Permissible Arms

From Dawn to Dusk

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 24 August 2010

Back from my stint at Attackerman. That was a good experience, if a little stressful–Spencer’s audience is a lot bigger than mine, and I hope I kept the fire going well enough in his stead with my compatriots.

For all the people (journalists) bemoaning the slow news days of August, I must say I don’t see it. Between the floods in Pakistan, the existential crises of Pakistan’s obstructionism in Afghanistan, the likely food shortage resulting from Russia’s non-stop drought/wildfire combo and Pakistan’s floods, plus the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the interesting philosophical questions that can arise from the withdrawal, it’s been a non-stop thought farm for me. Granted, it’s no McClusterfuck, but it hasn’t been a quiet month.

Speaking of the flooding, I keep coming back to stare at this picture:

Photo: Courtesy of Robert Simmon, NASA.

That kind of macro view really shows how massive the Indus has become, and how terrifying it is. (H/t Natural Security.) What a crummy Ramadan.

“Protocol droid fluent in 6 mil languages discharged for violating DADT.”

Posted in afghanistan, pakistan, usaid by Karaka on 28 July 2010

Without a doubt, the most entertaining thing on the internet right now is the #wookieeleaks (or #wookieleaks) hashtag on twitter. Marc Ambinder has collected some of the best here, but my favorites are the ones about the Death Star. There’s some seriously clever humour in there for those who, like me, dovetail as Star Wars nerds and national security geeks. Of which there are more than I ever thought existed.

Naheed Mustafa has another dispatch up at Registan that I’ve finally had a change to read, and like the rest of her series it balances being both moving and informative.

Everyone needs a myth; it’s the only way to sleep at night. But behind the myths in Afghanistan, the warriors from then and from now are just broken men, continuously looking for opportunities to perpetuate their own hype and stay relevant because without the fight, what are they? Behind the myth, ordinary people are profoundly weary and untrusting. They relive their worst moments nightly each time they close their eyes.

Mosharraf Zaidi’s piece last week on Hilary Clinton, Pakistan, and foreign aid that I found compelling. The comments section of his site is a little wily, but his work is always worth your time to read.

Perhaps now Pakistanis can better understand the frustration of the John Kerrys, the Hillary Clintons and the Richard Holbrookes of the earth. Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke’s decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn’t quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.

Top pick of the week, though, goes to David Wood writing on women in Afghanistan (a recurring topic of mine and one of immense interest).

In Afghanistan, where women have traditionally been treated as shut-ins and worse, 29 Afghan women are taking a daring step: They are the first volunteers to undergo training to serve in the all-male Afghan national army.

Two American women, Rebekah Martinez and Jennifer Marcos, are among a cadre of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants spending six months away from their families to train the Afghan women here.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, reportedly has issued new orders for his Taliban fighters to begin again targeting women cooperating with Americans or helping their own government. Assassinations, suicide bombing and IED attacks may follow, on the women — and on their families.

One of the basic premises of my understanding of “reasons to stay in Afghanistan” ten years into this thing unequivocally has to do with women. Well, people in general, but women specifically. The quality of life for women in Afghanistan–not exactly of stellar height right now–plummeted under the Taliban and would do so, without a doubt, once again should ISAF retreat. Of the many obligations I believe the United States to possess towards Afghanistan, the quality of life of women there carries great weight for me.

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

Karaka Pendkarakapend

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

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

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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.

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.

It’s funnier in the original Pashto.

This morning kind of sucked. I spilled coffee on myself and my books not once, but twice; missed my bus this morning; and spent the first hour putting out work-related brushfires. I guess everyone has to have a bad hump day now and again, but did mine have to involve ruining all the papers, books, and magazines in my bag?

Linkdump time. Danger Room’s interview with Admiral Mike Mullen was great, but I was way too taken with the confession that Adm. Mullen actually does tweet over at @thejointstaff. Oh, Twitter. You are a Chinese curse.

