Monday, November 30, 2009

Déjà vu in the Sahel

The kidnapping of a French aid worker in northeastern Mali last Wednesday, as well as three Spanish aid workers in Mauritania on Sunday, bring AQIM—the most likely culprit at this stage— back to the fore.

Let’s just hope that these two tragic events will garner better analysis on security in the Sahel than this recent Newsweek article, which goes to great pain demonstrating that 1) the situation in the Sahel is nowhere near as bad as the situation in the Af-Pak border region (no kidding), and 2) that it is wrong to believe that the Sahel is the next hotbed of terrorism (good news: few people believe this, and are more worried about places like Yemen and Somalia). Kal from The Moor Next Door does a great job at tearing the article apart and providing rebuttal to most of its flaws, misjudgments, and blatant omissions.

And as Kal underlines, nothing in this article is new. How too much of a Western presence can backfire was raised by ICG in 2005. Even the State Department got the memo: two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson emphasized to Congress the need for a limited US footprint in the Sahel region:

“The United States can play a helpful supporting role in the regional effort, but we must avoid taking actions that could unintentionally increase local tensions or lend credibility to AQIM’s claims of legitimacy.
The countries in the region continue to demonstrate the political will to combat terrorism and trans-national crime. They have explicitly stated that the Sahel’s security is the responsibility of the countries in the region. They have not asked the United States to take on a leadership role in counterterrorism efforts and have, in fact, clearly signalled that a more visible or militarily proactive posture by the United States would be counterproductive. We fully concur that the appropriate roles for the United States and other third countries with even more significant interests in the region must be to support regional security efforts while continuing to provide meaningful development assistance to the more remote areas. Moreover, we have emphasized that while the United States will do its part, the burden must be shared.”

Granted, this may be nothing more than a way to keep DoD out of the way. But at least, and in contrast to Newsweek, Carson also offered a rather nuanced view of the threat, underlining for instance how the Malian situation differs from the one prevailing in Mauritania with regards to AQIM.

Am I being oversensitive here, or is it really a sad day when one finds more analytical nuance in a political statement than in a press article?

Hitchens going off the deep end?

I know that a lot of people are going to say "you mean he hasn't already?", but I've always quite enjoyed Christopher Hitchens' writing. I won't say that I always agree with him, but there's usually something to appreciate in the way that Hitchens expresses himself, both in his technical execution and in the confidence with which he eviscerates his rhetorical foes.

But lately it seems like the politics are getting the better of him, that he's taken to a sort of Mark Steyn-esque ranting against anything and everything associated with Islam. You'll be unsurprised, then, to find that today's column in Slate is mostly about how dumb it is for the U.S. to be playing nice-nice with Pakistan while jilted India longingly awaits our well-deserved affections.

The visit of Prime Minister Singh should have been the occasion for a vigorous public debate on whether this growing tendency—the Pakistanization of U.S. policy in the region—is the wise or correct one.

India was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban long before the events of 9/11, and it has been providing a great deal of reconstruction aid since the Taliban were removed. It has excellent sources of intelligence in the region and is itself a frequent target of the very same forces against which we are committed to fight.

Its national parliament, the multifariously pluralistic and democratic Lok Sabha, was the target of a massive car bomb attack in the fall of 2001, its large embassy in Kabul has been singled out for special attention from the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance, and of course we must never forget Mumbai. Nor ought we to forget that India's massive economic and military power on the subcontinent is accompanied by a system of regular elections, a free press, a secular constitution under which almost as many Muslims live as live in Pakistan, and a business class that extends all the way to Silicon Valley and uses the English language.

Of Pakistan, a state that has flirted with the word failure ever since its inception, it is not possible to speak in the same terms. Only with the greatest reluctance does it withdraw its troops from the front with India in Kashmir, the confrontation that is the main obsession of its overmighty and Punjabi-dominated officer corps. This same corps makes no secret of its second obsession, which is the attainment of a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul. (This objective, too, is determined by the desire to acquire Afghanistan for the purpose of "strategic depth" in the fight with India.) The original Talibanization of Afghanistan was itself an official project of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and the CIA has spent the last eight years admitting, or in some cases discovering, what everyone else already knew: that the Taliban still enjoy barely concealed support from the same highly placed Pakistani institutions.

The enormous subventions given to the Pakistani elite in the "war on terror" are thus partly a subsidy to the very forces we claim to be fighting and partly a bribe to make them at least pretend to stop. Meanwhile, Pakistan's press and the remnant of its education system are virtual machines for the mass production of anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at persuading people that the real enemy is the democratic secular West. And on top of all this, the country's "national hero" A.Q. Khan for many years enjoyed state collaboration in the running of a nuclear black market that shared fissile materials with countries like Libya and North Korea. Yet the Obama administration, phrasing its strategy for the crisis, cannot get beyond the silly and limited abbreviation Af-Pak. By excluding India from the equation, the political and military planners impose a tunnel vision upon themselves and dishearten the country that should be our major ally in the region (for other purposes, too, such as forming a counterweight to the increasingly promiscuous power of China).

All of which is well and good, but so far as I can tell, sort of misses the point. For one thing, who cares that India supported the Northern Alliance? So too did Iran, and you won't see Hitchens clamoring for rapprochement with the "mullahcracy."

And what of Pakistani concern with Kashmir? Is not India similarly preoccupied?

(My favorite part is that latter bit when Hitchens criticizes the Obama administration for excluding India from the "Af-Pak" construction, apparently alienating and "dishearten[ing] the country that should be our major ally in the region." Except when they're not. Hitchens should know that India vociferously resisted inclusion in Dick Holbrooke's portfolio; there were even rumblings that he'd be declared persona non grata before visiting the country.)

The simple fact of the matter is that Pakistan is the key to a meaningful solution in Afghanistan, a fact that Hitchens well knows. But he'd rather daydream about the cataclysmic struggle between secular, multicultural good -- India and the West, in this instance -- and backwards, monotheistic evil -- here as Pakistan and the Taliban, obviously -- than deal with the real, tangible security threat as it presently exists. I'm a little put off by Hitchens seeming enthusiasm for the day when the with-us-or-against-us lines are drawn rather more boldly. It reminds me a bit of Reuel Marc Gerecht's pathetic justification for continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan: because -- according to him -- if we leave, there will be a civil war, and we'll be forced to side with non-Pashtun Afghans (from afar) against the Pashtuns, and thus (obviously!) against the Pakistanis. Which would be bad because then the Pakistanis would stop helping us against al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorists. Of course, in order to follow this logical chain, you have to forget that Gerecht and Hitchens basically insist that Pakistan has nothing to offer us, anyway.

The absurdity of this position is summed up in Hitchens' closing:
But if the United States was to upgrade and cement an economic, military, and political alliance with the emerging giant in New Delhi, we could guarantee without any boasting that our presence in the area was enduring and unbudgeable. It would also be based more on mutual friendship and common values and less on the humiliating practice of bribery and cajolery. And the Pakistani elite would have to decide which was its true enemy: the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance or the Indo-American one.
Well, you're right about that. And how do you think that one is going to turn out for us? All of which is why it's difficult for me to conclude that Hitchens isn't just itching for the fight.

Let's make Pakistan pick sides! Who cares which one they take; at least if it's not us, we can fight 'em!

Levin still banging the "Afghan Surge" drum...

...despite noises out of the White House that the expansion of the ANSF will not be as extensive as GEN McChrystal would like. From the WSJ:

The Obama administration has soured on a call from its top commander to double the size of the Afghan police and army, reflecting the White House's continued skepticism about the Afghan government even as the U.S. prepares a surge of troops into the country, people familiar with the matter say. ...

But the administration seems prepared to reject another of Gen. McChrystal's top priorities: his call to double the size of the Afghan police and army over the next few years.

The administration now favors an alternative plan that would seek to build a larger Afghan security force, but one that would be considerably smaller than what Gen. McChrystal had wanted, these people said. The president is likely to talk about Afghan troops Tuesday, without specifying a growth target for expanding their ranks.

"The president has a realistic view of how successful the training regimen can be, and that has helped inform his decision," a senior administration official said Sunday.

