Tag: AfPak

Transitioning Toward Anarchy

The second phase of the transition of security responsibility from ISAF/NATO to Afghan Security Forces has begun (the first phase began in July 2011).  This means that roughly 50% of the population will now be under the protection of Afghan troops.

Some of the areas being handed over are still quite active insurgent zones including many parts of Helmand, Ghazni, and Nangrahar provinces.  For example, Ajristan, one of the districts in Ghazni, is reportedly completely under Taliban control. In fact, the Taliban have a strong presence in 13 out of the 19 districts in the province and there is little or no presence of government employees in the Taliban dominated districts. The few secure districts are also not easily accessible because the road networks pass through surrounding districts that are dominated by the Taliban, according to the independent newspaper, Hasht-e Sobh (1 December 2011).
The situation might not be so bad if the Afghan Security Forces were well trained, professional, and a capable fighting force, but they are not really any of those things.  This is not for lack of funding. By 2014 billions of dollars will have been spent by foreign governments, mainly the US, to rapidly train and equip the soldiers, but Afghan experts fear the Afghan forces are still completely inadequate for the task. Unfortunately, Afghan forces have been bedeviled by high desertion rates, illiteracy, insurgent infiltration, and hurried training.

Of course, we should expect the announcement of several major new operations led by ISAF forces to clear out insurgent areas next spring and deal a death blow to the Taliban, but similar operations — despite lots of hype — have had limited long term effectiveness in the past — regardless of NATO propaganda

It is likely that the timing of the second phase, just before the 2nd Bonn Conference, was meant to show the international community that progress is being made. However, since the relationship between ISAF & NATO and Pakistan has publicly deteriorated in the last few days — with Pakistan now boycotting the conference, the transition process is in significant danger. A crumbling security situation, unprepared Afghan forces, and a hostile Pakistan on the border implies that there is almost no chance for the creation of a stable state in Afghanistan before foreign forces are scheduled to leave… if there was any hope to begin with.

[Cross-posted from Humayun]


Editing an Incident

The chasm between Pakistani and Western reactions to last week’s NATO attack on Pakistani forces seems to be growing if official actions/statements, media reports, conversations with friends on all sides, and ad hominem twitter flame wars are any indication.

It goes without saying that Pakistanis are still in mourning for the death of their soldiers in what is a major national tragedy for a country that has had many national tragedies in recent years. But there is more going on than the understandable hurt and anger that follows a tragic friendly fire incident. This incident appears to be intensifying the sense of humiliation felt by a large number of Pakistanis and the sense of deep mistrust felt by many Westerners after the Abbotabad raid.

There are probably a dozen other reasons why the tension is increasing at this point in time, but one that strikes me is the role of the media in fanning the flames of distrust, particularly as I see the kinds of articles being posted on social media sites by Pakistanis and Westerners.

It is obvious that the national press helps to frame and shape public opinion in any country, what is more interesting is how. (I want to be careful here: I am not making any argument about why this is being done — frankly, I don’t know why; I am not arguing that there is a conscious decision by newspaper editors in Pakistan to fuel greater distrust. I am only stating that selective or careless editing and reporting seems to limit the scope for dialog and create even more misleading impressions, although there is no doubt that the relations between Pakistan and its Western allies have been deeply strained for sometime and not without cause, i.e. some of the strains are not due to misunderstanding but to understanding one another all too well.)

Exhibits A&B: The Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper ran an article on Friday titled “Nato Plans to Quell Pakistan Based Insurgents: Guardian” which was based on the Guardian article, “Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan Based Insurgents.”  Since it was obvious that the Dawn article lifted passages word for word from the Guardian article, I thought it would be interesting to compare what was changed from the original to the version aimed toward a predominately Pakistani audience.  Using the compare document versions / track changes function on MS Word, it is easy to see what the Pakistani edits look like (see below).  Text inserted by the Dawn is underlined, text deleted by the Dawn has a strike through. Here are some initial observations — the document with tracked changes follows afterward:

1. The first and most obvious change between the two version is the different pictures which accompany each article. The Guardian shows a crowd of Pakistanis burning an effigy of President Obama, while the Dawn went with a file photo of General John Allen.  Here the credit goes to the Dawn for not choosing an inflammatory image.

2. An entire paragraph explaining how Western officials had been encouraged by the results of drone strikes in North Waziristan was deleted.  The fact that these drone strikes occurred with the cooperation of the Pakistani military is obviously critical to providing a complex framing of the events.

