SFTT Military News: Week Ending Sep 1, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

BBC Analyses US Military Options for North Korea
President Trump has said “all options are on the table” after North Korea fired a missile over Japan. So what could military action against Kim Jong-un’s regime actually look like? As a ballistic missile passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido residents were warned to take cover. The launch was a provocative act, which has been followed by warnings from the North Korean regime that it was just a “first step”. The UN and several nations have imposed sanctions on North Korea, while President Trump said he was considering the next steps. But while the US has unrivalled military strength, the range of options it actually has against the hermit country are limited. Read more . . .

North Korea Kim

US Gives Military Assistance to Pakistan with Strings Attached
The Trump administration notified Congress on Wednesday that it was putting $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan into the equivalent of an escrow account that Islamabad can only access if it does more to crack down on internal terror networks launching attacks on neighboring Afghanistan. The dueling messages sent to Pakistan — promising aid but attaching strings if the country’s counterterror efforts fall short — are part of an increasingly confrontational turn in an alliance that has long been strained.  Read more . . .

Sen. Rand Paul Urges Caution in Transferring Military Equipment to Local Police
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is urging President Trump to reconsider his decision to lift Obama-era limits on the transfer of surplus military equipment to local police forces. “To support our local police, we must first realize they aren’t soldiers. But today the line between the two is being eroded,” he wrote. “Given these developments, it’s natural for many Americans — especially minorities, given the racial disparities in policing — to feel like their government is targeting them. Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice isn’t paying close enough attention,” Paul added.  Read more . . .

New Law to Stream VA Appeals
Every major veteran service organization except Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) supported legislation, signed into law last week, to reform a woefully clogged process for deciding appeals of veterans’ disability claims. Even VVA concedes the new “three-lane” option for appealing claims, when implemented via regulation a year or more from now, will produce speedier appeal decisions and begin to reverse what continues to be a steadily rising backlog of appeals, soon to surpass a stunning 500,000.  Every veteran appealing a claim knows something is wrong with a system that, on average, takes three years to get a final decision. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says some veterans are waiting six years or more.  Read more . . .

The Illegal Psychedelic Drug MDMA (aka “Ecstasy”) to Treat PTSD?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated the illegal psychedelic drug MDMA, commonly known to partygoers as Ecstasy, as a “breakthrough therapy” to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The designation was announced Saturday and provides a fast-track for possible approval of MDMA as a prescription drug. It’s the result of years of trials sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, that have included veterans since 2010. “It doesn’t mean anything is approved or guaranteed, but it does mean this gets special attention from the FDA and allows it to move through the regulatory process more quickly,” said Michael Mithoefer, a clinical investigator who’s involved in the study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.  Read more . . .

Is the VA Undermining Marijuana Study?
marijuanaThe first U.S. study to test marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, which had been in the works since 2009, finally got under way last February and has enrolled 25 subjects since then. But the lead researcher, Phoenix psychiatrist Sue Sisley, says the study, which needs a total of 76 subjects, has been jeopardized by a lack of cooperation from the local Veterans Health Administration hospital. “Despite our best efforts to work with the Phoenix VA hospital and share information about the study,” Sisley writes in a recent letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, “they have been unwilling to assist by providing information to their patients and medical staff about a federally legal clinical trial happening right in their backyard that is of crucial importance to the veteran community.” At the current recruitment rate, she says, the study will not be completed within the time required by a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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Military News Hightlights: January 12, 2011

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Bombs targeting Afghan intelligence service kill 6

How ironic that intelligence officials can be targeted so readily in Kabul by a suicide bomber.  That kind of intelligence is supposed to be secret. You know, the fact that there are intelligence service employees and a top intelligence official in a specific vehicle in downtown Kabul.  Coincidence?  Nah.  Inside information of a personnel manifest in a vehicle on a specific route at a certain time was passed along.  That’s pretty good intelligence if you ask me.

And weren’t we recently told how safe and secure Kabul is and that Haqqani network operations were hobbled and not capable of direct action in the capital?

US military chief: Enemy in Afghanistan is losing

Out of one end, Admiral “Happy Talk” Mullen chortles that the enemy in Afghanistan is losing and “will continue to lose”.  And out of the other end, chortles how severe the difficult task of winning is.   And for certain victory, all roads lead to Pakistan, specifically that success in Afghanistan requires Pakistan to shut down “safe havens.”

