Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ignorance about Africa Part I: When smart people say stupid things


Those of us who work on security issues in Africa find the endemic ignorance about the continent (that's right - continent, not country) in US military and policy circles frustrating. And when that ignorance gives rise to poorly informed commentary on African security issues, or US strategic interests in Africa, we find it as exasperating as Central Asia experts do with regard to Afghanistan (see here, here, and especially here.) That goes for both advocates and opponents of greater US engagement in Africa - both sides are guilty of catering to existing stereotypes rather than working to inform their audiences.

Case in point: a couple weeks back, Andrew Exum took extreme issue with Kenneth Roth's support for heightened US involvement in the ongoing effort to put an end to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Ex goes so far as to draw a comparison with the hunt for bin Laden in Tora Bora in 2001, and Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu in 1994.

Ex is a smart guy, but this was a stupid post. The LRA are most definitely not the Taliban or AQ in skills or armament, nor have they been viewed as strategic asset by any of the countries in the region since the 1990s. In terms that would have done Henry Morton Stanley proud, Ex cautions about launching operations in 'the dense jungles of central Africa'. Too bad he didn't check a map. As this one shows, LRA attacks over the last 2 years have rarely if ever taken place in heavily forested areas. We're talking wooded savannah at most; geographically challenging certainly, but not the equivalent of central DRC.

Drawing the parallel to Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia is perhaps the silliest of all his errors. The LRA has no popular support in any of the countries it's operating in. It relies on children captured during its raids on villages to replenish its ranks. It has no political agenda other than survival. Civilians in affected areas are begging for more international engagement, and are ready to welcome anybody who will protect them (as evident in the reported response of civilians to the UPDF in north eastern DRC - see pp. 6-7) And the governments of Uganda, DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan recently agreed to form a joint military force to pursue the LRA, while asking the African Union to declare it a terrorist group. Now, as Ledio Cakaj points out,
Given the state of the regional armies involved in the fight against the LRA, it is hard to imagine that the military options proposed in the AU meeting, involving these same armies, can actually succeed.
But that's the argument for increased US support. AFRICOM is already providing limited intelligence. logistics and planning support to the Ugandan forces pursuing the LRA across the tri-border region, and PAE is providing logistical support through Nzara, South Sudan under a Dept. of State contract.

Moreover, there's considerable support within the USG for doing more. The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act received unanimous support in Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on 24 May 2010, requiring the USG to, among other things, develop a regional strategy including military options to 'eliminate the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army.' The deadline for that strategy is the last week of November, 2010 and DOD is in the thick of developing options for military support.

Needless to say, the US won't be invading Central Africa any time soon. No one in their right mind (or who isn't creating straw men to glibly denounce) is suggesting large numbers of the US troops on the ground. But US forces have been deployed to the region - SOF have periodically deployed to Darfur in very small numbers, and if you don't think the US has a quiet presence in South Sudan ahead of the January 2011 referendum, I have a bridge to sell you.

Embedding US Special Forces with Ugandan units on the ground to provide tactical advice and a point of contact for enhanced intelligence support might be one element of a larger plan. It's not beyond current US capabilities to train, equip and provide logistical support for units from regional militaries to go after the LRA and/or prevent reprisals against the civilian population.* Hell, US Special Forces are already training Congolese forces as part of broader US engagement.

None of this is to suggest for a moment that defeating the LRA would be easy or simple, regardless of the forces are involved. There are regional issues, capacity issues, and geopolitics all at play. Not to mention a couple of other priorities for US forces. But when 'experts' claim it's just too hard, there is a useful comparison to make with the RUF in Sierra Leone. Lt. Gen. Riley (UK) has noted that greed and terror are poor motivation to hold an insurgent movement together, and that discussing a bunch of thugs as if they're the Waffen SS is disingenuous. Leveraging a small British force package, in 2001 Riley led a counter-insurgency campaign using primarily Sierra Leonean troops and irregulars to defeat a group just as bat-shit crazy**as the LRA that was considerably larger than Kony's band of psychotic leaders and brainwashed child soldiers (4,000 for the RUF then; about 400 for the LRA now, though it fluctuates with raids and losses).