3. The idea that Pakistan’s army might permit a “free fire zone” in the tribal areas has also been deleted, but perhaps because it is speculative and somewhat absurd to begin with.

4. The possible explanation that NATO might have accidentally thought the fire from the Pakistani side was coming from insurgents is deleted.  This is a serious omission by the Dawn.

5. Evidence that Pakistani officials had cooperated to defuse a similar incident only a few days after the deadly attack is deleted.  Later, the Dawn also deletes the part of the Guardian story which mentions that General Allen had met with General Kayani only the day before last week’s attack to try to coordinate cross-border efforts against the insurgents’ havens in Pakistan.

6. The statistical evidence cited by ISAF which might explain why there will a planned push in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan is deleted.

Obviously, this is only a comparison of two news items in what is by now a massive and growing number of articles on the incident. So there is no way to say anything even remotely definitive. However, this little exercise makes me wonder whether these kinds of omissions in the way the incident is explained are replicated in other Pakistani accounts.  And I also had to wonder what aspects of Pakistan’s side of the story are being omitted in Western narratives…

Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan-based insurgents

 Isaf aims to reduce threat to Kabul by insurgent groups and has not ruled out cross-border raids into Pakistan commanders are planning a substantial offensive in easternAfghanistan aimed at insurgent groups based inPakistan, involving an escalation of aerial attacks on insurgent sanctuaries, and have not ruled out cross-border raids with ground troops, The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.
The aim of
offensive over the next two years is to reduce the threat represented by Pakistan-based groups loyal to insurgent leaders like the Haqqani clan, Mullah Nazir &and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

Nato hopes to reducethe level of attacks in the eastern provinces clustered around Kabul to the point where they could be contained by Afghan security forces after transition in 2014.The move is likely to add to already tense atmosphere following recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that resulted in death of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The move is likely to add to the already tense atmosphere following the recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. On Thursday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani,ordered his troops to return fire if they came under attack again by its ally.
While drawing down forces in Helmand
and Kandahar, the US will step up its presence in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, bringing the long-festering issue of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistanthe Pakistanitribal areas to a head. MessageThe message being given to Pakistan military the Pakistani military is that if it cannot or will not eliminate insurgent the havens, US forces will attempt the job themselves, reportthemselves.

Western officials had been encouraged by the fact that a blitz of drone strikes against commanders loyal to insurgent leaders Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, and against forces loyal to Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan, had produced few civilian casualties and no reaction from the Pakistanis. Consequently, an increase in cross-border raids by special forces – and even the withdrawal of the Pakistani army to create a free-fire zone – have not been excluded.

“The Pakistanis may not have the strength to defeat the Taliban and the Haqqanis on their own, even if they wanted to,” a western diplomat
It is unclear to what extent
killing of 24 Pakistan soldiers in Nato air strikes last Saturday will have on the Nato strategy. An investigation is underway into the incident. incident, which appears to have started with an exchange of fire between Pakistani and mixed Afghan-Nato forces, with the latter calling in air support. Nato sent in aircraft believing the fire from the Pakistani side was from insurgents.
As a consequence, Pakistan
closed supply routes used by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)(Isaf)and barred the US from using a Pakistani air base to launch drones.However, Nato officers said that Pakistani forces had been co-operative in a similar incident on Tuesday, helping prevent it from escalating.

Isaf statistics published earlier this week showed a 7% drop in insurgent attacks across Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period last year. The decrease in the Helmand area was 29%. But in the eastern provinces the figures show a 21% rise in attacks, now the most violent area, accounting for 39% of all attacks.

Isaf commander, General John Allen, said the need to confront the sanctuaries in Pakistan was “one“oneof the reasons we are shifting our operations to the east”.east”.
In an interview in Kabul, Allen, a US marine, did not give specifics of
strategy and said nothing about cross-border operations.The day before the fatal border clash, he had met Kayani, to discuss cross-border co-operation ahead of the eastern surge, clearly hoping the move against the sanctuaries would be a joint effort.

According to The Guardian,
Allen said he did not know what the long-term consequences of last Saturday’sSaturday’sclash would be, describing it as a “tragedy”,“tragedy”,but made clear that the push to the east would continue.

“Ultimately the outcome we hope to achieve in the east is a reduction of the insurgent networks to the point where the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces(ANSF)] can handle them, reducing them in 2012, if necessary going after them in 2013,”2013,”Allen said.

“I won’twont go into the specifics of the operations but as we consolidate our holdings in the south and as the population centerscentres there in the Helmand River valley and in (Kandahar,)[Kandahar], we will conduct substantial operations in the east … the idea being to expand the security zone around Kabul.

