Permissible Arms

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.

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Reach the highest ground

Posted in united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 3 May 2010

My home state is under water right now, and there’s nothing like fielding panicked emails from family members over the weekend when you’re 2500 miles away. Thankfully the flooding hasn’t spread south enough to endanger my particular mountaintop, but seriously, I never want to see Tennessee in the news again.

I mentioned last week that I’d watched the CNAS webcast of their panel on Natural Security, and they’ve now put the panel online. I can’t seem to embed it because wordpress hates me, but you can watch it here. If you have some time, it was a good and interesting panel.

Also, Rage Company (and the iPad) has reached $650. Sweet. There’s still three days to bid; all proceeds go to Soldier’s Angels.

A war of necessity, nine years in

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us politics by Karaka on 19 October 2009

I was listening to a CSIS podcast while I was getting my lunch; it was a press briefing from July where Anthony Cordesman (who served on Gen. McChrystal’s Strategic Assessment Group this year) gave his own views on Afghanistan. [You can listen there, download the mp3, or search for “CSIS” on iTunes.]

It was too short, as pretty much every single CSIS podcast is–they seem to only give soundbites–but he said something that stood out to me:

In fact, seven years after we entered the war, one of the most striking things about Afghanistan is how many people are still acting like this was the first year in Afghanistan.

It rings rather true, doesn’t it? On the civilian side, anyway, which is what Cordesman seemed to be arguing at the time. As we go into the ninth year of our engagement in this war, and the president is still reviewing his methodology even as we assume that he retains the same strategy, one has to wonder: is this, in one sense, the first year of the war in Afghanistan? Not to engage in sophistry, but the first post 9/11 offensive in Afghanistan was 7 October 2001; eighteen months later, on 20 March 2003, was the invasion of Iraq. If you take Tom Rick’s account to be true, the preparation for that invasion actually began barely a month after our movement in Afghanistan:

Formal Pentagon consideration of how to attack Iraq began in November 2001, just after the fall of Kabul. By early December, Army General Tommy R. Franks, the career artilleryman who had succeeded Zinni as the head of the Central Command, was shuttling between his headquarters, located in Tampa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., reviewing planning for an invasion of Iraq. “There was a sense of urgency to get a conceptual plan in front of the president,” recalled Air Force Major General Victor Renuart, who held the key job of director of operations for the Central Command, and who accompanied Franks to most of his Washington meetings.

From page 32 of Fiasco.

I suspect there is a general consensus that ISAF in Afghanistan is under-resourced, in personnel, treasure, and Western public interest. (Please tell me if you disagree.) And we can put that lack of resources, I think, at the feet of the Iraq invasion. And now as we begin to draw down troops in Iraq and our attention has turned back to oh-hey-that-other-war-we’re-fighting in Afghanistan, we find that meeting the goals of our strategy, meeting the metrics of that strategy, requires a little more consideration.

Are we, not only state personnel, not only the White House, but we as a public, we as a blogging community, we as journalists and military folk and Americans–are we treating this as if it’s the first year of the war in Afghanistan? Because it sort of seems like we are.

Humility and Candor

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 18 October 2009

You know, I have philosophical arguments that support the security of human rights, bar none, regardless of nation-state. My thesis was in part a development of the hybrid relationship of the duties and rights of individuals across national borders. But there are times that primary sources supercede my academic arguments, and I suspect this is one of those times.

In today’s Washington Post, Wazhma Frogh offers a first-hand perspective of the future Afghan women face should political reconciliation with the Taliban and/or the abandonment of Afghanistan to its own devices be sought. (I grant that, after the word from the White House this week, no one is seriously talking about withdrawal, but I think this editorial was probably conceived during such talk.) Even if the human rights of Afghan people, Afghan women, is on the bottom of your contemplative ranking of the US involvement in Afghanistan, hearing the account come from someone who was and will be affected is worth your time.

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.

and also:

We see some of NATO’s allies rapidly losing interest in Afghanistan, even though they admit that if the country is left to the insurgents, the consequence will be many more incidents like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They are being persuaded by a propaganda war on the part of insurgents who seem to have convinced much of the world that they are winning the war. But in fact the enemy will win only if the international community allows itself to be influenced by this propaganda campaign.

The question to keep in mind for all parties involved is, what motivated them to come to Afghanistan in the first place? The answer: global security and the protection of human rights in Afghanistan. Are these two purposes no longer valid?

I think it is very easy to write off this effect of decreased American involvement in Afghanistan. But we should not discount it. Again, even if this is the least of reasons to stay, do we not risk undermining our own most precious views of individual freedoms by allowing such human rights violations to freely occur? Hundreds of schools–for both male and female children–have been created in Afghanistan in the eight years ISAF has established its presence. It is a near certainty that they would disappear under political reconciliation with the Taliban, most especially the ones which educate female children.

As a country who only acknowledged women as citizen voters in 1920, I sincerely believe that we cannot abandon an effort that grants women in Afghanistan that same right when that right, and further ones, are threatened by the continued existence of the Afghan Taliban.