And then there's Sen. Levin, saying, well, pretty much the exact same thing he has been for the last several months, basically verbatim, and in complete defiance of the reasoned arguments that have been made against his recommended course of action by reasonable and educated people (but then, that's politics, innit?):

President Barack Obama must show how more U.S. combat troops will speed the build-up of the Afghan army to generate Democratic support for his new war strategy in Afghanistan, Senator Carl Levin said.

“The key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge,” Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a Michigan Democrat, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program yesterday.

“If the president lays out the case for why our combat forces that are going particularly to the south will increase the speed-up of the Afghan army, it seems to me that that would be very, very important,” he said. ...

Levin said showing that the mission of more U.S. troops is to “very quickly build up the Afghan army,” and “give them the capacity to take on the Taliban” is important to winning Democratic support.

Everyone's telling me that a funding bill for escalation is going to be a tough vote, especially in the House, and particularly for Democrats. I can't see the rank and file deserting the president and the Speaker on this one, particularly with such a controversial issue as "not supporting the troops," and Democrats in contested districts -- as if they hadn't already faced enough tough votes this year -- will have no choice but to support funding for additional forces.

All of which is to say that I don't think Levin has any damn idea what he's talking about here. Those Democrats who oppose escalation of the war aren't going to feel ok about additional troops so long as the president just promises we're Afghanizing the war, and those who recognize the impossibility of voting against a war supplemental only have so much leverage in demanding that the money go to a specific mission. (This is leaving aside altogether the fact that rapid Afghanization will fail even more spectacularly than will, I expect, whatever alternative President Obama presents tomorrow.) So ok, Senator Levin, we hear you. Now please just stop talking.

Let's be clear: the ANSF need to get bigger, and they need to get better. And perhaps doing that rapidly and Afghanizing the war was a workable solution several years ago, before the insurgency was thriving. But right now, under the current circumstances, it's going to be really, really difficult for them to get bigger and better at the same time. Calls for more training and mentoring of host nation forces at the expense of more extensive, security-oriented counterinsurgency operations are misguided, and strike me as disingenuous. This IS NOT an "easy way out," and it's not going to create conditions under which the U.S. can credibly claim "victory" (at least not any more than we could now); this will not bring peace with honor.

No matter which policy course is (well, was, really, at this point) chosen in Afghanistan, the training and mentoring of ANSF is (/was) probably going to be a part of it. But to imagine that we can just train up the good guys and get the hell out in the middle of a raging insurgency is just not particularly sane.

Live-blogging the Afghanistan speech

As pretty much everybody knows by now, President Obama is going to deliver the verdict on Afghanistan tomorrow at 8 p.m. from West Point. Sounds like it's going to be about more than just troop numbers, too (but couldn't we have guessed as much?):

President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday.

Although the speech was still in draft form, the officials said the president wanted to use the address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday night not only to announce the immediate order to deploy roughly 30,000 more troops, but also to convey how he intends to turn the fight over to the Kabul government.

“It’s accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”

The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.

Considering that 80% of the Ink Spots cadre will already be at my house drinking fancy wine* that the other 20% (MK) donated when he left the country (again), I'm making the unilateral announcement that we're going to live-blog the speech. (Because it's not already nerdy enough to get together to drink and talk about Afghanistan, we may as well have a laptop, too.) So watch this space, and tune in Tuesday night at 8 ET.

*Damn, elf's suspicions about officer-caste elitism confirmed for all to see!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Resignations over Kunduz Airstrike

In the last couple days, several senior German officials have resigned over the handling of the crisis following the September airstrike near Kunduz. Since I'm not an expert on German politics, I asked my favorite German to explain.

First, the facts: on Thursday, the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces, General Wolfgang Schneiderhan resigned. At the same time, the number 2 at the German Defense Ministry, State Secretary Peter Wichert, also tendered his resignation. The explanation: that both officials had withheld information not only from the public, but also from the civilian prosecutor charged with investigating the incident.

Then, today, the former Minister of Defense (who assumed the leadership of the Ministry of the Ministry of Labor following the elections) also resigned. This time, Franz Josef Jung explained his decision by saying he "accepted political responsibility" for mishandling information.

A couple points of interest: first, this is the most significant resignation in the German Ministry of Defense, more significant than resignations following spy scandals and the like. No former minister, number 2 civilian and number 1 military officials have ever resigned en masse. Second, both the military and civilian leadership had come under fire because they continued to insist on their version of the "facts", namely that no civilians had been killed in the strike.

Third, it now turns out that while the officials were asserting that no civilians had been killed, they in fact knew, because the military chain of command told them so, that the Colonel who had ordered the strike had in fact been unable to rule out the presence of civilians at the location of the strike. In short, the officials were lying. They lied to the German public, which already has an unfavorable opinion of the mission if Afghanistan. And, they lied to the local prosecutors charged with investigating homicide. Now the latter is a problem because lying to local prosecutors and withholding information is a possible criminal offense.

Multiple investigations are ongoing. First, as I mentioned, the local prosecutor is investigating, as it normally does whenever German troops kill host nation citizens. That investigation has, for now, been handed over to federal prosecutors who are now looking into the potential for crimes associated with the strike. Finally, the German parliament is also investigating, this time the incident itself and the conduct of the ministry of defense surrounding the incident.

In a hearing before the German parliament yesterday, the former defense minister apparently admitted that he never read the German military's classified report on the incident and simply forwarded it to NATO investigators. This curious lack of diligence apparently further sealed his fate.

Why does this matter? Because it shows a high potential for further fraying of German support to continued presence in Afghanistan. This also puts the new defense minister in a rough spot, particularly as he works to reinforce Germany's presence in the north, with both additional troops and heavier equipment.

Cool uni-nerd tidbits from Charlie in Afghanistan

First of all, a belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone here in the States. Hope yours was as good as mine, and that you're enjoying the second day of a very long weekend (or at least that your office is as quiet as mine today).

So Erin Simpson, formerly professor of COIN at MCU and contributor "Charlie" on Abu Muqawama, is now in Afghanistan doing COINish things. She has a new blog, "Charlie Simpson's War," which we've had listed over in the blogroll for a couple of weeks. It seems to me that it's intended primarily to be a sort of online diary of Erin's time in the 'Stan and is directed to friends and family more than war nerds like us, but it's still a fun read. (Ricks and Exum have already linked over there, so I don't feel badly about directing a bunch of yahoos to her blog.)

In a post from this week we learn about a couple of really interesting uniform details (well, interesting, at least, to weirdos like me who care about this stuff):

What really throws me is people in full Army or Marine utilities with “DOD Contractor” on their service tape. It’s like we’re so frustrated that the Taliban don’t wear uniforms that we put our civilians in them instead.

On the flip side, I saw an Army soldier wearing a 1st Marine Division patch on his right arm the other day. (In the Army, that’s where you put the patch for the unit you served in combat with.) I had never seen that before. Pretty freaking sweet.

I've never even heard of either of these things -- "DOD Contractor" nametapes or Marine combat patches on Army ACUs (or really Marine patches of any kind).

I'm was initially a little confused about the latter bit; why would a soldier have done a combat tour with the 1st MarDiv? After a little digging around on the internet, I found (via a militaria forum) this piece from a 2004 issue of Leatherneck magazine. Apparently a company of the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne) was attached to the 1stMarDiv at Camp Blue Diamond in Iraq (as just one example).

Others on the militaria forum speculate that prior Marines who did combat time before switching over to the Army may wear Marine patches, though this isn't authorized. (Ironically, because the Marine Corps and Navy don't authorize combat patches for their personnel, the only way to earn the combat patch of a Marine unit is to be a member of the Army and get attached to it.) Anyway, really interesting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CNN has Just Lost a Viewer for Life (Or: Why Does CNN Hate the Law and the Rights of Man?)

It has saddened me to watch the demise of the once wonderful CNN. Their coverage of hot spots around the world after their inception and through the mid-1990s was exceptional (granted, I was a young lad during this time). But it has been a downward slide in quality and utility for the once-mighty giant of cable news since then.

Case in point: Killings at the Canal. I'm guessing a few of you have seen this, or at least part of their "coverage." The basic story is that three sergeants shot and killed four Iraqi detainees in 2007 (by a canal! - it's important to get the alliteration or no one will watch!) because they claimed that the four were killing Coalition Forces but that U.S. detention policy at the time would have let these four alleged insurgents back onto the streets within days.

