July 31, 2010

AU Escalation Becoming al-Shabab Glue

It’s hard to pinpoint what just happened at the African Union summit in Kampala, Uganda. More troops are on their way to Somalia - 4,000 in total from Uganda, Guinea, and Djibouti with potentially 1,300 from Burundi - which would bring the total AU force to roughly 11,000. As to what they can do, here the waters begin to muddy.

The official line is that Washington, working through the United Nations’ command of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), rejected an AU call to expand its mandate from peace-keeping to “peace-making.” Johnnie Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, informed reporters that Augustine Mahiga, the UN special representative for Somalia, rejected the doctrine of allowing UN peacekeeping troops to attack al-Shabab.

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), desperate at it is, has welcomed the incoming assistance, but houses public reservations of unintentionally buoying al-Shabab. Vetoing the AU indicates that America and the UN harbor similar doubts.

But reading between the lines purifies the waters in the near future - and a deadly long-term outlook begins to emerge. Carson said that Washington believes the current AU mandate allows for soldiers to “defend themselves” and protect TFG installations like the presidential palace and military bases. Carson insists, "It was Ambassador Mahiga's view that the mandate that currently exists is sufficiently broad enough to provide the AMISOM forces with the capacity to do the job that is required.”

Meaning the mandate already approves of offensive capabilities, as revealed by escalating battles in Mogadishu following the Kampala bombings.

Not only are offensive missions pushing into al-Shabab territory, Uganda’s personal trigger to retaliate has surely quickened after Kampala. And a new mandate will become increasingly necessary as the fighting intensifies, one that may authorize total warfare and is already being drafted. Yves Sorokobi, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Al Jazeera that the current mandate is "sufficiently strong,” but also hinted at a wider conflict to come.

"After the summit in Kampala, the AU will make a certain number of recommendations on how the mandate can be strengthened and on that basis there will be - here at the Security Council - a review of what's doable [and] what's not doable. This will depend on the analysis that the AU will deliver to us. If on that basis we believe that there's reasonable ground to fear that the situation might get out of hand, and that the peacekeeping force needs to be given preemptive military options, I am pretty confident that the Security Council will support that idea.”

Given that the UN rejected an expanded mandate under US direction, a future green-light will similarly come from Washington.

Somalia generally appears as one of two objects: a war to intervene in or a war to flee from. Many oppose military escalation to what is considered an intractable conflict, believing that the war will further destabilize and either require unfeasible resources or infect all of East Africa. The only practical hope is an international system to oversee the vast network of military and, more importantly, non-military operations necessary in Somalia.

From afar the AU’s summit, in concert with the UN and America, may appear organized. This is normal because it’s the image Washington seeks to create. Carson has exhausted himself in distancing US policy from the AU’s actions, repeating the legitimacy of an international response to nearly every African media outlet. But while he’s chosen the right words, US actions bear the opposite pattern. No sooner had a failed US-supported Ethiopian invasion ended did the West begin funneling more weapons directly into the TFG.

Sound strategy in a way, as the West cannot afford for Somalia to become al-Qaeda's lawless hideout.

Yet as the TFG grew weaker and weaker (and US arms flowed to al-Shabab through the black market), America found itself needing a way to insert ground troops without US flags on their shoulders. The AU is the only realistic option and Kampala has been predictably exploited by a fierce US push for more troops. Washington then used the AU to portray internationalism, a crucial element of counterinsurgency, but internationalism alone doesn’t produce viable COIN. Military is still a main ingredient and the battle itself has become overshadowed by US-AU cooperation.

An international flavor is concealing what remains essentially conventional warfare, offering an smooth road towards disaster.

Holes in Somalia’s counterinsurgency are found at the most basic levels. Proper “clear, hold, and build” COIN is troop and time intensive, yet the AU has still failed to deploy a decisive force. Expanding from 6,000 to 11,000 increases the force ratio by almost 100%, but 6,000 troops were so meager that they skew this advantage. Not including Somaliland and Puntland, Somalia houses roughly three million people within 125,000 square miles. Two times the AU troops increases the ratio of troops to civilians from 1/500 to 1/275, far below the preferred ratios of 1/10 or 1/20. The space one troop occupies improves from 20 to 10 square miles, still not close to one per square mile.

Meanwhile the ratio between AU and al-Shabab troops boosts from 1/1 to 2/1, a relatively insignificant margin in counterinsurgency. NATO and Afghan soldiers hold an 8/1 ratio against the Taliban, spurning great wonder as to how they’re gaining in strength, let alone surviving. Such is the unconventional nature of guerrilla warfare.

11,000 or 20,000 AU troops will almost certainly prove indecisive, resulting in further military stalemate and suffering for average Somalis. Time is another factor seemingly disregarded; Somalia needs multiple decades of constant lifting. And al-Shabab’s own force may increase if Somalia becomes a premier jihad. Were one to even begin reaching a realistic force level for Somalia, 40,000 brings the troop-to-civilian ratio down to 1/75 and produces an 8/1 ratio against al-Shabab. This force would be divided among Mogadishu and al-Shabab’s strongholds in Kismayo and Beledweyne, with the rest dispersed throughout the countryside to harass al-Shabab’s counteroffensive. And they would need to stay beyond five or 10 years.

Though this many troops may create the very backlash against their deployment, it’s still possible for the AU to expand beyond 20,000. But the only way this will happen - other than a large-scale terrorist attack - is if Somalia begins to demonstrate indisputable signs of progress, and the chances appear low.

As of this moment only trace elements of counterinsurgency can be found in the AU/US strategy. Already surging more troops to prop up a weak and unpopular government, the very idea of reacting on the offensive indicates a conventional response shrouded in an international COIN wrapper. Carson was recently asked pointblank, “The option being pursued in Somalia now is a military one. Why don’t you encourage Muslim religious leaders in the region to pursue another course of action?”

His response: “With respect to Somalia, I would characterize the efforts there in very different ways; it is not a military solution under way but AMISOM’s efforts to stabilize the situation in favor of a political process that was agreed to in Djibouti, an agreement which is under assault by the al-Shabaab, the Hizbul Islam and other violent extremist groups.”

This is exactly the problem - using internationalism to vouch for a weak government and create the false impression of counterinsurgency.

Meanwhile Carson has become a shield for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Himself fending off a 2005 article in which he insinuated Museveni is a dictator, Obama’s reformed position is also attracting scrutiny. Andrew M. Mwenda writes in The Independent, “when he came to power, US President Barack Obama showed a cold attitude to Museveni; quietly despising him for clinging to power and presiding over a corrupt system. Now, with Ugandans paying with blood for American geo-strategic interests in this region, Museveni is indispensable to Obama's plans for this region.”

More definitively, Carson has become a denial spokesman for the AU when it comes to civilian casualties, showing total disregard for counterinsurgency. He’s argued numerous times since Kampala, "I think that some of the tactics employed by al-Shabab are responsible for some of the civilian casualties that have been reported in the press. Al-Shabab moves in and out of market areas, in and out of civilian residential areas...”

Though governments instinctively place the blame on insurgents for operating in civilian environments, counterinsurgency proves the opposite on the ground. US officials in Afghanistan admit the onus is on coalition troops to prevent civilian casualties even when baited by Taliban forces, yet discount the same theory in Somalia. Carson and AU officials are bent on denying indiscriminate shelling, but they never actually deny the casualties. Only the blame. This may play in America and Uganda, but Somalis feel somewhat different when an AU shell lands on their house and no one from the TFG ever arrives.

Foreign governments simply don’t want to fight the war being presented, but they cannot bend Somalia’s counterinsurgency into conventional warfare.

The West and the AU occupy an admittedly tough situation: how to balance the need to respond with the need to de-escalate. The regional and international community justifiably fears that no response will embolden al-Shabab, to the point where the TFG may prematurely collapse. But this fear of non-action has translated into strict offense and retaliation, mentally anchoring the West and Africa to conventional warfare when counterinsurgencies are better waged by not firing.

Thomas Hammes, a career US Marine, recounts in The Sling and the Stone that Marines made great beat cops in Mogadishu during 1992, canvassing the city and getting to know the people. Offensive actions were limited and the city returned to a semblance of normalcy. The UN then did what many military analysts warned against when it took over control of the city - it withdrew into bases and rely on superior firepower. UN forces lost control of authority in and information from the streets, leading to inevitable retreat.

Currently, there’s no talk of using additional troops to saturate Mogadishu so that the AU may intimately connect with Somalis and begin real counterinsurgency. All that’s heard are war-cries to attack al-Shabab.