So by all means, let's have the argument for and against US involvement in hunting down the LRA that acknowledges all the complexities - there are plenty of points on both sides. But let's not reject the idea on the basis of pure ignorance and false historical analogy. We can leave that to Afghanistan Study Group, can't we Ex?


* Which has the dual purpose of preventing atrocities and cutting the LRA off from their source of materiel and recruits.

**Hat-tip to SNLII for that description.

37 comments:

  1. Gosh it's fun to see Ex with his pants down. Well done.

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  2. First understand MAU MAU...and the MAU MAU Movement in Kenya only then will you understand "konny and his LRA movements" ...other wise the whole article above is useless.

    The writer of the article certainly makes a lot of presumption about "LRA and Konnie" many of which are wrong.

    peace

    Matek

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  3. A couple of things: The LRA likely still gets some support from Khartoum, and the US was definitely involved (albeit in a discrete way) in Lightning Thunder.

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  4. So basically you are calling for a Tears of the Sun type operation. Since Bruce Willis is on location for another movie, I suggest calling the guys from "the Wanted":

    http://www.historynet.com/nbc-news-the-wanted-an-interview-with-roger-d-carstens.htm

    These guys are super professionals, and are dying for some sort of snatch and grab authority. The lack of which made their show some what boring.

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  5. great idea, Zumba Girl!!! let's make a reality TV show out of this planned operation.

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  6. Zumba Girl, have you ever visited Central Africa. If you have you might see the plight of the people there and change your mind. We help people not because it benefits us, but because it is the right thing to do. Did we not go into the Balkans? They are dying from HIV-AIDS, they should have to suffer from rape and the AK-47.

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  7. Fact: The US has been and is still supporting the dictatorial regime of Dictator Yoweri Museveni for 25 years. This support has been militarily, financially and diplomatically.

    The USA cannot be part of the problem ( for 25 years)..and yet at the sometime be PART OF THE SOLUTION.

    This so called SOF forces which the USA could deploy to catch "konnie rebels", has been tried already for 25 years.

    Indeed , we are all well aware of the presences of US Special Operation Forces in Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda, DRC Congo. That is not a secret any more!!

    The solution to the "konnie issue" lies in contain US supported dictator Yoweri Museveni. As long as Museveni continues to lead Uganda with the Support of the USA. "konnie rebels" will continue to exist...and even expand!

    Peace

    Matek

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  8. I'm with Zumba girl, on this one fellas. Sorry, those abs!

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  9. Ex has a post up at AM in defense of his position. I agree with him that it's not in our interest to do intervene. Here's the link: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2010/10/us-military-intervention-central-africa-further-review-still-really-bad-id

    There's also this interesting bit of news from FP on how we're not going to enforce our own laws on military support and child soldiers. For right or wrong, we just don't really care about this issue. http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/28/child_soldiers_backlash_white_house_argues_continuing_military_assistance_more_impo

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  10. There is also a good comment from "Matt" on Ex's post. I find it highly unlikely that we'll engage in a conflict of peripheral interest (at best) that requires our guys to aid in the killing of children. Even if they are combatants, it's bad optics that will never pass political tests.

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  11. I'll be frank and say that I'm really not sure what point you're trying to make, MK. Exum argued that Roth's proposal was ill-advised, and gave some (admittedly lighthearted) justification for that view: 1) the geography is inhospitable; 2) given precedent, it's not clear that we're exceptionally capable in the field of expeditionary manhunts; 3) the last time we sent forces to east Africa for what seemed like a relatively simple, clean cut, morally just miitary mission, it didn't turn out well.

    Now so far as I can tell, the only one of those points that you're really challenging is the first. So are you saying A) that we SHOULD do this, B) that we CAN do this, or C) that we can't or shouldn't do this, but Ex's commentary on why not is not helpful or correct?

