Permissible Arms

A Tin-Plated Anniversary

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states by Karaka on 21 October 2010

Another unpleasant, unplanned absence. Sigh. To everyone that I owe email: apologies for being out of contact. I’m trying to wade through everything now. Shoot me another one if you don’t hear from me by this weekend. Mea maxima culpa.

Say what you will about the ANA–and there’s a lot to be said–but there’s something compelling about this collection of photos of an ANA graduation. (From thruafghaneyes.)

Newly trained female officers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) attended their graduation ceremony at the National Army training center in Kabul on Thursday, 23 September 2010.

There are real problems with a transition from ISAF to ANSF in 2011. In the US, the President has a real political problem if he doesn’t stay the course of at least semi-withdrawal by that date. In Afghanistan, there are competency issues, numbers issues, readiness issues, and that whole pesky desertion/retention problem. Not that this is news to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last (gulp) ten years.

Petraeus, speaking from London, is trying his best to make hay from hash by citing progress in literacy and health programs. But who really thinks the ANSF will grow big enough in such little time–at the very least, not without cutting some corners in training, recruiting, and over all quality.

We’re coming close to the exact two choices that have been present since this plan for Afghanistan came out last year: either find a way to keep this 2011 deadline soft enough that ISAF can keep trying to make the ANSF work; or accept that after ten years ISAF only started the real work a year and a half ago, and the political time on this war has run out. Sucks to be in the Afghan Army or Police Force, here’s the keys to the car, try not to wreck it too badly.

Not to be too pessimistic or anything. I think I’m just going to go look at those pictures some more and think about the counter-factual world that might have been if real ANSF training had started in 2003.

Rather Late Monday Errata. (Still catching up.)

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, europe, isaf, islam, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 12 July 2010

A handful of links:

  • Paul McCleary has a good article on the Afghan NCOP and police forces: “And generally speaking,” [Ward] added, “when they’re partnered, we see the right kinds of behavior.” But the question is: what happens when they’re not partnered? Good question.
  • The NYT At War blog reviews reports on Afghan opinion polls. According to the findings, corruption remains the third-biggest concern to Afghans, following security and unemployment. One in seven adults experienced direct bribery in the past two years. The total of bribes paid by Afghans in 2009 added to roughly $1 billion, almost double the amount in 2007. The average bribe paid was $156. There are some nice charts, as well. How on earth does an average Afghan have $156 to burn on a bribe?
  • The Big Picture covers Afghanistan, June 2010. Quite frankly the best photojournalism column around. This gets my pick, though there are some truly awe-striking photos in this collection. There are at least three or four of Afghan girls and women, as well.

This June 4, 2010 picture shows the starry desert night over Camp Hansen at Marjah, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim)

  • MikeF (hi Mike!) started a robust discussion of David Kilcullen’s Counterinsurgency at Small Wars Council worth your time; he very kindly posted links to Starbuck’s review and my own. Now that I’m a bit removed from my initial reactions to the book, I do think it has merit, certainly as an introduction to counterinsurgency as a practical concept and as a handy portable version of the doctrine, such as it is. I’m doing a re-read of “The Accidental Guerilla” at the moment, and I do think it’s interesting to see how Kilcullen’s ideas have shifted over time, as he’s gained more insight and experience. Still, as a whole book I do think it has some structural flaws. Well worth the $15 (₤10).
  • And also, h/t Starbuck for Bing West’s review of Counterinsurgency at the National Interest. I particularly liked this line: Stack plays Thomas Hobbes to Kilcullen’s John Locke. Very well put.
  • If you were as baffled by this whole Dave Weigel-getting-fired business as I was, check out this Diavlog with the man in question. (H/t Ackerman.)
  • CHUP on the burqa ban and fear. Such policies and practices, regardless if it means banning the burqa or banning criticism of it, are ultimately unproductive because it further polarizes the debate rather than resolving any of its underlying issues. Good discussion in the comments.
  • As you all surely know, Mattis is for CENTCOM which is an excellent power shuffle around the board. One might think his pass over for Commandant was orchestrated to get him into CENTCOM, if one was a particularly twitchy conspiracy theorist. Which I am not. For more on Mattis, AFJ has excerpts from Tom Ricks’ “Fiasco” available for ungated reading.
  • Paul Staniland recently did a guest post series at the Monkey Cage on how counterinsurgencies end. I wish they were all linked together, but if you have the time its worth poking around for them all.
  • Embedistan, also on the At War blog.