In particular we are going to pay a lot of attention to the south of Kabul,Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Zabul.

Because in the end if you have a population in the south that feels secure and it’sit’ssecured by the ANSF, and you have a population in the east in and around the centre ofthe gravity of Kabul, and those two are connected by a road so you have freedom of movement, you have a pretty good outcome.”outcome.”


Kandahar and My Lai; Drone Strikes and Carpet Bombing

 The New York Times recently posted reports about the U.S. military’s trial of soldiers accused of randomly killing civilians in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, “for sport.”  Apart from the horrors of the alleged crimes, there is a terrible irony in the stories.  This goes beyond the fact that these kinds of incidents are hardly news.  They are completely predictable in any war, even among the best-trained and most disciplined armies—let alone those in which governmental and military leaders provide signals that make incidents like Abu Ghraib possible.  

The irony also goes beyond the coincidence that this story appeared in the New York Times the same day as another, titled “CIA Steps Up Drone Strikes on Taliban in Pakistan.”  That story re-emphasized the open secret that Pakistan has become the new Cambodia.  Like that other unfortunate nation, Pakistan is being targeted because another of America’s wars is not going well.  But rather than accepting the original war’s folly, our military and civilian leaders, in their consummate wisdom, have expanded it to nearby countries.  Supposedly, it is these nations’ failures to control their populations and borders that explains the war’s failures.

But the real irony is the prosecution of these soldiers, when the architects of the war–responsible for placing the soldiers in Kandahar to begin with–are taking actions that predictably lead to large civilian casualties as well.  It is, of course, true that from a legal standpoint, there are differences in the intent of the killers:  in the first case, intentional; in the second, unintentional.  It is also true that in the first case, the soldiers allegedly knew their victims to be innocent.  In the second, military officers believe themselves to be targeting Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters—though of course their information is often faulty.  And, of course, the soldiers should be prosecuted for their alleged crimes.
But the strategic effects of these incidents is little different.  Who would you hate more if your home was destroyed and your children killed by Predators?  The Taliban fighters who the missiles were intended to kill and who were conducting operations in your area—or the American military and CIA personnel sitting at their desks in Creech Air Force Base?  Perhaps both equally—but, more likely, those who pulled the trigger.  Nor is a grieving Afghan likely to care about the legal niceties that help the drone controllers sleep at night–or be assuaged by the payments the U.S. government sometimes disburses to relatives of its collateral carnage.
To my mind, the closest analogy to this situation comes from Vietnam:  The well-deserved prosecution and conviction of Lieutenant William Calley for the My Lai massacre–at about the same time that the U.S. government was carpet-bombing Vietnam and Cambodia to the tune of untold thousands of civilian deaths—all with the broad rationale that we would thereby win hearts and minds.

No doubt our new smart bombs and drones kill fewer innocents–though still far too many, given the futility of the “war on terror.”  But if I were an Afghan grieving over a drone’s dismemberment of my family, would I care about this sign of “progress?”


Homeland Security Heads Roll in Pennsylvania—But the GWOT Keeps on Rolling

 Two weeks ago, I wrote about Pennsylvania’s Perverted War on Terror.   This week the state’s Homeland Security Director James Powers, Jr. resigned.  Governor Ed Rendell had refused to fire him, saying Powers was not the only one responsible for hiring the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR).  True, enough:  Rendell had command responsibility, and Robert French, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, apparently had oversight too (neither has resigned).  But it appears that Powers was the person who okayed the $103,000 contract that resulted in numerous “intelligence reports” on everyday political activities here in the Keystone State, including environmental meetings against natural gas drilling—then passed some of those reports on to natural gas companies.  

In his resignation statement, Powers still seems confused—not about our country’s First Amendment this time, but about his former office’s responsibilities.  He wrote that “the primary goal of commonwealth preparedness strategies” and “our greatest challenge” is “to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from incidents resulting from all hazards (terrorism attacks, major disasters and other emergencies).”  With such an unlimited conception of homeland security’s role, it is little wonder that his department happily paid ITRR for its “intelligence reports.”  Of course, the far bigger scandal remains the “global war on terror’s” waste, hubris, and threat to our liberties.

