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Archive for June, 2010

Posted by Josh Mull on June 21st, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Our strategy in Afghanistan is pretty bad, but aside from the obvious broken logic of creating peace through war, I wouldn’t say it qualifies as “crazy”. Counterinsurgency is weird in its ability to co-opt humanitarian arguments about human rights and so forth, but it’s still somewhat rational considering the military is, after all, a war making institution.

But I nearly spit out coffee this morning reading through the new RAND report – “Counterinsurgency in Pakistan” by Seth G. Jones and C. Christine Fair.

Of course, it’s COIN, so I was prepared for most of the usual junk (“population-centric” bloody occupations, learn from Algeria or the Philippines or [insert incomparable favorite country from a bajillion years ago], etc). This report even had a lot of good stuff going for it, including a very honest assessment of Pakistan’s domestic unrest issues (disappearances, land ownership, foreign tariffs, etc) as well as thoughtful examinations of the history of US-Pakistan diplomatic “persuasion” techniques.

And then it got crazy fast:

The United States should consider more politically valuable initiatives, given the willingness and equities of other regional parties. While an effective U.S. role in reaching an Indo-Pakistani accommodation on Kashmir is unlikely, partly because of Indian opposition, there are at least two initiatives that could benefit Pakistan.

First is a criteria-based civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan. Pakistan complained about the exceptionalism of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, in which India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. In exchange, the United States agreed to work toward full civil nuclear cooperation with India. Pakistani officials argued that its sacrifices in cooperating with the United States should merit comparable consideration. Pakistan legitimately fears that the agreement may allow India to improve and expand its nuclear weapon arsenal. Pakistan sought to undermine the Indo-U.S. deal, arguing that it would spark an arms race on the subcontinent.

That’s right, in exchange for “doing more” against the militant elements in the region, the US should give Pakistan more nukes. The report is very honest about it: It’ll be just like the deal with India, in which the US basically subsidizes the civilian nuclear industry, and “inspects” it, while the military program remains completely separate and unaccountable. Better yet, the military no longer has to compete with the civilian power industry for materials, so they’re free to weaponize countless stockpiles of enriched uranium that we specifically agree to not inspect.

That’s happening in India right now. And this report says we should do that with Pakistan. For real. This is where I look around, wondering if that sounds as crazy to you as it does to me, because apparently the folks at RAND find nuclear proliferation to be totally normal. (more…)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 21st, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Dave Anderson:

The people that the US practices COIN on actually have their own interests past that of being passive receivers of US wisdom, electricity and lollipops.  Whocoodaknown.  Joe Klein at Time Magazine makes that stunning discovery as he discusses the problems that the US strategy in Afghanistan has:

It is now clear that Hamid Karzai's government is incapable of doing
that. "Karzai is not incompetent," a Western diplomat told me. "He is
acting according to his own priorities — his family, his tribe, his
nation, in that order."

So the Karzai family is pursuing its own interests as aggressively as they can.  Those interests do not coincide with US interests.  Therefore a disconnect exists between US doctrine and US actions on the ground.  That disconnect means the pretty words about holding and building are ineffective words as the Afghan government does not want to imperil itself by cleaning up all the side deals which keeps it in power and enriches its elite.  It means it does not want to deploy tens of thousands of well trained Tajik speaking soldiers to the Pashtun south.  It may deploy poorly trained and motivated soldiers that are not a coup in waiting, but the Karzai family is acting with agency.  What a shock!

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Posted by The Agonist on June 20th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

MOHAMMAD QAYOUMI | California, USA | May 27

Foreign Policy – (A very long article with a lovely slide show of mid-century Afghan society.)

Record stores, Mad Men furniture, and pencil skirts — when Kabul had rock ‘n’ roll, not rockets.

On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it “a broken 13th-century country.” The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt. He’s hardly the first Westerner to label Afghanistan as medieval. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by “barbarians” with “a 1200 A.D. mentality.” Many assume that’s all Afghanistan has ever been — an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages.

