Archive for June, 2008


It’s crazy, but after all these years none of this really matters. Those who said it was oil all along are probably too tired and depressed to feel vindicated. And those who accused others of being paranoid are probably still too stupid to comprehend the enormity of this folly.

(While Iraq’s oil was being secured, the real culprits behind 9/11 were let go, and the results are now being felt. What a screwed-up world we live in.)

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On a More Personal Note…

We’ve just had a baby boy. (* Lights cigar… *)

The 2005 RAND monograph I mentioned is here.

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A new Pentagon report lays out the U.S. COIN strategy in Afghanistan:

The U.S. operational approach to the security component of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is to build Afghan security capacity while degrading the capacity of the Taliban. U.S. forces work to root out insurgents while increasing the ability of the Afghans to do so on their own. Throughout Afghanistan, this is achieved through kinetic and non-kinetic efforts to separate the enemy from the local population by partnering with the ANSF and engaging Afghan leaders. Shuras, key leader engagements, medical engagements, humanitarian aid missions, and combined presence patrols provide a venue for ANSF forces to interact with the general population and discuss needs for local improvements. These missions work to create trust between the local populace, Afghan leadership, ANSF, and ISAF forces. As trust increases, support for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, (GIRoA), the ANP, and the ANA evolves proportionately. Afghan civilians are beginning to report enemy activity including improvised explosive device (IED) emplacements, suspicious activity, and potential future attacks. In an effort to gain the support of the populace and demonstrate the superior governance capabilities of the GIRoA as opposed to the Taliban, ANSF and international forces have increased governance outreach and development activities.

A couple of things.

First, ANA isn’t IA. Iraq had an army, and not a bad one, before the American CPA disbanded it. In Afghanistan, the whole concept of ‘government security forces’ is new. For Karzai’s foreign backers, it’s not a question of “capacity building” but building an army from scratch. Bearing this in mind, the Pentagon’s glowing accounts of ANA successes seem all the more fantastic.

Second, degrading that pesky Taleban.

It’s obvious even from this upbeat report that the U.S. can’t do it alone, not with the bulk of its Army and Marines deployed in Iraq for years to come.

So the task of winning — or, in the case of Afghanistan, not losing — falls to the NATO-led, UN-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.

To call this 47,000-man force ragtag might sound overly hostile, as most of the troops are reasonably well equipped and decently trained. But I think politically the description is more than apt. There has never been a consensus within the coalition — either among NATO countries or those “peace-partnering” in Afghanistan — on how to accomplish the desired end state, or even what exactly that end state might be.

Command of the Afghan battlespace was delegated to NATO at a time when everyone from Washington to Brussels believed the Taleban were done for. The U.S., tied up in Iraq, was stuck with ISAF out of necessity. As the situation deteriorated, it became evident that only a fraction of ISAF was actually a fighting force, with most contributors, including major European powers like Germany and France, opting out of combat.

Take Finland, for example.

We have one of the largest reservist armies in Europe, almost half a million men and women trained to fight a war. Yet we have only 100 soldiers in Afghanistan, deployed in the quiet north, with strict caveats on where and when NATO can use them. Since 2004, Finland has partnered with Norway and Sweden in two PRTs, in Maimana and Mazar-e-Sharif. Finnish MOT teams were praised for their performance in Faryab, and the Finnish-commanded ISAF garrison successfully fought off a local mob in 2006. Yet, in 2007 Finnish troops were withdrawn from Maimana, ostensibly due to logistical problems, but in fact out of concern for the soldiers’ safety, and because of tactical disagreements with the Norwegians. The Finns redeployed to MeS, where they’re now engaged mostly in hanging out at their sauna when not driving around the countryside in search of something to throw Quick Impact money at.

Whether this running in circles has contributed anything to ISAF, or the security of Afghanistan, is open to question. Certainly the PRTs haven’t. The way I see it — and I’m not alone –, they’ve become peacekeeping fiefdoms, built and run not for the benefit of Afghanistan but to show the rest of the ISAF community that we’re indeed doing something, while convincing the public at home that our boys and girls are staying out of harm’s way. In reality, we have subverted civilian aid and undermined the local and central governments by setting up a parallel administration and funding development that clearly isn’t sustainable. Remarkably, there has been no debate in Finland on this, nor on the question whether PRTs are needed at all in the relatively peaceful north.

The Finnish military has been anxious to pitch in, and as a compromise, the government has agreed to expand the mission with a few OMLTs. There’s a catch, however: Finnish advisors can only work in divisional headquarters in the north, and cannot accompany their trainees into combat. This is hardly what ISAF had in mind when setting up the system, but it’ll satisfy the “we have to do something” crowd in Helsinki, which makes political sense but will drive the NATO planners in Kabul nuts.

Not surprisingly, no one in Finland dares to bring up the possibility of redeploying in the south, even if the consensus in the Army is that if the Estonians can do it, we can. If anything, there is talk of pulling out altogether. And because the government, secretive and arrogant as it is, has failed to convince the public of the necessity of staying, it seems most Finns would rather our lads come home.

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The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, always a good read even when he’s wrong, has another scoop on Iran, this time detailing the escalation of American covert operations there. As usual, most of Hersh’s sources are anonymous, but he has also spoken to former CENTCOM head Adm. William Fallon:

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. ‘Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,’ he told me. ‘Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.’

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, ‘Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.’

All in all, the story is an embarrassment to the Congress Democrats, who seem to have been cluelessly funding the operations. I wonder if Obama will respond.