No, seriously. These guys shot four detainees because they were sure that the nefarious detention policy would have protected the bad guys. They actually said this in court and still believe it to this day (given some of the stuff on the linked site). They actually said they killed these four Iraqis, but, hold on Your Honor, we had a reason. No, I'm not making this up, go read it. I couldn't make this up.

Some of the statements or quotes from these guys are just factually wrong with regard to the nuts and bolts of the "policy" in question. I use quotes because it's not policy, it's law - the host nation's laws as well as U.S. law. Well, I guess these four Iraqis could have shot at soldiers the next day as the former sergeants allege. What's the rule of law when your boys' lives are at stake? To these guys, the rule of law was optional.

Forget COIN and "hearts and minds" - this goes beyond that. This is about U.S. soldiers who murdered detainees because they thought they were insurgents and didn't want to be bothered with the law. I should comment that I'm not saying these four Iraqis were or weren't insurgents who had killed or planned to kill American soldiers. I'm saying it is irrelevant here because the sergeants' actions subverted due process - something that we treasure here in the U.S. and must uphold when overseas. Otherwise, we're just as bad as Saddam was.

So back to CNN. Why on earth did they cover this so extensively? It was four murders out of many in the world on any given day. So what? The tone obviously takes the side of the former sergeants, which I find appalling, probably to incite discussion on this topic. And lord knows why because it seems pretty clear to me: uphold the law. I remember something about that in some oath I took at some point..... Anyway, I don't know if they are just trying to appear as patriotic as their rivals or they just think the incarceration of murderers who happen to be soldiers is bad policy. But it doesn't matter. They would jump all over any other country who let their soldiers do this. They should have just reported it and if they were going to err on the side of bias, it should have been towards the U.S. military for trying and convicting these murderers in spite of the bad press it would (and did) cause.

Phil Carter, DASD for Gitmo, resigns

NYT has the story:

The Defense Department official in charge of closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has resigned after only seven months in the job, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Phillip Carter, who was named deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy in April, resigned last Friday because of “personal issues,” a Pentagon official said. Mr. Carter could not be reached for comment and no other reasons were given for his departure.

Mr. Carter, 34, a lawyer and an Army adviser to the Iraqi police in Baquba in 2005 and 2006, was in charge of veterans outreach in President Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Mr. Carter’s departure comes as the administration has acknowledged that it will not be able to close the prison by Jan. 22, the self-imposed deadline Mr. Obama announced immediately after taking office.

Don't know any details about this, though being associated with the Guantanamo closure is starting to look like a bad career move for just about anybody.

DRC Group of Experts Report Leaked

The DRC Group of Experts' Report, which is due to be discussed by the Security Council today, was, it seems, pretty systematically leaked to the media. Usually, that means that it's extremely controversial and that there's concern that it might get watered down by annoyed member states. Leaking it like this basically forces the Secretariat and the Council to discuss the report and its findings.

Anyway, you can read the stories about it in the following outlets: Reuters, BBC, New York Times, and Associated Press.

Finally, Jason Stearns, over at Congo Siasa, has excerpts of the report itself. I've pasted the Summary below and I will provide the link to the full report once it's out.


This report concludes that military operations against the FDLR have failed to dismantle the organization’s political and military structures on the ground in eastern DRC. The increasing rate of FDLR combatant defections and the FDLR temporary removal from many of its bases are only a partial success considering that the armed group has regrouped in a number of locations in the Kivus, and continues to recruit new fighters. This report shows that the FDLR continues to benefit from residual but significant support from top commanders of the FARDC, particularly those officers in the 10th military region (South Kivu), and has sealed strategic alliances with other armed groups in both North and South Kivu. External support networks, both regional and international, have been used by FDLR in the field to counteract the effects of Kimia II, for instance networks in Burundi and Tanzania. [...]

The Group investigated the FDLR’s ongoing exploitation of natural resources in the Kivus, notably gold and cassiterite reserves which the Group calculates continue to deliver millions of dollars in direct financing into FDLR coffers. This report illustrates how FDLR gold networks are intertwined tightly with trading networks operating within Uganda and Burundi as well as the UAE. The Group also documents that a number of minerals exporting houses, some of whom were named in the Group’s previous report in 2008, continue to trade with the FDLR. This report shows that end buyers for this cassiterite include the Malaysia Smelting Corporation and the Thailand Smelting and Refining Company, held by Amalgamated Metals Corporation, a UK entity.

The report analyzes the integration of non-state armed groups into the FARDC through the rapid integration in January 2009; as well as prior and during the FARDC/RDF joint operation Umoja Wetu and Kimia II. In this context, the CNDP officer class, in particular General Bosco Ntaganda, has continued to retain heavy weapons acquired during its period of rebellion in spite of its official integration into the FARDC and still controls revenue generating activities and parallel local administrations. The Group also presents documentary evidence showing that Gen Ntaganda continues to act as Kimia II deputy operational commander.

CNDP military officers deployed as part of FARDC Kimia II operations have profited from their deployment in mineral rich areas, notably at the Bisie mine in Walikale, North Kivu, and in the territory of Kalehe, in South Kivu. In both these areas, the FARDC commanding officers on the ground are ex-CNDP officers. The Group includes evidence in the report showing direct involvement of CNDP military officials in the supply of minerals to a number of exporting houses in North and South Kivu, some of which also supply the same international companies mentioned above. [...]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MONUC 10 Years Later: Anything New?

MONUC's mandate is up for renewal in a couple weeks and there's lots of discussion now about what needs to change and what MONUC should do differently. The discussion is also occurring in the context of MONUC's 10th anniversary and a strong desire, both at the UN and of course within the Congolese government, for the mission to begin drawing down. There's also much controversy over MONUC's support to the Congolese Army (FARDC) as it attempts to get rid of the FDLR.

Given this context, I thought that what the Force Commander, General Babacar Gaye, told the Congolese paper, Le Potentiel, in an interview was interesting. He explained his evolving strategy in DRC. It's in French--the link is to Relief Web.

The General said:
It would be pertinent to evaluate the situation and put in place new modes of action rather than launch counter-guerilla operations which requires capacities and means that the FARDC does not have have. This is why it's better to control the zones where the FDLR usually came to stock up on resources.
He adds that this effort needs to happen alongside better support to security sector reform, in particular for the Army and National Policy, and capacity building for Congolese institutions.

Does this seem a little confused to you? I'm not sure I get it because so far the only thing that's happened is that ongoing operations have pushed the FDLR deeper into Congo but without protecting populations from reprisals. They have also not completely cut off the FDLR from their mineral resource funding bases, and finally security sector reform efforts right now are not much beyond really intent prayers. So I'm curious, what are your thoughts on a strategy for MONUC and how should its mandate change?

Hey France, I've got an awesome idea:

How about not selling expeditionary, offensive weapons systems to effing Russia?

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- A cutting-edge French warship sailed into St. Petersburg on Monday to show off its capabilities to potential buyers in the Russian Navy, whose pursuit of an amphibious assault capacity is frightening some neighboring countries.

Russia's once-mighty navy was severely degraded after the fall of the Soviet Union and it currently has no big ship with the power to anchor in coastal waters and deploy troops onto land.

Russian officials said this year that they were planning to make their first arms deal with a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by buying a French vessel like the Mistral, a 299-meter ship able to carry more than a dozen helicopters, which would in turn be able to haul hundreds of troops into enemy territory.

You know, enemy territory... like Georgia, or Ukraine, or Moldova or something.

Hey, you know I have no problem with the way you help yourself, France, but these guys are fast company. Seriously, WTF are they thinking? I'm sure they were just talking about pierogies and snow and shit, but let's cut that out. Make your money somewhere else, dude. The Georgians, of course, think this is awesome.
"We strongly oppose the sale of such ship to Russia," said Nika Laliashvili, a member of the Georgian parliament's defense-affairs committee. "It poses a serious danger to Georgia."
Oh, wait.

You've probably heard by now...

...but it looks like the President will make a speech soon after the holiday weekend announcing the way forward in Afghanistan.