For those of you worried about Mr. Powers, who did at least have the decency to resign:  the ex-Special Forces man will no doubt find a job with one of the many “homeland security” operations still feeding at the public trough.  Indeed ITRR is probably looking for a few like-minded employees.  
When I wrote my original post, I was unable to find their website; my mistake perhaps, but ITRR may have suspended it themselves (or perhaps been hit by the Stuxnet worm).  In any case, ITRR’s website appears to have re-appeared.  Check it out!  As a birdwatcher, I do have to say I was taken by the owl on the website’s frontpage (Great Horned, I think)–though wisdom does not seem ITRR’s strong suit.  In any case, ITRR links to an article justifying the surveillance on Pennsylvania’s environmentalists, written by Anthony L. Kimery, who describes himself as a “respected award-wining editor and journalist who has covered national and global security, intelligence and defense issues for two decades.”   It is also reassuring to see that ITRR,  along with Philadelphia University, will be holding a Hometown Crisis Management Series program on Oct. 22.  
I have not had time to peruse ITRR’s website fully, though it looks to make fascinating reading–perhaps worthy of another post one day.


Pennsylvania’s Perverted “War on Terror”

How does America’s bloated anti-terror bureaucracy spend its time and our money? A story out of Pennsylvania last week throws light on the earth-shakingly important work these saviors of our soil perform, defending us all from the scary monsters who pose such a dire menace to America.

Or rather it illustrates, yet again, the myriad ways in which our homeland security hogs work to rationalize their existence and perpetuate their wallow in the “homeland security” slops-trough—even while eroding our civil liberties.

The swine this time: International Terrorism Research and Resources (ITRR), a recently formed company with the right sounding name and the right sounding “experts.” ITRR was hastily hired last year by the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, just weeks before the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
(It’s not exactly news, but in these times of national budget woes it’s worth noting again: With the gusher of Homeland Security funding since 9/11, every state and numerous localities have formed their very own Mini-DHS’s pledged to defend their very own patch of the homeland. Austin Powers’s Mini-Me would be most proud of his pork-barrel protégés.)
The $103,000 annual contract called for ITRR to file reports three times per week about “credible threats” to “critical infrastructure.” ITRR apparently performed that contract to the letter—though its definitions of “credible” and “critical” may have been just slightly aggressive. But no matter, “intelligence bulletins” must be filed–and thrice weekly at that!
So ITRR began digging for threats—any threats. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, these included crowds expected at a Michael Moore film screening, gay activists promoting same-sex marriage, a protest against Arizona’s immigration law–and (shudders!) a rally against the mistreatment of a killer whale at a Florida aquarium. A particular favorite of ITRR’s monitoring: the budding environmental movement against natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale deposits.
Conveniently enough, ITRR sent some of the latter “intelligence bulletins” to companies planning to drill for the gas. In a memo leaked to the Post-Gazette, state Homeland Security Director James Powers, Jr. made his priorities (and profound understanding of “homeland security”) clear: “We want to continue providing support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against these same companies.”
But it was not just suspects on the Left who ITRR monitored. With three bulletins a week that must be written to keep the government checks rolling in, even an “intelligence” company must get creative. In fact, ITRR was an equal opportunity homeland defender—targeting activism of any political stripe. Its bulletins also covered tea partiers, gun rights proponents, right to life groups, and white supremacists.
All of this may seem a sideshow— a puny and pathetic one at that. A “deeply embarrassed” Governor Ed Rendell quickly terminated the company’s contract. Just as quickly, ITRR and its top officials dropped a Get Smart-style cone of silence around themselves.
But this case is in fact a microcosm of the whole “homeland security” cesspool. ITRR transformed legal political activity—the heart and soul of the homeland—into “credible threats.” It inflated nothing, literally nothing, into ominous “intelligence bulletins” emailed to various Pennsylvania government offices, corporate intelligence bureaus, and god knows who else.
It is little solace that a spokesperson for the state Attorney General claimed that his office saw “no value” in the bulletins and deleted them from in-boxes when they arrived. (For ITRR, of course, the value of those emails was $103,000 in taxpayer money.) Nor is it comforting that Gov. Ed Rendell felt shame—not when Pennsylvania doubtless has contracts with other similar outfits and the other 49 states certainly do as well.
But the bigger scandal is how the bottomless pit of “homeland security” dollars generates unstoppable demand for its own consumption. Consider the trillions spent or earmarked for “homeland security” and for the wars in Aghanistan and Iraq: When CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted a few months ago that “we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less” al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and when National Counterterrorism Center czar Michael Leiter asserted that there may be somewhat “more than 300” in Pakistan, the eye-poppingly irrational dollars-to-“terrorist” ratio caused no embarrassment and generated no outrage. Nor, of course, did the collateral carnage regularly wreaked by what Colin Powell has called our “terror industrial complex.”
There are just too many proud “defenders of the homeland,” like ITRR, feeding at the trough to end the waste. And in any case it is simple to invent a new existential threat–the latest in, of all places, Yemen, one of the poorest and most backward countries on earth.
But, in fact, portraying Yemen as a “national security threat” is easy in the current craven climate–even to a country with the world’s largest military spending and biggest economy. After all, for the last nine years we’ve been waging war to the tune of billions per year in Afghanistan, also one of the poorest and most backward countries on earth.
Keep that gravy train rolling–all the way from Scranton to Sana!



Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s article in today’s Washington Post, “At Afghan outpost, Marines gone rogue or leading the fight against counterinsurgency?” paints a picture of Marines grudgingly guarding a town in no man’s land on the edge of the desert:

“DELARAM, AFGHANISTAN — Home to a dozen truck stops and a few hundred family farms bounded by miles of foreboding desert, this hamlet in southwestern Afghanistan is far from a strategic priority for senior officers at the international military headquarters in Kabul. One calls Delaram, a day’s drive from the nearest city, “the end of the Earth.” Another deems the area “unrelated to our core mission” of defeating the Taliban by protecting Afghans in their cities and towns.”

U.S. Marine commanders have a different view of the dusty, desolate landscape that surrounds Delaram. They see controlling this corner of remote Nimruz province as essential to promoting economic development and defending the more populated parts of southern Afghanistan.

The Marines are constructing a vast base on the outskirts of town that will have two airstrips, an advanced combat hospital, a post office, a large convenience store and rows of housing trailers stretching as far as the eye can see. By this summer, more than 3,000 Marines — one-tenth of the additional troops authorized by President Obama in December — will be based here.


“And he wants to use the new base in Delaram to mount more operations in Nimruz, a part of far southwestern Afghanistan deemed so unimportant that it is one of the only provinces where there is no U.S. or NATO reconstruction team.

“This is a place where the enemy are moving in numbers,” he said, referring to increased Taliban activity along a newly built highway that bisects the province. “We need to clean it up.”

Nicholson contends that if his forces were kept only in key population centers in Helmand, insurgents would come right up to the gates of towns.”

Contrary to the way it is understood by the Marines on the ground or to some ISAF planners in Kabul, Delaram is probably one of the most significant towns in Afghanistan in the current war, after the major cities of course. In other words, the Marine commanders are correct. Why? The town sits at one end of a new road connecting Afghanistan’s main highway to Zaranj near the Iranian border. The Zaranj – Delaram road, which is being built by India’s Border Roads Organization, is part of a larger Indo-Iranian project that will connect Kandahar and Herat to Iran’s Chabahar Port on the Persian Gulf. The project will provide Afghanistan a supply route to lucrative markets while reducing the country’s utter dependence on Pakistan (and the new route is 434 miles shorter than the route through Pakistan). The road/rail project is also a vital supply line for Indian troops operating in Afghanistan.

Given the importance of this road for maintaining Afghan autonomy vis-a-vis Pakistan, it is not surprising that the road has witnessed a series of attacks on Indian construction workers. Controlling the road is critical to stabilizing the country — this is why the Marines have been stationed in this remote town. And that is also why the Marines are building airstrips and a combat hospital in a town at “the edge of nowhere.” The final reason is that the United States, despite Indian reassurances, is probably a bit uneasy at the prospect of a new access point for Iran.

Here is a basic Google Earth tour that I made for those unfamiliar with the geography being discussed:


Afghan Perceptions of Operation Moshtarak

Now that the fighting is over in the town of Marjah, how did the Afghan media perceive Operation Moshtarak? Here is a cursory round up of opinions from some of the newspapers in Afghanistan.

(Unfortunately, I am dependent on reading translations of the local newspapers from thousands of miles away, but I still think it is fruitful to try to see events through the eyes of local elites rather than relying on military propaganda.)

1. Weesa (government owned newspaper published in Pashto from Kabul) ran an interesting editorial on 7 March 2010 titled, “People Want an End to Terror.” The “terror” referenced by the article are the nighttime searches of private homes by ISAF troops. The paper notes that General McChrystal has stated that Afghan National Army troops will now accompany ISAF troops on any nighttime searches. However, the editorical states:

“This means that only the form of terror will change. This order is repetitive because American officials and military commanders had previously made similar promises with regards to civilian casualties and nocturnal military operations but they did not keep their promises.”

The editorial implies that including ANA members in the nocturnal searches is only meant to deflect blame. The editorial links this new policy to the operation in Marjah, rhetorically asking whether Afghan officers were really leading Operation Moshtarak. The editorial’s point is that the people don’t feel more secure because Afghans troops will be present during searches of civilian homes; the people want the policy of nighttime searches to end.