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. When I was in middle school, I remember that on one visit to a city market, I bought a photobook about the country published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry. Most of the images dated from the 1950s. I had largely forgotten about that book until recently; I left Afghanistan in 1968 on a U.S.-funded scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut, and subsequently worked in the Middle East and now the United States. But recently, I decided to seek out another copy. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth. Through a colleague, I received a copy of the book and recognized it as a time capsule of the Afghanistan I had once known — perhaps a little airbrushed by government officials, but a far more realistic picture of my homeland than one often sees today.

More at the site.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

You're going to hear a lot of crowing about the
reduction in NATO-caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan during the
last few months
compared to the same time last year. (Read the full
report here
in PDF format.) This reduction took place in the context of a
massive spike in overall violence and a continually degrading security
environment in that country
. Before the supporters of the
president's brutal, costly counterinsurgency strategy (referred to
without affection as "COINdinistas") get started this week, I want to
reiterate a
point I made a couple of months ago when the last round of silly,
disingenuous pro-counterinsurgency celebrations took place
:

Selective Interpretation

COIN doctrine as interpreted by [COINdinistas] with the aid of the
stats [they] used asserts something like this: McChrystal and friends
reduce by 28 percent the number of civilians they kill, while the
Taliban increase the number they kill. The local population's animosity
builds toward the Taliban, triggering a shift in political support to
the U.S. and allies, a withdrawal of support for the Taliban and an
influx of intelligence to the counter-insurgents.

This interpretation, however, is a very academic exercise with major
blind spots as to the actual dynamic in Afghanistan and [and it's a
gross distortion of] the actual COIN doctrine described in the U.S.
Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual:

"Progress in building support for the [host nation]
government requires protecting the local populace. People who do now
believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and
reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts. The populace
decides when it feels secure enough to support COIN efforts. (p. 179)"

"During any period of instability, people's primary interest is
physical security for themselves and their families. When [host nation]
forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians,
the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents,
militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an
insurgency. (p 98)"

"Counterinsurgents should not expect people to willingly provide
information if insurgents have the ability to violently intimidate
sources. (p. 120)"

Here's
Stanley McChrystal explicitly stating that COIN doctrine requires you
to protect the population from the insurgents
.

Note that all of these statements deal with the importance not just
of the protection of civilians from killings by counterinsurgents, but the
protection of the people in general.
Counterinsurgency doctrine
says that people aren't going to switch to your side if they think
they'll get killed for it, no matter how low you drop the rate at which
you cause civilian deaths. In other words, a drop in casualties caused
by U.S. and allied groups is not sufficient for the hoped-for dynamic
to take hold, according to COIN doctrine. It must be paired with an
increase in security from insurgent violence as well.

So, even if … McChrystal and Co. were killing fewer civilians,
they still hadn't managed to increase security for civilians in
Afghanistan as measured by the total civilian deaths caused by the
parties to the conflict. …Even if McChrystal proved he could drive
down civilian casualties when he puts his mind to it, he's also managed
to prove over the last year that he can't protect the population.

People who claim to actually believe in the efficacy of and the
necessity for actual counterinsurgency in Afghanistan need to start
screaming, right now, about what's going on in Afghanistan under General
McChrystal because their credibility is now unambiguously on the line.
…The problem is, though, that an honest reading of counterinsurgency
doctrine should have indicated that the system was already blinking red
in 2009, but for whatever reason people continued to sing the praises of
Saint Stanley McChrystal and took up gross distortions of COIN doctrine
to do so. Numerous prerequisites for success as articulated by COIN
doctrine remained absent and/or further degraded over 2009, including
host nation government legitimacy and security for the local population,
yet many writers focused on one particular statistic
(casualties caused by pro-government forces) because it let them tell
the story they wanted to tell.

If you see a person crowing about how the new U.N. reports shows
the "strategy is working" and we're on our way to victory, know that
you're looking at a disingenuous snake-oil salesman who's hoping you
can't read.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 19th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Craig Whitlock | Washington | June 19

WaPo – The U.S. government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan’s fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead.

In a turnabout from the Cold War, when the CIA gave Stinger missiles to Afghan rebels to shoot down Soviet helicopters, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. The Defense Department is seeking to buy 10 more of the Mi-17s next year, and had planned to buy dozens more over the next decade.