President Obama is expected to address the nation early next week, saying he will send a sizable force of additional troops to Afghanistan, sources tell NPR.

The tentative plan is for the president to make his announcement Dec. 1, followed shortly thereafter by testimony on Capitol Hill by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Also expected to brief Congress is the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Hopefully we'll get around to saying something about all this before the President chimes in. (I mean, geez, the least he could do is give us like four or five months' warning.)

Abu Muqawama goes dark

To the disappointment of a legion of followers, friend of Ink Spots Andrew Exum has called time on his day-to-day involvement with the blog. Says Ex:
I may have a certain talent for writing clever 200-word blog posts and offering sound bites on television, but I enjoy neither doing so nor the effects of doing so. In my heart, I would much rather do research, read more books, play more rugby and take on a more active role in my community than be some public figure sprinting from television interview to radio spot, twittering in the cab along the way.

So how will this blog change? First off, let me tell you how it will stay the same. This blog will remain an active website hosted by CNAS, and it will remain a home for Londonstani's awesome field reports from such dangerous places as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the ends of the Victoria Line. Second, I aim to use this blog in a different way than I have so far done. I look to friends like Marc Lynch and Reidar Visser and admire the way they use their blogs to highlight ongoing academic and policy research. I aim to do the same, which means you can expect me to post far less often but in a more considered way.

I don't think it's going to come as a surprise when I tell you that Abu Muqawama was the inspiration for this blog; it's probably even fair to say that we're a derivative site. Each of our contributors was once a frequent commenter on Ex's blog, and it's fair to say that we wouldn't know each other today (much less be friends) if it hadn't been for the outstanding forum that those threads provided.

When we decided to start our own pseudo-COIN blog, it was mostly to try to fill a void: Ex had gone to Afghanistan for the summer, and Abu Muqawama had started to suffer some of the ill effects of his increasing visibility (with the attendant spike in readership and, unfortunately, increasingly inane commentary from the fleet of unpleasant "Visitor"s). None of us had any illusions about matching AM's readership, but we all agreed that a best-case scenario would be to produce content and dialogue that came close to approximating the old brown-and-green blog. We still have that to aspire to.

So anyway: thanks, Ex. And, yeah, practice rugby more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"It's not a soldier's job, but often only a soldier can do it"

Considering the ongoing conversation this week about the role of the military in reconstruction and development, I'm going to post in its entirety Secretary Gates' response to a question he fielded yesterday at the National Guard Joint Senior Leadership Conference.

Q Good morning, sir. Steve Danner, adjutant general of the state of Missouri. We were the first ones to put the agriculture development team into Afghanistan in Kandahar province. You stated in an article that you wrote earlier this year and I'll quote here, "Apart from the Special Forces community and some dissident colonels, however, for decades, there's been no strong, deeply rooted constituency inside the Pentagon or elsewhere for institutionalizing the capabilities necessary to wage asymmetric or irregular warfare or conflicted to quickly meet the ever-changing needs of forces engaged in these conflicts being Iraq and Afghanistan."

Sir, I'd like maybe a comment on the think tanks in Washington now talk about a civilian surge. And it’s been my opinion that we've had a civilian surge in the sense that the citizen soldiers of the National Guard are your civilian surge with those special civilian capabilities to bring governance and infrastructure, reconstruction programs to Afghanistan.

And I'd like your thoughts about a formal structure of the agriculture development teams and PRTs and those entities that are working on more of the peacekeeping and governance programs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

SEC. GATES: The Secretary-General of the U.N. many years ago, Dag Hammarskjold in referring to peacekeeping said, "It's not a soldier's job, but often only a soldier can do it."

I think that there's a question of sequencing here when we have -- and it ties in with the capabilities we can bring -- when the security situation still is not stable enough for civilians to be deployed. It seems to me what's really important as we clear, hold and build that the build -- that these are not sequential. We have to hold and clear or clear and hold, but we need the development assistance. We need money like the CERP funds [Commander's Emergency Response Program] in there not when security is completely established, but right after we've cleared.

We need people as General Petraeus did in Iraq, as soon as we've cleared an area literally the next day or the same day, we need somebody in there with some money and some capability that begins putting young men to work and putting a shovel or a broom in their hands instead of a gun. And it seems to me that's often the situation where the Guard and the expertise in the Guard can provide the initial response in areas in Afghanistan until the security situation is stabilized enough for the civilians to come in.

Now, the truth of the matter is as I've said for almost two and a half years now, the civilian elements of our government that were expert in these areas have been neglected for a very long time. When I retired in 1993, the Agency for International Development had about 16,000 employees. It was an expeditionary agency. Most of those people had the kind of expertise in agricultural development, rule of law, governance, water systems, irrigation systems and so on. And they expected to be deployed to developing countries. They expected to live in primitive conditions. And they expected to have situations that were occasionally dangerous. And that was part of their career and that was part of what they wanted to do with their lives.

The Agency for International Development now has about 3,000 employees and it's mainly a contracting agency. So we've lost that civilian capacity that played such an important role for us in the developing world all through the Cold War. And so I think that until, and it is beginning to change under both Secretary Rice and now under Secretary Clinton and with the support of two successive presidents and the Congress, the State Department is beginning to get the kind of funding that is necessary for -- to rebuild these capabilities. But it's still a ways in the future and, in my view, there has to be a role. There will be a role for us and particularly as one of the central themes in the QDR is the development of partnership relationships with other partner relationships with other countries so that we can help them build their capacity so we don't have to send soldiers in there. Part of that will be helping them with some of their development and I think the partner relationships that exist between a number of our state Guards and these others countries and I will tell you ever time I meet with a minister of defense of a country where we have those kinds of relationships, they bring it up with me.

So I think that there will be an institutional role for the Guard in this arena, but I will tell you I don't think it's a function we should take over as a long-term significant mission of men and women in uniform. I think this is basically a civilian task and we ought to be there to help them. We ought to be there when we're in a situation like Afghanistan where the security may not be as strong enough for civilians to go in, to have people in there working on agricultural development and so on as the first phase so that we aren't waiting too long to begin showing people ways in which their lives can improve on a daily basis.

My own view is we need to be very cautious about some of the big projects that people think about for development. That reminds me of the way the Soviet Union did business. What we need and what works, in my view, is to do things that can be done quickly and that in a small village can show people that their lives have actually changed for the better by ISAF troops being there. And it can be a well. It can be an all-weather road for local farmers. It can be a little bridge. It can be a one room schoolhouse. You can do a lot of these small projects within the framework of the dollars that we have available. But the most important thing about them is that the Afghans see them and the local Afghans see their lives getting better because we're there. The first stage of doing that, I think, can be done by our military forces and especially by the National Guard, but longer term, that mission has to go to the civilian side of the government.

It's sort of telling that this was the longest and most involved response that Gates gave yesterday. There's a lot here to digest.

As far as I can tell, they got this pretty much right

A new and strikingly accurate map of the world from the blog of the enviro-travel magazine Wend:

Pretty much nailed it.

(This post is a response to doubts about our collective Americanness! And I'm just kidding. (Mostly.))

Thursday, November 19, 2009

AFRICOM's Sensitive Ego

Foreign Policy has an article out titled "Think Again: Africom" by Elizabeth Dickinson. It's a little light, but that's not surprising given where it's been published (these are the people who see fit to give Tom Ricks a forum). Once you get past the fact that they consistently refer to the command as Africom (as opposed to its real name which is AFRICOM), I don't see anything factually incorrect with this article. At a minimum, it addresses the "conventional wisdom" surrounding the command, probably without adequately addressing all of the issues that drive that CW, or prove or disprove said CW. Not like the paper I highlighted here.

Probably most interesting in all of this (if you've already read the CRS paper) is that someone from the AFRICOM Public Affairs Office, a Vince Crawley, commented on the article. That is odd coming from a combatant command. And I don't think Mr. Crawley makes very persuasive arguments, it just sounds like complaining about some very valid concerns surrounding AFRICOM. But could you imagine CENTCOM responding to every article about it? Especially ones that are actually pretty objective? Very bizarre. The AFRICOM PAO doesn't seem all that ready to handle the messaging issues that the command will require. If you doubt me, look them up on Facebook and see what they put out every day. I'm sure you'll be equally unimpressed.

