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.


Unleash the Carpets of War

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 21 August 2010

Having read Charlie Wilson’s War earlier this year, I watched with interest a headline this week in the NYT: Russia Pushes to Increase Afghanistan Business Ties.

Twenty years after the last Russian soldier walked out of Afghanistan, Moscow is gingerly pushing its way back into the country with business deals and diplomacy, and promises of closer ties to come.

Russia is eager to cooperate on economic matters in part by reviving Soviet-era public works, its president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said Wednesday during a summit meeting with the leaders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, the second such four-way meeting organized by Russia in the past year.

In fact, Russia has already begun a broad push into Afghan deal-making, negotiating to refurbish more than 140 Soviet-era installations, like hydroelectric stations, bridges, wells and irrigation systems, in deals that could be worth more than $1 billion. A Russian helicopter company, Vertikal-T, has contracts with NATO and the Afghan government to fly Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters throughout the country.

The Kremlin is also looking to blunt Islamic extremism in Central Asia, which poses a threat to Russia’s security, particularly in the Caucasus, and to exploit opportunities in the promising Afghan mining and energy industries.

This speaks of two things: first, Russia carefully revisiting its previous interests; and second, the diplomatic warmth between the Unites States and Russia in the last year spreading to other endeavors. There is no way Russia would have touched Afghanistan with a long stick if some of the air hadn’t been cleared during Secretary Clinton’s work on START. However, there are clear economic benefits for Russia in Afghanistan, not the least of which is the infrastructure left in place after the Soviet-Afghan War of the 80’s. This, I say with caution, is a positive sign because Russian economic investment in Afghanistan can prove helpful to Afghanistan’s shuttered economy.

Either way, I bet Charlie Wilson is having a huge glass of bourbon in the underworld.And whichever member of the Taliban is charged with reading the newspaper is already cursing the Russian infidel.

Friday Errata (I wonder when Gaga will become muzak?)

Posted in afghanistan, japan, kyrgyzstan, united states by Karaka on 18 June 2010

A couple of links for this astonishingly un-rainy Friday morning:

It still feels like a weirdly slow news day, though.

Best Kept Contained

Posted in afghanistan, american media, counterinsurgency, united states, us military by Karaka on 9 May 2010

There’s something of a culture of Brooks-bashing, I’ve noticed. Many folks respond to whatever he’s published at the NYTimes with skepticism, if not outright derision. Perhaps its because of his tendency to make sweeping claims in his opinion column without ever really backing them up, as if his audience is either expected to know the sourcing he is doing already or to take his word at face value. Those that I read, however, are less than inclined to accept what he says without first questioning, which is for the best, really.

Brooks’ current op-ed is Leading With Two Minds, an eight hundred word romp through the contemporary history of counterinsurgency. Ricks called it, effectively, an account of the dominant narrative, which I suppose is accurate enough, but wow are those some broad strokes Brooks is painting with.

The first women to be trained to serve on submarines in the USN have been selected and are preparing to train this summer.

From Kabul, Shootings of Afghans on Rise at Checkpoints:

Civilian deaths from aerial bombings have declined, General Rodriguez said. But in convoys and at checkpoints, “you’re faced with a different challenge of snap decisions” by troops “much closer to not only the people but the enemy.”

At least 28 Afghans have been killed and 43 wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings this year — 42 percent of total civilian deaths and injuries and the largest overall source of casualties at the hands of American and NATO troops, according to statistics kept by the military.

In the same period last year, 8 Afghans were killed and 29 wounded in similar episodes. For all of 2009, 36 Afghan civilians were killed in the so-called escalation of force incidents by Western and Afghan troops, according to the United Nations. Over all, the Taliban and other militants account for a much larger number of civilian casualties than Western forces do, the United Nations found.

Since last summer, none of the Afghans killed or wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings had weapons that would have posed a danger for troops who killed them, commanders said.

The new military guidelines instruct troops to “tailor” procedures to the local environment by consulting local Afghan leaders, and whenever possible, to remain at the scene of convoy shootings and take responsibility for their actions.

