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Archive for August, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on August 26th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Dexter Filkins & Mark Mazzetti | Kabul | August 25

NYT – The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Mr. Salehi was arrested in July and released after Mr. Karzai intervened. There has been no suggestion that Mr. Salehi’s ties to the C.I.A. played a role in his release; rather, officials say, it is the fear that Mr. Salehi knows about corrupt dealings inside the Karzai administration.

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Posted by Josh Mull on August 25th, 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.

How are we going to deal with Pakistan when they’re openly flaunting their proxy war against the United States? How should we respond when they say stuff like “we know where the [Taliban] shadow government is”? Or this:

“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.

Again, “we protect the Taliban.” Pakistan protects the Taliban. That’s in addition to them training and equipping various Taliban militias and even funding suicide attacks and IEDs against American troops. We, as in you the American tax payer, give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, including directly reimbursing them for their army operations (down to paying for the bullets fired). And yet they’re killing our troops and protecting insurgents/terrorists.

Our relationship with Pakistan is deeply, deeply flawed. How do we fix this?

Spencer Ackerman suggests diplomacy, and I wholeheartedly agree. The American people are howling at the gates of congress to end these trillion dollar, decade-long wars of occupation and aggression, and there is simply no conceivable military solution to any of our problems – whether that’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or even Iran. Diplomacy has to be the way to go.

Ackerman helpfully gives us his “opening gambit,” his desired/hypothetical US response to the Pakistani statement above about protecting the Taliban. Here’s his complete “diplomacy” statement:

An envoy from the administration needs to say: We’re on board with that sentiment 100 percent! Pakistan should under no circumstances be cut out of a deal. We’re happy to see that you guys talk to Hamid Karzai’s government now without the binding mechanism of our trilateral summitry. Believe us, we want you doing that, because it should convince you that Pakistan has an interlocutor in Karzai, not an obstacle to Pakistani interests in a post-conflict Afghanistan.

Look, we get it: you sponsor the Taliban because you want strategic depth on your eastern border. You can get that from Karzai; and we’re here to help you get it! Pakistan can have a role in South Asia commensurate with the great power that it is!


And because we’re so sincere about that, we want you involved in the peace talks in a very specific way. We want you to deliver the Taliban and the Haqqanis to the table, under whatever circumstances of amnesty work for you. Then we want you to guarantee that in a post-war Afghanistan, they’re not backsliding on their commitments to backsliding on al-Qaeda. We’re going to put that on you. Look at that: you get an important role in Afghanistan, and it allows us to bring the war to a steady conclusion on mutually-agreeable terms. You win, we win, Karzai wins, the Taliban… kind of win (yeah, we said it), our mutual enemies in al-Qaeda (and the Pak Taliban!) lose. Now who wants flood relief?


Oh, and in case we need to say it: if we start seeing al-Qaeda slipping back into the country, it’s wrath-of-God time.

“We’re on board 100 percent!” Boy, that should really scare the hell out of the Pakistanis. Ackerman, for whatever reason, seems to interpret “diplomacy” as “giving Pakistan everything it could possibly want.” This is incorrect. In negotiations, you start with the extreme of what you want, and then negotiate down to something like a compromise. Ackerman has done exactly the opposite.

Let’s take the statement line by line.

We’re on board with that sentiment 100 percent! Pakistan should under no circumstances be cut out of a deal. We’re happy to see that you guys talk to Hamid Karzai’s government now without the binding mechanism of our trilateral summitry.

If I were Pakistan, I’d stop you right there. “You agree 100 percent? Good, then STFU and keep the money coming. Make the check out to General Kayani, that’s K-A-Y…”

Look, we get it: you sponsor the Taliban because you want strategic depth on your eastern border. You can get that from Karzai; and we’re here to help you get it! Pakistan can have a role in South Asia commensurate with the great power that it is!

So much wrong here. First of all, it’s not enough to “get it” that Pakistan’s national security policy is based on support for violent militias and terrorist organizations. The reason some of us have been shouting “strategic depth” from the rooftops is because it’s illegal, de-stabilizing, and unimaginably dangerous both regionally and globally. It is not OK! We already “get” why they do it, we have to figure out a way to stop it. Again, the difference between diplomacy and giving everything away is very important here.