Happy Independence Day, America

Posted in isaf, united states, us military by Abbie on 4 July 2010

It may be pessimistic, but July 4th always marks the beginning of the end of summer for me. Then again, I prefer cold weather, so perhaps I’m trying to will fall and winter to get here sooner. Regardless, this does not diminish the importance of this day.

So, Happy Independence Day, America!  And a special thanks to the troops serving near and far, today.

Here are a few links to get us in the spirit:

  • Independence Day 2010 (SWJ)

Links to two organization’s I hope you consider supporting today and throughout the year:

  1. The USO
  2. Adopt a U.S. Soldier

And finally, because I’m incapable of being serious for this long, here’s some etymology of the song, Yankee Doodle.  And to accompany this, one so-bad-it’s-awesome patriotic rendition of Yankee Doodle performed by Suzanne Somers circa 1978, care of Pour Me Coffee.

Happy Fourth of July!

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.

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pendkarakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pend karakapend

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.

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.

Radio Free Everything

Posted in counterinsurgency, intelligence, isaf, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 15 March 2010

Good grief. Let’s try this again.

I’m sure everyone who (maybe, still) reads this blog has gotten their hands on some or all of Foreign Policy’s War Issue, but in case you haven’t here’s a pdf copy of the magazine.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there (as well as a dreadfully long multipage advertisement for Brazil that I really could have lived without paying for), written by names that will be familiar to anyone who reads in the field regularly; but the article that caught my attention was John Arquilla’s argument for a new mode of warfare for the American military structure. Delightfully, the article is available in full here. It’s worth your time to read.

However, there are two points I think Arquilla misses; or rather, the focus of his article prevents him from touching on these two points, and I think they’re worth bringing up. First:

A networked U.S. military that knows how to swarm would have much smaller active manpower — easily two-thirds less than the more than 2 million serving today — but would be organized in hundreds more little units of mixed forces. The model for military intervention would be the 200 Special Forces “horse soldiers” who beat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving “first waves” and dealing with other crises. At sea, instead of concentrating firepower in a handful of large, increasingly vulnerable supercarriers, the U.S. Navy would distribute its capabilities across many hundreds of small craft armed with very smart weapons. Given their stealth and multiple uses, submarines would stay while carriers would go. And in the air, the “wings” would reduce in size but increase in overall number, with mere handfuls of aircraft in each. Needless to say, networking means that these small pieces would still be able to join together to swarm enemies, large or small.

I agree with Arquilla on this point, particularly that nothing offers a better model for networked warfare in contemporary history than special ops engagements in Afghanistan (and, rather to some extent, Iraq). But by virtue of using this conflict and the force applied to it, Arquilla doesn’t seem to embrace the secondary component that has proven necessary in Afghanistan where ISAF spec ops forces have intervened: stability.

“[W]ith ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises,” Arquilla says, but the very times special ops has worked in greatest favor in our modern wars as been when the original intervenors could be a continuous presence in the lives of the combatants they defeated and the civilians they end up protecting. I’m thinking specifically of The Mayor of Ar Rutbah and One Tribe at a Time, though there are many examples to draw from; while there are valid critiques of these strategies for dealing with insurgency specifically, and the larger field of warcraft Arquilla is describing in his article, there is a clear application to ongoing conflict that can act as a lens for future conflicts. It’s very clearly not enough just to embrace the effectiveness of swarming a conflict with a small, agile, networked band of soldiers. Those same soldiers either have to establish a kind of semi-permanency of themselves and the security they have created by defeating an enemy; or some authoritative organization, either native or foreign, has to establish itself in the wake of that success immediately, or that security is lost overnight.

But if the idea is to have small, mobile, highly effective units–essentially exponentially more special forces units–with the emphasis on mobile, how does one correlate that with the void left in the wake of success?

Second:

There’s real urgency to this debate. Not only has history not ended with the Cold War and the advent of commerce-driven globalization, but conflict and violence have persisted — even grown — into a new postmodern scourge.

Indeed, it is ironic that, in an era in which the attraction to persuasive “soft power” has grown dramatically, coercive “hard power” continues to dominate in world affairs. This is no surprise in the case of rogue nations hellbent on developing nuclear arsenals to ensure their security, nor when it comes to terrorist networks that think their essential nature is revealed in and sustained by violent acts. But this primary reliance on coercive capabilities is also on display across a range of countries great and small, most notably the United States, whose defense policy has over the past decade largely become its foreign policy.