Can anyone point me to discussions on this, if there are any?

Finally, part of the 170th BCT are all shined up for their march on Victory Day. (H/t Danger Room.)

Puts new meaning to “the gilded cage”

Posted in kyrgyzstan by Karaka on 27 April 2010

The BBC seems to be my only consistent updater of news in English relating to Kyrgyzstan; if someone has additional sources that I can read I’d be keen to have them. Despite Bakiyev’s statement refusing to meet charges applied to him in his home nation, he has since been charged in absentia, which is not terribly surprising.

The interim government says his administration ordered troops to open fire on protesters.

“We will seek extradition of Bakiyev to Bishkek and bringing him to criminal responsibility,” Mr Beknazarov said.

Kyrgyzstan is, of course, of strategic importance to both Russia–which seems to be a bit effed off by Bakiyev and attempting to solidify favor with the interim government by returning the Kyrgyz foreign minister–and the United States–which has said, well, nothing that I’ve seen, or at least very little. The Air Force transit center at Manas is of value for its proximity to other states in Central Asia, and though the US almost lost the lease to the place last year, it was renewed and the current interim government has stated (according to a report I read but apparently cannot find right now) that it intends to honour that arrangement.

It’s interesting to watch Russia make such a clear political play and then watch the US bench themselves. Either way, this whole Bakiyev story keeps getting, well, more off-beat. Apparently the former President had himself a little menagerie going on:

A pair of snow leopards and two bear cubs were among the exotic animals found in the private zoo of ousted Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

A golden eagle, two falcons, four African peacocks and Indian ducks were also found in the zoo at the family home in the southern Jalalabad region.

Taxpayer dollars at work.

The continuing saga of Bakiyev

Posted in kyrgyzstan by Karaka on 26 April 2010

In a (completely not) surprising twist, Bakiyev has turned down (with the apparent backing of Belarus) attempts at extradition from the interim Kyrgyz government.

Ousted Kyrgyzstan leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev has said he does not intend to return home to rule as president.

But Mr Bakiyev said he no longer recognised his resignation, as the interim leaders had broken the terms under which he stood down.

He remains in Minsk. And in an interesting turn of events, Russia seems to have thrown its lot in with Kyrgyzstan:

Russian forces have detained the former Kyrgyz interior minister and returned him to the Central Asian nation, the interim Kyrgyz government said.

Moldomusa Kongantiyev was held in Moscow and is now in custody in Bishkek, a senior Kyrgyz official said. Mr Kongantiyev served under Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in bloody protests two weeks ago. Officials said he was being investigated for his role in the violence on 7 April.

The political drama continues to unfold.

Friday Errata

Linkdump of what I’m reading over the weekend:

How to Measure the War by Jason Campbell, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro:

The news is not all bad, however. With the help of outside donors, the Afghan government has made great strides in providing increased access to basic health care, with 82 percent of the population now living in districts that have a basic package of health care programs, up considerably from 9 percent in 2003. This metric is of limited value for truly sick individuals, who probably still cannot access health care in many cases. But it has translated into significant improvements in the rate of vaccinations as well as infant and child mortality rates. Though literacy rates continue to linger at less than 30 percent, more than 6 million children currently attend over 9,000 schools. Gender equity is improving as 2 million of the students are girls and 40,000 of the 142,000 teachers are women. This represents a marked improvement over the Taliban years. Finally, telephone usage has increased dramatically to an estimated 7 million Afghans, up from just 1 million in 2002.

Course Correction by Ganesh Sitaraman:

The project underway at Camp Julien aims to help the United States and its allies succeed where King Amanullah, the Russians, and even the mujahedin failed. Julien is home to the Counterinsurgency Training Center–Afghanistan, where U.S. and coalition forces are trying to teach themselves and Afghans how to fight a different kind of war. For one week each month, 130 students descend on Julien to learn about counterinsurgency. Attendees come from every possible background: U.S. and coalition troops of all ranks, ages, and nationalities; State Department and USAID personnel; Afghan soldiers and police; members of NGOs; contractors; Army anthropologists. (I was there in July as part of my research on law in situations of counterinsurgency.)