Stratfor’s security brief this week is on the relationships of India, the US, and Pakistan to Afghanistan, which I weirdly feel like I scooped (even though I clearly didn’t). To wit:

Ultimately, with long experience bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States was inherently wary of becoming involved in Afghanistan. In recent years, it has become all too clear how distant the prospect of a stable Afghanistan is. A tribal-ethnic balance of power overseen by Pakistan is another matter entirely, however. The great irony is that such a success could make the region look remarkably like it did on Sept. 10, 2001…The Indians are concerned that with American underwriting, the Pakistanis not only may be about to re-emerge as a major check on Indian ambitions, but in a form eerily familiar to the sort of state-militant partnership that so effectively limited Indian power in the past. They are right.

From At War, “Military Disputes Taliban on Korangal Valley Outpost:”

The absence of the Americans from the valley has made the area somewhat less secure, according to local people and the Afghan army. That would be in line with American expectations about the impact of their withdrawal. The American military had expected there might be some decline in security, but also thought it was possible that without the presence of the Americans to provoke the insular Korangalis, the area eventually would become calmer. That has not seemed to be the case — at least not yet.

“People are trapped in Korangal because of repeated fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban,” said Major Turab.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann have recently published an Almanac of al-Qaeda over at Foreign Policy, which details the rise of the organization and a fascinating data dump with some rockin’ graphs. One of the best contemporary briefings on the subject, I think, from two trusted authors.

Gunslinger over at Ink Spots posted a criticism of Michael O’Hanlon’s article on non-lethal weapons (NLW) that I found clearheaded and compellingly argued. There’s some good discussion in the comments too.

Anne Marlowe has a column over World Affairs Journal that takes a long view of COIN and Afghanistan. I’ve read it a couple times now, and I’m reacting against it for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. I think it has something to do with the claim about the effectiveness of insuring the security of the population over engaging the enemy with arms, and the implication that that isn’t by definition an underlying principle of COIN. Still mulling it over.

David Wood reports on when Iran goes nuclear, confirming my general hapless view on the matter:

Relying on traditional deterrence against a nuclear-armed Iran would be a mistake — that is the cautionary conclusion of a two-year study at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. It saw three problems with trying to deter Iran:

– The regime is split into factions, making it difficult to know whether to deal with clerics or civilians like Ahmadinejad, the military or the ultra-hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.

– Rather than threatening to launch a nuclear attack, a nuclear Iran would likely be more aggressive in backing terrorist attacks or even minor conventional or very low-level nuclear operations against U.S. interests in the region — nuclear sea mines along the Persian Gulf’s oil routes, for example. Such operations would complicate U.S. decisions about whether a nuclear response would be justified.

– Domestic political instability could affect how Iran’s leaders play their nuclear weapons card, making it difficult to predict how they would react in a crisis.

And finally, also at Danger Room, the Army has been reading you! and you! and you! (Okay, maybe not you.)

Every week, the defense contractor MPRI prepares for the brass a “Blogosphere and Social Media Report,” rounding up sites’ posts on military matters. It’s meant to be a single source for top officers to catch up on what’s being said online and in leading social media outlets. Items from about two dozen national security and political blogs are excerpted, and classified as “balanced,” “critical,” or “supportive.” The vast majority of the posts are considered “balanced” — even when they rip the Army a new one.

I downloaded & read the three reports that were made available, and they’re depressingly poorly researched. I dread knowing how much money gets shelled out for these, and levied some further criticism in the post over at SWJ. Since when are HuffPo and World News Daily balanced?

The story of Pakistan is not monolithically negative.

Posted in pakistan by Karaka on 26 April 2010

Is it ironic that I’m preparing curry for dinner, or merely an amusing coincidence?

Following on to the previous post, the Guardian’s Mustafa Qadri states why Pakistan has to work, despite its failings:

Going as it does against the very grain of Pakistan’s claim to be a home for the subcontinent’s Muslims, ethnic nationalism has been condemned by both Islamists and the elite as a mischievous attempt to destabilise the nation. In reality, it has always been a direct consequence of marginalisation. That is why Bengalis, incensed by systematic discrimination from Pakistan’s Punjab dominated institutions, fought to create Bangladesh in 1971. At political rallies in the Balochi, Pakhtun and Urdu-speaking slums of Karachi, you can hear the echoes of 1971 today.

But the idea that ethnic nationalism will unlock true freedom, or that Pakistan itself is an impediment to liberation, is a dangerous fantasy. Despite Pakistan’s failings, the alternatives are far worse than anything we have already faced. Just as importantly, the story of Pakistan is not monolithically negative.