Probably for good reason, Arquilla doesn’t discuss the other avenues the United States has for exploiting soft power. He’s talking specifically about the military, and intelligence services don’t cleanly align with the military. But it seems an odd exception to make when discussing the hard power inherent in most American military endeavors, because if there is one thing that has been made clear in the last seven years of America At War, it’s that intelligence is everything. Planes can’t drop bombs without a target. (Or, well, they can, but that road ain’t one I’m going down today.) If you act without intelligence, you go in blind, and in the last seven years and particularly the last eighteen months it’s clear that priority is placed on intelligence gathered by military personnel and the contacts they make in areas of engagement. And that intelligence is the difference between action and inaction. I don’t think the military is necessarily blind to this, and whatever problems there are in information sharing between departments, there has to be something getting through for anything to happen at all.

We may love our subs and our carriers and our fighter jets; but I don’t know that such love is necessarily at the expense of information.

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.

Veni, Vidi–then what?

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 4 November 2009

As we wait and wonder what number of troops will be allocated for the US engagement in Afghanistan, several pieces have come up all wondering the same thing: how will we staff this war?

In General Casey’s Doubts at FP, Robert Haddick touches on the real requirements of pulling 100k+ troops out of Iraq and upping tens of thousands in Afghanistan:

In May, prior to the Obama administration’s latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal’s report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of “12 months deployed, 12 months home” unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.

But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal’s 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.

Assuming the U.S. really does evacuate all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Army and the Marine Corps would find a way to sustain the larger effort in Afghanistan while also increasing home-station time — assuming that this would be McChrystal’s final escalation of the war.

Paula Broadwell at KOW picks up the thread as it pertains to officers as well:

Retaining officers from all sources is essential to the health of our military. “Unlike the corporate sector, which can expand or contract quickly in response to market needs, pulling talent from various sources such as the military or various industries,” there is no lateral entry in the Army because our developmental structure and “industry-specific” training limit the ability of even a successful corporate leader to assimilate quickly into the culture.

The good new is that the Army is no longer hemorrhaging junior officers, due in part to the state of the economy and incentives like the G.I. Bill. But the underlying bad news is that it is only holding steady at a rate that is 15-20% under required strength, and there is no comprehensive Army strategy to correct the market.

Good stuff in the comments there, too.

As Danger Room reports, the problem isn’t simply retaining existing personnel but recruiting new personnel:

More than three-quarters of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds couldn’t serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They’re too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.

The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions – asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military’s biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.

And it’s not only the military. The Department of State may be undergoing the beginnings of its QDDR, but there is a more immediate question, as Diplopundit notes: where will civilian staff come from?

2007 is still remembered by some as the year when a muddy “near-revolt” happened in Foggy Bottom and diplomats were publicly threatened with directed assignments to Iraq. Just about everyone enjoyed the target; this one was the only one I remembered who tried to understand the fuller picture.

In the waning days of Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department there was understandably a big do to separate facts from myths (it’s harder than you think). AFSA tried to help. In it’s AFSANet message it also says that “Congress, at AFSA’s urging and with this Administration’s support, did include some FY-08 and FY-09 “bridge” funding for additional positions in the Iraq/Afghanistan War supplemental that was passed last summer. To our knowledge, State has not said how many new Foreign Service positions that funding permitted.”

In the long life of a bureaucracy, a well resourced agency like the Defense Department has hundreds of proud parents and godparents who can claim responsibility for its successes; but who claims responsibility for an underfunded/understaffed agency that must constantly wrestle with — well, people and paperclips?

Without Congress authorizing an increase in foreign service personnel, without the Department of State restructuring to provide more and easier in-roads for potential FSOs and other civilian positions into their ranks, there simply will not be, nor does really exist now, a class of trained, able civilian personnel to implement the necessary development programs in Afghanistan, or for that matter, Iraq.

If General McChrystal’s assessment is generally integrated into US foreign policy in the US under the Obama administration, and the terms of his project are implemented, there will be a significant need for human personnel, both military and civilian. But I wonder if the realism needed in assessing the situation in Afghanistan is not so much what can and should be accomplished in-country, but what can in fact be resourced by the US Departments of State and Defense with current recruitment and retention numbers. Or, put more simply, this graph courtesy Schmedlap via zenpundit:

And the Y axis is still under 100,000. There’s a lot of shortfall to make up on all sides.

Stalemate In Perpetua

Posted in afghanistan, isaf by Karaka on 14 October 2009

Yesterday–and it’s still technically yesterday!–Spencer Ackerman posted about AJ Rossmiller’s new column in TNR. I said this in reply to Spencer’s post:

You know, I read this post over my morning coffee, Rossmiller’s over my bagel, and this guest post over at Ricks on the second cup of coffee; and after a couple hours digesting it, I’m still on the damn fence.