Next, Ackerman offers that Pakistan can get their strategic depth from Karzai, with America’s help even. There’s no other way to read that than as a blatant concession that the United States does not consider Afghanistan to be a sovereign country, but rather as an Imperial Colony of Pakistan and the United States ruled by a pliant puppet government (Karzai). Forget all that stuff about democratic elections, about standing up a stable, non-corrupt Afghan government, about creating a secure Afghanistan capable of protecting itself from terrorists. We were just kidding, we actually think Karzai is just our puppet and that Pakistan should be able to inflict as much violence and terrorism on Afghanistan as they want.

We’ll skip over the part about Pakistan being a “great power,” since it’s one of the most corrupt, violent, unstable countries on Earth, as well as the premiere state of sponsor of terrorism in Central Asia (if not the entire globe). But then again, I guess if Ackerman believes that total capitulation = diplomacy, then sure, corrupt, terrorist-supporting tyrants = great power, why not. Words don’t mean anything.

And because we’re so sincere about that, we want you involved in the peace talks in a very specific way. We want you to deliver the Taliban and the Haqqanis to the table, under whatever circumstances of amnesty work for you. Then we want you to guarantee that in a post-war Afghanistan, they’re not backsliding on their commitments to backsliding on al-Qaeda. We’re going to put that on you.

Great, we want Pakistan involved in peace talks in whatever way works for them. That’s already happening! Remember the New York Times article about how they’re using Baradar’s capture as leverage in the peace talks? It’s the one right up top, y’know, the whole reason we’re having this conversation? It’s dumb enough to concede everything the Pakistanis want, but then it’s even stupider to “offer” them things they already have to begin with.

And just how are they supposed to keep their guarantees on Al-Qa’eda? We’ve already conceded strategic depth, and their support of Al-Qa’eda affiliates is part of that, so what is this “backsliding” stuff we’re talking about?

This is why you don’t open negotiations with “sure, we agree with everything!” There are no guarantees or backsliding after you give them everything, that’s what “100 percent” means. It means all of it. You can’t say “OK, you can support terrorists, but make sure you don’t support terrorists.” You’re speaking gibberish, man!

Look at that: you get an important role in Afghanistan, and it allows us to bring the war to a steady conclusion on mutually-agreeable terms. You win, we win, Karzai wins, the Taliban… kind of win (yeah, we said it), our mutual enemies in al-Qaeda (and the Pak Taliban!) lose.

Pakistan won when we opened with “we’re on board 100 percent!” We “win” because…why? We got nothing, we just gave Pakistan everything it wanted, including what they already have now. Karzai wins because he gets to be a US and Pakistani puppet (Is that what he wants, or are we arbitrarily calling that a “win” for him?).

And Al-Qa’eda, how do they lose? Magic, I suppose. The Pakistani Taliban wasn’t even mentioned, that just came out of nowhere (presumably we agree with them 100 percent also, and that’s how they lose).

Who actually loses from all of this? The people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, of course, since they’re left to either the “great powers” in Islamabad who support terrorism and militancy, or to our corrupt puppet Hamid Karzai in Kabul. But wait, Ackerman isn’t done showing us how diplomacy works.

Now who wants flood relief?

Get it? We’re conditioning our flood relief for the tens of millions of affected people in Pakistan entirely on our selfish foreign policy goals. Wow, you’re a monster Spencer Ackerman. Do we not understand the difference between General Kayani and a displaced, starving child in a refugee camp? Sure, the floods are a national security issue for the United States, but they are not an opportunity to extract a price from the victims.

But really, what am I worried about? Even if we do condition our flood relief, as Ackerman recommends, he’s conditioning it on nothing. He agrees 100 percent with the Pakistan Army and ISI supporting terrorists, so as long as they keep doing that, they get the flood relief.

Like I said, it’s gibberish.

Oh, and in case we need to say it: if we start seeing al-Qaeda slipping back into the country, it’s wrath-of-God time.

Just what the hell is that supposed to mean? Are we threatening Pakistan? If so, with what? Didn’t we open this conversation by establishing that there is NO military solution? If all it takes to eradicate terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is “wrath-of-God time,” then by all means, do it now. Only it’s bulls**t, it doesn’t mean anything.

See, Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Kayani, and the head of ISI, General Pasha, they’re not starry-eyed national security bloggers who think that the words “wrath-of-God time” are impressive or intimidating. The people we’re dealing with have their own army (bigger than ours), their own airplanes, their own special forces, and of course, their own terrorist and insurgent organizations. They’re not afraid of us, or our hollow threats. If they were, they wouldn’t be saying things in the newspaper like “we know where the shadow government is.”

If we have a specific threat, then spit it out. Will we invade the tribal areas? Will we drone strike General Kayani? Carpet bomb Rawalpindi and Islamabad? What is it exactly that we mean by “wrath-of-God time”? This is, after all, a “great power,” so what are you going to do about it?