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  12. I actually chuckled when I read this section:

    Drawing the parallel to Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia is perhaps the silliest of all his errors. The LRA has no popular support in any of the countries it's operating in. It relies on children captured during its raids on villages to replenish its ranks. It has no political agenda other than survival. Civilians in affected areas are begging for more international engagement, and are ready to welcome anybody who will protect them (as evident in the reported response of civilians to the UPDF in north eastern DRC - see pp. 6-7) And the governments of Uganda, DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan recently agreed to form a joint military force to pursue the LRA, while asking the African Union to declare it a terrorist group.

    Well then I guess we should take a look at the parallels.

    *The LRA has no popular support and relies on forced conscription? Well Aidid was the head of a criminal syndicate, supported only by those who he helped to enrich, with the remainder of the population thought to have been simply cowed into noninterference by the threat of retributive violence. (Of course, that may have changed when a bunch of Rangers fastroped into their city.)

    *A whole bunch of Africans hate Kony and want foreign help, huh? Well I'm not sure that the Somalis suffering from famine and widespread violence were all that opposed to Operation Restore Hope, or to the UN presence, were they?

    *Regional governments also hate Kony and think joint military action is necessary and justified? Remember UNSCR 837, which encouraged full resourcing of the UN military force in Somalia and authorized the arrest/capture of Aidid?

    *"No one in their right mind is suggesting large numbers of US troops on the ground" in Africa, and the mission can be accomplished with a small SOF presence, huh? Well the Battle of Mogsdishu involved about 200 U.S. personnel: a Ranger company, some Delta, SEALs, and pararescue, and a bunch of aviation assets. Would it be smaller than that?

    Turns out the Gothic Serpent parallels aren't that bad after all.

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  13. Furthermore, when you write that "there's considerable support within the USG for doing more" and cite the recent legislation, I think you're being a little bit disingenuous. Here's what you wrote:

    The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act received unanimous support in Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on 24 May 2010, requiring the USG to, among other things, develop a regional strategy including military options to 'eliminate the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army.' [emphasis mine]

    Here's what the legislation requires as part of the strategy:

    An assessment of viable options through which the United States, working with regional governments, could help develop and support multilateral efforts to eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

    When you read this in context, it's quite clear that the Congress envisions U.S. participation in an international effort, and not necessarily active participation. Here's how you can tell: read the Statement of Policy.

    It is the policy of the United States to work with regional governments toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict in northern Uganda and other affected areas by—
    (1) providing political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph
    Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters;


    Work with. Support. Multilateral.

    I guarantee you a resolution expressing support for direct U.S. military action in DRC or elsewhere would not have passed with a voice vote.

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  14. And finally, while we're on the subject, an observation: If we're going to include folks like Joseph Kony on it, can we change the name of the State Department Terrorist Exclusion list to the List of Bad Guys that we Don't Like? The idea that some dude running around the dense jungles of central Africa poses a direct threat to western countries as a "specially designated global terrorist" is just too absurd for words. I've got no problem using legal authority to cut off resources to him, but "global terrorist"? Let's be serious.

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  15. If Zumba Girl was stuck in the Congo and the LRA was hell bend in kidnapping her, then I'll agree with a "Tears of the Sun" type operation.

    Otherwise let China take the lead.

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  16. My internet isn't good enough to respond in detail (or to go through the trouble of logging in) so I'll just say this: MK nicely done. We've discussed this before and I agree with you.

    Jason, thanks for the links. I think you're right, a lot of people don't care about Central Africa and they're just not going to. It's nice to know you're still up for discussing.

    Finally, given we're here discussing it: Gulliver--what crawled up your arse (I'm hanging out with Brits)? You're being awfully defensive all of sudden, it's unlike you.

    Lil

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  17. Lil,

    You didn't even know that Al-Azhar and the Syrian School system banned the Niqab way before the French. So wouldn't be talking. Experts, hah!!!

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  18. Finally, given we're here discussing it: Gulliver--what crawled up your arse (I'm hanging out with Brits)? You're being awfully defensive all of sudden, it's unlike you.

    Defensive? Crawled up my ass? Huh?