Short article, worth the time to read. “There remains no credible option but to make Pakistan work.” Methinks some other countries may disagree, but I entertain the claim.

Tagged with:

When we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away

Posted in afghanistan, india, pakistan by Karaka on 26 April 2010

I have to admit, my first thought when seeing Hamid Karzai set for talks with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh while surreptitiously reading my news feeds at a work event on Saturday was “Man, this is going to piss off Pakistan.”

See, last week I’d read this report from the Defense Studies blog, India’s Afghan Endgame, and it was foremost in my mind. I read the blog fairly cautiously, but I thought this was a fairly compelling read.

Delhi is pursuing what amounts to a “soft power” campaign in Afghanistan — one which, according to Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos, is “designed to win over every sector of Afghan society, give India a high profile with the Afghans, gain the maximum political advantage, and of course undercut Pakistani influence.” And although India’s efforts have without a doubt unnerved the Pakistanis, Delhi has managed avoid the perception among the other states engaged in Afghanistan that it is actively seeking to antagonize Islamabad — perhaps because of the extent of the services it has provided to the Afghan population. Assuming Rashid is right about India’s desire to cultivate influence among the Afghan citizens, its strategy has been success: an ABC News/BBC poll released in early 2009 indicated that 71% of Afghans viewed India favorably. Only 8% said the same of Pakistan.

While the last twenty months or so have seen Western political and policy movement away from a sole focus on Afghan to the more encompassing view of Afghanistan-Pakistan, it would be foolish to ignore the impact India does have–or more importantly, could grow to have–in the region.

I’m not one to give credence to the general paranoia India and Pakistan harbour towards one another; for one thing, it’s pretty far out of my wheelhouse in terms of political knowledge, and secondly most of what I encounter about the subject can tend towards the hyperbolic. (The only thing I’m willing to get loud and impassioned about is whether Han shot first. Or the virtue of Pacific Northwest IPAs over just about any other American beer.) But even so I find myself agreeing with Tim Sullivan, who wrote the piece I’m referencing, when he concluded:

In the end, United States can’t expect that India will simply remain on the sidelines as the endgame in Afghanistan takes shape; we have been lucky that India has played such a benign, if not ameliorative role in Afghanistan to date. Pakistan, for its part, must be disabused of the notion that the United States will continue to indulge its insecurities, or allow it to so easily manipulate U.S. relations with a vital partner.

That sentiment has been quietly echoed in several of the documents I’ve read pertaining to ISAF’s role as arbiter between the three nations, and I think the most notable part will be not how it’s reflected in defence posture or humanitarian assistance adjacent to or part of COIN operation, but how it’s reflected in the diplomatic ring. The US, and the Western world at large, have a lot to gain by investing in India; and equally as much to lose in Pakistan.

I’m reminded of an interview Christiane Amanpour conducted with three ambassadors from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India–no small feat getting them all at the same desk!–that is worth the rewatch, even as a primer for interaction between the three closely-linked nations.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

You can watch the full video here because CNN’s video playback sucks like beer made east of the Mississippi.

There are no easy answers. But the relationship between India and Afghanistan is worth keeping a bead on.

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.

I don’t have the brain for post titles today.

Posted in afghanistan, pakistan, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 28 October 2009

I’m still pretty shattered, so I apologise for not blogging in my usual form, but right now I’m pretty happy that I can read again instead of staring blankly at the wall, so please forgive my brevity. Two things of note:

I don’t think anyone is shocked to learn that Pres. Karzai’s brother is likely on the CIA’s payroll:

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

But I do wonder at the timing of the story. It breaks just as the processes for the 7 November runoff began, illuminating the ties between the US and the Karzai family, and seems to undermine those relationships in odd ways. Food for thought, anyway.

Drew Brown at S&S published an article on Stryker colours Monday that I had noted because the framing of it interested me: More than six years after sending the first Stryker armored vehicles into desert combat, the Army has decided that it’s probably a good idea to start painting them tan so they will blend in with the environments in Afghanistan and Iraq. And then also: But with the war in Afghanistan heating up, soldiers with a Stryker unit there welcomed the news — even if it has taken more than five years for the Army to make the change.