All together, what do we have? Our “diplomacy” looks like giving Pakistan everything it wants, and then capping it off with threatening them. That’s not really diplomacy, is it? It’s the status quo and a military threat. Would it be over the top to just write FAIL?

So what are some real options for dealing with Pakistan? Here are a few suggestions, keeping in mind that you open negotiations with the most extreme options and then work backwards.

  • Call a peace summit with all relevant players, including representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Jammu & Kashmir, Russia, United States, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, China, and Iran
  • Cut off all military aid to Pakistan
  • Cut off all (non-disaster) civilian aid to Pakistan
  • Blacklist the Pakistan Army and intelligence services as terrorist organizations
  • United Nations or Unilateral economic sanctions against the top leadership of the Pakistani Army, the intelligence services, as well as ruling elites in the PPP political party
  • Call for new, internationally monitored and vetted elections in Pakistan – condition all (non-disaster) aid on the legitimacy of these elections
  • Economic and diplomatic support for Pakistani opposition groups, including grassroots (the Lawyers movement) and political parties (PML-N)
  • Publicly release/de-classify all US intelligence on Pakistan’s support of terrorism – including wiretap audio, satellite imagery, etc
  • Publicly call for an end to the Pakistani occupation of Balochistan and Kashmir
  • Diplomatic and economic support, including recognition, of an autonomous Balochistan
  • Diplomatic and economic support, including recognition, of an Independent Kashmir
  • Dramatically increase civilian and military aid to India (Call it “Strategic Depth”)
  • Offer India a (new) permanent seat on the United Nations security council
  • Allow India to utilize American military bases in Afghanistan and Central Asia for “training exercises”
  • Invite India to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, requiring some contribution of security forces

Crazy stuff, right? But it’s not giving Pakistan whatever it wants, and it’s not threatening military action against them either. Either they give up their support of terrorism and militancy, or we start talking about the options above.

Spencer wrote:

When people mouth the truism that There’s No Military Solution To The Afghanistan War, they’re both right and typically uncreative about thinking through what A Political Solution To The Afghanistan War looks like. I submit that the imagined diplomatic proposal above is an opening gambit.

I wouldn’t say my options are as “creative” as Ackerman’s suggestion to give Pakistan whatever it wants, but consider the options I listed above as my response to his “opening gambit.” Your move, Spencer.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on August 25th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Much ink has been spilled over the President’s pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House insists that the date is firm. But the pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined, and the White House hasn’t said a word about when – if ever – a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be complete.

There is a signed agreement that says U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But there is no such agreement for Afghanistan. Yet the majority of Americans have told pollsters that they think the U.S. should establish a timetable for military withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, the Pentagon is planning for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan:

 

"Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future."

Pincus noted that "…many of the installations being built…have extended time horizons. None of the three projects…is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts."

But Pincus also reported that while the House has approved the money for this "enduring base" construction, the Senate has yet to vote on it.

Should there not at least be a debate on this issue in the Senate?

read more

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Posted by Peace Action West on August 25th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

WikiLeaks continues to shed light on the US strategy in Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the documents show just how little the war in Afghanistan is about hunting down al-Qaeda terrorists. And the controversy is not over – WikiLeaks announced plans to release another batch of documents in the near future.

The Washington Post explains that as the war drags on, the US focuses less and less on the hunt for Osama bin Laden:

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports posted by the Web site WikiLeaks underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

Bin Laden, thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, is scarcely mentioned in the reports. One recounts how his picture was found on the walls of a couple of houses near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in 2004.

….

Other al-Qaeda leaders are similarly invisible figures. One report describes a botched June 2007 attempt to capture or kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda military commander. U.S. Special Forces missed their target, instead accidentally killing seven children in a religious school in Paktika province.

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks plans to reveal the additional 15,000 documents. In an interview with Al Jazeera on Sunday, WikiLeaks founder Jullian Assange said the documents would be released “within the next two to four weeks.” He declined to discuss the content of the unreleased documents, but hinted “there’s very significant material in there.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 24th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Afghan security forces are disappearing almost as fast as they can be recruited and trained, but like King Canute in reverse the US general in charge, Bill Caldwell, says everything will turn out alright.

The American commander in charge of building up Afghanistan’s security forces said Monday that in the next 15 months he would have to recruit and train 141,000 new soldiers and police officers — more than the current size of the Afghan Army — to meet President Obama’s ambitious goals for getting Afghan forces to fight the war on their own.