Plans for Afghan development aid getting it exactly backwards

Aid is a vital part of counterinsurgency, right? Development projects help back up improvements in security and win over support from the local population for the counterinsurgent and the legitimate government, so goes the thinking. We ought not be surprised, then, with this:

The White House is developing “clear targets” for both the Afghan and Pakistani
governments, possibly with specific timelines, as a way to signal that the American military presence will not last indefinitely, American officials said. It is not yet clear what the administration is willing to do if the targets are not met.

Among other things, the officials said, the administration will insist that Afghanistan fight corruption, speed up troop training and retention, and funnel development assistance to areas the Taliban dominate.

Emphasis in the above is mine. Only problem with the latter bit is that it's precisely the opposite of what we ought to be doing to help stabilize and legitimize the Karzai government. (A case can be made, too, that rapid expansion of the ANSF is similarly counterproductive to this aim.)

So why is it wrong? Well, it's pretty simple: pouring money and development assistance into areas dominated by the Taliban means that 1) everything we do will be much more expensive, 2) the prospects of failure are much higher, imperiling the government's overall legitimacy and control over areas previously deemed "quiet" and "safe," and 3) the enemy will gain from our efforts to the extent that any of them are successful in delivering benefits to insurgent-controlled (or insurgent-influenced) areas.

Control comes before collaboration. The support of individuals and groups is contested by the insurgent and the counterinsurgent through the provision of services and the suggestion of legitimacy, sure, but that only happens after one party is able to largely prevent the other from contesting territory and/or a subject population through force and security. The Taliban doesn't run sharia courts for the local nationals who work at Bagram; why? Because it's senseless to spend resources pitching a guy who cannot plausibly shift his support to the group that's unable to access or protect him. Pouring money and bridges and wells and so on into places that coalition or government forces cannot consistently and safely access decouples those resources from the counterinsurgent's most important tool: presence.

Kilcullen's been on this point lately, too: why spend all our resources in "red areas" when we've got a lot of light green areas we could be shoring up with those efforts? Why contest the hardest spots first? (And further, why work on connecting more of the population to a government that as yet doesn't seem to be competent enough to reap any benefit in legitimacy or support from being more closely connected to more of its citizens?)

There's a whole lot more to say about this -- it speaks to the "ink spots strategy" issues that Bernard and Christian have recently highlighted, and to which I've yet to respond -- and I hope to cover a lot more ground in a comprehensive Afghanistan "path-forward" post in the coming days.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Germany Arrests FDLR Leaders

In case you missed it, Germany arrested two key FDLR leaders earlier this week.
Ignace Murwanashyaka, the leader of the FDLR rebel group, and his aide Straton Musoni were held on suspicion of crimes against humanity and war crimes
Jason Stearns, over at Congo Siasa, explains why this matters (incidentally, if you're interested in DRC and you don't read his blog, you should, it's great). In short, while these two leaders have not been in Rwanda for years, the UN group of experts (of which Stearns was a member last year) has documented the FDLR's reliance on its leaders abroad. It's been tricky though to get Germany and other states to act on evidence against these officials. I suspect that Germany in particular might have been encouraged to do so after being briefed by the current group of experts on new evidence on these leaders. As Jason says, you'll have to wait for the report (due out mid-December at the latest) to find out what that evidence is.

Meanwhile, Rwanda has requested the extradition of the arrested leaders. This BBC article also has more on the FDLR.

Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic (The Film)

Have any of you heard about this? The Watson Institute's Global Media Project, at Brown University, just won the Audience Award at the 50th Festival dei Popoli in Florence last month for its film on Human Terrain teams.

You can watch the trailer here.

It's an interesting trailer and the film apparently discusses the formation and work of Human Terrain teams. I haven't seen it obviously but I'm curious to find out if anyone has and if so, what you thought.

Putting the "Inter" Back into Interagency

I'm fully aware that there are many of our readers who aren't fans of Michael Cohen's work over at Democracy Arsenal. A lot of that has to do with the bad rap he got over at AM many moons ago. For those of you said he was wrong, please go read his Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch series (I've linked to it previously) and see how right he's been for the past few months.

So while he still rails on mission creep, Michael has also been doing some great writing on military dominance in the D3 world (or 3D, depending on who you work for, which stands for: Defense, Diplomacy, Development). I highly recommend reading this post and this post. A lot of this is what I was getting at in this post on AFRICOM.

Michael makes some very interesting points on the role of USAID in post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization. This mission set seems to dominate that agency's agenda these days and Michael is spot on that that's wrong.

Maybe instead of an interagency USOCO as Bowen recommends, maybe DoD should have its own reconstruction arm for post-conflict everything. Lord knows DoD has the money and then reconstruction could be drawn from Title X funds instead of AID funds. I should mention that if this were the case they should be DoD civilians, not Soldiers and/or Marines. Then USAID could stop complaining about cleaning up after the military and do their normal jobs and DoD can stop complaining that USAID doesn't do enough for them. Win - win for everyone, right? Thoughts?

We're Famous! Well, Sort of...

At least the name of our blog is gaining more traction, even if it has nothing to do with us. Starbuck (as you all know writes Wings Over Iraq) brought this great post from War is Boring to my attention this morning. So read on for those of you interested in the history of the term ink spots - there are some great links here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Well that was a pretty easy fix

Two notes from today's news: first, Afghanistan comes in at number 179 (or for you glass half-full types, #2 Most Corrupt!) in Transparency International's Corruption Perception's Index (h/t Ex).

Of course, there's a simple solution for that, right? SPECIAL ANTI-CORRUPTION SQUAD!
Afghan officials launched a new anti-corruption unit and major crime fighting force Monday amid stiff international pressure to clean up the government following a fraud-tainted presidential election.

The Afghan government has been dogged by corruption for years and this is the third formal launch of a unit promising to rein in rampant graft and bribery. But Afghan government officials told reporters this attempt has a better chance because of a real desire to succeed and strong international backing.

It has also been accompanied this time by international threats.

I picture them wearing ninja suits and shoulder patches depicting Themis and the Scales.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry both praised the plan and called for follow-through.

"It requires action. Words are cheap. Deeds are required," he told reporters.

And ninjas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ink Spots reader kicks ass, takes names

Just kidding, not really. But Mike Few is quoted here about a program he's involved in out in Salinas, California, to help stem gang violence.

Not gonna lie: I'm a little uncomfortable with the application of military concepts to domestic policing, however simple it is for us to see the overlaps.

On Modifiers

There has been a lot of talk these days in Washington regarding the intersection of terrorism, drugs, governance, and criminal networks. You can pretty much put "narco-" in front of anything. And there's much ado about how terrorist networks are working with, or modelling themselves after, criminal networks. And there's also the new-ish "natural" or "environmental" security problem space. Okay. So what?

Let's be very clear here, violence used by any actor outside of the legitimate government (sure, that can be debated in some cases) is illegal in any country and the spilling of that violence over international boundaries creates problems towards violations of international law. Period. And while I'm ranting, nations fight each other for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it's because their antagonists don't look like them and sometimes it's because of what happens to water sources when they flow downstream. Does the nature of conflict, outside of genocide, differ significantly because of the impetus of the conflict? And of course terrorist networks look like criminal networks - that's because they are criminal networks, albeit with political rather than monetary goals.

So why do we need to use modifiers for all of these types of problems? Is narco-violence any different than normal violence? To me the only difference is that drugs are involved. So how does that delineation change the government's response to the violence?

I may be way off on this, but it seems to me that we're trying to pigeon-hole all the various types of violations to the rule of law that we can. In some circles, it apparently helps model the violators. But I doubt the validity of that in a global sense. Is the Taliban a political insurgency, a narco-insurgency, or a terrorist organization? They seem to be a little bit of each and can't be compared 1 to 1 to Mao, the FARC, or al Qaeda. So what does the labeling give us?

My point is that I firmly believe that these labels don't help with the analysis and planning for solutions to combat these types of illegalities. I think that some analysts and pundits will use the categorization to simplify the problem, as opposed to looking at each case in depth and building from there. While all criminality is not equal or similar, maybe we should de-scope the generalities and take a good, hard, long look at specific problems. I have no doubts that Neustadt and May would disapprove of the modifiers and rightly so.