It’s kind of an odd way to criticize the decision, and Michael Yon seems to agree:

The story is datelined to Zabul Province, Afghanistan, and true enough, the color out there should be desert brown. (Or perhaps, in some places at some times, white.) But elsewhere in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, civilians mostly live near water, so colors around their homes generally are green during the green months. In Afghanistan, the “Green Zone” (GZ) is the area around the rivers and lakes, and much or possibly most of the fighting occurs in these green areas. The enemy fights more when the GZ is green than during the winter brown.

Just as important, predicting camouflage needs for Strykers can be incredibly difficult. Stryker units tend to get moved around more than other combat units because Stryker units can project so much force quickly. Afghanistan’s geography doesn’t help: Down in the Helmand River valley where Brits, Danes, Yanks, and others are fighting, you can go from strict GZ to 100 percent desert-brown conditions in just a few seconds. The border between verdant and seemingly endless cardboard brown is usually only the width of an unpaved road — literally, a line in the sand and rocks. One side of the road can be dry as bone, while just meters away on the other side of the road, the mud tries to suck the boots off your feet. (The Brits have the opposite problem; they have very good desert-brown camouflage, but do most of their fighting in the GZ.)

Also, even if brown is a better overall camouflage for Afghanistan — though this is unclear even to many experienced soldiers and me — it is unfair to imply (by datelining the story to Zabul Province and referring to more than six years of Strykers in desert combat) that the Army has had Strykers there during the entire war. The first rotation of Strykers to Afghanistan arrived only some months ago; before that, they were in use only in Iraq.

Anyway, thought it was interesting.

Finally, from Nightwatch yesterday, this analysis of Pakistani politics is well worth reading:

In 2008, as part of the election compact with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari agreed to repeal Musharraf’s measures to re-engineer the government. Zardari apparently has enjoyed the power, but not the accountability. In addition his abuses of patronage have eroded respect for the elected government, whose chief executive is Prime Minister Gilani, not the president, who is head of state. Zardari has promised to honor his promises on this issue in the past, but this is the first time his Information Minister has spoken as his agent to a national audience. Still, seeing is believing in the case of Zardari.

The move would have implications on many levels, assuming Zardari executes this undertaking. For example, it would restore the National Assembly to its Westminster roots in which the legislative and executive powers of the government reside in the National Assembly.

The Presidency would revert to its British model, of a ceremonial figurehead. That would pretty much nullify an enormous amount of diplomatic energy during the past two years devoted to persuading Zardari, instead of trying to persuade Prime Minister Gilani.

Military hostility to Zardari – for example, for having misstated in public in 2008 Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons use policy — would become pointless and misdirected. Reversion to a ceremonial presidency would relieve military pressure for political change. In other words, it would reduce the threat of a military coup or other action against the President.

It would complicate foreign diplomatic initiatives which would need to be redirected to the parliament (National Assembly). The Presidential system is convenient as a one stop shop, compared to the parliamentary system.

Finally, it would give direction to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political ambitions. In a strong presidential system, Nawaz must court the provincial legislators as well as the national assembly because in combination they make up the electoral college for the president. In a restored parliamentary system, Nawaz only needs to get elected to the National Assembly. From there he can do all that would be necessary to become prime minister, including changing constitutional term limits on holding the office of the prime minister.

And now I crawl back into bed.

Thursday Collection

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, united states, us military by Karaka on 22 October 2009

Even the most adorable kitten in the world can’t defeat my grump today, so here’s the stuff I’ve been reading when I haven’t been shuffling through meetings.

Ackerman covers the QDDR:

Clinton put Slaughter, senior USAID official James Michael and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew in charge of creating the document — a process of managing five working groups chaired by top-level agency heads to produce an interim report in January and a final document by next September. Last week, in an address to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Lew defined the nascent QDDR process as an attempt to redress “a serious imbalance” in funding over decades that has left the “military but not civilian agencies resources to support expanding international roles.”

Rajiv Chandrasekaran has reportage out of Helmand:

In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.

“Nawa has returned from the dead,” said the district administrator, Mohammed Khan.

Diplopundit covers more on S.Amdt. 2588, which is now known as the “Anti-Rape Amendment.”

PRT-Kunar is building a bridge.