I agree in principle with what you’re saying here, but I guess I’m just not entirely convinced that reconciliation will actually, necessarily work in the interests of US national security or in the interests of the Afghan citizenry. It’s a way to get out faster; but I’m not sure it’s the best way to leave.

And Spencer asked me to pull it apart a little more, so I took the thought to my pub and over a pint of Open Bridge Brown I sorted it out a bit.

So, we’re talking about the political reconciliation of the Afghan Taliban with the current established Afghan government. My inclination is to think that such a reconciliation is not the best course of action. I came up with four reasons why.

ONE. ISAF is already present in Afghanistan. If McCrystal’s Assessment is adopted to reaching US/NATO goals in AFG, forces will probably be present in country for at least four to five years more. It seems credible that civilian forces working to reduce corruption in the established government would be a better alternative to inviting our declared enemy into a legitimate role in the government it purports to hate and rebel against; reconciliation only works if there is power-sharing, and there is no indication that the AFG Taliban are interested in sharing power at all.

TWO. Prior to 2009, ISAF was fighting (to the best of my knowledge) a counterterrorism campaign in AFG. I don’t think we can accurately predict the martial outcome of COIN in country, since it hasn’t been practiced to full effect yet; and if COIN proves more effective at fighting the Taliban, political reconciliation becomes less attractive and perhaps less necessary. I don’t see an effective argument suing for reconciliation before COIN has taken a stab at reducing the insurgent threat. Though, I have seen the argument for reconciliation made as a pretext to withdrawing sooner rather than later, and that reaffirms my original statement that it’s a way to get out faster, but not necessarily better.

Further to that, I also think that COIN’s effectiveness could take more than one aspect, namely the reintegration of insurgents into Afghan citizenry, eroding the influence and existing political power of the Taliban, and/or a wide swathe of insurgent deaths. Even one of those things would have the effect of lessening Taliban presence and control and strengthening the central government’s legitimacy.

THREE. I don’t take the Taliban’s public claims seriously. Propaganda always means something other than what is being stated. To take the Taliban at its public word could be foolish–given last week’s bogus claim of harmlessness, it seems apparent that the Taliban’s greatest hope is getting the foreigners to leave what they consider to be their territory. They have every reason to lie or obfuscate to reach that goal.

Taking CNAS intern Kyle Flynn’s comments on Peter Bergen’s senate testimony into account (primarily because it is very recent and also something I touched on in my original response) and the Oral History of the Taliban (also recent), there is no factual reason to believe that the AFG Taliban wouldn’t re-establish their regime if given the opportunity and use that power to provide al-Qaeda with another launching pad.

The argument that al-Qaeda does not necessarily need Afghanistan to accomplish its goals is both accurate and well-heeded; but it sure does make it easier on them. Furthermore, if the US continues to have a presence in South/Central Asia–which the events of the last 18 years indicates it will–it is a matter of US influence and security to have in place a government in line with whatever democratic views we attempted to import there.

The Taliban don’t exactly fit that bill, and should they be reconciled with the current AFG government, it seems probable that they would exploit the control of the 200 districts they currently hold into a grab for political power. It would likely introduce another government, one sourced by Islamic extremism. And that’s not good for US interests even without al-Qaeda’s involvement, given the proximity of AFG to Pakistan, Iran, and India (all nuclear states).

FOUR. Probably the point most important to me, personally, is the relationship of the Taliban to the people it professes to represent and govern. The following is copied from Women Against Shariah, at the most cursory level. (That is a heartbreaking blog to read.)

* Shariah: an all-encompassing and in-transmutable system of Islamic jurisprudence, found in the Koran and the Sunnah, that covers all aspect of life, including daily routines, hygiene, familial roles and responsibilities, social order and conduct, directives on relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims, religious obligations, financial dealings and many other facets of living.

* Ird: the sexual purity of a woman that confers honor to her husband, family and community. Ird is based on the traditional standards of behavior set forth in the shariah code and includes subservience to male relatives, modest dress which could include veiling and the covering of the body, and restricted movement outside of the home. The loss of a woman’s ird confers shame upon her family and can result in ostracism by the community, economic damage, political consequences and the loss of self esteem.

* Zina: the Koranic word for sexual relations outside of marriage. Under shariah law, Zina is punished by lashings, imprisonment or stoning to death.