    I just disagree, and I outlined the reasons why. It's no skin off my back.

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  19. http://petereichstaedt.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-kony-will-never-be-captured.html

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  20. Geez. I feel like the family’s golden retriever in the middle of a bad divorce.

    Going back to the MK/Ex debate, it seems to me that the biggest disagreement here is on how much it is in the US interest to stop atrocities against civilians (with “interest” understood as some sort of ratio between expected pay-off and risks). MK underplayed the risks of such an intervention, while Ex overplayed them (it is not true that "things always go wrong", cf. the Brits in Sierra Leone). Obviously, there is a high degree of uncertainty in any such intervention, which is why one needs to have a (convincing) answer to the four Kilcullen/Exum questions as well as an answer to the Richard Clarke’s questions, and to communicate these answers right. Research shows most people to be ready to send troops in rather faraway places (including Congo) if they think the ends justify it(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/30/AR2005063000881.html). And obviously the bar is higher for a
    humanitarian intervention, since they rarely, if ever, represent a US "vital" interest (whose definition Ex stretches a bit by equating it to "intervention justifying military intervention"—usually “vital” describes an intervention that aims at removing a threat to one’s population or territory; humanitarian interventions are rarely vital, unless you make the—tricky—point that not intervening to reduce human suffering when you could represents a moral threat to your country as a whole). Black Hawk Down had the effect it had on US people not so much because of the treatment inflicted to US soldiers (most people know war is ugly,
    although, granted, seeing it from home on TV at dinner time definitely makes things much worse), but because the first thought of everyone
    was: "we go there to feed them and they treat us like THAT?"... So yes, the bar is higher for interventions whose purpose is mainly humanitarian—but this does not mean that the feasibility of such interventions should not be examined on its own merits—and that the opinion of area and non-area experts is not needed when it comes to this…

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  21. At the risk of revealing more internal discord...

    Black Hawk Down had the effect it had on US people not so much because of the treatment inflicted to US soldiers (most people know war is ugly, although, granted, seeing it from home on TV at dinner time definitely makes things much worse), but because the first thought of everyone was: "we go there to feed them and they treat us like THAT?"

    I don't agree with this at all. Maybe I'm overstating the general awareness of the average American, but I think most people recognized that we were past the feeding stage. There had even been legislation introduced (more than once, I think) as early as the summer of 1993 calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops, as the mission for which they had gone was mostly concluded (successfully at that), and there was some danger that they'd face increasing risk.

    Here's what impacted Americans most about Somalia: [WARNING: graphic photo]

    Not to mention this one (not graphic).

    I think it was more the sense of "wait a minute, they put their hands on our guys... and for what? So we can feed some skinnies?"

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  22. I think we should fee the skinnies because it's the Christian thing to do.

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  23. I too agree with Zumba Girl and Matt from AM blog!

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  24. Agree with Alma here:

    obviously the bar is higher for a
    humanitarian intervention, since they rarely, if ever, represent a US "vital" interest

    ###

    And with Gulliver here:


    Here's what impacted Americans most about Somalia: [WARNING: graphic photo]

    Not to mention this one (not graphic).

    ###

    I'd also add the sheer shock effect of BHD: I've likened it recently to the battle of Ap Bac. Those rinky-dinks (sorry not to be politically correct) can shoot down *helicopters.*

    ###

    The question to me is how durable a humanitarian intervention is. My personal answer is, Not very, unless one counts something like OIF, where the sunk costs are so great that extrication from the situation, and the imagery of defeat, that no one wants to declare failure.

    ADTS

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  25. Gulliver:
    It is true that by the time the Black Hawk Down incident happened, there was already a noticeable movement in Congress—led by Senator Byrd—to get the US out of Somalia. Legislation was adopted in early September stating that the Clinton administration would have to report to Congress by October 15 about the progress of the operations, and to seek by November 15 congressional approval for a continuation of the intervention. And that text was adopted with a large majority both in the House and Senate. It looks like the change in US mission in Somalia and the US casualties of early August and September were pivotal in Congress adopting this text.