While the positive effects of Washington and the AU’s expanding policy have yet to be seen, the negative consequences are already beginning to manifest. Civilian casualty reports in the media have tainted and thus limited AU troops during the entire process. And while many analysts predict that al-Shabab would fragment if left to its own devices, a conclusion far from certain, more accepted is that foreign forces unite Somalia’s various militias. Rather than stem the insurgency virus, it quickly internalized in Puntland.

"Sheikh Mohamed Saiid Atom has been recruiting Islamists in those hilly areas since 2005," said resident Hussein Ali of the now famous al-Shabab spinoff. "He has indoctrinated the youth using three means: a huge amount of money from the sales of weapons, sharia law and convincing his clan they have little political influence on Puntland's administration.”

Now Atom, who believes “we are part and parcel of al Shabaab,” has decided to throw his full weight into the war. Both al-Shabab and Atom would later deny working together as insurgents sometimes do, one more sign of collaboration.

Elsewhere Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, chief of Hizbul Islam, has apparently switched back to al-Shabab’s side. Aweys, who has feuded with al-Shabab since 2009, entered negotiations with the TFG last month after half of Hizbul-Islam reverted to al-Shabab. Lately he’s been renegotiating with al-Shabab too, announcing the other day that “their discussions were continuing in good form.” Aweys subsequently attacked government forces near the presidential palace.

Conversely the Sunni militia Ahlu Sunna, once allied with the government and al-Shabab’s only non-state enemy, has been a non-factor in recent weeks. Having split from the government in June and demanded international mediation, it has given no indication of repairing the damage.

Without an immediate emphasis on counterinsurgency and non-military operations, al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage may not be far off when he predicts, "We are telling the African populations not to get duped by the mirage peddled by your leaders. Let your sons not be annihilated in Mogadishu. Those who are pushing your leaders such as the U.S. and Europe and the like are in agony in areas they invaded. All they want is for you to share with their people the loss, mourning and cries."

July 30, 2010

Quotes of the Day

"We can do nothing but implore the person that has those classified top secret documents not to post any more. I think it's important that no more damage be done to our national security."

- White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs

"Secretary Gates could have used his time, as other nations have done, to announce a broad inquiry into these killings. He could have announced specific criminal investigations into the deaths we have exposed. He could have announced a panel to hear the heartfelt dissent of U.S. soldiers, who know this war from the ground. He could have apologized to the Afghani people.

But he did none of these things. He decided to treat these issues and the countries affected by them with contempt. Instead of explaining how he would address these issues, he decided to announce how he would suppress them. This behavior is unacceptable. We will not be suppressed. We will continue to expose abuses by this administration and others."

- statement from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who US Secretary Robert Gates previously said had blood on his hands

Pew Magnifies US-Indian Bias in Pakistan

Dominating Pew Research’s latest findings in Pakistan is an uptick in Taliban approval, but the rest of the report explains why. Although 54% of respondents consider the Taliban as a serious threat, with 65% disapproval, adding India to the equation reveals the truth.

The Taliban’s threat rate plunges to 23% compared to India’s 53%.

As suspected US officials have failed to convince Pakistanis that the Taliban or al-Qaeda is the greatest threat to national security (only 3% listed al-Qaeda). If the numbers were broken down further between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, it’s likely that the TTP would absorb a majority of the spite and leave Mullah Omar with a comfortable margin. By utterly failing to address Pakistan’s security concerns with India, President Barack Obama has ensured that Pakistanis continue to view New Delhi and not the Taliban as public enemy number one, impeding his surge in Afghanistan.

Somewhat humorously in Pew’s press release, at the very bottom under “Also of Note,” is the key to the whole equation. 80% of respondents said Kashmir is a major issue, with almost as many labeling it “very big problem.” 8% view Obama positively. These numbers are directly correlated.

As a result the separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) enjoys support even after launching its Mumbai attack. Only 35% of respondents held a negative view with 40% offering no opinion, a partial admission of clandestine support. US officials have repeatedly called for Pakistan’s dismantling of LeT along with the Haqqani network, but without addressing Kashmir’s uncertain status, Pakistani officials have no public support to pursue this end nor strategic reason to.

Since Washington has chosen to avoid Kashmir and still demand Islamabad’s loyalty, logic would assume that substitute measures be devised to cobble together an attractive counteroffer. But both means have proven inadequate for the job. Although Pew’s poll was taken during late April 2010 and not after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit, the numbers suggest Pakistanis remain confused as to the state of US aid.

Apparently the message still needs tuning: “When asked how much financial aid the U.S. gives to their country, 23% of Pakistanis say it gives a lot, 22% say it gives a little, and 10% say the U.S. gives Pakistan hardly any financial assistance. Another 16% of Pakistanis say the U.S. does not give their country any aid, and nearly three-in-ten (29%) say they do not know how much financial assistance their country receives from the American government.”

This comes months after Clinton launched a “fact-correcting” campaign in 2009.

And as we analyzed just last week, using aid as the sole carrot makes for ineffective persuasion. Aid doesn’t buy immunity in other areas of engagement - Obama is weighed down significantly by US foreign policy. Pakistani approval of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq dwell at 6%, Iran at 7% and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at 5%. That should put to rest any doubts that Israel and Palestine are connected to South Asia, along with the wider Middle East and into Africa.

“De-linkage” should be illegal.

By discounting Kashmir and Afghanistan from Pakistani concerns, US aid necessitates strings and reinforces the perception of a client state. This is what Pakistanis mean when 70% want better relations with America. 60% consider the US as an enemy and 11% a partner - they’re looking for equality. The same goes for India where 72% of Pakistanis want improved relations, similar to the majority that considers India a threat.

The recipe for improved US-Pakistani relations, in addition to humanitarian aid, is simple: engage Kashmir, a quicker but still organized withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a Palestinian state. Realistically, Washington is unlikely to enjoy favorable Pakistani sentiment during the rest of its expedition in Afghanistan.

July 29, 2010

Disinformation Comes Fast and Furious

Propaganda began to flow as soon as US and Arab League officials hit the media. The headline: Arab League backs Palestinians on restarting talks. And the very opening sentence: “Arab nations on Thursday backed the Palestinian president's refusal to immediately restart direct talks with Israel despite heavy U.S. pressure.”

Now it’s true that the Arab League has endorsed direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Technically US State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley is accurate when saying, "We are encouraged by reports that Arab states meeting in Cairo agree on the need to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to reach a final status agreement.”

"We feel the time is right [for direct talks]," Crowley said. "We hope to have these negotiations begin quite soon, but obviously there are still decisions to be made."

The Arab League does believe that direct negotiations are the only means to reach a final status agreement. It just hasn’t approved of them yet - it believes in the time but not the environment. And the truth is being jumbled in the competition for perceptions, all sides desperate to portray their own line as successful. Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani told reporters, "We are sure that Israel is not serious about the peace process. Israel just wants to waste time. We have confidence in America and in President Obama to reach peace, but the question is can that be achieved?”

Sounds like a paradox. Expressing that he's "full of doubts" in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Al Thani said the Arab League also sent a letter to Obama explaining the price of direct talks: a settlement freeze.

Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, said that direct negotiations must be preceded by "written guarantees" from the United States, “particularly on the subject of Israeli settlements.” Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Abbas, explained, "There is a green light from the Arabs to go to direct negotiations if we receive terms of reference... in line with the letter.”

Said Moussa: "We know that Netanyahu is not serious. But we are addressing the US because the Americans are addressing us. We won't enter negotiations without a time limit or a reference, as was the case in the past. The Israelis are playing a political game by winning time. This is what we are trying to prevent by proving that they are not serious."

On cue Netanyahu, like US officials, ignored the request completely in a statement from his office: "In response to the Arab League's decision, the prime minister said he is willing to begin direct, honest talks with the Palestinian Authority already in the next few days.”

He could if he freezes settlement activity in the West Bank in Jerusalem. Abbas said before the Arab League meeting, "When I receive written assurances [about] accepting the 1967 borders and halting settlement [building], I will go immediately to the direct talks.”

But with US and Israeli officials doing everything in their power to circumvent this demand, the status of direct talks remains in limbo. So close and yet so far.

Netanyahu Sabotaging Himself

One only needed to view the Haaretz and Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night and Thursday morning for a perfect picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In one corner, Netanyahu: Israel’s government will fall if settlement freeze continues. In the other, Abbas seeks Arab backing to nix talks. Their respective audiences jeered accordingly, one calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation and the other for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s.