So how exactly are US/NATO COIN and the surge shutting down “safe havens” in Pakistan?  And since the threat emanates from these safe havens with impunity, how is it exactly that they are losing?  More happy talk.  Plain and simple.

Adm. Mike Mullen observes disconnect between U.S. military and broader public

Admiral Mullen, the senior US military officer, lamented yesterday that “America doesn’t know its military and the United States military doesn’t know America.”

What America does or doesn’t know about its military is an open question, but to say that the US military “doesn’t know America” is flat out ridiculous.

Give the burden and sacrifice that one-percent of the uniform wearing populace bears, I’m pretty sure that on a daily basis servicemembers, world-wide, look on their right sleeve and see the stars and stripes.  They know.  They don’t forget.

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Military News Highlights: January 11, 2011

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Is the tide turning in southern Afghanistan ?

Back in the fall of 2006, the Kagans, Frederick and Kimberly, from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), peddled the “surge” on a set of Power Point slides via General (Ret.) Jack Keane.  First to the Office of the Vice President, then to the President, then to the Pentagon, and then to CENTCOM, and finally to Congress – standard operating procedure back then.  The result?  The “surge” into Iraq and the “reversal of a failed war strategy” according to Fred and Kim.  FYI – In regards to Fred’s credibility you can make your own decision, but we are providing this 2007 Daily Kos story for your reference. 

Nevertheless, Fred and Kim are back at it with support from AEI and the Institute for the Study of War (whatever that means) and have issued a new report stating “the obvious:”  that recent US surge in southern Afghanistan has “turned the war around” and other sensational successes.  These include that: the Taliban has effectively lost all its main safe havens in the region (southern Afghanistan); disruption of acquiring, transporting, and using IED’s; aggressive targeting of narcotics facilitators and financiers (to great effect); that Herat and Kabul are reasonably secured; US/NATO is maintaining tenuous security in the Jalalabad Bowl; that any reports that state that the north is slipping into Taliban control are simply overblown; any gains made so far will be lost if the U.S. were to withdraw prematurely; and finally that reconciliation with the Taliban risks igniting an “ethnic war” that will embroil the region circa the 1990’s.  

To add credibility to the report, both Fred and Kim are eager to let everybody know that they spent over 120 days in Afghanistan studying the situation – knee deep in the trenches, kind of SLA Marshall I guess.

The report and promoting of its findings (via General Keane again) is timed, just like the 2006 report/slides, to “put some calcium” into the administration and prevent (or slow down) the scheduled troop withdrawal to begin this upcoming July. 

It’s a slick operation – and unfortunately, it will probably work.

Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011

Because what happens in Pakistan is critical to any US/NATO success in Afghanistan, reports of increased drone strikes always draws some attention.  However, aside from the occasional antiseptic (and seemingly trivial) AP or Reuters news flash detailing the number of suspected insurgents or AQ operatives killed, one never really gets a full sense of the scope and impact that these drone strikes are having on the threat that operates with impunity in Pakistani safe havens.  Interesting to note in this Long Wars Journal report that charts the data from drone strikes since 2004, specifically that the Hekmatyer group, one of four major threats that emanates from our ally-buddy Pakistan has only been targeted two times.  Yep, twice out of the 219 drone strikes.  Why is that?  Who in the ISI or Pakistani government is Hekmatyer in bed with? 

Hekmatyer is sure one lucky fella.

Afghanistan watchdog resigns

Inadvertently hidden in the tragic Arizona news from this past weekend was the announcement this past Monday that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had resigned from his position.  Major General (Ret.) Arnold Fields, appointed by President Bush in 2008, apparently was neither inspecting reconstruction contracts awarded in Afghanistan or doing anything in response (or special) with the flagrant and rampart corruption associated with the awards of these contracts.  Members of Congress criticized General Fields for failing to investigate over $55 billion in grants and contracts awarded by the US for the purpose of community development in Afghanistan – good on them.

But, I thought development and government credibility/legitimacy were building blocks in the US/NATO COIN strategy (and narrative).  And I also heard General Happy Talk Petreaus recently discuss how swimmingly well things were in fortress Kabul. 