    Now about the larger US public… I found a couple of polls from the early Summer of 1993 that seem to indicate that there was indeed a relatively high degree of interest from the public for the Somalia intervention. A Gallup poll of June 5, 1993 asked “Overall, how closely have you followed the recent events in the African nation of Somalia: Very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?” and received the following responses: 16% very, 47% somewhat, 30% not too, 7% not at all.
    I tend to think that respondents are likely to overstate their interest in current news, so that they don’t look like idiots in front of the individual conducting the survey, but still—it supports what you said about people having a rather clear idea of what the US was up to in Somalia. Point well taken.
    (I can’t resist however citing another poll, from October 7, 1993—AFTER Black Hawk Down—which shows that only 57% of respondents could tell what continent Somalia is in…)

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  26. Jason Fritz: I must disagree with you regarding "bad optics" if it came to our forces killing or aiding in the killing of child soldiers. Once the behavior of these children was accurately described and people knew how lethal they are, I don't think many people would object. The British public didn't get into much of a dither when their forces had to do it in the 90s. Perhaps you underestimate the ability of the American people to see what is.

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  27. Who is Zumba Girl and why is she so popular?

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  28. carl: you may be correct. I disagree, but I don't have anything to back that up and it's just a gut feeling. But I think you'd agree that it will give the political types pause before embarking on such an endeavor.

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  29. Alma--nicely done. Carl, thanks for pitching in (was hoping you would).

    MK, my friend, we need a response to all of this.

    Lil

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  30. I tried to get an answer at AM, but no luck. So I try here: Why is it that its either an US owned Somalian style all out intervention OR nothing? Why isnt it possible to lend out a section of SF to track down the LRF for the locals and/or disrupt their logistics? If they are 400 strong, it would seem a matter of *finding* them being the real difficulty? Why would it need US triggerpullers?

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  31. Here is the address of the lawfare blog entry in which the Washington director of the HRW more fully explains their idea.

    http://www.lawfareblog.com/2010/10/human-rights-watch-responds/

    They believe only a small group of spec ops trigger pullers need be added to the Ugandan and Congolese forces chasing the LRA and suggest France provide those. The US would provide log and intel support. HRW thinks this would give the UPDF and the FARDC that little extra needed to finish the LRA. Their idea seems pretty well thought out to me.

    Jason Fritz: Local American politicians would have little hesitation in doing what needed to be done with child soldiers. They don't much mind being extremely tough with murderous juveniles in the US. The voters generally support them on this. As you suggest, national level politicians and especially bureaucrats may be different. This may be off topic but national types don't seem to have much confidence in the Americans to see what is.

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  32. Fnord, nicely said. I agree with you.

    PS. Somalia was a UN mission headed by Turkey where Turkey was the largest contributor and with large contributions from Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Italy, many other European and Asian countries.

    It was not a US lead intervention by April, 2003. It was UN hatted. This is why the US public turned against it. The American people and Bob Dole didn't have confidence in "UN" commanders who had OPCON and coordination responsibilities over US forces.

    This is why even though ISAF is a "UN command" created by the UN Security Council, the US always calls it a NATO command.

    Fnord, American skepticism about international coalitions where the US provides a minority of the support has deep roots.

    4 of the 5 Afghan regional commands were headed by other countries for many years. The perception in the states is that the other countries didn't do a great job. But at least it wasn't a "UN mission" and at least Bush was president.

    Lil and MK, I am with you. It is about time America stood shoulder to shoulder by the Ugandans as they have stood by us. This means helping then on aids [which we are], cheap preventive health care, education, infrastructure and defeating the Lord's Resistance Army.

    Anecdotal reports from friends suggests that Ugandans hate the Lord's Resistance Army.

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  33. Anand --

    The American people and Bob Dole didn't have confidence in "UN" commanders who had OPCON and coordination responsibilities over US forces.

    Wrong. No foreign officers had OPCON over U.S. forces.

    This is why even though ISAF is a "UN command" created by the UN Security Council, the US always calls it a NATO command.