The commander, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said the large recruiting number was to allow for attrition rates in some units of nearly 50 percent.

Journalist Paul McCleary puts that in another perspective:

That is stunning. Let’s break that down. The Afghan army today has 134,000 soldiers. By next October, that number is slated to swell to 171,000–meaning 37,000 more soldiers need to be trained and fielded over the next 15 months. But in order for that to happen, Caldwell said, “we're going to have to recruit, train and assign 86,000 more people to the army in order to make that growth of 37 thousand.” That means 49,000 men will walk after receiving some form of training/pay/equipping.

And then there is the famously beleaguered, and just as famously corrupt, Afghan police. Their ranks number about 115,000 today, and by October 2011, the force is set to grow to 134,000. But to make that growth of 19,000, NATO is going to have to recruit, train and assign almost 56,000 men. That means 37,000 would-be cops are going to eat up money, resources, and the time of the already thinly-spread trainers, primarily U.S. armed forces personnel.

Guess where those 86,000 trained soldiers and 37,000 trained police are going to disappear to, along with their kit and weaponry? Militias, the Taliban, road gangs, mercenary security contractors.

Caldwell – who, lets always remember, was Dubya's hand-picked man to spin the Iraq war for Petraeus back in 2007 – is laying the groundwork for his boss using this as an argument for staying longer:

Over all, General Caldwell said it would not be until October 2011 — three months after the deadline for the start of American withdrawals set by Mr. Obama — that he will have finished building the Afghan security forces to their full capacity. For now, he said, “they cannot operate independently.”

But with attrition rates of up to 50%, illiteracy rates of 90% and drug-use rates of 100% (if you include using marijuana and hashish, which the US military doesn't for it's Afghan recruits), it's difficult to see how the indigenous security forces will ever stand up in any meaningful sense as organised national forces rather than just a collection of militias in waiting. Even if they did, the Afghan gvernment could never hope to afford to keep them going on its own revenues.

And the Afghan security forces inability to stand up straight isn't even the worst problem with the current strategy. As Michael Cohen writes: "The very fact that General Petraeus is talking about extending the US presence and pushing back withdrawals to after June 2011 is mind-boggling. It's like Vietnam all over again. At what point do US policymakers wake up and realize our strategy in Afghanistan simply isn't working?"

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on August 24th, 2010

On college campuses, credit card companies entice naive undergrads into signing up for super-high-interest-rate credit cards by giving away “perceived high-value items” like t-shirts or coffee mugs in exchange for sign-ups. They’re called perceived high value items because they really aren’t worth as much as people assume. Their only purpose is to distract from the terrible terms in the fine print of the contract you’re signing.

Someone’s word on the Afghanistan escalation is a perceived high-value item, either Petraeus’ or President Obama’s, or both.

The president’s December 2009 decision to add 30,000 more troops on top of his prior troop increase was always the wrong decision, but in the course of making that decision, he made an explicit deal with the restless American voter:

“And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

General Petraeus explicitly agreed to this timeline before the December 2009 announcement of the latest troop increase:

“The only way we’ll consider this is if we get the troops in and out in a shorter time frame,” Obama said.

Obama was moving out of his probing mode and toward conclusions and eventually presidential orders. …[T]he Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

[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.

…The commanders couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.

Now, with their strategy limping embarrassingly toward quagmire, the generals are putting on a full-court-press in the media, pushing for more time and resources, to redefine the President’s explicit promise to limit the troop increase to 18 months, and finally to have him break his word to the American people. Petraeus especially has worked to lower expectations for the troop reduction, most recently telling BBC that:

“Well, I think it’s very important to remember what July 2011 is. That’s a date when a process begins, nothing more, nothing less. It’s not the date when the American forces begin an exodus, and look for the exit and a light to turn off on the way out of the room. It’s a date when a process of transition of some tasks to some Afghan forces in those areas where the conditions allow it.”

If Petraeus succeeds in this redefinition, this version of July 2011, the “transition of some tasks,” could be fulfilled by American military accountants being replaced by Afghan paper-pushers. This isn’t what the president promised at West Point.

When asked by the BBC whether he’d consider saying we can’t begin a significant troop withdrawal in July 2011, he said:

“Come July 2011, I will offer the president my best professional military advice.”

In other words, “Sure, I might.” The general is couching his desire to break his word in palatable, well-framed language. After all, who could argue that a general shouldn’t offer his best military advice? But this conversation isn’t happening in a vacuum. During the decision-making process that produced the time-limited escalation strategy, Petraeus explicitly told the president (and through him, all of us other civilians to whom the military supposedly answers) that he would not be pushing against troop reductions to begin in July 2011. Petraeus obviously no longer feels constrained by the word he gave President Obama in the Oval Office.

Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and General James Conway also piled on this week. According to AP, “Caldwell told reporters that Afghan army and police forces won’t reach sufficient numbers until Oct. 31, 2011 — three months after Obama’s deadline to start U.S. withdrawals.” Conway said whoever leaves Afghanistan in July 2011, it won’t be the Marines.

Only two credible possibilities exist:

  1. The generals told the president whatever they thought he wanted to hear to get him to send more troops and resources to this costly, futile war, or
  2. The president told the American people whatever he thought they needed to hear to mollify their growing opposition to the war and get some political space for an escalation.

No one in their right mind could put the account given by Alter in “The Promise” next to the messages coming from Petraeus in his media blitz and see anything other than a blatant breaking of his word. Not only has he consistently done his best, especially in the last few months, to define down the July 2011 withdrawal component of the escalation plan, but he’s explicitly said that he most certainly will suggest staying longer than 18 months in Afghanistan if he feels like it.

Similarly, no one in their right mind would read the President’s West Point announcement and come away with the understanding that the President meant that as little as “a couple thousand” troops, or about two percent of them, would come home in July 2011. To opine for 427 words (yes, I counted) about the war’s deep costs to our economy and the concordant need to limit it’s impact and then try to get away with redefining your promise to as little as a two-percent cost reduction qualifies as used-car-hucksterism of the lowest sort–the kind that tricks people into a product that kills lots of people and leaves the survivors broke.

The only way for General Petraeus to not be a word-breaker in this situation is for Jonathan Alter to have badly botched his account of the exchanges between Obama and the general. Of course, anything is possible, and good reporters can sometimes still get the facts wrong.

But, if that’s the case, that would leave us with a disturbing picture of an administration using perceived high-value assurances of a reduction in expenditures in Afghanistan just to get us to consent to the escalation.

We’ll know whether this is true by watching the rhetoric of Petraeus and Obama over the coming weeks. If Petraeus is yanked into line and adjusts his message to align with that given by the president during the West Point announcement, we can be assured that Obama is a man of his word. However, if we see administration rhetoric drifting instead toward Petraeus’, watch out. There are already some troubling signs of this trend, especially Vice President Biden shifting from, “In July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It.” to “It could be as few as a couple thousand.” But maybe we can chalk this up to a momentary lapse in fortitude in the face of an incredulous and bloviating Beltway bluster chorus.

Over the coming days, we’ll know who the huckster really is.

Below is an excerpt from President Obama’s December 2009 West Point speech, just to refresh your memory:

“And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

“[S]ome call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort  — one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade.  I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.  Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government.  It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

“As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.  And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces.  I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one.  Indeed, I’m mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, ‘Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration:  the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.’

“Over the past several years, we have lost that balance.  We’ve failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.  In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills.  Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children.  Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce.  So we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

“All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars.  Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly.  Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

“But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home.  Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power.  It pays for our military.  It underwrites our diplomacy.  It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry.  And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last.  That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 23rd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Late yesterday, both the Washington Post and the New York Times dropped articles casting grave doubts on the zeal of America's "indispensible ally" in the War on Terror.

In the Washington Post, the new Afghan national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta writes that "Pakistan is the Afghan war's real aggressor":

The conflict we are engaged in is becoming a long and expensive war for us and our international partners. The Afghan people are rightly frustrated and exhausted by a war in which the line between friends and foes is blurred. Global opinion has also turned against us. Yet surely it is understandable that we have failed to mobilize people for a cause where the fighting is in one place and the enemy is in another. How can we persuade Afghans, or the parents of young soldiers from coalition countries, to support a war where our "partners" are involved in killing their sons and daughters? While we are losing dozens of men and women to terrorist attacks every day, the terrorists' main mentor continues to receive billions of dollars in aid and assistance. How is this fundamental contradiction justified?

The Afghan people are no longer ready to pay the price for the international community's miscalculation and naivety. The aggressor understands only one language: that of force and determination. Afghanistan, along with the United States and many other nations, is a victim of terrorism. The international community must establish a clear alliance among such victims. We cannot mobilize the Afghan people with uncertainty, confusion or appeasement of those who sponsor terrorism.

Notice that he doesn't have a problem with other nations interfering in his country? The US and its Coalition, Russia, China, India, Iran – all of whome back factions and meddle to a greater or lesser extent – they're all apparently ok by him. What he seems to object to is not foreign powers meddling in Afghanistan, but their meddling on the "wrong" side.