If you want to dismiss this argument as that of a bleeding heart, fine. I acknowledge that I find this of greater import than the political-martial ramifications of ISAF’s force increase. But allow me to provide some other pieces of relevant information. In the awarding of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, Kofi Annan spoke:

Today, in Afghanistan, a girl will be born. Her mother will hold her and feed her, comfort her and care for her – just as any mother would anywhere in the world. In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions. But to be born a girl in today’s Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider inhuman.

I speak of a girl in Afghanistan, but I might equally well have mentioned a baby boy or girl in Sierra Leone. No one today is unaware of this divide between the world’s rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it is borne by all of us – North and South, rich and poor, men and women of all races and religions.

Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.

That, not unlike our martial involvement in Afghanistan, was made eight years ago, and we wrestle with the question even now. From Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, allow me to make the comparison of the potential strength of Afghan women to that nascent strength of African women:

One implication is that donor countries should nudge poor countries to adjust their laws to give more economic power to women. For example, it should be routine for a widow to inherit her husband’s property, rather than for it to go to his brothers. It should be easy for women to hold property and bank accounts, and countries should make it much easier for microfinance institutions to start banks. Women now own just 1 percent of the world’s titled land, according to the UN. That has to change.

To its credit, the U.S. government has pushed for these kinds of legal changes. One of the best American foreign aid programs is the Millennium Challenge effort, and it has nudged recipients to amend legal codes to protect women. For example, Lesotho wanted Millennium Challenge money but did not allow women to buy land or borrow money without a husband’s permission. So the United States pushed Lesotho to change the law, and in its eagerness to get the funding it did so.

It may be politically incorrect to note these kinds of gender differences, but they are obvious to aid workers and national leaders alike. Botswana has been one of the fastest-growing countries in the world for decades, and its former president, Festus Mogae, was widely regarded as one of Africa’s most able leaders. He laughed when we suggested delicately that women in Africa typically work harder and handled money more wisely than men, and he responded:

You couldn’t be more right. Women do work better. Banks were the first to see that and hired more women, and now everybody does. In homes, too, women manage affairs better than men. In the Botswanan civil service, women are taking over. Half of the government sector is now women. The governor of the central bank, the attorney general, the chief of protocol, the director of public prosecution—they are all women. … Women perform better in Africa, much better. We see that in Botswana. And their profiles are different. Deferred consumption is higher among girls, and they buy durables and have higher savings rates. Men are more consumption oriented.

And in the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, the organization made the fostering of women a primary concern:

At each stage of a girl’s life there is something we can do to safeguard her future. Each individual investment – to build her self esteem, protect her property rights, feed her properly, make sure she goes to school, provide appropriate skills training – will transform her life, lift her family out of poverty and give her the money and status to contribute to her community and the global economy as a whole.

The 500 million adolescent girls and young women in developing countries are potentially a major force in driving economic progress but, the world over, a continued lack of investment in girls results in increased poverty. If we turn our backs on this generation at this time, if we fail to invest in these communities and the individuals in them, we do irreparable damage to a whole generation of girls, and to their children. This must change: Poverty may have a woman’s face, but sustainable economic prosperity has the face of a girl.

Finally, in terms of straight facts, the United Nations Foundation offers “Why Invest in Adolescent Girls:”

Every year of schooling increases a girl’s individual earning power by 10 to 20 percent, while the return on secondary education is even higher, in the 15 to 25 percent range.

Girls’ education is proven to increase not only wage earners but also productivity for employers, yielding benefits for the community and society.

Women who have control of their own income tend to have fewer children, and fertility rates have shown to be inversely related to national income growth. Girls and young women delaying marriage and having fewer children means a bigger change of increasing per capita income, higher savings, and more rapid growth.

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families.

The impact of investing in girls is intergenerational. A mother with a few years of formal education is considerably more likely to send her children to school, breaking the intergenerational chain of poverty. In many countries each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for up to an additional one-half year.

Put simply, investing the education and livelihood of the women of Afghanistan is an investment in the economic stability and security of Afghanistan. We abandon them at our own peril.

Stalemate In Perpetua

Posted in afghanistan, isaf by Karaka on 14 October 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

One-man wrecking machine

Posted in afghanistan, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 9 October 2009

Interesting opinion article by Vincent Heintz in the WSJ today:

Last month, in his recommendation to the president, Gen. McChrystal called for “rapidly expanded coalition force partnering at every level.” This will permit operations that are fully resourced, planned and integrated, with embedded combat advisers serving as coaches, patrolling partners, honest brokers against corruption, and liaisons between the Afghans and affiliated NATO units. That is how a surge in combat forces will directly contribute to building Afghanistan’s own security forces.

I saw little evidence that the sheer size of an American presence will cause Afghans to resent us as an occupying force. Failure to provide security is much more dangerous. One of our interpreters explained to us that the Afghan people like the coalition. “What people hate is that you won’t stop the violence. They say, ‘Why don’t the Americans do something?'” I can only imagine the rage now harbored by the people of the flood plain, who were left to fend for themselves once their police were “certified.”

This comes along with reporting on the various scenarios being discussed at the WH, continued concern about a potentially moderate position from Obama, and the propaganda ploy made by the Taliban this week. The President Laureate has some interesting acts to balance as he heads into his fourth of five meetings today.

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