This is the environment in which direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to take root.

The prospect doesn’t look good for President Barack Obama. Hardly any discernible progress is visible after three months of indirect talks, creating an immediate barrier to direct talks. His greatest achievement is building the situation up to a decision on direct talks, something that Israeli’s lobby and the US Congress played a significant role in. Obama would avoid a confrontation at the UN in September if he could somehow convince Netanyahu that freezing settlements in the West Bank, and possibly East Jerusalem, favors both Israel’s and his own long-term interests.

But the situation has stood in this position all along, making it hard to believe indirect talks have moved an inch.

One then wonders how much further indirect talks could be had Obama kept Israel’s focus on them. He’s making the fatal mistake that, because no US president has truly engaged the Palestinians, he could get by with pledges and rhetoric. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a theater of action where words are inherently distrusted. He hasn’t learned either, again pledging to Abbas his full support to a Palestinian state in exchange for direct talks.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even joined in, presumably because Palestinians believe they are so pro-Israeli.

But they offer no definition of any kind, meaning this state could potentially be envisioned as weak. A pledge is nothing new. Obama offered one during his first days, in Cairo, and many times until this point. Yet to this very day Obama and the White House are trying to pressure Abbas into direct negotiations while the status quo still favors Israel. A settlement freeze is a means to altering the status quo and, perhaps more importantly, perceptions of the current reality, which is why the Palestinians consider a freeze so important.

And why they believe Washington isn’t serious without one.

Abbas is touring the region before meeting with the Arab League to approve or reject direct talks; soon he will meet with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Many reports indicate that Abbas and the Arab League are unwilling to enter direct talks without any compensation. Risking their own necks for Netanyahu’s isn’t a persuasive offer. The only person currently saying Abbas might enter direct talks is Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, necessitating a bowl of salt.

Abbas didn’t meet with Netanyahu while they both visited King Abdullah in Jordan, although they are sparring through the media.

In a speech after returning home, Netanyahu elaborated, "We talked about promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and in the whole region. I welcome Jordan's efforts for progress toward these goals. The formula for peace is a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

This sounds like a rejection of Abbas’s offer to station NATO forces along Palestine’s border, possibly even preconditions for a Palestinian state. Definitely not what Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, meant when he told reporters, "the key to direct negotiations lies in the Israeli prime minister's hands." Erekat renewed his demand for a settlement freeze, explicitly negotiating, "These are not Palestinian conditions, they are Israeli obligations which must be met.”

The Palestinians and Arab League couldn’t care less if Netanyahu’s government topples and takes Lieberman down too. Their experience tells them that any other Israeli politicians are an upgrade. Abbas also realizes that Netanyahu’s clock has less time than his own, that he could wait him out, and that he might find himself too weak domestically if crumbles to Netanyahu. Theoretically the White House would also have an easier time with Kadima or Labor in power.

In laying the irony on the table rather than hide his precarious position and devise a way out, it’s almost like Netanyahu is actively calling for his own end. Suicide has always been considered a noble end for the trapped.

July 28, 2010

America's High Cost of Defeat

By Irfan Husain, from The Dawn:

"The vast trove of leaked intelligence reports recently posted by Wikileaks over the Internet has elicited a furious denial from the ISI about its alleged role in Afghanistan that emerges from many of the cables. Washington has similarly denounced the release of these secret documents on the irrepressible website.

For me, what was more interesting and depressing than the allegations of ISI involvement in the burgeoning Taliban insurgency is the sense of hopelessness that emerges from these reports. Time after time, American soldiers and intelligence specialists voice their frustration and anger over their failure to gain hearts and minds among local Afghans, as well as the incompetence and corruption they see among Afghan police and officials.

In short, these are not the voices of an army winning the war. Almost uniformly, they carry a sense of foreboding and of failure. Although these reports relate to the pre-surge period, they do not convey much hope. Clearly, things are not going the American-led coalition’s way. We have been seeing the steady rise in casualties among NATO forces, and nobody in a responsible position seems to hold out much hope that the situation is about to change anytime soon.

Soon after the invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, an apocryphal story hinting at the nightmare to come did the rounds. At a mosque in the badlands under Taliban control, a cleric declared in his sermon following Friday prayers: 'See how mighty is Allah! Earlier, the Americans were too far away for us to kill. But now, by the grace of Allah, they have landed on our doorstep!'

It sounded slightly funny at the time, as the quick victory of the allied forces seemed to signal the end of the Taliban. It doesn’t sound so funny now.

As the somber tone at the recent conference on Afghanistan held in Kabul suggested, nobody has any high hopes of a quick battlefield victory. Equally, nobody expects any rapid transformation in the capabilities of the Afghan bureaucracy or its security forces.

Already, this is the longest war the United States has ever been engaged in. Hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lost lives later, victory is further away today than it seemed at the outset of the campaign. Indeed, the talk is not of victory any more, but of an exit strategy.

How to declare victory and leave is the question occupying the minds of generals and politicians in Washington and London.

The frail reed these policy-makers are clinging to is their desperate hope that they will be able to train Afghan soldiers and policemen to take over security duties when ISAF troops leave. This is a clear victory of hope over experience.

Time after time, Western soldiers engaged in training Afghans have complained of their lack of motivation and leadership. Absenteeism is rife, as is drug use. As many lethal incidents have shown, many Afghan soldiers and policemen are prone to defecting to the enemy after turning their weapons on their Western comrade-in-arms.

The Obama surge that committed an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was the last throw of the dice. Already, these reinforcements seem like a stream of water dribbling into a vast desert. Accompanying this sense of failure is a drumbeat of critical comment in much of the liberal Western media.

In Canada, where I am at present, and in England, friends constantly ask what their soldiers are dying for. Whatever their political affiliations, they see no point in continuing a futile war in which their national interest is not directly involved. They no longer believe politicians who declare that their troops in Afghanistan are protecting the streets of Manchester and Montreal. They point out, quite correctly, that the threat to their countries comes from home-grown young Muslim radicals rather than from the Taliban.

I reply that had I been a Canadian or a Brit, I would have also demanded a pullout of Western forces. But as a Pakistani, I hope that they’ll stay for as long as it takes to defeat the Taliban.

For me, the issue is crystal clear: as soon as the coalition forces leave, the Taliban will be back in Kabul, and the civil war will resume. Pakistan will end up supporting the Taliban again, while India and Iran back the Northern Alliance. And inevitably, the Taliban will help their jihadi brethren in Pakistan. Without the drone attacks to check them, the Pakistani militants in Waziristan and elsewhere will further tighten their grip over the tribal areas.

Above all, a Taliban victory over the United States and its allies will bring more jihadis from around the world flocking to the region. When the mujahideen forced the mighty Red Army out of Afghanistan, that victory resounded across the Islamic world. Imagine how the defeat of the remaining superpower will be perceived by the faithful.

The entire region will become a hotbed of extremist violence. The Taliban – and Al Qaeda – will have greater credibility and appeal than ever before. Girls will be sent home from their schools, and women will be relegated to the second-class status they had endured in the earlier bout of Taliban rule. And the fallout from this allied defeat will spread over Pakistan and cross the border into India, apart from enveloping the Central Asian republics.

Triumphant and energized, political Islam will be a major destabilizing force. As a Pakistani, I shudder to think of the consequences of this chain of events. Unfortunately, far too many of my countrymen, both on the left and the right, are convinced that for things to become normal, Western forces must leave Afghanistan. They are naive in thinking that the extremist genie can ever be put back in the bottle.

There has been much discussion about talking to the Taliban. The point to remember is that thus far, Mullah Omar has ignored all these feelers. He sees that public opinion in the West is now dictating a timetable for retreat. He knows that all he has to do is wait. The allies have to win outright, while the Taliban can settle for a draw and still win.

In words attributed to Mullah Omar: 'The West has the clocks, but we have the time.'"

Cameron Plays Bad Cop For Obama

He may have wanted to call Washington for advice on how to play both good and bad cop to different states. Then again, the US position towards India and Pakistan parallels Britain's. In Bangalore, India to advance security and economic ties, UK Prime Minister David Cameron agreed for the first time to export nuclear technology to India.

"I want to take the relationship between India and Britain to the next level,” he said in a speech at the headquarters of Infosys. “I want to make it stronger, wider and deeper.”

Cameron had a very different message for Pakistan.

Attempting to minimize the fallout, he appeared to take up President Barack Obama’s dirty work when telling reporters, "We should be very, very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan. But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world."