But, be that as it may, the New York Times has a potentially far more explosive bit of reporting from veteran journolist Dexter Filkins. The original headline was "Pakistanis Say Taliban Arrest Was Meant to Hurt Peace Bid". That's been changed to the less inflammatory "Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader’s Arrest" but the content is still the same - that Pakistani officilas told Filkins that:

"they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer."

…“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”

That possibility had already been widely discussed by commentators, pundits and analysts but Filkins has put the matter in a clearer context:

Within days of Mr. Baradar’s arrest, Pakistani agents picked up as many as 22 other Taliban leaders across Pakistan, according to an official with the United Nations in Kabul. The detentions included some of the most senior Taliban commanders, including Mullah Qayoom Zakir, Abdul Kabeer and Abdul Rauf Khadem.

“We know where the shadow government is,” the Pakistani security official said.

The official said the detained Taliban leaders were warned against carrying out future negotiations without their permission. A former Western diplomat, with long experience in the region, confirmed that the ISI sent a warning to its Taliban protégés.

“The message from the ISI was: no flirting,” he said.

The CIA's role, and by extension the US government as a whole, seems to have been to simply succumb to Jedi mind tricks:

The Pakistanis refused to allow the C.I.A. to interrogate Mr. Baradar or even to be present when they spoke. Another Pakistani official said Mr. Baradar was taken to a safe house in Islamabad, where he was debriefed. It was only several days later that the C.I.A. learned of his identity and were allowed to question him.

The Pakistani official even joked about the C.I.A.’s naïveté. “They are so innocent,” he said.

No real surprise to observers there, other than that the Pakistanis are being so candid. As Bernard Finel asks, "As a general rule, you don't flaunt that sort of thing. I mean, why do it?"

That became the subject of my discussion on Twitter late last night with Newshoggers pal Josh Mull, the Seminal's Afghanistan blogging fellow, and Vikram Sood, the retired ex-head of India's RAW intelligence agency. Josh's take was that he "wouldn't underestimate the possibility that these leaks are specifically to give US officials more leverage" - something Mr. Sood didn't discount, writing that as Washington was looking for a "victory" to proclaim soon, some new pressure on Pakistan would give D.C. extra leverage.

The officials Filkins quotes would only do so if they were sure it wouldn't cause a massive about-turn in US policy on Pakistan and if they were sure it served their own national purposes to leak. Certainly there's only so much pressure the US can extert on Islamabad. As Pakistani writer Shahid Ilyas noted in his op-ed yesterday, the US has painted itself into a corner over the last decade by continually proclaiming wholehearted support for Pakistan, such that now "US officials privately express their inability to pressurise Pakistan beyond certain limits".

However, by openly telling Islamabad and the ISI "we know what you're up to – so keep doing the deals but be fair and more open about it", the White House perhaps intends to mitigate Pakistan's wish to have things all it's own way. And for Pakistan's part, the message to both the US and Afghan leaders is clearly that they are firmly in the driving seat and need to be placated.

I expect these revelations to increase calls among the Beltway VSP set to "do something" more – probably something kenetic involving more drones and special forces - to take the direction of the War On Terror in Pakistan away from Islamabad. But that'll be the extent of it. Many will probably try to simply write off the whole thing as just another part of the Afghan v Pakistani agitprop war. They're just as backed into a corner by their previous rhetoric as the US government is.

What's going to be really interesting, though, is if any media type has the nerve to ask General Petraeus about all this during his next round of TV appearances in the PR war on the American public.  Josh thinks if Petraeus has to admit that the ISI is waging proxy war against American troops in Afghanistan and that the US policy is to basically allow this while talking sternly, calls for withdrawal will go down, not up. As he writes, the options will be "Either admit straight out we are in a war against AQ inside Pakistan or withdraw. No bait and switch."Other than feeding fuel to the Gingritch/War On Islam section of the GOP, most will opt for withdrawal.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 23rd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By BJ Bjornson

A few years ago, the blogger Fabius Maximus wrote that the secret to accurately predicting the trends of the Iraq War was to:

1. Carefully read Martin van Creveld’s book The Transformation of War (1991).
2. Each week read the Sunday newspaper, or one of the major weekly magazines.
3. Determine what page of the book we are on.

Given Iraq has mostly fallen off the news pages these days, it won’t work quite so well anymore, but you can transfer this easy three-step process to the fighting in Afghanistan and pretty much any other insurgency without too much difficulty.