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The U.S. Army has released the second part of its history of the Iraq conflict, titled “On Point II”. According to Michael Gordon of NYT, which scooped the story before the 720-page paper went online last night, “publication was delayed six months so that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the current Army chief of staff and former top commander in Iraq, could be interviewed and senior Army leaders could review a draft”:

The study’s authors were instructed not to shy away from controversy while withholding a final verdict on whether senior officials had made mistakes that decisively altered the course of the war, said Col. Timothy R. Reese, the director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., who, along with Donald Wright, a civilian historian at the institute, oversaw the volume’s preparation.

Even so, the study documents a number of problems that hampered the Army’s ability to stabilize the country during Phase IV, as the postwar stage was called.

You can find the history, along with part I, here. (Downloading is SLOW.)

Incidentally, the oft-mentioned but classified 2005 RAND study critical of the post-invasion efforts is supposed to be made public on Monday.

Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait this long for a history of the surge. How about it, Ricks?

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I’m not sure when I have time to read the two new DoD reports published yesterday, but here they are, enjoy:

“Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”

“United States Plan for Sustaining the Afghanistan National Security Forces”

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Iraqi officials are demanding an investigation into a U.S. raid on the town of Janaja, in the southern Karbala Province, according to McClatchy. Janaja happens to be the birthplace of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and because the province has been officially handed over to Iraqi security forces, the Iraqis are talking about a violation of terms.

The incident may be minor, but it underlines a few issues I’ve been wondering about.

First, does a rushed transfer of control create more problems than it solves? Obviously, when the U.S. wants to take someone down, it will not wait for Iraqi permission. Maliki, for his part, won’t take public embarrassments lightly, not after his (largely imagined) solo successes in Basra and Mosul. Hence the stage is set for a confrontation neither side will win.

Second, what does ‘transfer of control’ mean, exactly? If it means U.S. troops assuming overwatch, surely it falls to the ISF to conduct the kinetic stuff? And if so, why did they not do it in Janaja? (The obvious answer: They couldn’t, they wouldn’t, and they weren’t allowed to by the Americans.)

Third, what will happen in more contested provinces like Anbar? Whether one likes it or not, someone needs to fight this war, and by all accounts it won’t be the ISF. On the other hand, an agreement is an agreement, and surely the COIN maxim “strengthening the host government” means more than just parades?

And fourth, if the U.S. and the Iraqis have trouble reading the fine print of their agreements in a minor Shia town, how do they suppose SOFA would work?

UPDATE SUNDAY: What’d I tell you:

The incident puts an added strain on U.S.-Iraqi negotiations to draft a Status of Forces Agreement, a long-term security pact that will govern the conduct of U.S. forces in Iraq. Members of the Iraqi government and security forces said the raid only deepened their reluctance to sign any agreement that did not leave Iraqis with the biggest say on when and how combat operations are conducted.

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The U.S. will send some 30,000 soldiers to Iraq early next year to maintain its troop strength there, AP reports.

As LTC Hall pointed out earlier, I’m definitely no expert, but I can imagine what could be accomplished in Helmand or Kandahar with an influx of 30,000 troops. Talk about surge.

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Neither Abu Aardvark nor Dr. iRack profess to know what’s going on with the Sahwat and the SoI in Iraq, but both are offering valuable analysis.


One well-established contributor  to al-Qaeda’s al-Ekhlaas forum wrote the other day that a stream of Awakenings members have been making contacts with the ‘mujahideen’ about rejoining the Islamic State of Iraq (AQI) and in some cases have already returned to the fight. Another widely circulated post claims to present the ‘new strategy’ of the Islamic State of Iraq, infiltrating the Awakenings to gather information about the enemy and then to attack from within.  I’d guess that’s mostly bravado – the Awakenings have been ‘collapsing’ on the jihadist forums almost since before they started – but given what’s happening on the ground it’s worth attention.

Dr. iRack’s post has some very interesting comments by some very interesting people like Gian Gentile.

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The Washington Independent’s hard-working Spencer Ackerman has attended a bloggers’ roundtable with LTC Richard Hall, commander of the 2-7 Marines in Afghanistan, and comes back with quote-worthy stuff:

Hall is confident, […] largely because the Taliban, he said, has alienated the population through its graft and brutality. When the 2-7 returns home in a few months, Hall will consider his mission successful if his Marines have raised the police ‘to the level where they’re confident and competent to maintain secrity, control their specific districts, [and possessing] the character development… to be respectable even when no one’s looking. … We slowly pull back the reins, and the public will see what ‘right’ is supposed to look like.’

This sounds awfully familiar. The Marines seem to be trying to replicate their Anbar success in faraway Helmand — and believing it’ll work. I’ve blogged about it before, and so have the angry men of Registan:

[…] There is no indication the Marines understand enough about southern Pashtun culture to replicate their success in Anbar. For one, Helmand is not Anbar. Pashtuns are not organized into rigid hierarchical tribes the same way many Arab societies are (this was a painful lesson the British had to learn in the 19th century, when they coopted the tribal leadership of the Balochi but they found no traction in purchasing the loyalties of the Maliks or Lashgars of the Waziri or Mehsuds).

Taken more broadly, the attempt to replicate Anbar in Helmand poses many problems: in Anbar, the tribes rose up on their own, using their own militias against AQI. There is little evidence the local tribal structures in Lashkar Gah and Garmser are as structured as the Anbar tribes, and there is no evidence the Arbaki groups in the area are coherent enough to pose a consistent anti-Taliban front like the tribal militias did in Anbar.

UPDATE: Here’s LTC Hall’s comment to my previous post.

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