre in collaboration with Canada’s leading polytechnic institute, SAIT, included online courses in management sciences, business, English language, and Information & Communication Technology (ICT).

More to come.

Wednesday, one more.

Posted in iraq by Karaka on 28 October 2009

Poking my head out from under my duvet to post this quote from The Forever War (which I still haven’t finished because I’ve been too wrecked to read, but I will finish tonight! I will!) that seems relevant in light of the (potentially) forthcoming Iraq elections. Page 243:

A few miles away, a woman stepped from the voting booth at Yarmouk Elementary School, named for the largely Sunni neighborhood where it was located. Yarmouk was slipping fast, but some of the Sunnis were still coming out to vote. Her name was Bushra Saadi. Like Batool al-Musawi, the young Shiite woman, Saadi covered her hair with a scarf tightly wrapped. But she was older than Musawi and carried herself with greater dignity. Her face was drawn, and her eyes looked as hard as little diamonds. Her neighbors shuffled past her to go inside.

Why vote at all? I asked Saadi. Why not just stay home?

She shot me a withering look.

“I voted in order to prevent my country from being destroyed by its enemies,” she said. She spoke English without an accent.

What enemies? I asked Saadi. What enemies are you referring to?

She began to tremble. “You–you destroyed our country,” Saadi said. “The Americans, the British. I am sorry to be impolite. But you destroyed our country, and you called it democracy.

“Democracy,” she said. “It is just talking.”

It is a heavy weight we carry in Iraq.

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