The spectacle of using U.S. taxpayer dollars to buy Russian military products is proving a difficult sell in Congress. Some legislators say that the Pentagon never considered alternatives to the Mi-17, an aircraft it purchased for use in Iraq and Pakistan, and that a lack of competition has enabled Russian defense contractors to gouge on prices.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 19th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

The new reports of Afghanistan’s untapped mineral wealth, said to amount to 1 trillion dollars, are in fact, not new at all. The information has been available to the public for at least two years through the U.S. Geological Survey, and many are raising the alarm about a possible propoganda motive behind the timing of the story. Still, it’s hard not to hear the reports and worry about what this might mean for Afghans and hope for their sovereignty. As always, Jon Stewart mixes hilarity in with the dread. [For some reason WordPress won't let me embed the video, so here's a link to the DailyShow.]

Mark Ambinder from the Atlantic suggests the timing and aspects of the story point to “a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war.”

John McQuaid from True Slant presented a more detailed assessment of the politics at play:

The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan – set to end next year – is faltering, Hamid Karzai is acting odder than usual, Congress is growing restive. Suddenly, the NYT runs a story quoting David Petraeus saying: Afghanistan has enormous strategic importance. …

Moreover, there’s a problem in the basic structure of the article as a traditional straight news story. Its point of view is: Here’s the paper of record telling you something new, and that’s all you need to know. But it presents its facts stripped of context essential to understand what’s actually happening.

The fact that Petraeus is quoted is still a giveaway: this is a politically important story that Pentagon officials want played up. They want it in the mix of the current debate on the Hill, in the push-and-pull between the White House and Defense Department, and in the public’s mind. Risen’s story makes no mention of this political background or how untapped mineral resources might figure in the Afghanistan policy debate. Given that a New York Times story on it will automatically put the issue front and center, we were owed that context. Instead, the story takes place in a political vacuum.

And while the story takes pains to note the difficulty of getting $1 trillion in mineral resources out of the ground, that angle was still underplayed. Besides being politically frakked, Afghanistan has virtually no infrastructure. Who knows how many decades and untold billions would be required to even begin extracting gold and lithium on an economically meaningful scale? The $1 trillion figure will end up being a lot, lot less once you subtract the costs of extraction (and, let’s be honest, the impossible-to-quantify – lives of who knows how many Afghan miners, environmental damage, etc.).

So how might these mineral riches benefit Afghanistan? According to Los Angeles Times, the corruption of the US-backed Afghan government and the violence of the war makes that kind of development very unlikely:

“Sudan will host the Winter Olympics before these guys get a trillion dollars out of the ground,” said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, which represents U.S. mining companies.

Few experts disputed the conclusion that Afghanistan has immense mineral resources. But the Pentagon study, first reported by the New York Times, reported larger likely reserves than suggested by previous estimates. And experts said it will probably be years before the minerals can be profitably extracted because of the lack of infrastructure, mining know-how, security and a climate conducive to business.

The Afghan government is plagued by corruption, particularly involving officials who have dealt with mineral concessions. Many of the areas of mineral deposits are in south and east, centers of the insurgency, where little development of any kind has taken place.

Manuela Saftoiu Kumar contributed to this post.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

Watch "Don’t Let General Petraeus Move the Goalposts on Afghanistan" in HD on Facebook.

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing shed even more light on what exactly those qualifications are, and the troll tusks were showing. Responding to a question from HASC Ranking Member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Petraeussaid that yes, he supports the July 2011 date as the beginning of a process. But, he complained, that date was based on a projection from last Fall. He said we’ll do everything humanly possible (well, everything humanly possible within the constraints of a brutal, costly strategic frame that’s not working) to achieve those conditions. When asked by McKeon whether July 2011 was based on conditions and not just a date on the calendar, he said, “That’s correct.” And, when asked whether he’d recommend delaying the withdrawal if those conditions didn’t materialize, he confirmed it.