Assume: Makes an...

Being a former Army guy, I'll admit that I don't read Proceedings all that often. But while tooling around their website looking for something else, I noticed this from the current edition. The authors don't put a whole of detail into these arguments, but I still can't see anything wrong with their assumptions, or at least their assumption adjustments.

There are many contested "facts" and assumptions about Afghanistan. But it seems to me that in the discourse surrounding the way ahead, a lot of pre-Iraq style assumptions are used. That is to say, the Least Dangerous Course of Action to simplify planning. Strategists cannot just assume away all of the difficult aspects of their campaign in order to create a palatable plan.

So please read and heed. I firmly believe that any plan that doesn't adequately address these planning assumptions is doomed to failure. And it seems to me the planners are going straight down that path.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New UN Panel of Experts on Sudan Report

The UN Security Council's Panel of Experts on the Sudan has released its annual report. As expected it's a page turner. At 94 pages, with photographs (always the fun part), it documents violations of the arms embargo both by the Sudanese authorities and by other belligerents.

As the New York Times reports, an interesting tidbit is that it seems the Government of Sudan has obtained UAVs from Iran...Sudan, which of course tries to trip up investigations as much as possible (by delaying visas and the like). Apparently, Sudan is going to ask for the Panel's mandate to be terminated (it wasn't, it was renewed through October 2010).

According to the New York Times, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, described the Expert Panel members as follows:

“They are just representatives of Western intelligence agencies,” he said in an interview. “We are fed up with this committee. Our position is a total rejection of this report.”

Finally, the report documents human rights violations, attacks on villages, and of course attempts to track weapons shipments.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Elections in Cote d'Ivoire Delayed Again

This has been coming for a long time, but on Wednesday, the head of the Ivoirian elections commission finally announced that the much anticipated presidential elections would be delayed, this time by two months. The ballot had been scheduled for November 29.

Why finally and this time you ask? Well, because Cote d'Ivoire's election has been delayed five times since 2005 now, each time for a different reason. Most of the delays stemmed from hurdles to voter identification and registration. These processes were finally completed but they led to uncertainty over the eligibility of about one million voters (if you want a good overview, visit the Cote d'Ivoire page on the Crisis Group website).

Now, on Abidjan radio stations a couple weeks ago, when it became clear the elections would have to be delayed, there was a lot of talk about whether these one million people were just people who had tried to register several times, or whether they were actually people with a right to vote. A main concern, given the nature of the Ivoirian conflicts, is that "foreigners" are not able to vote.

I don't know how much of a sample I got listening to the radio in taxicabs but on reliable stations like Radio France Internationale, the consensus seemed to be that a short delay would give the election much needed legitimacy. Still, both stations and local papers were suspicious of the President and his motivations. After all, he had just taken steps to appoint a new President of the Conseil Constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council which would adjudicate difficulties with the elections) and put in place a loyalist. Overall, the feeling I got in Abidjan and rebel-held Bouake was one of simmering tension and suspicion. I'll not use silly images here because you can imagine what they would be if I did.

So all this to say, keep an eye on the Ivoirian electoral process. I actually think this time the elections will be held in two months. They're basically organized, candidates are registered and campaigning has begun in earnest. But given the machinations to which both the President and Prime Minister are prone, these elections can't be D- elections. If they are even somewhat fraudulent, the elections commission and the constitutional council need to do their jobs in a fair way. One thing is for sure, as several French officers (both from Licorne and the UN) and UNOCI officials told me, the reduced French force (called Licorne--it has just under 800 troops mostly in Abidjan) and the 7,000 strong UN force won't be able to secure the country if the population decides it doesn't like the way the elections are handled.


On this dreary Friday in DC, I thought this would be a good time to bring your attention to a new publication from the Center for Complex Operations at NDU: PRISM. They've just published their first volume and it looks pretty good - it's like a peer-reviewed version of SWJ with an interagency perspective. I think those of you who read this blog will really enjoy it. Here is their spiel:

PRISM is a quarterly national security journal tailored to serve policy-makers, scholars and practitioners working to enhance U.S. Government competency in complex operations by exploring approaches among U.S. Government agencies, academic institutions, international governments and militaries, non-governmental organizations and other participants in the complex operations space. PRISM is chartered by the Center for Complex Operations (CCO) and it welcomes articles on a broad range of complex operations issues, especially those that focus on the nexus of civil-military integration.

So make a cup of tea, put on your fuzzy slippers, and warm up with some great articles on complex operations. You can get the journal here. Enjoy. (H/T to Alma)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yemen: Operation Scorched Earth failing to scorch earth, defeat insurgents

Not many people noticed, but the Saudi air force blew up 40-odd Houthi rebels inside Yemen last week. Now Sana'a is telling everyone to mind their own business (and the Iranians agree).

Yemen told outside powers Wednesday to stay out of its battle with a Shiite rebel group in its northwest amid concerns that Iran and Saudi Arabia are being drawn into the conflict.

The statement, carried by the state news agency Saba and attributed to a Foreign Ministry source, followed a statement of concern for Yemen's "national unity and territorial integrity" by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Tuesday.

"We welcome what Mottaki affirmed about Iran's position towards Yemen's unity and stability, and Yemen reaffirms that it definitely rejects the interference in its internal affairs by any party," the statement said. It said Yemen's battle with the Houthi, a Shiite Muslim rebel movement, is "an internal Yemeni affair, and Yemen can solve its issues without any interference from others."

Here's the basic story: Yemen was ruled for a millennium by adherents of the Zaydi sect of Shi'a Islam. A 1962 revolution changed that, and the government has been Sunni-majority -- and according to some, anti-Shi'a -- ever since. (Greater Yemen would not be united as one country until 1990: South Yemen remained an independent, Soviet-aligned state from the time of the British departure from the region through the remainder of the Cold War.)

When civil war broke out in 1994, the northern government was aided by Saudi Wahhabis in its efforts to quell the southern rebellion. Yemeni Zaydis accuse Sana'a of snuggling up too closely to the Wahhabis as a result, which is a problem for them for pretty obvious reasons. Since then, a succession of Zaydi religious and political leaders have railed against alleged anti-Shi'a discrimination by the government. This resentment boiled over into insurgency in 2004, when Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi -- leader of the Zaydis, hence the "Houthi insurgency" -- mobilized an armed group called Shabab al-Mumineen. He got got later that year, but his brothers have picked up the banner.

Now as you might imagine, there are outside players that have an interest in how this whole thing turns out. Yemen is a U.S. ally, however weak, and we're dependent upon that government to secure its own territory, aid in the fight against global terrorism, etc etc. (The more you learn about the specifics of the Yemeni situation, obviously, the less sensible it seems to consider insurgency and civil strife there as just another manifestation of some kind of global jihad. Not that any sensible people still look at the world that way anyway, but I digress...) The Saudis support the Yemeni government against the rebels for the same reason they're uncomfortable with Shi'a sectarians and revivalist movements in other neighboring countries: the monarchy fears anything that may inflame its own Shi'a minority and destabilize the Kingdom. And then there's Iran (and allegedly Hizballah, maybe?), which is thought to provide some support to its Shi'a co-religionists.

So now you've got a sort of surprising turn of events: Sana'a is getting bent out of shape at the Saudis, who support the Yemeni government, for going vigilante on the Houthis -- that is, for killing their shared enemy. But there's the whole sovereignty and territorial integrity thing, and it's bad PR for the world to see that Yemen is incapable of handling its own business. Ironically, in the long term the Saudi military might be negatively impacting the Yemeni government's ability to maintain whatever scraps of legitimacy it still holds on to and thus to effectively deal with its own insurgency. (Sound familiar, Pakistan watchers?)

Of course you've probably already picked up on the biggest irony of all of this, as far as U.S. policy goes: we support the Yemeni government, which in the past has received support from Saudi Wahhabis, in its efforts to quell a Shi'a insurgency (aligned with Iran and perhaps Hizballah) and secure its territory against al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorists... who are fundamentalist Sunnis (and sometimes maybe even Wahhabis).

If you're not with us, you're against us!