    Misleading. ISAF was created by a UN resolution and rotated national commands under UN auspices for nearly two years. In late 2003, NATO assumed permanent command of the force. So yeah, it's a NATO command. The only reason that ISAF now has responsibility for the entire territory of Afghanistan is because of the stability and direction provided by that permanent NATO command. So to call the whole thing a "UN command" is silly; ISAF is neither commanded nor directed by the UN at this stage.

    It is about time America stood shoulder to shoulder by the Ugandans as they have stood by us. This means helping then on aids [which we are], cheap preventive health care, education, infrastructure and defeating the Lord's Resistance Army.

    Anecdotal reports from friends suggests that Ugandans hate the Lord's Resistance Army.


    Ugandan people may hate the LRA, and they've got good reason to. But the government of Uganda's position on the LRA is, so far as I can tell, complex. Museveni draws political advantage from the group's continued existence and continued threat (as Anon @1151 25 OCT's link does a good job of explaining), so to paint the situation in quite so black-and-white terms as you do is probably (again) misleading.

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  34. Should have said that the Congress and American public perceived US forces in Somalia as being under the "UN" and that this fueled anger against American involvement.

    In practice, Gulliver is right. Gulliver, can you confirm that no UN forces [including the supreme Turkish commander] controlled any US forces during any part of 1993 in Somalia?

    Thanks for the update on Uganda and the LRA. Perhaps things have changed?

    As I understand it the UN created two organizations . . . ISAF and UNAMA. The UN unanimously approved NATO taking over ISAF. However, ISAF remains a unanimously UN endorsed mission.

    If not for this, would Malaysia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt, South Korea be formal members of the ISAF coalition?

    If Indonesia converts its bilateral ANP training mission into formal ISAF membership during Obama's visit, it will be because the Indonesians are joining a UN mission. At least that is how they will justify it.

    Did you see the Turkish drafted UNSC resolution unanimously passed a few days ago?

    How would you describe the language in the resolution [which calls for all UN members to contribute to ISAF, making a special plea for ANSF capacity building]?

    Gulliver did you notice the amount of discussion about Russia donating military equipment including Mi17s to the ANSF; and Russian public musing about training ANSF?

    It got a lot of play in the Afghan press. The Karzai GIRoA made it clear that countries can only send forces to Afghanistan and train ANSF with GIRoA permission and implied that no such permission had been granted to Russia.

    In fact I thought the GIRoA spokesperson was too impolitic in the way he put it.

    It seems clear that Russia is willing to donate military equipment and train ANSF if only Karzai would be willing to ask. [So far Karzai has refused to ask.]

    Personally, I don't understand what choice Karzai thinks he has. Why can't he make the request? We aren't talking about combat troops. Only NTM-A trainers or trainers that informally coordinate with NTM-A.

    If Karzai behaved this way with another important country, they would show him the finger.

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  35. @@@ fnord,

    Great question and here's my answer if Zumba Girl was kidnapped in the Heart of Darkness, then the US will do everything. Otherwise, Americans just don't care anymore. The Truth hurts but the US doesn't care anymore.

    Ask China, I'm sure they have more interests in that part of the world. Americans are just sick and tired of helping everyone out. We're tired. You guys do it from here on out, how about that.

    Anyone noticed the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear today never got as big as Glenn Beck's rally? America is sick and tired of the world.

    #######

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  36. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time the US military aided in the “search” for Kony, he was pinpointed, then mysteriously was warned before the Ugandan forces could bother to actually try to nab him. Odd that.

    Does no one else find it convenient that the LRA have advanced back into Southern Sudan right before the referendum that is likely to split Khartoum from the vast majority of its oil? And isn’t it convenient that Dominic Ongwen, one of the “commanders” on the ground in Western Bahr-el-Ghazal happens to have spent time in the South before—and has received training in Khartoum no less.

    Are we sure no one is using the LRA as a proxy force these days? Maybe proxy force is too strong a term, but are we sure no one in the area is “using” the LRA, either as a thorn in an enemy’s side or as an excuse to continue to run units in another country?

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