America, get ready for this excuse:

“Well, we tried, but it’s just not possible for us to keep President Obama’s promise to start a withdrawal this month.” –General David Petraeus, July 2011.

Compare that General Petraeus, who only gives the July 2011 date his qualified support and who wants us all to know he might change his mind when crunch time arrives, with this General Petraeus, described by Jonathan Alter:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Expect the Alter quotation above to become cliche in a hurry. Petraeus revealed this week that he has no intention of standing by his word to the president. This week, he said explicitly that if we can’t do the things he says in 18 months, he will, in fact, suggest we stay.

Petraeus says he supports the president’s policy. His comments this week, though, serve only to validate the critics of the withdrawal portion of the president’s policy. He’s not a supporter of this policy. He’s a concern troll.

Don’t let him get away with moving the goalposts. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook as we work to end this brutal war that’s not worth the costs.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 18th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Noah Schactman | June 18

Wired – The U.S. mission in Afghanistan centers around swaying locals to its side. And there’s no better persuasion tool than an invisible pain ray that makes people feel like they’re on fire.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on June 18th, 2010

General Petraeus video graphic

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing shed even more light on what exactly those qualifications are, and the troll tusks were showing. Responding to a question from HASC Ranking Member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Petraeus said that yes, he supports the July 2011 date as the beginning of a process. But, he complained, that date was based on a projection from last Fall. He said we’ll do everything humanly possible (well, everything humanly possible within the constraints of a brutal, costly strategic frame that’s not working) to achieve those conditions. When asked by McKeon whether July 2011 was based on conditions and not just a date on the calendar, he said, “That’s correct.” And, when asked whether he’d recommend delaying the withdrawal if those conditions didn’t materialize, he confirmed it.

America, get ready for this excuse:

“Well, we tried, but it’s just not possible for us to keep President Obama’s promise to start a withdrawal this month.” –General David Petraeus, July 2011.

Compare that General Petraeus, who only gives the July 2011 date his qualified support and who wants us all to know he might change his mind when crunch time arrives, with this General Petraeus, described by Jonathan Alter:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Expect the Alter quotation above to become cliche in a hurry. Petraeus revealed this week that he has no intention of standing by his word to the president. This week, he said explicitly that if we can’t do the things he says in 18 months, he will, in fact, suggest we stay.

Petraeus says he supports the president’s policy. His comments this week, though, serve only to validate the critics of the withdrawal portion of the president’s policy. He’s not a supporter of this policy. He’s a concern troll.

Don’t let him get away with moving the goalposts. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook as we work to end this brutal war that’s not worth the costs.

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Posted by Josh Mull on June 18th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

The war in Afghanistan is disintegrating before our very eyes. Our counterinsurgency strategy is broken, and the Pentagon knows it. The so-called “emergency” funding requested months ago by the Obama administration now seems destined to die a slow, bureaucratic death in congress due to overwhelming pressure by citizens. Our allies in NATO have either reached their peak of military involvement, as with the UK, or have already begun to dismantle their troop presence, as with Canada and so many others. Other countries in the region are already vying for power after the US leaves, even as the Pentagon insists its July 2011 withdrawal date will only be the “beginning of a process.”

But what about Afghanistan itself? What about President Hamid Karzai, our ally and head of the “Host Nation” government? The theory put forward by the pundit class is usually some variation of the “bloodbath” theme. That is, our allies in Kabul like Karzai would be overrun and annihilated by the Taliban. This appears to be more media myth-making, however, as we see from Karzai’s political maneuvering that not only is he threatening to join the Taliban, but he may have already done just that.

Karzai is already negotiating with the Taliban and even received formal terms of a peace treaty from Taliban-aligned Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Karzai joined them. After all, negotiations are merely the first step in any peace process, no matter the circumstances. Instead we have to look deeper inside this peace process to see the real endgame Karzai is working toward, that of a nominal, Pashtun-nationalist government in Kabul overlaying a Taliban-dominated countryside. Together they function not only as a crime family capable of exploiting Afghanistan’s resources (minerals, opium, timber, etc) but also as a highly effective proxy for Pakistan’s interminable battle against Indian influence. (more…)

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