AAN has some remarkable quotes from Afghans about the run-off:

“A second round is difficult, because there are so many places you cannot vote. And if we use the same voter cards, the vote will be as fraudulent as the first time… A coalition government is also not a solution. It will have no legitimacy and it is not the people’s fault that there was so much fraud. You cannot just give them a government they don’t want… The authorities should announce the results and address the fraud. They should prosecute the people who are responsible for the fraud. But it will not happen: the people who did the fraud are also the people who were in the campaign teams. They will instead be rewarded for their work… Karzai and his people are saying that it is normal to have fraud, but it is not true. If it is normal, then why do we have laws?” – former PC candidate from Nangarhar

Britain is sending members of its Navy back to Iraq to continue training the Iraqi navy:

Mr Rammell said: “Training of the Iraqi Navy has been paused since June and it is important to resume this activity as soon as possible to ensure that they quickly develop the capacity to protect their own territorial waters and the offshore oil platforms which are so vital to Iraq’s economic revival.

And General Sir David Richards has indicated that British troop reduction would likely not occur in Afghanistan until 2014:

He called for a bridging force, to contain the Taliban, while we “much more aggressively” grow the Afghan army and police. Gen Richards said: “If we get it right, our estimation is that by about 2011, 2012 we’ll see an appreciable improvement, and by about 2014 we will ramp down our numbers as they ramp up and you’ll start to reduce the overall risks of the operation.

“It is an ambitious target, which is why… I caveated slightly by saying I’m expecting Nato to ask us to put more into the training pot to allow that force to grow more aggressively. “But if I’m half-right we’ve got five years of declining violence as we get that formula right and then we’ll go into what might be called a supporting role.”

Interesting to hear a non-US general’s perspective.

The DOD is starting a program to compensate stop-loss troops:

The Defense Department will implement a new program this week to compensate former and current servicemembers for each month they involuntarily served from Sept. 11, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2009, a defense official said. Congress approved an appropriation bill last summer, giving the department $534 million over the next year for an estimated 185,000 servicemembers affected by the “Stop Loss” authority since 9/11, said Sam Retherford, director for the department’s officer and enlisted personnel management office.

In an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Retherford explained that qualified servicemembers will receive $500 for each month served past their contracted end-of-service, resignation or retirement date.

Fred Kaplan does additional research into his recruitment article which kind of walks back his point, but his point was based on the released information, so this is more accurate but still kinda funny looking:

Finally, just today, I got a phone call from a lieutenant colonel who works with the raw numbers every day. (He phoned me at the request of his higher-ups; this was not a hush-hush leak.) He told me that I had good reason to be confused by the numbers in the Pentagon’s original report and in the chart I was sent later. Those numbers, he said, oversimplify the situation; they don’t really tell what’s going on.

For instance, the numbers in the Pentagon’s report and the officers’ chart indicate that the Army recruited 70,049 new soldiers in FY 2009. That’s right, as far as it goes. But this figure, he said, accounts only for enlisted personnel. It does not include 11,003 soldiers who entered active duty as officers. Nor does it include 2,212 enlisted soldiers who either entered active duty through the Army National Guard or returned to the military after a brief absence (usually for disciplinary reasons).

If you include these categories (and a few others of this sort), you find that 98,877 people joined the Army in FY 2009, while 89,478 people left. Do the math, and you find that the Army grew by 9,399 soldiers.

Tom Schaller at Five Thirty Eight turns a cynical eye to a correlative action given lack of heath care reform:

Military service is noble. But let’s be clear: It comes with housing, health care and a very generous pension earned after just 20 years of service. And that’s true whether you are on the front line dodging sniper fire and tip-toeing around land mines in Afghanistan every day, or driving a desk at a recruitment center in Albany. Wherever the Wisconsin father ends up, there is something seriously wrong with our system of government when a guy pushing 40 with three kids has to sign up for a four-year enlistment in order to save his wife’s life. At that point ours ceases to be a fully volunteer army.

Refraining from commenting, but it stuck out to me this morning, so there it is. And finally, Af/Pak had an earthquake today. 6.2 on the Richter. Buildings shook in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and the capital Islamabad, and the quake was felt as far east as Lahore near the Indian border, Pakistani television stations reported.

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