Cameron's disclaimer wasn’t nearly enough. Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner in London, told Al Jazeera that he had received hundreds of angry calls from British and national Pakistanis offering "a very sharp reaction" to Cameron's comments. Hasan expects, "Cameron will review his statement, clarify his position, because we need to be supported not criticized for what we are doing.”

The latest Wikileaks have obviously jammed America and Pakistan into an embarrassing corner. In terms of America, US public support is plunging and Afghan officials are demanded more action against Islamabad, now at fresh odds with Washington. Pakistan has nowhere to run, with ISI’s connection to the Afghan Taliban in plain view and India breathing down its neck.

Each have legitimate grievances, thus why all parties are caught in a rancor is understandable. The solution to this equation - specifically ending Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban - is by no means readily available. But eliminating possibilities is. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen tried to charm Pakistanis before giving orders, only for their hammer and anvil routine to shine through.

Pakistanis are too accustomed to the West’s games. Cameron ran into a brick wall before opening his mouth.

The means to changing Pakistan’s behavior is both extremely simple and impossibly complex: change US policy. The current policy feeds Pakistan with a few domestic carrots while ignoring its external threats. Military and economic aid don’t encourage Pakistan to break from the Taliban when Islamabad views America’s war in Afghanistan, for a variety of reasons besides the ISI, as destabilizing and futile.

America handcuff’s Pakistan’s options. Islamabad needs leverage on the Taliban if US troops withdraw in the near future, and it must keep that leverage if Washington hangs around for a few more years before pulling the plug. Try as US officials do, they will not convince the ISI that Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis will some day turn on them. Although Pakistan’s public is having a harder time choosing sides on the ISI, America’s presence in Afghanistan serves as a natural buffer for Islamabad so long as President Barack Obama’s aimless surge continues.

But if there was a strategy for cutting the ISI’s strings to the Taliban and Kashmir separatist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), reducing the glare of pro-Indian bias appears the best bet.

Cameron’s mere image was totally wrong; bashing Pakistan from India is a faux pas. Favoring India over Pakistan is the substantive error. Though Cameron expressed his desire to see both grow as strong democracies, a difference in tone is clear. Like America, Britain wants a stable Pakistan so that it may function as a reliable proxy state. They want India to boost each other's economies and, in America’s case, buffer China. America seeks to block a civil nuclear agreement with Pakistan and China, while Britain is opening its technology to India.

India is treated as an equal while Pakistan is not. The Nation may be Pakistan’s most nationalistic paper, but it sums up how many Pakistanis feel:
“If anyone doubted the working of the Indo-US nexus in Afghanistan then Special Envoy Holbrooke’s recent interview on CNN should clear the air on this count once and for all. According to him, while the US is seeking to “reduce the gap” between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it keeps in mind the strategic interests of India and other regional neighbours. Now the only other regional neighbours of both Pakistan and Afghanistan are Iran and China. The US is hardly sensitive to Iranian interests given how it is seeking to destabilize the regime there through the regional neighborhood. As for China, the US is seeking India as a balancer so it would hardly push Chinese strategic interests forward. Clearly, Holbrooke’s concern is primarily with India, even though India shares no border with Afghanistan and has ambitions that include undermining Pakistan.”
And nowhere is this more evident than in Kashmir: “Even more damaging has been the recent statement from the US State Department declaring Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir as being an internal matter of the Indian state - despite UNSC resolutions to the contrary.”

The final result singles out Pakistan when America and India are also believed to be playing double games in the region. No amount of US aid will conceal this inequality. Halting support to proxy insurgents is no less dangerous than ceding regional hegemony in Kashmir, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, to India. The possibility could increase militant, anti-US/Indian sentiment.

While on the reverse side India may feel put off, the West's relationship is theoretically strong enough to appease New Delhi while also broaching Kashmir. If not the West and India's relationship is more tenuous than they let on. America argues that its policy towards Pakistan is changing, but nothing outside of the state suggests so.

Washington and London show every indication of preserving the status quo except for the vilified ISI, the only scapegoat they have left for Afghanistan’s drift.

Greg Mortenson Exposes Obama’s “Seamless Transition”

Not to be missed in the aftermath of Wikileaks is Greg Mortenson’s interview with Charlie Rose. Mortenson occupies a complex position: a social activist resistant to heavy US military presence exploited by the Pentagon and media to justify a heavy military presence. Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, is standard US officer reading, putting him on speaking terms with many US military commanders including Afghanistan’s last two generals.

That should qualifying him as a relative insider. Maybe Washington will arrest him for leaking.

Like the Wikileaks, most of Mortenson’s interview is nothing secret and still explosive. As President Barack Obama and other US officials made their cases for General David Petraeus after firing Stanley McChrystal, they kept falling back to the scripted lines of “no change in policy” and “seamless transition.” Even Senator John Kerry, who regularly voices skepticism in Afghanistan and yesterday exclaimed “what is going on here?” said during Petraeus’s confirmation that he would “undoubtedly make this critical transition seamless.”

Hiccups were expected, they warned, but Petraeus guaranteed the smoothest hand-over.

Though true in relation to other available US commanders, warning signs existed from the beginning and hindsight has made clear that “smooth” in Washington remains bumpy in Afghanistan. July 2011’s implications remain up in the air and disagreement surrounds a potential military operation in Kandahar, evident when McChrystal postponed the main operations until fall. Petraeus would ultimately cancel a large scale campaign, at least in theory.

Some officials, such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen, continue speaking of Kandahar as if the operation is still a go.

Mortenson explains why in detail, claiming McChrystal put a stop to Kandahar’s operation under intense pressure from local elders, who Mortenson says developed a tight relationship with McChrystal. Petraeus revived the operation due to what Mortenson describes as pressure from the White House to “see something.” The Telegraph reported days ago that Petraeus finally decided Afghans would resist anything close to what the Pentagon had planned.

Afghanistan’s NGO Security Office told him so directly.

Mullen and company keep chattering away on Kandahar because Obama’s surge begins to look even more aimless without an operation. The US military would be admitting that it cannot seize the Taliban’s capital. Counterinsurgency based on local government and social programs may succeed over time, but not by July 2011 or July 2014. Washington needed something to show the US public now to support the war going forward, especially after Marjah’s underwhelming performance.

No operation in Kandahar leaves a giant void in US strategy to “break the Taliban’s momentum.” Surely this is not the definition of seamless.

But the most indecent exposure of Washington’s lies oozes from Nuristan province. Mortenson says McChrystal and his staff regularly discussed security and development with elders, and that trust was forged between the two parties. Only Nuristan’s elders wanted arms, living in saturated Taliban country, and McChrystal couldn’t fulfill their request due to opposition from Kabul.

Petraeus would secure President Hamid Karzai’s approval to expand local militias a month after McChrystal’s exit, to a still modest 10,000 no less. The Taliban already move freely in Nuristan after a number of US forward operating bases (FOB) were controversially dismantled. Mortenson says leading elders - the only non-Taliban authority in the province - organized meetings with Taliban officials days after McChrystal’s termination.

Right as US officials vowed a seamless transition to the US, NATO, Afghan, and Pakistani publics.

Mortenson’s admiration in the US military is stunning when compared to the divergence of his opinion. One repeatedly wonders if this man is so listened to, why isn’t he being heard? Mortenson recounts the current backwardness of US policy during last month’s Consultative Peace Jirga. Afghan Education Minister Ghulam Wardak had asked for $250 million to renovate the country’s school system.

At a cost of $1 million annually, 250 US troops could be sacrificed to provide this funding. Mortenson said Wardak is expecting around $50 million - 50 US soldiers equate to Afghanistan’s school system. This is June 2010, not 2004 or 2009.

Mortenson believes that US troops should begin withdrawing, with most of their expenses allocated to non-military operations. While still unrealistic for producing lasting security (America and the Taliban would have to abide by a non-aggression pact), it offers a more viable option than what has become a disaster. Mortenson said he understood the fine line of secrecy, but believed the US people need to know Wikileaks because Obama’s surge isn’t working. The White House and Pentagon seem more concerned with defending their failing strategy than developing a new one.

Petraeus’ takeover was nothing near seamless and pushed back July 2011 even more than it had already been delayed. US officials, usually so eager to speak with Mortenson, don’t seem to hear what he’s saying now.

July 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

“Today the White House put out a private briefing to reporters about Wikileaks and me and it quoted a section from an interview with me in Die Spiegel saying that I enjoy crushing bastards. Somehow the White House finds that offensive."

- Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

Handling the Next Marjah With Care

War has a way of turning the random into causality. It was only appropriate that a realtime example would simultaneously validate the latest Wikileaks that US and NATO forces in Afghanistan underreport civilian casualties. The Afghan government, citing internal intelligence, claims that between 39 and 52 civilians were killed in a rocket attack in Rigi village, part of Sangin district in Helmand province.

NATO says no such incident occurred.

"All fires were observed and accounted for and struck the intended target," read a statement from Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, NATO communications director. "Coalition forces reported six insurgents killed in the strike, including a Taliban commander, a report verified by ground observation and intelligence sources... Any speculation at this point of alleged civilian casualties in Rigi village is completely unfounded.”

Afghans tell a different, more jumbled story played out over five days. Preliminary reports of an attack began to circulate Friday, the date of the incident, but weren’t picked up by media outlets due to lack of source verification. Abdul Ghafaar staggered into a Kandahar hospital on Saturday and offered the first battle account to the Associated Press. Other witnesses soon turned up.

The final picture describes the Taliban evacuating Rigi village days before what would become the battle with NATO forces. Witnesses say the Taliban opened fire from the tops of several buildings and NATO answered; rockets struck a compound where a group of families allegedly sought refuge. The BBC said it sent an Afghan reporter to Rigi to interview residents, who described the attack and said they had buried 39 people. The Afghan government put the figure at 52.

Colonel Wayne Shanks, an ISAF spokesman, said the location of the reported deaths was "several kilometers away from where we had engaged enemy fighters.”

An admittedly fascinating trait of war is how easily a rift opens between six dead Taliban and up to 50 civilians, with no middle-ground. At least not yet. Investigators will swarm Rigi now that the story has gone international. This is no guarantee of truth though. Admiral Smith insisted, “We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”

The problem, as many more people now realize thanks to Wikileaks, is that US and NATO command have systematically downplayed civilian casualties since the war began. One tactic blames the Taliban even when NATO forces unduly threatened civilians. And a number of ghastly cover-ups already occurred this year, including the infamous killing of three women near Gardēz, the capital of Paktia province.

So grisly was the incident in Khataba village that Vice-Admiral William H. McRaven himself, chief of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), visited the village days after the cover-up became exposed. The London Times reported that McRaven wasn’t pleased with the Times’ presence, but he likely abhorred their headline: “US army chief begs Afghans to forgive.”

So is Rigi’s future the same?

The question’s magnitude surpasses most civilian casualties. It could be argued that all errant air-strikes bear strategic consequences by eroding support within Afghanistan’s government and its population. Yet some civilian casualties weigh more than others. Just recently the US air-strike in Kunduz province approved by a German commander ensured that no new German forces were headed to Afghanistan. A rocket strike in the opening days of Operation Moshtarak left 12 Afghans dead and hijacked the US narrative in Marjah for months.

The question becomes irrelevant if Rigi turns out to be Taliban smoke and mirrors, but is worth examining for one overriding reason. If not today, US officials will inevitably face a real episode in Sangin now that US forces are finally assuming control of the area after nine years of British command.

Depending on whether US or UK troops potentially fired the rockets, a terrible last or first impression was just made.

Sangin is the most notorious Afghan village in Britain. Labeled a Taliban “honey pot,” Sangin is a death trap for UK troops, claiming 100 of the 324 fallen. Although they’re hardly to blame, progress on the security, economic, and social fronts after nine years is minimal. UK officials flanked out after the transfer announcement to dispel the image of retreat, Basra still fresh on their minds, but honor is separate from military gains.

Vastly outnumbered in relation to the Taliban and the population, Sangin locals claim UK troops can’t move 100 yards outside their base without triggering Taliban fire. Mines blanket the spider-web of dirt roads and paths. Mohammad Jan said British influence fails to extend to his shop on the district center’s outskirts. The fields beyond are Taliban country. And without constant interaction with the locals, all Britain has to show for its years in Sangin is legitimate hatred - not the recipe for counterinsurgency.

David Gill had visited the village three times during 2008. Though UK officials highlighted improving schools and a “thriving bazaar,” when Gill returned in August 2009 he found, “a ghost town in Death Valley where you drive through and all you see is a sign flapping in the wind.” Having traveled Afghanistan on assignment, Gill explained that some children wave in more secure areas, but in Sangin you feel “the intense hatred of a people who hate everything you stand for.”

He isn’t exaggerating. One year later and UK marines are just trying to stay alive until their final shift. Winning “hearts and minds” has taken a back-seat to survival. Hard as it is to blame them, checking out early has made the situation that much more intolerable. One soldier bitterly remarked, “It's a joke. Everyone just wants to get out with their legs intact. The population hates us around here."

Out in the streets Haji Akhatar Mohammad affirmed this belief: “The British had been there for a long time. They were not helpful and there was no good result from them. They didn’t understand the people and there was too much fighting. People are happy the British are moving.”

Mohammad Wali echoed, “The British killed people and disturbed people, nothing else. The British don’t know our culture.”

Given that potential civilian casualties merely add to the well of hatred, the best case scenario for NATO as a whole and America in particular is that US troops had no hand in the Rigi incident, if there is one. A twist in Sangin is that US troops apparently might find a warm welcome. Haji Akhatar Mohammad ditched his negatively when replying, “The US troops help the people and have had good results in other districts. They have increased security and found people jobs.”

Mohammad Wali disagrees along with many Afghans in Marjah and Kandahar, but the possibility remains that any change could be good change after such a dark period of British rule. Implication of UK troops in firing the rockets could enhance the perception that US troops will be more accommodating and less heavy handed. The downside should be obvious by now.

If US troops are responsible for any potential casualties and local residents become aware, and they will, a worse first impression couldn’t have been made.

US troops offer no certainty of improving upon UK gains. Though NATO’s force ratio will increase with President Barack Obama’s surge, Marjah has proven that upwards of 10,000 soldiers are necessary to permanently hold a moderately sized village and its surrounding rural area. Sangin’s police are also considered totally corrupt. A change in attitude could go far, but America is likely to suffer similar logistics and operational problems as Britain, making every single incident crucial to winning over the population.

50 dead civilians would be an ominous start to what already feels like an endless battle. Don't believe any time-line.

What exactly happened in Sangin on July 23rd is of grave consequence to US strategy in Afghanistan. The US media is treating the casualty reports as standard and Sangin as a routine village, like they’ve been covering it all along, but the US press kept silent on Sangin from 2001 all the way through Operation Moshtarak. Here, in the heart of Helmand province, US troops will find even more intense fighting 70 miles upstream from Marjah.

Another “opium, Taliban stronghold.” The next Marjah.

July 26, 2010

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Gets Real

"The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war. And they need to be stopped. If that makes me dangerous in their eyes, so be it."

In a SPIEGEL interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 39, discusses his decision to publish the Afghanistan war logs, the difficult balance between the public interest and the need for state secrets and why he believes people who wage war are more dangerous than him.

SPIEGEL: You are about to publish a vast amount of classified data on the war in Afghanistan. What is your motivation?

Assange: These files are the most comprehensive description of a war to be published during the course of a war -- in other words, at a time when they still have a chance of doing some good. They cover more than 90,000 different incidents, together with precise geographical locations. They cover the small and the large. A single body of information, they eclipse all that has been previously said about Afghanistan. They will change our perspective on not only the war in Afghanistan, but on all modern wars.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that the publication of this data will influence political decision-makers?

Assange: Yes. This material shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of war. The archive will change public opinion and it will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence.

SPIEGEL: Aren't you expecting a little too much?

Assange: There is a mood to end the war in Afghanistan. This information won't do it alone, but it will shift political will in a significant manner.

SPIEGEL: The material contains military secrets and names of sources. By publishing it, aren't you endangering the lives of international troops and their informants in Afghanistan?

Assange: The Kabul files contain no information related to current troop movements. The source went through their own harm-minimization process and instructed us to conduct our usual review to make sure there was not a significant chance of innocents being negatively affected. We understand the importance of protecting confidential sources, and we understand why it is important to protect certain US and ISAF sources.

SPIEGEL: So what, specifically, did you do to minimize any possible harm?

Assange: We identified cases where there may be a reasonable chance of harm occurring to the innocent. Those records were identified and edited accordingly.

SPIEGEL: Is there anything that you consider to be a legitimate state secret?