So if reconstruction contracts and grants haven’t been properly screened for corruption and graft in the past, who is to say that any future development and reconstruction in Afghanistan will be legitimate in future?

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Military News Highlights: December 29, 2010

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Insurgents Set Aside Rivalries on Afghan Border

Four primary threat streams emanate from the Pakistan – the Mullar Omar Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Hekmaktyer organization, and AQ.  For almost a decade these distinct groups have co-existed and operated exclusively with AQ parceling support from each.  It does not bode well when recent intelligence and battlefield evidence indicates that the threat has merged.  Regardless of the reason, be it recent US/NATO pressure creating battlefield syndicates  or ISI manipulations or striking while an “opportunity” exists, just made the situation more complex and dangerous.

I don’t buy that this phenomenon is rudderless without formal command and control – when rivals set aside differences (and gains) made during a 10 year slug fest with US/NATO and operate in a sophisticated manner, it only makes sense that someone is in charge and calling the shots.  As always the enemy always gets a vote.  In order for US/NATO to identify and target the cabal/leadership will require intensified support and commitment from Pakistan, an unlikely scenario.  That is why this new development is so worrisome.

Commander: US can’t seal Afghan-Pakistan border

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the Af-Pak border can’t be sealed.  At least now we have a commander willing to admit it.

US Troops Clash With Taliban in East Afghanistan

Happy talk;  an outpost that comes under attack twice a day five times a week.  Happy talk; more than 700 NATO servicemembers killed in action in 2010.  Happy talk; continued violence and chronic instability.  Happy talk; “but the coalition said it was also making progress, overall.”

The grind continues.

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Military News Highlights: December 16 & 17

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Uncertainty marks White House review on Afghanistan, Pakistan

In regards to the highly touted release of the administrations review of Afghanistan, one-step up and two-steps back. 

 One-step up, “strategy is showing progress”; two-steps back, no new information on how soon Afghan Security Forces will be able to assume responsibility for security and when the “rat-lines” coming out of Pakistan can be severed.

 One-step up, “we are on track to achieve our goals”; two-steps back, gains are still “fragile and reversible” and the size of the July 2011 drawdown is unknown.

 One-step up, “COIN is working”; two-steps back, but we can’t truly measure its progress until late Spring 2011, which may shift the strategy to pure-kinetic counter-terrorism. 

Oh, and the word “corruption” is only mentioned once in the report.  Two-steps back. 

While the report mentions six times in the sparse five-page summary/report that success hinges on Pakistan shutting down its borders and “safe havens.”  Two-steps back. 

The official White House report summary can be read here:

 A summary of how the report exposes a split over Afganistan pullout timelines can be read here:

Key highlights:

  •  Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of third more casualties among NATO forces this year.
  • Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.
  • Afghanistan and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at.
  • A fundamental conundrum, unmentioned in the report, is that the United States and its NATO allies constantly speak of Mr. Karzai and his government as an ally and a partner and try to shore up his image as the leader of his people. Yet many Afghans view his government as a cabal of strongmen, who enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the country.
  • Also largely glossed over in the report is the extent and implications of pervasive corruption. Bribery and nepotism remain a feature of daily life for the vast majority of Afghans, and nowhere is it more clear than in the judicial system.
  • The elephant in the room is that whatever the trajectory of the war, the Afghan government does not envision a defeat of the Taliban, but a negotiated peace. Unmentioned in the report is what the Americans may be looking for in such a deal, and what they are willing to do to bring that peace.

A summary of what the White House report on the Afghanistan War didn’t mention or highlight can be read

Key highlights:

  • State Department diplomats have complained that President Hamid Karzai has been an unreliable ally. Political resolution is key, but the review’s language on governance questions and on the shape of an Afghan “end-state” is vague.
  • Coalition support has helped the Afghan army meet its targets in terms of troop buildup. The Afghan force quality is a mixed bag. The majority of Afghan soldiers lack basic skills, including literacy. Preparing the Afghan army and police to be capable of providing security as Western troops depart has become an increasing focus of coalition efforts but remains a challenge.
  • The administration’s review summary highlights NATO’s “enduring commitment beyond 2014,” yet it’s clear that European leaders face considerable political pressure back home to withdraw, and only Britain has a sizable number of troops on the ground. As a result, the war is becoming increasingly Americanized. On Thursday, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed that country’s intention to begin withdrawing its 4,600 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
  • The review summary devotes considerable attention to the problem of AQ and Taliban leaders finding a safe haven across the board in Pakistan.  The document calls for greater cooperation with Pakistan but is short on specifics about how to get there. Pakistan clearly has ambivalent feelings about the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. It doesn’t want Western forces to leave behind a mess in its backyard, but at the same time it doesn’t trust the government in Afghanistan.
  • The review summary highlights “significant progress” in disrupting al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. “Al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been depleted, the group’s safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in important ways,” it states. The war’s initial aim of driving al-Qaida from Afghanistan has also largely been successful. Yet al-Qaida remains a mobile threat, and it’s unlikely the U.S. can readily muster 100,000 more troops to chase it outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Ratlines’ threaten White House Afghan war plans

While US troops logistics and lines of communications are held hostage to: the tyranny of terrain, the necessity of maintaining logistic hubs in a very inhospitable nature of Pakistan (and now the end around the bordering “stans”), the growing contractor base of support, and the necessity of pushing supplies to forward combat outposts and patrols.  It appears that the insurgency has little trouble maintaining their flow of supplies and refitting at their leisure while ensconced in Pakistan (and in controlled Taliban areas within Afghnistan, i.e. anywhere outside of Kabul, Kandahar, and Khost). 

The border with Pakistan remains porous and US/NATO/Afghan efforts to seal the flow of supplies “threaten Afghan war plans.”   Practically speaking we should dissuade ourselves from thinking that there are “safe havens” per se – a clearly marked area or region – in fact the entire country of Pakistan is a safe haven for the Taliban, AQ, and their confederates (i.e Haqqani and Hekmatyar network). 

Ultimately that is the root of the problem and one without a solution.

U.S. Army Modernization Review Set for Dec. 22

“Here we go again, same old stuff again.  Marching down the avenue…”  Next week senior Army leaders will conduct a modernization review to determine the future of weapon and equipment systems.  Called the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) equipment set, it was originally developed as part of the whiz-bang, bells-and-whistles Future Combat Systems (FCS) program which thankfully Secretary of Defense Gates ended.  But here we go again, marching back up that avenue to see if the Army can get some of the FCS components and systems approved for further development and tactical issue.  The question Undersecretary Ashton Carter should ask is, “would any of these equipment sets and systems, if deployed tomorrow to a Soldier in Afghanistan, and given the costs required to field them, improve his/her force protection while defeating the threat he/she faces?”  It’s a simple standard, because what Joe needs right now, this very moment, is equipment and small-arms that will increase his force protection posture while providing him a dead-certain lethality.  If the “Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit can’t meet this standard, then don’t waste the money, time, industrial base, or organizational energy that is being put into the E-IBCT.

Yearly Price Tab for Afghan Forces: $6 Billion, Indefinitely

Speaking of guns and butter, the waiter serving security in the outdoor cafes of Kabul, Kandarhar, and Khost just gave Uncle Sam the tab for training and equipping Afghan security forces — $6 Billion annually – indefinitely.   No problem, we’ll pay with a Chinese credit card.

Unused in Afghanistan, Longbow Deliveries Continue

The vaunted “Longbow” didn’t help the 11th Aviation Regiment in support of the 3rd Infantry Division’s fight north in OIF I, yet we still are procuring the system and deploying it to Afghanistan where it is not being put to use.  Great investment.  Great idea.

 

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Military News Highlights: December 15, 2010

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U.S. intelligence reports cast doubt on war progress in Afghanistan

National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) are authoritative assessments by the Director of National Intelligence related to a particular national security issue.  NIE’s are not written in a vacuum and express coordinated judgments of the entire US intelligence community.  Although these assessments are classified, summaries and excerpts are simultaneously provided to policy makers and/or leaked to the media when NIE’s are published. 

