Permissible Arms

What are you fighting for? A request for support.

Posted in us military by Karaka on 7 July 2010

I am back from vacation, flush with vitamin D and a lot of excellent Napa valley wine (and Northern California beer!) and while I have a lot to write about I’m running short of time. So until I get this egregiously full inbox wrestled under my control, have something I meant to post before I left, but didn’t have the chance. Here’s Boston Maggie’s request for support for a Kandahar Marine base which cares for injured soldiers:

So, what’s the problem? Well, for one thing, the Marines have none of their own gear. Except for seeing the docs, they are sitting around bored silly. So, my BMCS has rounded up some stuff for them (cumshaw, anyone?); a TV, a DVD player and an X-Box. But he needs more stuff.

It’s a specific list and as much as you might want to embellish, should you decide to help….and I hope you do, stick with the list please.

New twin bed sheets sets.
Inexpensive comforters.
Shower shoes.
X-box games.
and finally……
IPods/Mp3 players. Most of these Marines have their own, but they are back with the rest of their gear, which won’t catch up with them for weeks. I can’t emphasize enough how much these Marines miss those IPods. Do you have an old one in a drawer at work or at home? Send it over!

It seems like there’s been a lot of stuff sent over already, but I have no doubt they could always use more. Head over to the post for contact information and instructions on what to do.

I hope everyone’s Independence Day was as lovely as mine; but nothing speaks louder to the patriotism of the citizens of the United States than caring for those who serve for us. (And you probably have a spare mp3 player, right?)


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.

And how long the list

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 28 April 2010

I was disheartened to read this morning that Abdul Rahman was killed. Well, assassinated. “Murder of a public figure by surprise attack,” yep, assassinated.

Mr Rahman was shot dead in his home district of Zharai, not far from Kandahar city. He was among elders who took President Karzai to task at an angry meeting of 1,500 tribesmen in the city at the start of April.

On a rare visit to the area, the birthplace of the Taliban, the president was sharply criticised on issues of security, corruption, bribery and nepotism. He was also told few dared join the army for fear of being killed by the militants. Mr Rahman was one of a number of elders who said they feared being killed by the Taliban if they spoke out against them.

I doubt anyone is surprised to find his worries were well founded. Democracy Arsenal had a scathing criticism of Ahmed Wali Karzai this morning, which is germane to the topic by way of AWK’s control of the region and general dismissal of such targeted attacks and killings as business as usual for Kandahar City and surrounding districts. If the fellow in charge of the place won’t even take seriously his own elder citizens’ concerns about imminent death for opening their mouths, how likely is it that ISAF could effectively work with the guy to any desired end?

DA pulled a quote from that Steve Coll’s report from Kandahar I linked to last week. Worth re-reading again, and again and again as ISAF moves into the summer offensive.

Errata for Tuesday

Posted in afghanistan, american media, united states, us military by Karaka on 20 April 2010

Steve Coll is reporting from Afghanistan this month; I always find him a measured read, and these reports are no different.

To the extent that this pre-negotiating of clearing operations succeeds, not all of the Kandahar campaign may require a lot of shooting.

In some respects the campaign has already begun. Special Forces and C.I.A. task forces have captured seventy mid-level Taliban commanders in Kandahar Province in raids over the last two months, and they have killed dozens of other mid-level commanders, those of us travelling with Mullen were told. (This has degraded the Taliban’s provincial leadership, according to U.S. assessments, and created some confusion and mistrust in monitored Taliban communications. However, the replacement commanders are typically younger than their predecessors, and if they are less skilled, they may also be more vicious and bitter.) In any event, it is a basic precept of revised U.S. strategy in Afghanistan that international forces cannot “capture and kill” their way to victory. The critical aspects of the Kandahar campaign will be political.

I wish he didn’t put period after every letter in the acronyms he uses, because it messes with my line reading, but hey, stupid quibbles in an otherwise solid document. Further down the page, commenter Carter_Nicholas_Charlottesville has a very, very good response.

Dr Jeffrey Groh is moderating the DIME blog this month, which I tend to find hit-or-miss as a resource. He starts with a discussion of network-centric warfare that’s worth a read to dig into the comments (hey, they opened the comments!).

Kings of War moved! Jesus I’m out of the loop. If I’ve messed up a link to your site please do let me know.

I was amused to see this cable from PRT Kunar, Navy Reservist, farmer becomes mayor in Afghanistan:

U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Lewis Nunemaker, a farmer from Argos, Ind., has volunteered after 29 years in the Navy to have his last hurrah at a small forward operating base nestled at the bottom of the scenic, but unforgiving, mountain ranges of eastern Afghanistan. Trading in his sea legs for a land locked last journey near the border of Pakistan, the 49-year-old man now wears a very unique hat: mayor of Camp Wright.