Oh yeah, and then there's this (since we're supposedly a COIN blog and all):

"This gets played off as Sunni-Shia, and it's wrong," says Hiltermann of ICG. "The Shia of Yemen are more Sunni than any other Shia in the world. And the Sunni of Yemen are more Shia than any Sunni in the world."

Despite some boilerplate anti-Western and anti-Israeli statements, the Houthis "don't have any serious ideology or set of grievances, for that matter," argues Hiltermann.

"It was just a few angry guys who in 2004 stepped out of the political process and started a little rebellion."

But the government response has aggravated matters. "Due to the heavyhanded techniques of the government, over time, this has grown into an entirely different thing," he adds. "Now the population has been bombed into a major grievance. Their houses are gone and they have no compensation, so now you have a real conflict."

But none of this is our problem, right? Proxy war in the Arabian Peninsula always goes down smooth!

"The American soldier is a pretty impressive young man."

I'm a bit late on this one, but I hope everyone took time today to consider the sacrifice of those who have served this country and who continue to do so. One of the more moving things I read on this Veteran's Day was George Packer's account of a memorial service in Afghanistan last May for two soldiers from 3 BCT, 10th Mountain.

I asked Adler how his company had taken these two deaths. “The men are really resilient,” he said. “They’ve held together pretty well. These are numbers fourteen and fifteen for me since I’ve joined the Army.” He smiled slightly. “The American soldier is a pretty impressive young man.”

At the memorial service, Adler had been the first speaker. “Nothing will bring back our brothers in arms,” he had said. “But we can go on fighting for our nation, and for each other.” His emphasis was on the last three words.

Sometimes we forget that the men and women facing danger for this country are just regular guys and gals, many of them 19-year old dudes who'd be playing X-Box or hanging out at the mall if they weren't taking hostile fire on the other side of the world. (If you need a reminder, check out this Denver Post photoessay that Ex highlighted earlier in the week.) But they are there, doing hard things -- and doing them with a rare sort of confidence and strength, as CPT Adler reminds us -- and we're not. We ought to be thankful for that, and for them.

As we remember our veterans here in America, let's think also about what else this day means in so many places around the world: armistice, peace, freedom, and in some cases, independence reborn.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The soundtrack to the descent into chaos?

To complement Londonstani's excellent reporting over at Abu Muqawama on what's happening the other side of the Durand Line, this New York Times video feature on how Pakistani pop stars and the educated youth regard the TTP and the West is worth 9 minutes of your time.

Money line at about 3:40:

You talk to a musician over here and you ask him what's the problem, he won't come out with the most fantastic insightful answer for you. He'll come out with the most rhetorical, most cliched crap.

If only that was limited to Pakistani pop stars. Or musicians.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Afghanistan: protracted war, but not Protracted War

In a post yesterday about a Dave Kilcullen talk on Afghanistan, I mentioned that he said that this conflict was not a Maoist Protracted War in the doctrinal sense. A comment which has received some interest for follow up (MikeF to name one in the comments section, and some others through email).

The second part of his statement on the matter was that it wasn't Maoist, it was Focoist. I didn't get that in the first cut yesterday because I had to write and run and didn't get everything down. But I think it's an interesting statement. Although one I can't say I fully agree with.

Now, I'm no expert on Focoism. But for those of you who know even less than I do, the model was set in Cuba in which the violence foments popular uprising as opposed to the other way around in Maoism. That's it in super-distilled nutshell.

So Kilcullen is saying that it's not Protracted War (not Maoist) and is Focoist instead. He was not saying it was not a protracted war (long). But I think what he was saying was incomplete. He's probably right in some parts of the country. But like a lot of things in Afghanistan, Focoism doesn't describe other areas (such as northern provinces with new-found insurgencies). The problem with Afghanistan is the disparities across cultural boundaries that do not permit overarching statements like "Afghanistan does not follow a Maoist template" to fly. I think it over-simplifies the issue.

I could probably talk about this specific topic for a while, but I'm interested in our readers' thoughts on it. Especially those of you who reacted to my original post with a "whhaaa?"

Brave new world, same as the meek old world

Two news stories posted without comment.

Amos Harel, "Most advanced, expensive fighter jet headed to Israel," Ha'aretz.

The largest defense deal in Israeli history, for the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter aircraft, is advancing, slowly but surely.

The rounds of talks among the defense establishment, the Pentagon and manufacturer Lockheed-Martin have significantly narrowed the gaps between the parties.

The United States is scheduled to respond next week to Israel's express request for 25 of the jets.

Jerusalem is to reach a final decision by early 2010, and there's a good chance a deal will be signed by the middle of the year.

Assuming Lockheed maintains its original production timetable the first fighters will be delivered in 2014.

Two years later, Israel will have its first operational squadron of F-35s, consisting of 25 fighter aircraft representing the cutting edge of U.S. technology (Israel's too, it is hoped), capable of any mission.

Farhan Bokhari, "Pakistan in Chinese fighter jet deal," Financial Times.

China has agreed to sell Pakistan at least 36 advanced fighter jets in a landmark deal worth as much as $1.4 billion, according to Pakistani and western officials.

Beijing will supply two squadrons of the J-10 fighter jet in a preliminary agreement that could lead to more sales to Pakistan in the future, said a Pakistani official.

The official said Pakistan might buy “larger numbers” of the multi-role aircraft in the future, but dismissed reports that Pakistan had inked a deal to buy as many as 150 of the fighter jets.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Diagnosis from Down Under

Today, the Australian Army hosted the Australian Army Symposium at their embassy in Washington. It was a pretty good program that included the Australian Chief of Army, Dave Kilcullen, Michael Evans, a commando battalion commander recently returned from Afghanistan, and some others. I'd like to talk more about Dr. K's bit, but for now I'll just throw out my notes from his talk. He talked about Afghanistan (no kidding), so this is it from his point of view with some editorial notes:

Afghanistan is not a traditional COIN fight, as outlined in FM 3-24, but is instead a stability operation. There are five phases to that drive the correlating instability:

1. Corruption in the Afghan government. Which drives...
2. Bad governance behaviors. Such as government officials seizing private property without eminent domain which alienates the population and drives...
3. Popular rage, discontent, and disillusionment with the government. Which of course in turn drives....
4. Creation of space for the Taliban to fill the political and military gaps. Which then...
5. Promotes poppy growth to fund Taliban activities. Oh, and since there's all this poppy money, that drives corruption of local government officials who want a piece of the pie....

And back to the beginning we go. I don't think anyone here will find that all terribly surprising. He next went into the Taliban strategy: Discredit, Exhaust, Inherit. This isn't a Maoist protracted war - but time is on their side. The longer the Afghan government remains illegitimate and bad, the harder it is for the West to justify their intervention, and then we leave the country to the Taliban.

Next up are Taliban tactics. Dr. K framed this discussion around Taliban organization, the elements of which are:

1. Main Force Column. 100-300 person force who are extremely mobile. They serve in Afghanistan for short durations (4-6 month tours) and are recruited and trained in Pakistan.
2. Local guerrillas. Local actors [maybe they're accidental??] who live in one valley and wait for the main force to conduct operations.
3. Village infrastructure. Local Taliban cells - could be military and/or political.
4. Support elements. Located in Pakistan and do finance, leadership, training, etc. [I guess even insurgents need the ash and trash that a uniformed army does.]
5. Terrorist cells. These guys run parallel, but not coordinated operations with the main force. [The description made them sound like the Taliban's version of SOF.]

Dr. K then said quite frankly, that we are losing. He laid out a number of reasons why and a couple ways to turn it around. Reason 1: "red-first" aid policy. We were doing reconstruction in areas with poor security instead of using the aid to solidify gains in "green" or pacified areas. The money quote for this one was from governor of a northern province: "Who do I have to shoot at to get some aid around here?" Awesome. Reason 2: a disengaged administration. He attributed this to the current and previous administration. He didn't seem a fan of the current and dithering debate going on currently.

So what's the fix? My distillation of his options are quite simple: go big or go home [my words, not his]. Go big would entail giving ISAF enough troops to control the environment and turn back the Taliban. Go home would be the threat (and if necessary, follow through) of withdrawl to leverage the Karzai government to start governing effectively. The Iraq Surge was a sort of combination of the two and worked somewhat successfully. What he did say that would guarantee failure would be some half-assed measure that provided some more troops but not enough to control the environment with the attitude of "let's see what happens." So go big or go home.