Commanders in Afghanistan argue that the most recent spate of Afghan related NIE’s are “dated” because they do not take into account the full effects of the surge these past six weeks because the NIE’s assessment period only covers the time frame up through September.  Additionally, they also argue that the drafters of the report are too far removed from Afghanistan to fully appreciate the success being made.  In fact, the NIE’s contend that large swaths of Afghanistan remain at risk of falling to the Taliban and that Pakistan remains a constant thorn in the side of any future progress – and these are just a few of the salient points made.  As to the assertion that these reports are being written by analysts from fog-induced cubicles within the beltway without connection to events on the ground, that is simply “preposterous.”  And it’s pure bunk that analysts and intelligence officers are not working “hand-in-hand” with the military when creating these assessments.  There is no vacuum!

One thing to consider is that Secretary of Defense Gates once served at the helm of the CIA, so he is not likely to discount the intelligence community.  However, after his recent Afghanistan tour he “is convinced” that the strategy is turning around the Afghanistan war and great progress is being made.  So who do we believe?  The intelligence community, commanders on the ground, or the former number one spook who serves as Secretary of Defense?  That’s a tough call.  What is known is that it never bodes well when operators “cherry pick” intelligence, because once someone starts down that road, all bets are off because the integrity of the process becomes compromised. 

US treading in bloody footsteps

Pulling no punches, The Australian provides a brutal account of a Marine rifle platoon as it fights to hold on to security in Sangin District, while contrasting a separate set of tactics used by British units that until this past September operated in the same area of operations.  You can read the account yourself and judge whether occupying static positions and conducting limited patrolling (Brits) or constant-active patrolling (US) offers the best solution for “securing” the populace in Sangin District. 

Highlights:

  • “I knew when I saw it there was nothing we could do for him. Half his face was missing,” Buckholz says. “When we got back to base it was like someone had stolen the life out of everyone. All you could see were pale faces and blank looks.”
  • “The British shed a lot of blood here,” says captain Matthew Peterson, commanding officer of Lima Company. “They sacrificed a lot of men holding on to Sangin. Let’s not forget that the British started what we are doing . . . We are building on [that].”
  • “It all just happened so fast,” Buckholz says. “We knew Sangin would be tough but we didn’t realise how fast it would happen. As soon as we got here it was, like, bam. There was no time to ease into it. People started dying immediately.”
  • “It’s strange to know that being able to shoot back at the people who did this acted as a kind of relief. It helped purge some of the grief,” Buckholz says.
  • “Out here it’s the small victories that count,” Owen said. “I got to this place and into cover and I didn’t get blown up. I am good. I didn’t get blown up or shot. It comes down to that.”
  • “We were all pretty pissed off when we heard,” says a British veteran. “To say that we had no success is both ignorant and short-sighted. We were there for four years and we’d already tried what they are now trying, which is obviously not working judging by the casualties.”
  • “We increased the number of patrol bases in Sangin and as a result the insurgents’ movement became more limited, as did their ability to lay IEDs freely,” says one.
  • “They have an amazing ability to watch what we do and to adapt their tactics to ours,” Owen says.
  • “There’s no panacea,” captain Mathew Peterson said. “It’s about situational awareness. The only ground that’s safe is the ground you are standing on. We must use cover wisely. We have to make ourselves harder to kill.”
  • “The first couple of times it f . . ks with you: you can’t believe that your friend was with you a few minutes before and now he’s dead,” Buckholz says. “But after a bit, it’s so sad, you become desensitised. That’s when you start to wonder whether that’s even more f . . ked up. There’s the thought that you’re not dealing with it right now, but that you’re going to have to eventually. I don’t want to be a different person when I get home.”

The Wounded of the Afghan War

The news for the next few days and weeks is certain to be dominated by the war in Afghanistan and the administrations review of its strategy and whether progress is being made.  This CBS news video story and the Icasualties.org   fatalities list should keep things in perspective during this debate.

SAS Commander Resigns

“The Sun”, a British tabloid (famous for Page 3) is reporting that a senior British SAS Colonel resigned because of “the general erosion of living standards” in the British military.  Makes you wonder why American Colonels don’t follow his example …

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Military News you may have missed: November 8, 2010

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The narrative is set for the Administrations pending Afghanistan Policy Review slated for this December – who to believe whether sufficient progress is currently being made, the lack of viable options to address the ongoing threat that emanates from Pakistan’s tribal regions, and how soon will Karzai’s government be capable of providing security on its own?   The following news reports provide background on this Gordian Knot.