My reason for referring to the book is thanks to a couple of posts here in recent weeks. The first is one by Steve regarding the fact that the coalition’s killing of civilians creates new insurgents. No big surprise there, but the point that seems to trip a number of people up is the fact that civilian deaths caused by insurgents don’t seem to have anywhere near the same kind of effect.

But in their study, the researchers found that there’s a greater spike in violence after ISAF-caused civilian deaths than after insurgent-caused ones. “An incident which results in 10 civilian casualties will generate about 1 additional IED attack in the following 2 months,” the researchers write. “The effect for insurgents is much weaker and not jointly significant.” In other words, even if the insurgents possess a “total disregard for human life and the Afghan people,” as an ISAF press release reacting to this weekend’s insurgent bombings in Herat put it, Afghans effectively would rather be killed by other Afghans than foreigners.

Creveld had the answer a couple of decades ago, something called the paradox of strength:

Here we are concerned with a situation where the relationship between strength and weakness is skewed; in other words, where one belligerent is much stronger than the other. Under such circumstances, the conduct of war can become problematic even as a matter of definition. Imagine a grown man who purposely kills a small child, even such a one as came at him knife in hand; such a man is almost certain to stand trial and be convicted, if not of murder then of some lesser crime. In the same way, legally speaking, the very existence of belligerence, war, and fighting already implies that the opponents should be of a broadly comparable nature. Not by accident is the bellum itself said to come from due-lum, a combat of two. Where no symmetry exists, violence may still take place, even violence that is organized, purposeful, politically-motivated, and on a fairly large scale. However, usually the name such violence is given is not war but disturbance, uprising, or crime. These are accompanied by their opposite numbers, namely, repression, counterinsurgency, and police work.

. . .

A war waged by the weak against the strong is dangerous by definition. Therefore, so long as the differential in force is not such as to render the situation altogether hopeless, it presents few difficulties beyond the tactical question, namely, how to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the enemy without exposing oneself in open fighting. By contrast, a war waged by the strong against the weak is problematic for that very reason. Given time, the fighting itself will cause the two sides to become more like each other, even to the point where opposites converge, merge, and change places.

. . .

A small, weak force confronting a large, strong one will need very high fighting spirit to make up for deficiencies in the other fields. Still, since survival itself counts as no mean feat, that fighting spirit will feed on every victory, however minor. Conversely, a strong force fighting a weak one for any length of time is almost certain to suffer from a drop in morale, the reason being that nothing is more futile than a string of victories endlessly repeated. Conscious of the problem, such armies have often sought to compensate the troops by providing them with creature comforts; one is reminded of the iced beer that was helicoptered to American units operating in the Vietnamese jungle and, a more absurd example still, the mobile banks that accompanied the Israelis into Lebanon. However, over the long run no amount of pampering can make up for the fact that fighting the weak demeans those who engage in it and, therefore, undermines its own purpose. He who loses out to the weak loses; he who triumphs over the weak also loses. In such an enterprise there can be neither profit nor honor. Provided only the exercise is repeated often enough, as surely as night follows day the point will come when the enterprise collapses.

Another very important reason why, over time, the strong and the weak will come to resemble each other even to the point of changing places is rooted in the different ethical circumstances under which they operate. Necessity knows no bounds; hence he who is weak can afford to go to the greatest lengths, resort to the most underhand means, and commit every kind of atrocity without compromising his political support and, more importantly still, his own moral principles. Conversely, almost anything that the strong does or does not do is, in one sense, unnecessary and, therefore, cruel. For him, the only road to salvation is to win quickly in order to escape the worst consequences of his own cruelty; swift, ruthless brutality may well prove to be more merciful than prolonged restraint. A terrible end is better than endless terror and is certainly more effective. By way of an analogy, suppose a cat-and-mouse situation. Its very size precludes the mouse from tormenting the cat, though it is capable of driving him crazy-a different matter altogether. The cat, however, must kill the mouse at once. Should it fail to do so, then its very size and strength will cause its actions to be perceived as unnecessary; hence-had it been human-as cruel.

There is, of course, much more in the book that feeds into this concept, but the above should give you the gist of the argument. It does, however, quite eloquently explain why the civilian casualties caused by the insurgents don’t seem to merit the same kind of outrage amongst their supporters as the ones the NATO forces cause do. Fighting against the most advanced military forces on the planet with only a tiny fraction of the technology or budget available to them forgives a lot.