“I wish I had done this earlier in my career,” Nunemaker said, as he sat on a weathered and broken couch in his small office that serves as the mayor’s cell. “It really forces you to lead from the front. You have to keep pushing every day here.”

David Wood, who remains one of my favorite reporters on the US military, reports on Afghan vets and paintball:

The majority of troops, of course, didn’t feel the need for specific treatment – but they do seize the chance to blow off steam. At Fort Drum’s paintball facility, retired Sgt. Maj. Gene Spencer, recreation manager, said he offers all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile rides, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, sky diving — any kind of adventure sports soldiers can think up.

“The whole point of this is to ease the mind-set these kids come back with from the killing,” he told me. “To keep soldiers out of trouble you gotta occupy their minds, let them unwind in a controlled environment.”

Several weeks after the troops got back, Spencer had the soldiers and their wives in for paintball. It turned out to be a joyfully explosive release of tension for couples struggling with difficult emotional and financial problems.

Wood manages to convey sympathy without ever undercutting difficulty, and that something I admire about him and his coverage. He’s also done some similarly cogent yet removed work on DADT that is worth reading. Additionally, Stars and Stripes published this flash article, If the military’s gay ban is reversed, what would change? It’s generally unbiased, though the questions it poses to answer seem more bent towards answering concerns that those not affected by DADT’s repeal might have rather than addressing the repeal itself in any critical fashion.

I had roughly 3000 items in my google reader from the last time I was rifling through the many (many many many) sites I follow and have hacked it down to under 400. That’s my accomplishment for the week; but please forgive if I end up retreading old ground as I read backwards.

Shall we place bets now?

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us military by Karaka on 30 November 2009

AP (via S&S) and Drew Brown of S&S have a couple reports about the cruciality of Kandahar. From AP:

The fight for Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, shows some of the biggest hurdles faced by the U.S. as it tries to implement a strategy of winning over the ordinary people of Afghanistan.

Kandahar, a city of an estimated 800,000 people in the south, is an important piece in the battle for Afghanistan, and losing control of it would be a huge blow to the coalition.

The city – and the outlying province with the same name – will be a focus of the additional buildup of tens of thousands of troops which President Barack Obama is expected to order for Afghanistan.

and from Brown:

Canada, with about 2,800 troops, has the security lead for Kandahar province, but the number of U.S. forces is growing. There are currently about 1,200 U.S. troops already serving under Canadian command in the province, including the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, and a company of U.S. military police in the city. Three additional U.S. Stryker battalions are also posted in Kandahar province, but they are under a separate American command.

According to a report last week by McClatchy Newspapers, a division headquarters element, totaling about 7,000 soldiers, will be sent to Kandahar Airfield to direct U.S. forces in the south. A second Marine expeditionary brigade is expected to be sent to Helmand province.

Interesting. Brown leads with the factoid that Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban, which certainly sends a message. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe reports that some of the first troops deployed after Obama’s speech tomorrow will be 9,000 Marines delivered to nearby Helmand:

Days after President Obama outlines his new war strategy in a speech Tuesday, as many as 9,000 Marines will begin final preparations to deploy to southern Afghanistan and renew an assault on a Taliban stronghold that slowed this year amid a troop shortage and political pressure from the Afghan government, senior U.S. officials said.

The extra Marines will be the first to move into the country as part of Obama’s escalation of the eight-year-old war. They will double the size of the U.S. force in the southern province of Helmand and will provide a critical test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s struggling government and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.

“The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines,” Gen. James T. Conway, the Corps’ top officer, told fellow Marines in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Weirdly, it kinda feels like getting spoiled for a movie. Incidentally, I won’t be able to liveblog the speech (with a drinking game or no) because of a prior appointment, but I bet you (or you, or you) that there are thirty different post-speech commentaries by the time I get myself home in the evening…

Monday Reading

Posted in afghanistan, american media, iran, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 19 October 2009

Things I’m reading this morning:

Steve Coll’s piece in this week’s New Yorker:

A second round of voting now looks probable; it could help calm the country, or it could make things worse. In any event, the election is not yet an utter catastrophe. Two years ago, in Kenya, Mwai Kibaki allegedly stole his reëlection to the Presidency, and the country erupted in mass riots and militia killings. In June, Iran’s fraud-riddled vote ignited a protest movement with revolutionary ambitions. In Afghanistan, despite possibly decisive fraud, the opposition has barely thrown a rock. Abdullah Abdullah, the aggrieved second-place finisher, just holds press conferences in his garden.