Some Skeptics Questioning Rosy Reports on War Zone

Highlights:

  •  The recent reports circulating in Washington’s national security establishment about the Afghan battleground of Marja show glimmerings of progress: bazaars are open, some 1,000 children are in school, and a new (and only) restaurant even serves goat curry and kebabs.  In Kandahar, NATO officials say that American and Afghan forces continue to rout the Taliban. In new statistics offered by American commanders in Kabul, Special Operations units have killed 339 midlevel Taliban commanders and 949 of the group’s foot soldiers in the past three months alone. At the Pentagon, the draft of a war assessment to be submitted to Congress this month cites a shift in momentum in some areas of the country away from the insurgency.
  • But as a new White House review of President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, the rosy signs have opened an intense debate at the Defense Department, the White House, the State Department and the intelligence agencies over what they really mean. Are they indications of future success, are they fleeting and not replicable, or are they evidence that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is simply more masterful than his predecessor at shaping opinion?
  • The debate centers on the resiliency of the Taliban and the extent to which the group can rebuild from the hammering it is taking. Most involved say that there are positive trends for the Americans, but that the real answer will not be clear until a new fighting season begins as the weather warms next year.  “The fundamental question is how deep is their bench,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led last year’s extended White House review of Afghan strategy that resulted in Mr. Obama’s ordering 30,000 additional United States forces to the country. “By next summer we should have a pretty good idea. If they’re having trouble replacing people that we’re killing on the battlefield, then we’re on the right track. But if by next summer they’re producing new cadres that are on the same order of quality, then we’re in deep trouble.”
  • A former C.I.A. official with longtime experience in Afghanistan said that the recent statements about American progress in Afghanistan reminded him of what was sometimes written about the Russians before they began withdrawing from Afghanistan in defeat in 1988, when they had been at war there for nearly 10 years. “I don’t find many people I talk to who really believe any of this,” he said.  The military’s more positive view is hardly monolithic; doubts also exist within its ranks. The Defense Department’s coming war assessment says that violence once again increased in Afghanistan in the past year, in large part because of the aggressive American military operations in the south, while Pentagon officials readily acknowledge that security has deteriorated in previously quiet areas of the north.
  • “It is certainly true that Petraeus is attempting to shape public opinion ahead of the December review,” said an administration official who is supportive of the general.  “He is the most skilled public relations official in the business, and he’s trying to narrow the president’s options.”  But national security officials across Washington are already saying that the December review will only tweak the policy, not change the strategy, and that the real assessment will come in July 2011, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops. “The bidding is still out,” the White House official said.

SFTT Analysis

  • If the data in December proves that the most effective means of reducing the threat has been through targeted Counter-terrorism (CT) operations versus Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, then “a shift of strategy” to recalibrate CT with more resources and effort should be considered – ultimately reducing the threat through increased CT will provide more “security” to the populace which COIN strives for.
  • COIN will naturally continue but the focus should be on those areas where gains can be marginally made and be “tweaked” so that the Administration can “off-ramp” forces as scheduled in July 2011.  The “tweaking” in December 2010 should be made to support CT, not vice versa, which reports indicate is the objective.
  • Waiting until July 2011 to determine whether COIN is the proper strategy and then make a decision then may be too late to create the conditions for Afghan Security Forces to take the lead.