* Honor Killing: a murder, usually of a female, committed to restore the social and political standing of a family or community when it is believed that the victim has violated traditional behavioral expectations. Such violations can include improper covering of the body, appearing in public without a male relative chaperone, talking to an unrelated male, or exhibiting independence in thought and action. An honor killing can also be based on hearsay or gossip that is perceived as damaging to a woman’s relatives.

* Forced Marriage: a marriage that is conducted without the consent of one or both parties in which duress is a factor. Such duress can include violence or physical intimidation, psychological abuse, blackmailing, kidnapping, or threats of imprisonment or institutional confinement.

Now, there are several stripes of what WAS refers to as militant islam, but I think it’s common knowledge that the Taliban have a fairly strict interpretation of Shariah. To me, turning political power over to men who will use their power to oppress half the population is sufficient reason in and of itself to remain until the population is secured. I don’t want my heart to bleed all over this post, but it is a fundamental problem for me to consider political reconciliation with a group of people who will clearly and unabashedly utilize that power to enact and further systemic oppression of women. And given the Taliban’s grave presence in Afghanistan currently, it would arguably be a lot of political power.

That oppression, too, has the trickle down effect on Afghan children, and the various other minorities within Afghanistan.

One of the recurring arguments I have about political-ethnic divides within Afghanistan relates to the notion that because Pashtuns are the great majority in country they should be taken seriously and, I interpret, be a large political power because of their numbers–about 42% of the population. But what I find troubling about the argument from majority is that the proposed majority almost inevitably uses that power to oppress or eradicate the minorities which (seem to) threaten that power.

I find it hard to distinguish a compelling argument that suggests political reconciliation with the Taliban would not be a problem for the overall security of the Afghan people.

So, I stand by my original, more tenuous claim–political reconciliation may be the fastest way for ISAF to get out of Afghanistan, but I don’t think it’s the best. Not when it leaves several problems both in terms of US security, Afghan security, and problems both immediately and in the long-term.

That was more hawkish than I’d anticipated it being.

Warning: May Require Holistic Thought

Posted in counterinsurgency, isaf by Karaka on 28 August 2009

Further to the post on the new ISAF COIN ROE (hello acronyms, how are you doing?), the Small Wars Journal has some insightful comments regarding the document. To wit:

In some ways it is easier to think of this as force development of a foreign security force (FSF). This is important because the capabilities (ability to do a task) the element conducting SFA puts forward need to be considered in light of the capabilities to be developed in the FSF…By identifying what tasks the FSF must perform, we can derive what capabilities they require and then understand what SFA developmental tasks (Organize, Train, Equip, Build/Rebuild, Advise or OTERA) the element conducting SFA will have to accomplish.

That’s from Rob, who didn’t leave a name-relevant link, otherwise I’d link back to him. What’s interesting to me is that this is a good breakdown of one aspect of this new ROE, namely, the drive to develop the relationship between ISAF and ANSF companies. From the doc:

Our job is to hold them accountable for performance in serving the Afghan people and protecting them from harm. Build their capacity to secure their own country. Foster ownership–their success is our success. Live and train together, plan and operate together. Share the same battle-rhythm and information. Integrate your command and control structures. Put them in the lead and support them, even before they think they are ready.

This is a bit different from previous training programs, no? This calls instead for a level of integration training that says, essentially, “lead by example.” There have been many reported problems with the ANSF in the past, and I wonder if this effort to hold the ANSF accountable through daily, consistent interaction will work in the long-term. I suspect it will have as much to do with what enlisted ISAF personnel are willing to do to further this goal as with the myriad of inherent problems within the ANSF itself. It’s most certainly a clear shift in strategy from high-value target skirmishing to community-based policing, and I can’t say I disapprove.

I doubt there was any scenario in which our movement into Afghanistan in the early part of this decade could ever have been successful–by any measure of the term–without a massive influx of soceity-changing tactics. It was never simply about militarism, and anyone who claims it was is being grossly naive. As I said previously, my concern is that after more than seven years, if this is what we are articulating, finally–the need to implement local policing strategies to the extend that ISAF moves more away from missions specifically targeting and engaging the enemy–if this is what we articulating, what took us so long to get here?

I’m not sitting around thinking, man, I bet what American military personnel will just love doing is making nice with the locals and stirring ANSF out of their apparent stupor instead of contracting missions to eliminate insurgency targets, and I’d be the first to suggest that this isn’t a de facto part of their job or training. But that doesn’t change the evident point that policing in this fashion is a necessity, not a luxury, and ISAF is what we’ve got there to do it.

%d bloggers like this: