Permissible Arms

Slingshot politics

A lot to cover today.

I got oversaturated pretty quickly with information and speculation about the Times Square bombing, but I recommend Kings of War, All Things Counterterrorism, and obviously LWJ for the story. And Steve Coll has some perspective:

Anyone who tries to set a vehicle on fire in Times Square on a warm Saturday night is going to make news in a big way. Presumably that was the primary goal of the perpetrators—to attract attention, to spawn fear. The very amateurishness of the attack—unlike the Christmas Day attack, for example, it does not immediately call into question the competence of the government’s defenses—offers President Obama the opportunity to start talking back to terrorists everywhere in a more resilient, sustainable language than he has yet discovered. By which I mean: They intend to frighten us; we are not frightened. They intend to kill and maim; we will bring them to justice. They intend to attract attention for their extremist views; the indiscriminate nature of their violence only discredits and isolates them.

Secdef Gates delivered some mixed news to the Navy this morning (full remarks h/t DoDBuzz):

“Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” Gates asked. “Any future plans must address these realities.”

In a pointed speech about the future of the naval arsenal, the secretary told a gathering of naval officers and contractors that no U.S. adversaries are attempting to out-build the U.S. fleet. Rather, he said, they are developing other ways to neutralize U.S. power. He cited Hezbollah’s anti-ship missiles and Iran’s use of everything from cruise missiles to “swarming speedboats.”

In response, he called for more shallow-water capabilities, long-range drones and sea-based missile defenses.

What’s the saying, fighting the next war while you’re still building for the last one? That seems to be the idea Gates is battling.

Two bits on Kyrgyzstan, which has kind of dropped off the face of news coverage in the last several days. First, the interim government has turned the state-run KTR television channel into a public broadcasting station, which is effectively a show of faith from the interim government to show Kyrgyzs that it’s going to keep the promises it made. Which is great, but more than anything I really love the picture that accompanied the article, reposted here.

The interim government has also authorized cash rewards in exchange for information that helps capture the former government’s leadership, presumably to answer for crimes committed.

Of interest, AFRICOM is undergoing a three-week Operation Flintlock as part of its The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. It’s effectively a military exercise designed to train partner African nations in counterterrorism programs as a deterrent method. At least twelve nations and 1200 people are involved. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

From Diplopundit, it’s been a tough time for mandarins as of late.

And finally, I’m reading Paul Scharre’s article in the AFJ about meeting needs for irregular and conventional warfare in the Army. More thoughts when I’m finished reading, but figured the COINers and anti-COINers would be interested.


I bet the award is already collecting dust.

Posted in terrorism, united states by Karaka on 14 April 2010

So I guess this is why Obama was pre-emptively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? I’ll admit, it reads as a fairly impressive accomplishment for a second year in office. I mean, if the “house gifts” the Obama administration went after can actually be held accountable. And that’s the question, innit?

Still, experts questioned whether it would ever be possible to “lock down” nuclear material completely, noting that there is no uniform standard and no international authority to check on compliance.

Among other challenges, there are still hundreds of civilian research reactors around the world that use highly enriched uranium. Converting them to use low-enriched uranium is expensive.

And some experts raised doubts about whether the IAEA is up to the task of helping ensure nuclear security. The agency’s main job is making sure that countries aren’t building atomic bombs, and it has a budget of less than $10 million for the safeguarding of nuclear material worldwide, Luongo said.

The summit avoided the divisive issue of whether countries should extract plutonium from spent fuel from nuclear energy plants. The material can be reused in other reactors but could also be used in bombs.

I know, I know, the nuclear issue will never truly die (at least not in my lifetime). But I think there’s a point to be taken that, even if it’s thirty years after the Cold War, forty-seven people got around a table and agreed on something positive relating to nuclear weaponry.

Lots of goldfish, one tiny fishbowl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And victory in Iraq almost always begets revenge.

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

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

God in a binary number

Posted in islam by Karaka on 4 November 2009

During my long week of ill health, I cleared out most of my DVR, including the several episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher is a fifty-fifty pundit–he has just enough information to ask questions, to make a joke or two, but never enough to be truly informed. That being said, he sure can build a panel.

On 10/02/09, Maher had a panel that included Thomas Friedman. (Download it here, subscribe to the audio podcast via iTunes or here.) Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times whose subject, generally, is economics as well as foreign policy. He had a very insightful take on suicide bombers, and Islam, and the Muslim world:

Thomas Friedman: I mean, just remember that a lot of the suicide bombing that’s going on today is inside of Pakistan, and is Sunnis against Shiites. It’s inside Iraq, Sunnis against Shiites. I think foreign policy is part of it, I think that’s one of the things that feeds it. I think that, also, religion is something that feeds it. But to me, it’s–another part of this is a deep sense–it goes back to the religion–is that these young men are raised with the view that they have the most–that Islam, and this is not a criticism–is that Islam sees itself as the most perfect expression of God’s monotheistic message.

If I were to put it in computer terms, Islam sees itself as God 3.0. It sees Christianity as God 2.0. it sees Judaism as God 1.0, and Hinduism as God 0.0. And I think part of the dissonance, Bill, is that when they come here or to Europe, in their identity they have the most perfect system. But in real life, their countries are economically behind, in terms of education [they’re] behind. And there’s a real dissonance: if I have the most perfect operating system, why am I behind?

And I think that produces a lot of rage too. It is about foreign policy, it is about what we do. And it’s also about how much they hate their own government, who also keep them down, oppressed, behind.

Is he right, do you think? Or is that too simplistic?

“Global Jihadist Movement”

Posted in afghanistan, terrorism by Karaka on 20 October 2009

The third installment of David Rohde’s account of his capture and imprisonment by the Afghan Taliban is out today, and it is worth the read. Reader questions are being answered in the NYT At War blog, and this stood out to be as being of particular relevance:

Many readers criticized my statement that I was surprised by how extreme many Taliban had become since 2001 and called me naïve.

The Taliban wanting to brutally impose hard-line Islamic law in Afghanistan was not new to me. What surprised me was that they wished to join Al Qaeda in imposing it across the Islamic world.

This is one of the central questions White House officials face as they try to decide whether to increase American troops levels in Afghanistan. Some experts on the region have argued that the Taliban have not grown close to Al Qaeda and the conflict with them can be settled through negotiations. Those Taliban may exist, but the faction that held me showed little interest in compromising. Given the current debate in the United States on Afghanistan, I felt it was important to publicly describe what I found.

Emphasis mine. Rohde was captured in November of last year and released this summer; Peter Bergen’s Senate testimony from 9 October is consonant with this view:

This influence has been particularly marked on the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border. The Taliban were a quite provincial group when they ran Afghanistan before 9/11 and many of their leaders opposed bin Laden‟s presence in their country on the grounds that he was interfering with their quest for recognition by the international community. But since the 9/11 attacks the leadership of the Taliban has adopted al Qaeda’s worldview and see themselves as part of a supposedly global jihadist movement. They have also imported wholesale al Qaeda‟s tactics of planting roadside bombs and ordering suicide attacks and beheadings of hostages, which until recently were largely unknown in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These tactics are a key reason why the Taliban insurgencies have become far more effective on both sides of the Durand line in the past three years.

One of the key leaders of the Afghan Taliban as it surged in strength in 2006 was Mullah Dadullah, a thuggish but effective commander who like his counterpart in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, thrived on killing Shia, beheading his hostages, and media celebrity. In interviews with al Jazeera and CBS Dadullah conceded what was obvious as the violence dramatically expanded in Afghanistan: that the Taliban had increasingly morphed together tactically and ideologically with al Qaeda. He said, “Osama bin Laden, thank God, is alive and in good health. We are in contact with his top aides and sharing plans and operations with each other.”

I think it would be easy to dismiss Rohde’s account as being inaccurate or hyperbolic due to his imprisonment, but I believe that would be a mistake. He, not unlike Bergen, has a very accurate window through which to view the Afghan Taliban. Rohde’s view is from as recent as this summer, and Bergen’s from this month. If we take them seriously, it seems to answer (in the public forum) how al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban are connected today.

At what price, greatness

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, terrorism, us military by Karaka on 12 October 2009

Another forty plus people killed in Pakistan, following on the heels of twenty killed this weekend in Islamabad. This, I believe, is the bloodiest week of the calendar year.

In Iraq, 26 people were killed as part of a political reconciliation meeting in Anbar, a precursor to the election in January ’10.

An election delay could in turn delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the bulk of which are scheduled to pull out immediately after a new government is seated. U.S. officials have said the elections will have to take place by Jan. 16 if the estimated 80,000 troops, with all their gear, are to leave in time for the August deadline set by President Obama for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat personnel from Iraq.

Iraq’s Constitution also stipulates that the elections must take place by January.

This as General Lanza announced the pace of the withdrawal:

By the end of October, American troop strength in Iraq will be 120,000, a decrease of 23,000 since January, the top United States military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, said Monday. The next big reduction will not come until well after the national elections in January, he added … “I really think the elections will be a point of departure by which we look at an assessment of true drawdown and really start moving our numbers from, let’s say, somewhere between 120,000 and 110,000 by the election, and then getting at that 50,000 by August 2010,” he said Monday.

Regarding Afghanistan, Nathan Hodge picks up the dearth of civilian forces in-nation; at the heart of my thesis about Afghanistan is the belief that US/international civilian involvement is direly needed, and it’s interesting to read it from someone else’s brain.

While the administration is still weighing strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has already made one thing clear: The mission in Afghanistan may fail without an influx of civilian experts. So where are muddy-boots diplomats and aid workers? According to the New York Times, nearly half of them have yet to get their passports stamped in Afghanistan.

The NYT article he references is here:

State Department officials also said they were close to their target of having 974 aid workers in Afghanistan by year’s end as part of what they called Mr. Obama’s civilian “surge.” They said 575 civilians were on the ground now.

“From the very start, there was an understanding that we need to move quickly,” Jacob J. Lew, the deputy secretary of state overseeing the civilian deployment, said in a telephone interview. “We feel very good about the people we’re sending out. They’re motivated, they’re prepared, they’re brave.”

But Henry Crumpton, a former top C.I.A. and State Department official who is an informal adviser to General McChrystal, called those stepped-up efforts inadequate. “Right now, the overwhelming majority of civilians are in Kabul, and the overwhelming majority never leave their compounds,” said Mr. Crumpton, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan. “Our entire system of delivering aid is broken, and very little of the aid is getting to the Afghan people.”

Hodge rightly points out that 974 is a great deal more than 575–nearly half as much more–and the concerns that the civilian aspect of this mission are failing has not gone unnoticed by the President. Either way, those jobs I was looking at the other day are in serious need of being filled. And still no USAID administrator.

And then I get to dress like a spy.

Posted in afghanistan, terrorism by Karaka on 28 September 2009

I have kind of been ignoring the long war recently; amid the terrorist plots foiled and potential bombers arrested in the US, I’ve just been idly keeping tabs rather than get embroiled in the drama of it all. But the NYT has an article on Rethinking Our Terrorist Fears that caught my attention.

But important as they were, those news reports masked a surprising and perhaps heartening long-term trend: Many students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.

“Al Qaeda is losing its moral argument about the killing of innocent civilians,” said Emile A. Nakhleh, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006. “They’re finding it harder to recruit. They’re finding it harder to raise money.”

It’s heartening to hear that there is some effectiveness in the strategies that existed…

Even counterterrorism officials who agree that Al Qaeda is on the wane, for example, say the organization might well regroup if left unmolested in a lawless region in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Somalia. Moreover, they point out that even a lone terrorist with modest skills can produce mass carnage. Six years before 9/11, with no aid from a sophisticated network, Timothy McVeigh used a simple fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma City to kill 168 people. And the 2001 calamity was the work of, at most, a few dozen plotters.

…but that doesn’t mean it’s over. I believe the words are, “it ain’t over until it’s over.” Or so I’ve heard.

Peter Mandaville, a professor of government and Islamic studies at George Mason University, says a series of public recantations” by prominent Islamist scholars and militants in recent years have had an effect. But the biggest catalyst has been bombings close to home. “Right after 9/11, people thought, wow, America is not invincible,” Mr. Mandaville said. “It was a strike against the U.S., and they were for it.” But when large numbers of innocent Muslims fell victim to attacks, “it became more and more difficult to romanticize Al Qaeda as fighting the global hegemons — basically, ‘sticking it to the man.’ ”

Rebels aren’t that awesome if they’re killing their own people, too. Then we just call it civil war.

Even those who are convinced Al Qaeda is growing weaker offer a cautious prognosis about what that might mean. They say that what is growing less likely is an attack on American soil with a toll equal to or greater than that of 9/11. But they concede that the example of Al Qaeda will continue to produce copycats: “Bin Laden has given others a narrative, a grand story of struggle, and he’s given them tactics as well,” Dr. Mandaville said … “Terrorism,” he added, “is here to stay.”

This long war ain’t over yet, that should be clear. And the US will be doing itself a disservice if we use this small progress as a benchmark for withdrawal.

Friday Errata.

Posted in islam, us defense, us military by Karaka on 18 September 2009

Spiegel Online International reports a renewed wave of homophobic terrorism sweeping Muslim countries:

Iran is a case in point, where homosexuals have been persecuted on a more or less regular basis since the Islamic revolution. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in office there has definitely been an increase in this persecution despite the fact that Ahmadinejad never grows tired of emphasizing that there are no homosexuals in his country.

It fucking breaks my heart and pisses me off and this is probably one of about two issues that will get me to curse extensively and profusely without any regard for relative intellectual sophistication. This, as much as anything else, is a human rights violation.


On the other side of my broken heart, AP reports that Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King has been made the new commander of the Army’s Drill Sergeants:

Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King can dress down a burly, battle-hardened sergeant in seconds with a sharp phrase and a withering look, then turn around and tell trainee soldiers to be sure they get seven hours of sleep.

She receives a footnote in the Army News release of the same story, but that’s cool. Whatever. It’s still fucking awesome. (Hey, I already broke my curse barrier, might as well keep the trend. In this post anyway.)


The Joint Chiefs of Staff website released the text of Admiral Mullen’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute:

When I go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the question that gets posed routinely – either implied or asked – is: Are you staying this time, or are you leaving? Because we left both those countries in ways, and the adults who are in those countries right now all remember that. And I don’t know how else to establish a long-term relationship, except it takes time to do that. And in ways we’re just beginning, or we’re digging ourselves out of holes that were established in the last several decades.



Small Wars Journal overviews the release of the new DoD Stability Operations instructions, which I’ll also be reading this weekend. A weekend I am now about to begin. Have a good weekend, blogosphere.

I think this counts as a slow news day.

Posted in afghanistan, american media, intelligence, terrorism by Karaka on 17 September 2009

Stratfor put out a concise overview of the challenges in aviation-focused terrorism prevention this week, but I think the most useful part is its succinct breakdown of current terrorist threats:

Currently there are three different actors in the jihadist realm. The first is the core al Qaeda group headed by bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The core al Qaeda organization has been hit hard over the past several years, and its operational ability has been greatly diminished. It has been several years since the core group has conducted a spectacular terror attack, and it has focused much of its effort on waging the ideological battle as opposed to the physical battle.

The second group of actors in the jihadist realm is the regional al Qaeda franchise groups or allies, such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Jemaah Islamiyah and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These regional jihadist groups have conducted many of the most spectacular terrorist attacks in recent years, such as the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the July 2009 Jakarta bombings.

The third group of actors is the grassroots jihadist militants, who are essentially do-it-yourself terrorist operatives. Grassroots jihadists have been involved in several plots in recent years, including suicide bomb plots in the United States and Europe.

It’s kind of like a cheat sheet by which to understand the current news-scape. The rest of the article is well worth reading as well, but I find it interesting to see this summarized so neatly.

In “news heard ’round the world” today, the Obama administration has stepped away from the Eastern European missile defence system [The Guardian], in a move that has strongly displeased the Czech Republic and will likely make significant strategic strides in the US relationship with Russia. I think it’s pretty clear that this has been announced just as the US is going into talks with Iran, and needs Russia at least amenable to US goals; and to be honest, I was never really convinced of the necessity or prudence of the shield anyway. But I bet this will piss Bill Kristol off. (Yay.)

The NYT covers Biden’s continuing trip in Afghanistan, noting that there was more artillery fire in Baghdad, but Biden and al-Maliki both ignored it. That’s kind of classy. Of course, one of the main reasons for Biden’s trip is to push through political reconciliation before the elections early next year.

“I think the threat is that the political process will not give the country sufficient cohesion to work on its economic issues and otherwise become a strong and stable factor in the region,” the American ambassador, Christopher R. Hill, told reporters Tuesday night.

Not an easy task, especially when the Iraqi parliament is currently at a stalemate.

Also in Iraq, AP via Stars and Stripes has news of the largest US military detention camp being shut down.

The U.S. military on Wednesday closed Camp Bucca, an isolated desert prison that was once its largest lockup in Iraq, as it moves to release thousands of detainees or transfer them to Iraqi custody before the end of the year.

While it is likely a result of the plan for withdrawal, it also speaks to a confidence in Iraqi security that this camp is closing down; reverting the custody of over eight thousand prisoners is no small task for any security force. I’ll be waiting to see whether Iraq can in fact keep those prisoners secure.

In Afghanistan today, the main news (other than Karzai vacuously insisting the election was legitimate) was of six Italian troops and ten Afghani citizens dead from a car bomb in Kabul. (AP covers as well.) This is notably the worst hit Italian forces have taken, and the Taliban have taken responsibility.

David Ignatius at the Washington Post takes up recent calls for a reconfigured intelligence direction. I could make some claims about the misuse of intelligence operatives post 9/11, but I suspect we all kind of know this already. Either way, this seems to be a good start:

Hayden drew a Venn diagram to explain where the CIA needs to operate. First, he drew three circles that represent the traditional parameters: An activity must be technically feasible, operationally relevant and lawful. Then he added a fourth requirement. The activity must also be “politically sustainable,” through more transparency with Congress and the public. “We need a program that does not have an on-off switch every two years,” he said.

I particularly like “lawful.”

I’m still digesting the Stephen Farrell story, but’s Tunku Varadarajan has some in-depth analysis of the matter. There is a difficult imbalance in Western reporting: Afghanistan is not safe enough for journalists to investigate without security, but because of that security, journalism has a very particular and limited lens. So on the one hand I sympathize with Stephen Farrell’s choice to investigate further despite clear directives from his military embed that it was not secure enough for him to do it; on the other, it was foolish and dangerous to do so.

Speaking of embeds, I’m still working my way through Michael Yon’s latest files; it’s always fascinating, if somewhat militarily biased.

Nation building at the barrel of an M-16.

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 16 September 2009

Some Afghanistan errata.

Oliver North’s file from Monday, In the Afghan Battle Space:

Until 2nd LAR arrived here, this part of Afghanistan had been without any government or coalition presence since 2002. On July 4, with Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, present, Afghanistan’s national flag was unfurled, and Masood Ahmad Rasooli, a university-trained pharmacist in his late 20s, was installed as district governor. When I asked him this week if he has been threatened, he shrugged and told me through a Marine interpreter, “Of course. That comes with the job.” [Washington Times]

David Wood, over at Politics Daily, offers probably the best real-world understanding of McChrystal’s COIN strategy from last month:

In a related program, soldiers are teaching village women to make high-protein baby formula from locally available produce. That’s a project of the civil affairs teams led by Special Forces Maj. James N. Schafer. “I wish I had more teams,” he told me. “We are doing better; things are better than a year ago. But we need more civilians – we don’t need more guys carrying guns.”

These aren’t simply feel-good projects; they are ruthlessly assessed as part of the U.S. counterinsurgency war-fighting plan. Rather than simply asking local Afghans if they’d like a new school or a baby nutrition program, soldiers ask detailed questions to understand local origins of instability: What causes the conflicts that the Taliban can exploit? It may be a lack of jobs, or corrupt officials, or high child malnutrition. Action is taken to meet those needs. Then the results are carefully measured – did the project really provide jobs? Was the corrupt official removed? If necessary, new actions are planned. Results must deliver more security, more jobs or better government.

“[W]e don’t need more guys carrying guns.” The things about nation-building, on a practical level, is that military forces may be necessary to assure security, but artillery won’t replace homes, jobs, and lives lost in war. I think we need more trained personnel who can implement the real challenges of rebuilding a nation. But I accept that the only way to achieve that is to insure the security of that personnel through additional troops. That doesn’t seem to be the option, though–the option, as it is becoming clear to me, is that NATO forces are responsible for the double duty of security/enemy engagement and that nation building. And I am not convinced that it can reasonably be successful.

Paul Pillar has an op-ed in the WP questioning the relationship of location to terrorism:

How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism.

Granted, it is worth noting that the 9/11 attacks were planned initially within Afghanistan before being exported to other bases in Europe; but I think his point still stands. If terrorism is what we went into Afghanistan to combat, then perhaps we have effectively done that. (Note Gen. McChrystal saying there is little evidence for major al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan at this time.) Of course, I think the long war against terrorism fits cleanly into Pillar’s conception here; but I also think that Afghanistan, as it currently stands, is not a relationship we (US/NATO/ISAF troops) can abandon–and not merely for the somewhat hyperbolic claim that the terrorists would return immediately. I believe that we are ethically obligated to remain, because that nation is in such a state of disrepair that to withdraw would be morally abhorrent. It is our mess to clean up.

It’s interesting to me that the biases I’d expected to see in the WP–hawkish determination to remain in Afghanistan–aren’t being picked up. Instead there seems to be a general bent towards withdrawing from Afghanistan, and letting it stand as a failure.

Foreign Policy breaks down the metrics that will/are be used to evaluate progress in Afghanistan-Pakistan. I’d really like to sit down and analyze this, but I don’t have time and other people did it better. Maybe tomorrow. Either way, it’s really interesting to see a method of evaluation laid out, and Objective 3b is relevant in light of this post.

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