The Missing Debate in Afghanistan by Peggy Noonan:

It is strange—it is more than strange, and will confound the historians of the future—that Gen. McChrystal has not been asked to testify before Congress about Afghanistan, about what the facts are on the ground, what is doable, what is desirable, how the war can be continued, and how it can end. He—and others, including experienced members of the military past and present, and foreign-policy professionals—should be called forth to talk to the country in the clearest terms under questioning from our elected representatives.

Before the surge in Iraq, we had the Petraeus hearings, which were nothing if not informative, and helped form consensus. Two generations earlier, we had the Fulbright hearings on Vietnam, which were in their way the first formal, if deeply and inevitably contentious, airing of what was at stake there and what our position was.

Why are we not doing this now? Why are we treating Afghanistan almost like an afterthought, interesting and important but not as urgent a question as health care?

Robert Gates: Solidly in the Middle of the Afghan Strategy Storm by David Wood:

Today, that hard work is paying off as even some congressional Democrats, skeptical of McChrystal’s proposed plan for Afghanistan, are suggesting they wait until they’ve heard what Gates thinks. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has criticized the McChrystal proposal as too troop-heavy. Congress at some point ought to hear directly from McChrystal and Petraeus, Levin said last Sunday. “But above them all is a secretary of defense. We ought to focus on what will Secretary Gates’ recommendation be to the president . . . we ought to listen to the secretary of defense when he makes up his mind.”

If Tehran Gets the Bomb: How Iranian nukes would reshape the Middle East by Lee Smith:

If Iran gets the bomb, other regional powers will pursue nuclear programs—if they are not already doing so. Inevitably in a region as volatile as this, there will be a few small-scale nuclear catastrophes, probably rulers targeting their own people. Saddam gassed the Kurds and slaughtered the Shiites, Hafez Assad massacred the Sunnis of Hama, and mass graves throughout the region testify to the willingness of Arab rulers to kill their own people—in their hands, a nuclear weapon is merely an upgrade in repressive technology. Still, it’s extremely unlikely the regimes will use these weapons against their regional rivals. Remember, the main reason these states support nonstate terror groups is to deter one another and thus avoid all-out war.

Ingushetia’s cycle of violence by Dom Rotheroe:

It is a complaint we hear all over Ingushetia, that there is no law or justice. In a society in which blood vendettas are part of a man’s honour, young male relatives of the deceased have to seek their own justice.

They head into the hills to get a gun and take revenge. And while with the extremists, their ideology may shift accordingly. Some may become suicide bombers, of which the North Caucasus has seen a resurgence this summer, culminating in an attack on Ingushetia’s main police station in August which killed 21 and injured more than 100 more.

My most poignant memory of the Albakov family is of Batyr’s younger brother, Beslan. Beslan’s rejects blood revenge and wants legal justice for his brother, a justice he knows will never come. He also knows that the security forces will suspect him of seeking revenge and therefore may come for him at any time.

His quietly desperate face is the face of Ingushetia today, trapped between the rock and hard place of the militants and the authorities who seem intent on feeding the ever-growing cycle of violence.

Tuesday Errata.

Posted in afghanistan, iran, iraq, united states by Karaka on 22 September 2009

FiveThirtyEight has some nice numbers and a run-down of the various interested parties in Afghanistan with regards to elections at home and abroad:

As the pieces begin to sort out, this week could see a final announcement regarding the international strategy conference on Afghanistan, which the US and UN have reportedly agreed to holding along with France, Germany and the UK. At the same time, a concrete timeline for the final results of the Presidential election is forthcoming. Given the instability in the country and the month that has already passed since the 20 August balloting, additional delays in the formation of a new government could be quite damaging to efforts to build support for the national authorities.

Insightful and succinct, as per usual.

Russia scrapped its own missile plans. Interesting to see the public results of American diplomacy…

The Guardian reports that Obama is pushing for a stricter review of US nuclear weapons doctrine, probably another tool in the public diplomatic arsenal towards legitimizing Obama’s goals regarding nuclear proliferation and Iran. And Stratfor goes into detail on the effect the decision to scrap the Eastern European missile shield program has on other nations in the region.