 U.S. concerns grow as militants move bases along Pakistan border

 Highlights

  • The U.S. has been trying to stamp out the Haqqani network, which attacks coalition forces in Afghanistan from its base in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Now its fighters, fleeing drone strikes, are setting up in the highlands of Kurram. The militant network that is a major Western adversary in Afghanistan is expanding its reach into tribal badlands outside its longtime sanctuary in Pakistan, a move that could complicate U.S. efforts to eradicate the group.
  • Pakistani tribal elders in the Kurram region along the Afghan border say large numbers of fighters from the Haqqani network, an ally of Al Qaeda, have been stationing themselves in the highlands of their rugged district and are demanding the freedom to move in and out of Afghanistan at will to carry out attacks in the neighboring country.
  • American military commanders regard the group as a major roadblock to concluding the nine-year war in Afghanistan. Though the U.S. has endorsed Karzai’s push for peace talks with insurgent leaders, many in Washington see the Haqqani network as inextricably linked with Al Qaeda and therefore irreconcilable.  Haqqani militants have long maintained bonds with Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has allowed the insurgents to use the North Waziristan region as their nerve center. A dramatic increase in U.S. drone missile attacks on the network’s compounds and training centers there this fall has helped trigger the movement of the militants during the last two months, experts and Kurram tribal leaders say. Tribal elders in Kurram, who are sectarian rivals of the Haqqani network, say they believe the Islamic militant group views the snowcapped region as an ideal vantage point from which to launch forays into Afghanistan.  Haqqani movement into Kurram could force the United States to expand its missile strike campaign there, a move that might further inflame anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis who see the drone strikes as a gross violation of their country’s sovereignty. Right now, Islamabad tacitly allows the strikes against Al Qaeda, Taliban and Haqqani network targets in North and South Waziristan, and at times even facilitates those strikes with intelligence. 
  • Meanwhile, the appearance of Haqqani network fighters has exacerbated simmering sectarian frictions within Kurram. Large swaths of the region are populated by a Shiite Muslim tribe, the Turi, which has been fending off attacks from local Taliban for years. Like the Haqqanis, the Taliban is Sunni Muslim. The influx of Haqqani fighters has sparked fierce clashes with Turi tribesmen, said Musarrat Hussain Muntazir, a tribal elder.  After the fighting, Turi tribal elders began negotiations with a Haqqani contingent in hopes of ending a four-year, Taliban-imposed blockade of the only road that connects Turi lands in upper Kurram with the city of Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan’s major hub. The blockade has forced Turi villagers to take a circuitous, 230-mile trek into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces and then back into Pakistan in order to buy supplies or get to a hospital.
  • Pakistan, which regards the Haqqani group as a valuable hedge against Indian influence in a post-U.S. Afghanistan, has so far resisted repeated urgings from Washington to launch a major offensive against Haqqani network hide-outs in North Waziristan. A U.S. offer to Pakistan of $2 billion in military aid is seen by many as an incentive for Pakistan to mount an attack on the Haqqani network. Pakistan has told the U.S. it will eventually carry out that offensive, but only when it believes the time is right.  “I think they’ll start the operation,” said Hussain, the think tank analyst, “once every single fighter has moved out of North Waziristan and into Kurram.” 

SFTT Analysis

  • Too often the numerous threats to Afghan stability are labeled as “Taliban”, which can distort the “purpose” of the mission while failing to properly address the scope of the conflict – the Haqqani network is an example.
  • If it is true tha the Haqqani network is decamping from current safe-havens to the Kurram Agency, then critical intelligence and targeting resources that are currently fighting under economy-of-force constraints, may have to shift from the South to the East to counter the network while delicately balancing Af-Pak-US relations. 

Pentagon chiefs: Afghans can manage by 2014

Highlights 

  • Afghanistan should be ready to handle its own security by the year 2014, the top U.S. defense chiefs said Monday.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said NATO should endorse the 2014 timeline proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when the alliance holds its annual summit later this month. “As a target at this point that makes sense, so I am comfortable with it,” Mullen said. The 2014 date would give a symbolic deadline for ending the war and bringing most combat forces home. The war is already in its 10th year and unpopular in the U.S. and Europe.
  • U.S. responsibility will extend for years, Gates said Monday.  President Barack Obama and other NATO allies will consider plans for transition of security control at the November 19-20 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. Although Gates had once said he hoped a few districts could be transferred this year, NATO is now looking at beginning the process in the spring. U.S. officials say the war is beginning to turn around after two years of stalemate. Although eager to underscore that claim of progress by handing over some security control, military officials are worried about backsliding. The first districts to move under Afghan police and Army control will probably be in safer areas far from front line fighting in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
  • Gates also said that although he welcomes preliminary talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the insurgency isn’t likely to cut a deal unless it is weakened further. “The Taliban need to clearly see that the prospects for success have diminished dramatically, and in fact that they may well lose,” before senior leaders would be ready to negotiate a lasting political settlement, Gates said. That tipping point would be difficult to foresee at least until next spring, Gates added. The Taliban deny they are being beaten down.