Assange: There is a legitimate role for secrecy, and there is a legitimate role for openness. Unfortunately, those who commit abuses against humanity or against the law find abusing legitimate secrecy to conceal their abuse all too easy. People of good conscience have always revealed abuses by ignoring abusive strictures. It is not WikiLeaks that decides to reveal something. It is a whistleblower or a dissident who decides to reveal it. Our job is to make sure that these individuals are protected, the public is informed and the historical record is not denied.

SPIEGEL: But in the end somebody has to decide whether you publish or not. Who determines the criteria? WikiLeaks considers itself to be a trailblazer when it comes to freedom of information, but it lacks transparency in its own publishing decisions.

Assange: This is ridiculous. We are clear about what we will publish and what we will not. We do not have adhoc editorial decisions. We always release the full primary sources to our articles. What other press organization has such exacting standards? Everyone should try to follow our lead.

SPIEGEL: The problem is that it is difficult to hold WikiLeaks accountable. You operate your servers in countries that offer you broad protection. Does WikiLeaks consider itself to be above the law?

Assange: WikiLeaks does not exist in outer space. We are people who exist on Earth, in particular nations, each of which have a particular set of laws. We have been legally challenged in various countries. We have won every challenge. It is courts that decide the law, not corporations or generals. The law, as expressed by constitutions and courts, has been on our side.

SPIEGEL: You have said that there is a correlation between the transparency for which you are fighting and a just society. What do you mean by that?

Assange: Reform can only come about when injustice is exposed. To oppose an unjust plan before it reaches implementation is to stop injustice.

SPIEGEL: During the Vietnam War, US President Richard Nixon once called Daniel Elsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, the most dangerous man in America. Are you today's most dangerous man or the most endangered?

Assange: The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war. And they need to be stopped. If that makes me dangerous in their eyes, so be it.

SPIEGEL: You could have started a company in Silicon Valley and lived in a home in Palo Alto with a swimming pool. Why did you decide to do the WikiLeaks project instead?

Assange: We all only live once. So we are obligated to make good use of the time that we have and to do something that is meaningful and satisfying. This is something that I find meaningful and satisfying. That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work."

Bad Cop Mullen

If there were any lingering doubts of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s real agenda during her recent visit to Pakistan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen made sure every last Pakistani heard loud and clear. This was the plan from the beginning. Clinton would lay the anvil as gently as she could, then Mullen would fly in and hammer away.

A typical good cop/bad cop, State/Defense routine.

But while this relationship may be necessary in a tough environment like Pakistan, strategy is judged by utility. Islamabad might follow US “advice” to invade North Waziristan and dismantle the Haqqani network lurking inside. Or Mullen may simply end up a bad cop, literally failing to keep the peace.

Though it’s obvious what Mullen wants, how he expects to get it makes less sense. Coming out so aggressively and bluntly against Islamabad’s support of the Haqqani’s, even as he couches his rhetoric in praise, is unlikely to generate the popular support required for Pakistani leaders to act as Washington demands. This intense level of “do more” shows no concern for winning “hearts and minds” often referenced by US officials, negating Clinton’s mild attempt to shed the carrot and stick image.

Mullen is the fourth to beat the Haqqani drums in the last week. Clinton took first aim by downplaying the dialogue between Islamabad and the Haqqanis. Days later The Wall Street Journal reported that General David Petraeus will deflect anxiety in Kandahar by, “highlighting other operations that are showing success, particularly the campaign against the Haqqani terror network."

US envoy Richard Holbrooke, described as Petraeus’s “wing-man,” then fired a direct shot into Pakistan’s belly. Said the right-hand man, “There's much more cooperation at every level. But I don't want to mislead you, it is not yet where we hope it will be. What we talk about is the Haqqani network. Let's be very specific. It's a real problem."

Mullen laid down the final gauntlet, accusing Pakistan of not taking any action against the Haqqani network. He also turned up the volume of the threat: “The Haqqani group is the most lethal network faced by the US-led international forces in Afghanistan.” The war may even be unwinnable so long as Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin operate freely.

Will Pakistanis care though? Clues are hidden within Mullen’s own words.

US officials have tried desperately to link South and North Waziristan’s militancy, capitalizing on public support against the TTP to argue for action against the Haqqanis. Washington’s problem is that the TTP and the Haqqanis, while partners in crime, are different organizations and present different threats to Pakistan. The TTP turned on Pakistanis and they turned on it. The Haqqanis have yet to bring their war to Pakistan’s cities and have no visible intention of doing so, avoiding confrontation with the government and people.

Why exactly will Pakistanis care that the Haqqani network is “the most lethal network” US troops face when most believe America is the cause of Afghanistan's violence? This doesn’t make for an effective argument, especially when Pakistanis believe their hands are full in South Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, and Swat agencies. Washington should focus on aiding the rehabilitation of these areas, but the urgency of July 2011 demands an immediate - and self-serving - invasion into North Waziristan.

Nor does Mullen help his cause by repeating Clinton’s demand for action against al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Pakistani officials already rejected Clinton’s accusation that someone within the government knows their locations. True or not, Mullen will reap no benefit from copying her.

Two bad cops don’t make a right cop.

Mullen then revealed the largest gap in US policy towards Pakistan. He’s probably lost count of how many times he’s pressured Islamabad to clamp down on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), allegedly funded by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Here he is once again demanding action against LeT, but more desperately now that the group is launching attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan. Mullen realizes his normal tactics haven’t produced the desired results so he’s ratcheting up LeT as a “global threat” with dreams of al-Qaeda.

“There is heightened concern about LeT’s emergence,” Mullen warned, “and what is significant is its emergence not only on the regional stage but potentially as a terror organization with global aspiration. There is an increased level of concern where the LeT is and where it appears to be headed.”

It’s certainly possible that LeT has global aspirations. Mullen never explains why LeT, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), or any other Kashmir separatist groups, fight in the first place though.

He probably couldn’t remember the last time that he raised the conflict in Kashmir. While promising India that Washington will "bring an extraordinary amount of pressure" on Pakistan to dismantle LeT, no similar pledge is offered to Pakistan on Kashmir’s status. No mention made of Srinagar's month long riot nor its uncertain future. Mullen spoke of counter-terrorism, not counterinsurgency, insisting “the entire administration” is working towards destroying LeT.

The same cannot be said for healing the root cause that is Kashmir.

Try as they do to conceal Indian bias in US-Pakistani relations, US officials inevitably expose Kashmir’s paradox. Washington is an active player behind the Pakistani-Indian curtains, just unwilling to go anywhere near Kashmir in fear of alienating India. That it alienates Pakistan fails to register or else is deemed less important. This arrangement furthers the status quo, keeping Kashmir on lock-down and separatist groups alive.

“We can certainly continue, as we always have, to encourage India to sit down, talk at high levels, engage in the issues that have created tensions between the two countries in the past,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters this week. “It is in our interest to see the kind of substantive exchanges and dialogue that is occurring at a high level between the two countries now on a regular basis.”

The catch: “ultimately, how this proceeds, at what pace – these are decisions to be made respectively by Pakistan and India.” This is US speak for hands off Kashmir, which as an international issue extends beyond Pakistan and India. The US won’t go near the Naxalite insurgency either, though it too has transformed into an international conflict. But when it comes to approving sanctions and taking military action against LeT, “Pakistan, as a UN member, must implement this international action.”

And deeper below the surface US and Indian lobbyists actively conspire to decouple Kashmir from regional instability. The Observer Research Foundation recently teamed up with the Heritage Foundation to conclude, “regional disputes are used merely as camouflage for terrorism by Pakistan,” the same flawed argument that de-links Palestine from the wider Middle East. The ORF, like Mullen, believes LeT and all other separatist groups must be brought down while leaving Kashmir untouched.

“Understanding of this reality needs to be promoted in the US,” says ORF.

What a futile strategy for gaining Pakistan’s true allegiance and convincing it to cease funding proxy groups in the region. India is believed to employ its own agents in Balochistan, the FATA, and Afghanistan. Mullen told Pakistani military leaders that the Pentagon expects them to be sensitive to US security interests, yet Washington shows little sensitivity for Pakistan’s. Islamabad was supposed to take the money, ignore favoritism towards India, and do as told.

Whatever niceties they employ, that is the relationship US officials have in mind. No wonder Pakistan is unwilling to permanently align with Washington.

The latest Wikileaks aren’t the first to accuse the ISI of providing present day support to the Afghan Taliban, and they won’t be the last. The White House is raging largely because it sold Obama’s surge on a cooperative Pakistan. National Security Adviser James Jones blasted Wikileaks but vowed, “These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."