That brings me to the other post that got me thinking about this book and the above section in particular, where Dave posted on the slaughter of a NGO medical team, and ended with following:

NGOs are a cheap, vulnerable and valuable adjunct to American style COIN.  I am just surprised that NGOs are not hit more often as the return on investment is much higher than hitting a uniformed patrol.

The answer is that the return on investment of hitting NGOs, at least the truly vulnerable ones, is subject to rapidly diminishing rewards once you take into account the moral dimension of asymmetric warfare. So long as the insurgents are hitting uniformed patrols, the above dynamic of the weak fighting the strong holds true, and the occasional atrocity goes without comment or significant cost to their support. Switch to the softer NGOs, and they no longer look like the brave forlorn hope going up against the big, bad foreign occupiers, but more the savage and hated bullies killing those too weak to defend themselves. Under those circumstances, the population is unlikely to remain loyal, and the insurgents will have defeated themselves. As with most things in such a war, perception is key, even among the insurgents themselves. I seriously doubt young Afghans go to bed dreaming of bravely slaughtering unarmed medical personnel. Attacks on NGOs can easily do more harm to the insurgents than their initial ROI might make apparent.

In any case, I recommend The Transformation of War as a must-read for anyone who wants to understand modern warfare, and particularly modern insurgencies.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 23rd, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Walter Pincus | Aug 22

WaPo – Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased American military operations well into the future.

Despite growing public unhappiness with the Afghan war — and President Obama’s pledge that he will begin withdrawing troops in July 2011 — many of the installations being built in Afghanistan have extended time horizons. None of the three projects in southern and northern Afghanistan is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than their Afghan counterparts.

Overall, requests for $1.3 billion in additional fiscal 2011 funds for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan are now pending before Congress. The House has approved the money, as has the Senate Appropriations Committee. The full Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 22nd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

When discussing the gap between rhetoric and reality in politics, it's always worth remembering that "policy is what gets funded". Walter Pincus in the WaPo brings news of the current true direction of policy on Afghanistan.

Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased American military operations well into the future.

Despite growing public unhappiness with the Afghan war — and President Obama's pledge that he will begin withdrawing troops in July 2011 — many of the installations being built in Afghanistan have extended time horizons. None of the three projects in southern and northern Afghanistan is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than their Afghan counterparts.

Overall, requests for $1.3 billion in additional fiscal 2011 funds for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan are now pending before Congress. The House has approved the money, as has the Senate Appropriations Committee. The full Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

In addition, the United States has already allocated some $5.3 billion to construct facilities for the Afghan army and the national police, with most of the "enduring facilities . . . scheduled for construction over the next three to four years," according to a Pentagon release this month.

We're going to have to make Obama make the generals bring the troops home. Six out of ten Americans want out of Afghanistan, but the generals are interested in their careers and their budgets, not what the people want.

Josh Mull points the way:

We are close to cutting off the war funds entirely, tripling our votes in the House of Representatives since just last year. A quick glance at the history of Vietnam will tell you that the last thing the "Host Nation" government wants is for us to cut off funding, but that’s what’s on the table being discussed right now.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. Petraeus can back off, Obama can grow some backbone, and congress can commit to the compromise of the July 2011 withdrawal time table. This wouldn’t be abandoning Afghanistan, as many in congress are still willing to back the Vice President’s "Counter-Terrorism Plus" approach of limited special forces and drone strikes against Al-Qa’eda. Furthermore, we would still have the State Department and other civilian agencies to continue with humanitarian and development missions.

July 2011 is almost a year from now. That should be plenty of time for Petraeus to COIN it up or spread his oil spots or whatever it is he thinks he’s doing. It’s plenty of time for Karzai to get his act together and clean up the corruption in his government. It’s plenty of time for the Pakistani military and intelligence services to back off their covert war against us. July 2011 the US begins to pull out, to be completed ideally by December of the same year.

But that’s only if we see some immediate action from the folks running this war – set the timetable in law, stop the "conditions based" caveats and commit to the ending the war on schedule. If not, we de-fund the entire enterprise.

… I can tell you that among activists, the people who actually do all the work to get candidates elected and force all the strongest parts of legislation, none of them are talking about this July 2011 compromise bulls**t. Most folks are talking about ending the war now, cutting off funding now, and yes, they’re the same ones who’ll urge their organizations to stay home in November if there’s no end to the war in sight.

How will it end? A graceful drawdown in July 2011, or a fierce and immediate stop on the next funding vote? We’ll see what President Obama does now that Petraeus’ propaganda tour has failed.

We'll also see what Senators who want re-elected come November think once the $1.3 billion comes up for a full vote.

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