SFTT Analysis

  • The fight in Afghanistan has metastasized to an all encompassing Afghanistan wide provincial 360 degree – north, south, east, and west.  Every province and every district.
  • The start of transferring a few districts to Afghan control was supposed to begin in 2010, but will not begin until spring 2011. If NATO/ISAF cannot hand off a “few” districts anywhere in Afghanistan until spring, then clearly this is another indicator that the “progress” being made is at odds with the reality on the ground.  Not a single district!
  • A “symbolic” deadline for ending the war and bringing most combat forces home by 2014 does not make sense nor should we feel “comfortable” about it.  A sooner date would force Karzai and the Afghan Security Forces to prepare for and accept responsibility for security.  2014 appears to be a Karzai proposal –when will the US and NATO stop coddling him and tell him “no” for a change?
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War in Afghanistan: A distraction to our fight against terrorism?

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In a recent article from Foreign Policy entitled  An Unnecessary War – – Afthanistan used to be the central front in the war against terrorism.  Now it’s a distraction from it, the author argues that policy makers may be taking their eyes off the “bigger” picture and one that is more critical to US security.

Highlights

  • First as candidate and later as president, Barack Obama famously described Afghanistan as “a war of necessity:” a war the United States could not afford to lose. Obama restated the case in the speech he gave last December announcing his decision to add 30,000 troops to the battle, asserting that Afghanistan and Pakistan constituted “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda,” and adding that the threat would “only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.” The only way to counteract this threat, Obama insisted, was to bolster American military capacity, and to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy to “increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.” Most of the debate around Obama’s war plans has centered on that counterinsurgency strategy: Is President Hamid Karzai too corrupt and erratic, are the Afghan people too hostile to foreign forces, is institution-building too intrinsically difficult, and are Afghan security forces too inept to justify the massive and belated effort to build Afghan stability and capacity? But this is actually the secondary issue. The central question is: Is it necessary? Would withdrawal in fact gravely jeopardize American national security?
  • Marc Sageman, a CIA veteran now with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, has asserted in congressional testimony that more than three-quarters of the terrorist plots against the West executed or foiled over the last five years have been carried out by “homegrown terrorists” with no organizational connection to al Qaeda — a phenomenon he calls “leaderless jihad.” Focusing vast resources on any piece of geographical space is thus a strategic mistake. On the other hand, the terrorism expert Peter Bergen argues that “the numbers are a red herring.” Osama bin Laden only had 200 loyalists at the time of 9/11, after all, and still managed to do a great deal of damage. What’s more, he adds, since al Qaeda “has infected other groups they’re embedded with,” including the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani body which carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, counting al Qaeda alone is misleading. And the lack of recent spectacular attacks hardly proves that al Qaeda central is history.
  • But all costs are relative. And against the uncertain benefits of maintaining a very large military presence in Afghanistan over the next three to four years are the very large costs of staying in such large numbers. The $100 billion a year or so in resources may be the least of it. The war is a terrible drain on Washington’s attention, and on U.S. soft power and prestige. “It’s hard to be taken seriously in Asia when we are still bogged down in Afghanistan,” as Cronin says. There are very few true wars of necessity. The Civil War was one; World War II was another. When Mullah Omar refused to give up Osama bin Laden, a war in Afghanistan became necessary. But then the war changed character, and the nature of the adversary changed as well. A war against Islamic terrorism, in some form, remains necessary. But the war in Afghanistan does not.

SFTT Analysis:

  • The threat that emanates from Afghanistan is marginal and requires a reallocation of resources and a change in strategy and policy, given the fact that recently failed operations were either born or bred in Pakistan’s tribal regions,Yemen, and western European capitols or attempted by “home-grown” operatives and confederates.
  • If it is true that AQ has metastesized into a “headless” jihad with limited global reach, then it would make more strategic and operational sense to concentrate US/NATO efforts where the threat roosts with a robust counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Afghanistan is proving history correct that to continue to engage in an economy-of-force COIN effort with limited resources only creates a never ending supply of new insurgents (and jihadists).
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Military News you may have missed: Oct 23, 2010

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