US troops may be endangered because the leaks expose a faltering US strategy in Afghanistan. James called the Afghan review “exhaustive,” but irresponsible is more accurate. He’s also correct in the sense that the leaks won’t do any real damage to US-Pakistani relations.

Not compared to the roots of those leaks - when US officials drop by Islamabad.

July 25, 2010

Spin of the Day

"What's happening in Marjah is that the U.S. military and NATO went into one of the most difficult areas of the country, one of the bellies of the insurgency, displaced the Taliban and settled in. The people are pleased with this. This was an area called 'Little America' in the Kennedy and Johnson era. They remember the Americans. We came in with agricultural support and seed. And we broke up big drug bazaars. So a tremendous amount of gain occurred immediately.”

“Marjah was not postponed. It's simply that the transfer of security authority from the Marines to the Afghans is going slower than some of the more optimistic projections at the outset. This doesn't surprise me. As a general rule in Afghanistan, things go slower than are expected."

- Richard Holbrooke, US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, telling CNN's Fareed Zakaria that six months after Operation Moshtarak began is too soon to gauge Marjah’s success.

Remember this when July 2011 comes and goes.

Hurricane Somalia Intensifies

Given the lack of data from inside the conflict zone, Somalia may be the world’s deadliest conflict pound for pound. Survivors speak of a lunar landscape in Mogadishu, roving local militias, al-Shabab’s harsh rule, corrupt government soldiers, and of course no food. Somalians are living a nightmare reputed to keep Western intelligence agents up at night, along with African and humanitarian officials.

Unfortunately Somalia’s storm is just beginning and chasers are in for a perverse spectacle. Long have the clouds gathered, from Ethiopia’s two year invasion through 2009 to the official fusing of al-Shabab and al-Qaeda in 2010, until the sky turned pitch dark. The bombings in Kampala reverberated like the first lightning bolt. Now the American thunder is rolling in.

Members of 40 African Union have gathered in Kampala to decide Somalia's future. Presumably one of the best opportunities to stem the flow of blood, now was the chance to establish an international framework centered on deescalation, strict oversight, and going local. Many future problems created by the events that transpired could have been avoided. But the message of one guest in particular, US Attorney General Eric Holder, “heavily tilted towards security concerns in the Horn of Africa region.”

“I believe he wants to send a signal of strong support to the African Union in terms of fighting terrorists, maintain peace and security on the continent,” Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume said of President Barack Obama.

Accordingly, AU commission chairman Jean Ping declared at the summit, "Guinea is preparing a battalion to be sent to Somalia immediately. Djibouti prepared a battalion six months ago. Guinea's commanders are in Mogadishu preparing for the arrival of their troops... There will be a rapid surge to reach the maximum size and the current threats will not prevent this deployment.”

The storm is still in its infancy though. African Union Mission in Somalia’s (AMISOM) numbers expanded from 6,000 to just under 8,000 when Uganda deployed its emergency forces days before Kampala. Now the AU is certain to lift the 8,000 cap on AMISOM’s mandate to make room for two battalions from Guinea and Djibouti. Ping expects the total force to soon reach 10,000.

al-Qaeda, eager to spread the conflict internationally, will likely respond with new strikes on Uganda, viewing it as the ringleader.

Thunder will follow these flashes of lightening, each round progressively escalating the conflict. Reuters reports that four other African nations have sent military commanders to Somalia: Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia. All are considering battalions or brigades for rapid deployment, likely to be launched following al-Qaeda strikes that at this point appear encouraged. The 20,000 troops demanded by Uganda President Yoweri Museyeni are becoming reality.

Ping also repeated Museveni’s call for an offensive mandate: "If this request is answered positively, our troops will attack.”

Both sides appear eager for war and the West is quick to please both. In an interview with allAfrica.com, Johnnie Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, warns, “Given the magnitude of the problems on three levels – domestic, regional, international – now is the time for the international community to recognize that this problem will only get worse for all of us if we do not come together to find a solution.”

Ironically, America’s urgency to act is nearly certain to produce the opposite goal of its strategy.

One fatal error besets US policy in Somalia: the AU, with US support, is waging a conventional war instead of counterinsurgency. Every problem - lack of reliable government, indiscriminate fire from foreign troops, fractured political and social fabric, poverty, regionalization, perplexed foreign governments - is a counterinsurgency problem. But instead of confronting the insurgency, the only realistic chance of defeating it, the AU and Washington have sunk into denial mode.

“I think it is the correct policy,” says Carson of America’s support for AU escalation. “The policy that we pursue towards Somalia is supported by IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an organization of six eastern African nations]. It is a policy that was designed and orchestrated by the people of Somalia and supported by the region to bring together a transitional government that would bring in as many clans and sub-clan groups as possible.”

Sounds good, but when asked, “Why hasn't the TFG been effective?” Carson responds with a non-reply: “The TFG needs to improve its game. It needs to be more active and energetic – more inclusive, governing better.” He then downplays child soldiers, saying, “I believe those stories are an exaggeration... not that there aren't child soldiers around,” before committing the primal counterinsurgency sin: accepting civilian casualties as part of war and blaming the insurgent.

Carson tacitly condoned indiscriminate fire by AU troops that, “may occur, yes, and it's wrong whether it's a lot or a little. But I don't think it represents a policy. Somalia is probably one of the three or four most dangerous and unpredictable war zones in the world, and these kinds of things happen in those environments.”

That attitude may play in the Western media, but it doesn’t fly on the ground in Afghanistan or Somalia. Carson shares a boat with AMISOM spokesman Major Barigye Bahoku, who claimed not to know of the Washington Post or AP reports accusing AU troops of indiscriminate fire. He was plenty upset by them though, believing that AU forces aren’t responsible and that al-Shabab is solely to blame.

“Whatever case it is, I think what we should be thinking about is that the forces opposed to the peace process which unleash their regular attacks from residential areas and all types of places using human shields is what’s causing the loss of life in Mogadishu. So, blame must be taken to the doorsteps of those who always provoke those situations."

Like Carson, Bahoku expressed regrets that civilians are regularly caught in cross fire, but writes it off as “the nature of the place called Mogadishu.” This is direct evidence that the AU and America are waging conventional warfare in Somalia, not counterinsurgency, where assuming risk and protecting the population are decisive factors. Their testimony amounts to conceding that the insurgency will worsen.

Substituting counterinsurgency for conventional warfare produces a multitude of dilemmas.

Following Uganda’s increasingly offensive and destructive operations in Mogadishu, foreign forces continue to operate without a political framework inside or outside the war-zone. And Yohannes Woldemariam, writing for Pambazuka News, offers a great analogy: deploying Ugandan and other regional forces is like sending Indian troops to secure Pakistan. An oxymoron. Woldemariam also highlights the danger of supporting authoritarian governments and jeopardizing their own domestic support, a situation akin to Pervez Musharraf’s reign in Pakistan.

“In the aftermath of the Kampala bombings,” Woldemariam writes, “Obama said that Al-Qaida is racist and doesn't care about African lives. No sane person would dispute that. However, the real question is whether Obama cares about African lives. If he truly does, why would he meddle and prop up dictators like Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, dictators who willfully sacrifice their soldiers and the lives of innocents for some foreign exchange dollars? Not surprisingly, both Zenawi and Museveni are already positioning themselves to argue for expanded intervention and to milk the Kampala tragedy, with Obama playing right into it.”

For all the problems “inherited” from George Bush, Obama’s response to a 9/11 type of attack is roughly the same. Somalia’s future destabilization won’t be so easily passed off.

It’s likely that Somalia’s ground conditions will overwhelm the AU force, whether 10,000 or 20,000. Not only are they unconditioned in counterinsurgency and propping up an unpopular government, the AU needs far more troops to make a decisive impact outside Mogadishu. We’ve estimated 100,000 +, given the relative similarities with Iraq or Afghanistan and lack of a local security force.

The mystery of how al-Shabab and al-Qaeda bombed Kampala has also been resolved after Ugandan intelligence linked them with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group. From here the connection leads to Nadui Camp in the Congo, which supposedly trains al-Qaeda recruits from North Africa, Pakistan, Somalia and Eritrea. When asked about the camp, Ugandan Army spokesperson Felix Kulayigye said he deemed it unnecessary to attack since Congo was doing so - with “full support from the Americans.”

Beneath the shiny diplomatic veneer lies a military-centric strategy. Given that the Congo is almost as poor as Somalia, raiding rebel hideouts offers no salvation to the conflict in itself.