2. Hewad (government owned newspaper published in Pashto from Kabul) ran a rather mild article on 1 March 2010:

“We accept that the bazaar might have reopened, but a truly peaceful life, in the strict sense of the phrase, seems extremely difficult to have started. People are psychologically not ready yet to forget the bitter memories of the Taleban or of the most recent powerful military operation. This does not mean that the people of Marjah support the Taleban or that their lives were better under the Taleban. This is not the case. The main problem is that Marjah District remained under Taleban control for a very long time. Moreover, Marjah District was a centre of illegal drugs and mafia groups. People are concerned that Taleban or drug traffickers will start to make efforts for the recapture of this district.

If we take a quick look at the military developments over the past eight years, we will notice that foreign or Afghan forces have launched attacks on different areas and they have then left the area after the completion of their operations. Although there is a marked difference between previous military offensives, which aimed to rid an area of the Taleban, and the operation in Marjah, which aims to bring good governance and implement reconstruction projects, people still do not believe this. Time will be needed before they come to believe this.”

However the final paragraph questions the necessity for another military operation in Kandahar, arguing that a military operation is not the solution. The article states that only hardliners benefit from war because it causes civilian casualties which can be exploited to recruit the population. The article calls for a political and economic operation with the military playing a supporting role. Moreover, it challenges the international community to transform Marjah into a model of good governance, security, and economic development before moving onto Kandahar.

3. Mosharekat-e-Milli (a website published in Dari out of Kabul) ran an article by Mohammad Isaq Fayyaz titled “Will the Achievements of the Joint Operation be Protected?” on 23 February 2010. The article assumed that operations would take at least another month to complete, which is interesting since there was a flag raising ceremony in the Marjah bazaar on 18 Februrary. The article generally uses rhetorical questions to cast suspicions on the motivations of the US/ISAF troops, and particularly their willingness to publicize this operation in advance. The author does note correctly that Marjah has changed hands before and is correct to question whether ISAF will be able to retain control of the town.

4. Hasht-e Sobh (an independent daily published in Dari from Kabul) ran an article on 18 February 2010 titled, “Is it Reality or Just a Hope?” The article sympathizes with the challenge of fighting the Taliban while adhering to international laws to protect civilian lives. Nevertheless, the article concludes that while the job is difficult, particularly as members of the Taliban can easily pass themselves off as civilians, this challenge “… cannot serve as an excuse and legitimize the killing of civilians.”

This round-up seems to indicate that there is a great deal of skepticism about the US/ISAF strategy and concern about the impact that this strategy is having on the civilian population. Overall, I think it is fair to say that the media articles examined here are not optimistic that ISAF will be willing to hold Marjah over the long run and there is alarm at the idea of taking the fight to the far more populated city of Kandahar next.

[Cross-posted at my Afghan Notebook]


Gates Grilled at Pakistan’s National Defense University

[Crossposted from my Notebook]

The Defense Department has pulled from its website the transcript of the Q and A session last month between Secretary of Defense Gates and Pakistani military officers.  The frank talk was apparently a bit heated. At one point, one of the Pakistani military officers asked Secretary Gates point blank: “Are you with us or against us?”

The transcript reveals a deep level of distrust between the US and the Pakistani military.  It also shows that some junior officers of the Pakistani military do not take ownership of their government’s current offensives against militants in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Comments on the transcript have made their rounds in the press and the blogosphere, and are still circulating in Pakistan, but many have not had access to the original document.  I think the transcript is quite important for those trying to understand the anger against the United States not just among ordinary Pakistani citizens but within the Pakistani military establishment.

I am posting the original transcript for the benefit of other researchers:

January 22, 2010 Friday



Q (Inaudible) — from Nigerian Navy. So what you did in Iraq is working because Iraq has the resources to sustain the armed forces. What is the strategy for sustaining — (inaudible) — in Afghanistan when, not if, you — (inaudible).

SEC. GATES: I think that’s a very legitimate question, and I would say that, clearly, one of the advantages that Iraq had and has is that it’s a very wealthy country. But the reality is that before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, during the period, for example, from about 1934 until about 1974 or so, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful place as well. It exported agricultural products and it was by no means a rich country, but it offered a decent economy and a decent living for its people.

What has happened in Afghanistan is that 30 years of war have largely destroyed the economy of Afghanistan. And so a big part of our strategy actually is to provide a little agriculture in Afghanistan, as well as industries. There are huge opportunities in mining in Afghanistan. There are a lot of mineral resources in Afghanistan that have never really been exploited.