I can't say that I disagree with that option set. Apologies for the scatter-shot of notes, but they struck me as interesting and worth sharing. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Maybe not "The End of History," but certainly the Beginning of Life Not Sucking So Bad

It's difficult, I think, for people who have never lived in an un-free society to appreciate exactly how galling are the countless petty injusticies that the inhabitants of those places must face on a daily basis. Living in a Warsaw Pact country more than a decade after the Wall fell, I got a taste for the different sort of relationship that people have to government, the sense of resignation at incompetent bureacracy and bullying authority. After forty-odd years of totalitarianism, there's not much room left for outrage.

That's why I think it's so important that amidst all the talk this week about the 20th anniversary of the Wall's fall, the meaning of the Cold War's end, and the progress (or lack thereof) towards global liberty over the last two decades, we should remember exactly what that day meant for millions of people: not the End of History, not universal emancipation, and not the permanent demise of tyranny, but real, genuine freedom for people who had suffered its absence for so long. From George Packer's piece in this week's New Yorker:
A recent Pew poll shows that Germans, Czechs, and Poles remain relatively enthusiastic about democracy and capitalism; Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Lithuanians less so. Former East Germans’ hopes of achieving the living standards of their Western countrymen have not been fulfilled, and the inevitable disappointments have muted anniversary celebrations. Last month in Dresden, a retired schoolteacher acknowledged the pining of some East Germans for their simpler, cozier former lives under state socialism. There’s even a neologism for it: Ostalgie. But, the teacher said, “What matters is that I can talk with an American journalist without going to jail, that I can travel without filling out forms, that I can read what I want to read, that I’m not told what TV station I can watch and not watch, that at school I don’t have to say something that I don’t say in private at home. This is what is decisive to me today.”
And there's something to be said for that, eh?

Casey favors Afghanistan escalation, but should he?

Army Chief of Staff GEN George Casey lent his support yesterday to GEN McChrystal's request for additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"I believe that we need to put additional forces into Afghanistan to give Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal the ability to both dampen the success of the Taliban while we train the Afghan security forces," Gen. Casey said on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," referring to the U.S. commander in Kabul.

Gen. Casey declined to say whether he backed Gen. McChrystal's specific request for
40,000 additional troops. But he joins other military officials, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in voicing public support for a new buildup.

Gen. Casey's backing could carry more weight than others'. When he was commander in Iraq -- a position he held until early 2007 -- the general was only a reluctant supporter of the "surge" of forces into Iraq. At the time, he expressed concerns that more U.S. troops could anger Iraqis and put dangerous levels of stress on American forces. He has raised similar concerns about repeated deployments since taking over the top Army job in 2007.

That last paragraph highlights why GEN Casey's endorsement of an Afghan "surge" is so unexpected (well, at least by me) and potentially important: his priority over the last several years -- even as commander of MNF-I -- has often seemed to be the health of the Army rather than accomplishment of the mission. On the one hand, Casey's support for additional forces is a welcome development as it demonstrates his prioritization of strategic objectives: the Army is a tool in the national arsenal, a means through which national objectives are accomplished; its health should not in itself be the priority. (Of course I understand that there's a useful deterrent effect to be gained from maintaining a robust, mobile, expeditionary ground force, and I'm not suggesting we should allow it to atrophy. Rather if the president and the Congress determine that its use and possible degradation are necessary in the pursuit of the national interest, then casualties, OPTEMPO, equipment wear, dwell time, and so on become secondary concerns.)

Now on the other hand, I'm not sure a service chief should be weighing in on the resource requests of a combatant or theater commander. He's well within his rights to say "the Army can (or cannot) support this request with existing resources," or "here are the potential consequences (in dwell time, overall readiness, etc.) of sending additional troops." But is it his job to be passing judgment on how the mission gets accomplished, or what the political leadership should be providing resource-wise to the battlefield commander?

At the end of the day, the modern Army's primary function is to serve as a provider of trained and ready land forces for employment by the combatant commanders. (There's a reason we have an Army Chief of Staff rather than an Army Commanding General.) GEN Casey should've spoken up when he was a field commander. It's that guy's job to determine what forces are neccessary to accomplish a specific mission; the service is there to serve him.

As for now, he might've missed his window. He's gotten it exactly backwards: service chiefs should be concerned with the health of their service, with the sustainability of each particular mission and deployment, and with the effects of conflict on the force as it plays a part in the bigger picture.


We are not all French. In fact, some of us don't even speak French (ahemGunslingercough).

So, for the record:

Alma -- French. Like, for real, full-on French.
Lil -- Franco-American. But still really, really French.
Gulliver and Gunslinger -- Not French at all. Like 0% French. As French as we are Belgian. Which is to say not at all.

Hope this helps.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mission: Readiness and a strange lack of perspective

You may have heard by now about Mission: Readiness, an group that sums itself up as "nonprofit, bi-partisan organization led by senior retired military leaders ensuring continued American security and prosperity into the 21st century by calling for smart investments in the next generation of American children." They've been getting a fair bit of press (even from nutters!) as they prepared for today's roll-out, in conjunction with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, of a report on the fitness for military service of today's American youth. (Here's the press release.) Most of the reporting/outrage/gee-whiz factor has been related to one statistic. From the website's front page:

Today we are confronted by a sobering statistic from the U.S. Army: 75% of young Americans are ineligible to serve their country because they have either failed to graduate high school, engaged in criminal activity, or are physically or mentally unfit.

We need a bold strategy to inspire our young people to do better, and to increase the chances that they will succeed. [emphasis added]

I've seen this number flying around the internet for the last couple of days, notably in a friend's Facebook status message: "75% of people 17-24 are unfit to serve due to weight, education or criminal history. 30% Of those were too fat. So 45% are too stupid or convicted. Rome burns." He's actually got it wrong, of course, because we're talking not only about lack of physical fitness but also medical disqualifiers like asthma, joint injuries, irregular heartbeat, and so on.

It's also worth noting (as Mission: Readiness does in a footnote at the bottom of the homepage) that this data comes from a 2005 study for the Army's Center for Accessions Research. In the intervening period, a number of waivers have been granted for educational shortfalls and small-time criminality (though the troubled economy has helped push recruiting standards back up in the last several months by attracting jobless high-school grads with clean records).

But none of this is why I'm writing about Mission: Readiness. Really I just wanted to say that I think it's pretty freakin' weird to be talking about early childhood education, parenting guidance, mental and nutrition services, and so on as matters of national security. I mean, there's a case to be made for doing more of all of that, though reasonable people will disagree about how good that case is. (Believe me, my Yellow Dog Democrat girlfriend will give you all the reasons.) And there's a case to be made that the American military edge comes from "the quality of our people," the unique talents and qualifications of the American fighting man, and whatnot (though I'd argue that this is more often a matter of training, doctrine, and resources than of personnel "raw materials"). But really, is the best way to argue in favor of what would necessarily be a vast expansion of the role of the federal government and of reasonably invasive social programs an appeal to military readiness? If you're a believer in that stuff, shouldn't it be enough that we have a lot of people who are poor, who are hungry, who are unhealthy, diabetic, fat, undereducated, unambitious, badly parented, perhaps criminally neglected, angry at school, unable to learn, and so on and so on and so on? Do you really need to pitch those programs by citing security requirements (particularly when we already have a reasonably large standing military and spend a significant amount of money on Defense personnel accounts)?

I don't want to get into a whole go-round about domestic politics, because that's not really what this is about. It just strikes me as evidence of the militarization of our public discourse, of the complete normalization of appeals to mass insecurity as a means to advance policy objectives. I typically don't have a lot of patience for complaints about how the Terror Alert Level was a cynical ploy by the Bush Administration to control Americans through fear and other stuff like that (however useless I find that system to be), but here's an example of the pernicious effect of keeping terror front of mind in the way we talk about policy and politics. We're saying that we should have less high school dropouts, hungry kids, and parents who beat their children because if we don't fix those problems, we won't have enough soldiers for our army.