The undertone of Washington’s policy throughout Kampala’s aftermath is keeping US troops out of Somalia, thought to be hated, while throwing anything else that might stick. Such a strategy may be the "only available option," according to US officials, but is destined to inflame the conflict and increase the likelihood of US forces being deployed later on.

And from there the war spins totally out of control - not exactly “the correct policy" to stabilize Somalia.

July 24, 2010

Petraeus Winding Back Afghanistan’s Clock

When US General David Petraeus assumed command of General Stanley McChrystal’s post as chief of all foreign troops in Afghanistan, the White House rolled out a predominate theme to keep public approval from flat-lining: “change in personnel but not strategy,” in the words of President Barack Obama. He couldn’t afford to rework his surge so late in the game. Changing strategies now would delay his July 2011 transfer deadline, a possibility that could kill the support he has left.

Obama declared last Tuesday, "We have the right strategy. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity, so Afghans can take responsibility for their future. We are going to deepen regional cooperation, including with Pakistan."

Petraeus was Obama’s only chance at selling an uninterrupted transition, and few in Washington questioned his ascendancy. US officials praised his military credentials and political skills, the media fawned over America’s premier counterinsurgent (“coindinista”), and Congress would unanimously approve of his selection. Petraeus departed for Afghanistan immediately, having waited years to get his hands on the war. But he also entailed a significant degree of risk.

Petraeus too is having difficulty keeping Afghanistan on schedule, putting him on a collision course with the White House. And Obama has no one left to tap in case of emergency.

Though Petraeus had closely monitored Afghanistan during his two year tenure at United States Central Command (CENTCOM), it was not unreasonable to conduct a war review upon hitting the ground. And yet, as architect of US counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the targets of his review also seem a little strange. McChrystal’s strict rules of engagement quickly came into question even though Petraeus had led the charge to reduce civilian casualties.

Then two days ago The Wall Street Journal reported, “Gen. David Petraeus plans to ramp up the U.S. military's troop-intensive strategy in Afghanistan, according to some senior military officials, who have concluded that setbacks in the war effort this year weren't the result of the strategy, but of flaws in how it has been implemented.”

So the strategy in Marjah for example - hyping it as a Taliban stronghold, hastily cobbling together Afghan forces, an empty box of a government, and overselling the time-line - wasn’t flawed. Just the implementation of that strategy - a strategy Petraeus is now revising.

As the smoke clears around the fiery aftermath of McChrystal’s termination, it’s become evident that Petraeus and his loyal officials are turning McChrystal into a scapegoat for Afghanistan's wider ills. Though, “people close to Gen. Petraeus said Special Operations missions won't be pared back under his revised strategy,” they simultaneously argue, “Gen. McChrystal put too much attention on hunting down Taliban leaders,” and not enough time into COIN.

Petraeus’s strategy, not its implementation, begins to make less and less sense. The Wall Street Journal adds, “Under Gen. Petraeus, the coming offensive in the southern city of Kandahar will remain the primary effort for international forces, military officials said. But he is also expected to highlight other operations that are showing success, particularly the campaign against the Haqqani terror network in eastern Afghanistan.”

It seems particularly odd for Petraeus to fault McChrystal’s excessive Special-Ops knowing that McChrystal had previously served as chief of US Special Forces, then promote counter-terrorism against the Haqqani network. So does hinting at loosening US rules of engagement to go after Taliban commanders while still upset with McChrystal’s excessive focus on counter-terrorism, a reversal that would only alienate Afghans further.

As architect of Afghanistan’s strategy, it’s possible that McChrystal didn’t follow Petraeus’ blueprint. Except the blueprint itself appears faulty, and Petraeus has resorted to covering his own stalled plans by blaming the builder. The West have the watches but the Taliban have the time, so the saying goes. Since Petraeus is almost certain to miss Obama’s July 2011 transfer deadline, he’s winding back the clock by dumping his failing strategy on McChrystal to mask a new strategy.

Kandahar is soon to become news in America for the wrong reasons. Remember though that McChrystal hadn’t eyed southern Afghanistan for years, hyping up Kandahar as the “cornerstone” of US strategy and “tipping point” of “breaking the Taliban’s momentum.” That would be Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen, and Petraeus. They picked McChrystal to get their job done. Kandahar’s operation eventually shrunk after a majority of the locals rejected the Pentagon’s large-scale campaign.

Again McChrystal is blamed for planning, “a summer conquest of the Taliban in Kandahar to reinvigorate the battle against the Taliban.” Petraeus “inherited” a plan, “criticized for placing too much emphasis on targeted assassinations of key insurgent leaders and not enough on winning over local residents.” Petraeus, conversely, “believes that the operation must be a broad-ranging counter-insurgency campaign, involving more troops working with local militias.”

Though he only recently secured President Hamid Karzai’s approval to expand local militias, a military buildup never served as a wise alternative. Why settle for a massive operation because the initial buildup didn’t generate sufficient local support? The concept makes no sense except as a threat, and even then a poor one. After much uncertainty and backsliding, Kandarhar’s operation has finally ground to a halt.

The Telegraph discovered
that Petraeus has finally, “decided a full-scale military encirclement and invasion – as American troops had done in Iraq's Fallujah – was not an appropriate model to tackle the Taliban in the southern capital... The operation has been repeatedly delayed by concerns that it would not adequately restore the confidence of city residents in the security forces.”

This revelation comes on the heels of another report from Afghanistan’s NGO Security Office, released two days before Kabul’s conference, warning that a military buildup is alienating Kandahar residents. Petraeus recently attacked the Taliban for civilian casualties, but his argument is somewhat negated by the fact that many Afghans view a US buildup as the reason for escalating violence.

"We do not support the [counter-insurgency] perspective that this constitutes 'things getting worse before they get better', but rather see it as being consistent with the five-year trend of things just getting worse," the report said.

Worse still, the report skeptically concluded that Kandahar’s operation was "very unlikely to be the 'breaking point' of the Taliban” so frequently anticipated by US officials. Instead, "it seems more likely to go the way of Operation Moshtarak, in Helmand, with lots of public ballyhoo around the actions of the IMF while the Afghan 'partners' discreetly pursue their own, often countervailing, agendas."

It may seem well and good that Petraeus is listening to the locals, but not when he’s trying to save face by selling near disaster as wisdom. Richard Holbrooke, US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, dropped all illusions of “no change in strategy,” nonchalantly remarking that US strategy in southern Afghanistan “is undergoing sweeping changes.” Apparently everything is McChrystal’s fault, as if Petraeus had nothing to do with Kandahar’s planning.

“We have Gen. David Petraeus looking at the plan, scrubbing it down, looking at it again,” says Holbooke confidently, 12 months from a ticking time bomb.

These events set up a terribly divided review in December and render July 2011 virtually obsolete. Marjah already exposed how fictitious US timelines can be and Kandahar is surpassing it. The initial hope was to secure Kandahar by August. Now the operation, still in its infancy, is undergoing complete revision in August and a slower counterinsurgency will only lengthen the need to maintain current US troop levels.

White House officials such as Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and senior adviser David Axelrod initially opposed a long and costly surge, fearing it would drain his domestic support, while Karl Eikenberry, US ambassador to Afghanistan, also feared a surge would be too little, too late. They’ve simply concluded that Obama’s surge won’t stabilize the country within the alloted time, that Afghanistan’s costs are outweighing its end.

The Wall Street Journal reports that these same actors continue to, “advocate a pared-down approach that requires fewer troops and greater emphasis on drone attacks on insurgent leaders. These officials would like to see an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops.” Though the strategy of withdrawing forces while still launching drone attacks is futile, White House dissent will likely foster more infighting and create ripples in the lineup.

All of this instability makes sticking to July 2011 that much harder. Petraeus assumed command no sooner than he had downplayed the deadline to Congress, and now Kandahar’s main operation may not start until fall. US officials will try to keep the deadline on schedule as long as possible, but it may have already been pushed back in private.

The Wall Street Journal cites Petraeus’s many sources when revealing that he won’t pressure Obama publicly to delay “his promise to begin drawing down troops in July 2011.” This despite the fact that he already has. Officials also, “expect him to privately push for troops to be removed slowly, along a timetable that keeps a large force in Afghanistan.”

Faced with the longer-than-anticipated struggle to break the Taliban’s momentum, there seems to be no hope of bringing the war to a conclusion. Obama and Petraeus both appear undecided on what to do in Afghanistan, and an explanation isn’t forthcoming.

But left unchecked by the White House and Petraeus will continue putting as much time on the clock as he can get away with.