So central to this process is reviving the economy of Afghanistan. Obviously, it requires a secure environment for that to happen and that’s part of the international strategy.

I would say that one of the advantages that Afghanistan has at this point is that there are now dozens and dozens of countries, as well as non-governmental organizations, all committed to trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.

And so this is a broad international effort under the auspices of the United Nations. And I think there’s great promise. Afghanistan had the largest wheat crop last year than it has had in several decades, and, in fact, the wheat crop was so good and the demand was so high that the price of wheat was almost as high as the price of poppies.

So the way to get rid of the narcotics problem or reduce it and the way to rebuild the economy starts with the agricultural economy, but also the international community figuring out how to help Afghanistan take advantage of the natural resources that it has for extraction.
The Chinese are very interested in these opportunities; in fact, they’ve cited a copper mine that they’re interested in and clearly are prepared to mine once the security environment is satisfactory.

So the economic component of this is every bit as important as the political component, and we fully understand that. And one of the benefits that we have is many nations and many organizations who are all working to the same end in this respect.

Q (Inaudible). You gave a statement with regard to some future terrorist threat or action that may take place over there. And you said that India may run out patience. The Pakistan army’s resolve against terrorism — (inaudible).

You have predisposed Pakistan as perhaps siding with the terrorists. So could you please tell us with regard to fighting against terrorism are you with us or against us? Thank you. (Applause.)

SEC. GATES: We’re very much with you. What I was trying to identify in India was the fact that there are a number of terrorist groups that have the common objective of destabilizing Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and trying to destabilize the entire region. And the point I was trying to make is that you have al Qaeda, you have the Taliban in Afghanistan. You have the Taliban in Pakistan. You have the Haqqani Network. You have the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

All of these are terrorist groups and they are all working together. They are not commonly operated from one command post, but they share objectives. They share planning. And we know, for example, that al Qaeda is working with Taliban in Pakistan in planning the attacks that have taken place here in Pakistan.

So these groups have a common objective and that is destabilizing all of the countries in this region. And the message I was trying to make in India was that the nations, those nations all have to work together to avoid having these terrorists be able to make them their pawns in the terror struggle.

There has to be a level of cooperation in countering the terrorist threat in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and others to prevent the terrorists from doing exactly what their objective is. Believe me, there should be no mistake; these terrorists want to destabilize Pakistan. They would like to see Pakistan become an extremist state and that is their objective. And if they think they can provoke a conflict with India, that’s what they will try to do.
And all I was saying when I was in India was we all have to work together to prevent that kind of an outcome. We all have a common enemy. We all have a common purpose.

I know there are long time historic issues between Pakistan and India, but in this case, there is a common enemy that we all have to work together against it.

Q (Inaudible) — political and military relationships. The sense which I got from your remarks is that you are again conducting the same kind of relationship with the future. With the thought of that particular relationship the last two years, and we have seen — (inaudible) — $7.5 billion, what other steps or measures you are — (inaudible) — to increase this particular relationship because this relationship between military and military has not fared well in the past. And I just want — (inaudible). Thanks.

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I actually do believe that the military-to-military relationship will continue and it will grow. As I indicated in my remarks, I think the United States has made a couple of strategic mistakes of real consequence in our relationship.

The first was when we turned our backs on Afghanistan in 1989 after the Soviets left and we also left Pakistan, if you will, holding the bag as Afghanistan descended into civil war.

The second strategic mistake was when the Pressler Amendment required us to break off our military-to-military relationships, and I think that was a serious mistake.
The truth of the matter is many of your more senior officers, those who have worked with Americans in the past, those that have gone to American service schools, those who have worked with Americans here in Pakistan had a different view of the United States and of our military than younger officers who have not had that kind of exposure to us.

So the first thing we have to do is communicate our conviction and our intention that going forward, this is a reliable relationship and that we are — will be a reliable partner for Pakistan for years and years to come. We will not make — we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I think that the willingness to look beyond the military-to- military relationship is evidenced in the legislation that was passed by our Congress that provides over $1.5 billion worth of economic assistance to Pakistan over a five-year period. The dollar figure is one thing, but the fact that it’s a five-year-long commitment is indicative of the United States’ desire to have a longstanding relationship with Pakistan far into the future.

The United States was a principal sponsor of the Tokyo Summit where a number of nations came together to raise money to help Pakistan in its economic circumstances.