I found this article, also in the Guardian, about Iraqi widows choosing to remarry really interesting. In one sense, that is a very real, very palpable cultural change that’s resulted from war, necessity, and poverty. And I’m not suggesting it’s a de facto good one. But I do think it speaks to a near inevitable one, after seven years of conflict and–let’s be honest–Western influence.

But, in many areas of Iraq, where the fabric of societies has been shattered by the bloodshed of the past six years, tribal leaders have begun to re-assess prohibitions that make a second attempt at family life all-but impossible. Now, slowly, attitudes are beginning to shift. Operating as part-matriarch, part Islamic scholar, amateur psychologist and de facto big sister, Um Omar believes even hardline areas are starting to accept that Islamic law overrides their customs.

It’s like a perverse dark mirror of women’s rights. Or something. I don’t know, I’m still digesting this.

I really like the blog of the US Naval Institute; it’s always interesting, whatever subject they tackle. Today Christopher Albon had some thoughts on the Navy’s role in current US engagements well worth reading. Also, I’ll be repping for Team Navy in the upcoming blogging contest in support of Project Valour-IT, so keep an eye out for that.

If we spend this much time parsing the announcement, how much time will we spend parsing the talks?

Posted in iran by Karaka on 15 September 2009

Stratfor has a very interesting take on opening talks with Iran, and I’ll venture to say one of the more unique ones. It certainly shouldn’t be discounted.

We are reminded of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis only in this sense: We get the sense that everyone is misreading everyone else. In the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans didn’t believe the Soviets would take the risks they did and the Soviets didn’t believe the Americans would react as they did. In this case, the Iranians believe the United States will play its old game and control the Israelis. Washington doesn’t really understand that Netanyahu may see this as the decisive moment. And the Russians believe Netanyahu will be controlled by an Obama afraid of an even broader conflict than he already has on his hands.

It brings together the three areas of international policy that the Obama administration has become embroiled in over the summer: Russia, Israel, and Iran. Framing this negotiation in a push-pull between the three seems quite cogent; I’m still thinking through the implications.

Relatedly, Middle East Report has some in-depth analysis of Ahmadinejad’s promotion of nuclear energy:

According to Kayhan Barzegar of Tehran’s Center for Strategic Research, Iran’s nuclear conduct had two important messages for the outside world. It suggested that Iranian leaders think strategically because they would not be browbeaten into relinquishing treaty rights at a time when the international community was highly sympathetic to international law-based arguments, due to the illegality of the US invasion of Iraq. And the fact that the leaders spoke with one voice across the well-known reformist-conservative spectrum indicated that Iran’s decision making was based on institutional interaction among the office of the supreme leader, the office of the president, the defense and intelligence apparatus, and, occasionally, the parliament. To be sure, a degree of difference in preferred diplomatic style was apparent in the Iranian press, with the hardliners more angrily defiant of international pressure. But hardliners, centrists and reformists generally adhered to the same sine qua non: Iran would not back down on its “right” to enrichment and it would use the nuclear program to improve the country’s regional standing. Such, not coincidentally, was the position of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his fellow opposition candidates during the 2009 presidential campaign.

This picks up on some of the things I talked about earlier, namely the concept of haq (rights) and how it is mixed up with the political nationalism in the public form of Ahmadinejad. In this international stage, it’s all about framing the discussion, and I think the Security Council Six (plus Germany) won’t make any actual progress without understanding that Iranians will refuse to give up this, that they view as a states-rights issue.

Whether the West likes it or not, there’s a lot at stake that will probably not get resolved. And even if Iran is no closer to a functioning nuclear programme than it was in 2002, the international public claim of having one, working towards one, clearly goes a long way towards establishing Iran’s legitimacy as an opposition to the West more pervasively than any other offensive move it could make. Something’s gotta give, and I’m not sure it’s going to be them doin’ the giving.

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