It goes without saying that Afghans have had enough of violence. Abdullah’s restraint signals a broader, resilient desire among many political and tribal leaders to avoid having their country descend into chaos again. This is the opening that American policy has repeatedly failed to grasp since the Taliban’s fall in late 2001: an opportunity to reject the false expediency of warlords and indispensable men, in favor of deepening participatory, Afghan-led political reform and national reconciliation.

Christopher Hitchens on Iran:

So backward has the theocracy made its wretched country that it is even vulnerable to sanctions on refined petroleum, for heaven’s sake. Unlike neighboring secular Turkey, which has almost no oil but is almost qualified—at least economically—to join the European Union, Iran is as much a pistachio-and-rug-exporting country as it was when the sadistic medievalists first seized power. So it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if a regime that has no genuine respect for science and no internal self-critical feedback had screwed up its rogue acquisition of modern weaponry. A system in which nothing really works except the military and the police will, like North Korea, end up producing somewhat spastic missiles and low-yield nukes, as well.

But spastic missiles and low-yield nukes can still ruin the whole day of a neighboring state, as well as make a travesty of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and such international laws and treaties as are left to us. Thus, if it is true that Iran is not as close to “break-out” as we have sometimes feared, should that not make our deliberations more urgent rather than less? Might it not mean, in effect, that now is a better time to disarm the mullahs than later?

Juan Cole on Pakistan:

In other words, this military campaign is not just a matter of troops versus guerrillas. It is becoming a rallying point for Muslim radicals, with volunteers coming in from Afghanistan and others from madrasahs from all over Pakistan — and with Pakistan’s own security hanging in the balance.

Tariq took responsibility for the recent horrific bombings in the Punjabi city of Lahore, which targeted Pakistani security forces, thus claiming that South Waziristan had a very long reach into the rest of the country.

Pakistani security forces also arrested some 300 Afghans on Sunday.

David Rohde’s account of being held by the Afghan Taliban:

Eight days earlier, a Taliban faction had kidnapped me along with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Luddin, and our driver, Asad Mangal, during a reporting trip just outside Kabul. The faction’s commander, a man who called himself Atiqullah, had lied to us. He had said we were being moved to southern Afghanistan and would be freed.

Instead, on Nov. 18, we arrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas, an isolated belt of Taliban-controlled territory. We were now in “the Islamic emirate” — the fundamentalist state that existed in Afghanistan before the 2001 American-led invasion. The loss of thousands of Afghan, Pakistani and American lives and billions in American aid had merely moved it a few miles east, not eliminated it.

Through seven years of reporting in the region, I had pitied captives imprisoned here. It was arguably the worst place on earth to be an American hostage. The United States government had virtually no influence and was utterly despised.

Since 2004, dozens of missiles fired by American drones had killed hundreds of militants and civilians. The Taliban had held Afghan, Pakistani and foreign hostages in the area for years, trading lives for ransom and executions for publicity.

“We’re in Pakistan,” I said out loud in the car, venting my anger.

Elisabeth Bumiller’s presentation/reporting on Afghanistan, thirty years ago:

Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors — tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers — were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital.

“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who met recently in Kabul with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Gouttierre, who spent his decade in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, a Fulbright scholar and the national basketball team’s coach, said, “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Kabul, 1977 (William Borders/NYT)

Kabul, 1977 (William Borders/NYT)

Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn’s report of living in Kandahar from Foreign Policy:

This is our life, and as the only two Westerners living permanently in Kandahar without blast walls and intrusive security restrictions to protect us, it has been a mix of isolation, boredom, disarmingly potent realizations, and outright depression in the face of what is happening. In our 18 months here, we have witnessed up close the ruinous consequences of a conflict in which no party has clean hands. We have spent countless hours talking with people of all persuasions in Kandahar, from mujahedeen who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, to guerrillas who fought alongside the Taliban in the 1990s, to Afghans who fight against the Kabul government and foreign forces today. And we have learned that Kandahar defies simple categorization; far more understanding is necessary before we can appreciate how (and how many) mistakes have been made by the Western countries waging war here, let alone begin crafting a vision for the future.

Our Kandahar has many faces, though, not all branded by conflict. Life here is also about swimming in the nearby Arghandab River, enjoying the cool caramel taste of sheer yakh, and sitting among the branches of a friend’s pomegranate orchard. It’s listening to tales of the past 30 years told by those who directly influenced the course of history, and it’s watching the traditional atan dance at wedding celebrations.

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