So I think there are a number of efforts underway internationally and bilaterally to try and build relationships with Pakistan and to build those relationships in arenas outside the military or I would say in addition to the military.

That said, relationships between our professional militaries is not a bad foundation, but it clearly is not enough, and the relationship needs to expand to these other areas. And I think that the legislation and the assistance that’s been passed to programs that are being put in place are all intended to do that.

Yes, sir, in the back. Way in the back.

Q I am Rear Admiral — (inaudible) — National Security Workshop. Sir, there’s a large section of the Pakistani population who feel that the present mess that Pakistan finds itself today in, in large part, is due to the United States. The war on our Western borders in which not only the army but the whole country is embroiled in, and there’s no end in sight, initially was not our war but now it has become our war. So what is your message to these people, sir?

SEC. GATES: My message is as long as al Qaeda found safe haven on either the Afghan or the Pakistani side of the border, Pakistan was ultimately going to become a target.

The Taliban, as long as they hosted al Qaeda, created a nest. And from that nest only dangerous things could happen for the entire region. So as long as the Taliban was in power, perhaps there was peace on that border, but the fact is that with the nature of the regime that the Taliban represented, I believe that it was an unstable situation and one that could not last.

The reality is these violent extremists do not want to see a democratic government in Pakistan. They do not want to see a secular government in Pakistan. They want to see a violent overthrow of the legitimate institutions of this country and putting in place an extremist group of people. You don’t want that. Nobody in the region wants it. We certainly don’t want it.

So I would say to you that their attack on us from that safe haven in September 2011 (sic\2001) — remember, it wasn’t the first time they attacked us from that safe haven. They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. They attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1995 (sic\1998). They attacked our warship, the Cole in 2000. These guys declared war on us within four years after the Soviets left Afghanistan. And that war was never going to be limited just to us in terms of their ambition. And if you read their writings and you read what they say and their desire to form a caliphate, it is clear that their ambitions are not limited just to creating — putting the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, their ambition is to extend to Pakistan and elsewhere in the region as well.

So the war may have come to you later, but it would have come, in my view, inevitably.

I think we have time for one more question. Yes sir.

Q Sir, this is — (inaudible). Since you are taking questions — (inaudible).

Sir, it’s an established fact that the — (inaudible) — party always seeks — (inaudible) — investment where — (background noise). And I’m referring to, again, Pakistan.

So during the run to the elections, Mr. Obama — in other statements, he mentioned that there was an understanding now that — (inaudible) — problem, India and Pakistan, particularly, their — (inaudible) — connection with extremism and also from — (inaudible) — Afghanistan.

Now after — (off mike) — same old thing. The United States is refusing to mediate between India and Pakistan since the war — (inaudible). And India was even taken out of — (off mike). My question with this — (inaudible) — first, is the United States administration unable to see how hollow is the Indian argument that the India-Pakistan problem can be resolved only through dialogue — (inaudible). Secondly, is the U.S. policy of India subject — (inaudible). And third is is the U.S. unable to see that its policy of propping up India — (inaudible) — especially with reference to Aghanistan because if there’s one sure guaranteed way of ensuring the eastern region of Afghanistan — (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I would tell you that the United States clearly has not or has ever propped up India. India has not needed us for that purpose and, in fact, those familiar with the history would know that our relationship with India was fairly strained until not too many years ago.

The reality is I have some experience with this. The first President Bush sent me to Islamabad and to New Delhi in the spring of 1990 when there was great concern about rising tensions between the two powers and the risk of war. We at that time, worked with the sides not only since then, but from before. But it has been made clear to us by both sides that they prefer to deal with this matter bilaterally. But I was clear to the Indians and I’ll be clear today — if we can be of help and if the two parties want us to be of help, we will do what we can. We are prepared to play a constructive role, but only if both parties want us to be involved.
The final thing I would say is that the other message that I had in India, both privately and publicly, was to describe to them your suspicions of their activities in Afghanistan, and they clearly described to me their suspicions of what you were doing in Afghanistan, to which I responded the best way to deal with those suspicions is, as part of the back channel discussions between the two countries, to have a complete transparency about what both sides are doing. Because the truth of the matter is, stability in Afghanistan is in both India and Pakistan’s interests. And having an open and candid and completely transparent dialogue about that seems to be the best way to avoid misunderstanding.

Thank you all very much for your courtesy and for your time.

Q Thank you very much for being — (inaudible) — to this discussion, which — (inaudible) — of the commitments of the — (inaudible). So we would like to thank you very much for being here with us this morning and for — (off mike). (Applause.)


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