Not Good, Really Not Good: Pakistan Edition (Breaking)

From Time:

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Pakistani troops fired at American reconnaissance helicopters patrolling the Afghan-Pakistan border Thursday, heightening tensions as U.S. steps up cross-border operations in a region known as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

The Pakistani army has put a message that their troops have orders not to fire.

Here is the PM (from the US allied PPP):

“We will not tolerate any act against our sovereignty and integrity in the name of the war against terrorism,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told journalists Wednesday. “We are fighting extremism and terror not for any another country, but our own country. This is our own war.”

That could be interpreted as simply grandstanding and a wink-wink deal behind closed doors where the Pakistani leadership has signed off on US/NATO incursions (if only aerial) into their land.  But it again makes clear that Pakistan is only interested in this fight insofar as it involves al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban attacking their country.  They have no real care or interest in Taliban roaming across the NWFP into Afghanistan and launching attacks against either the Afghan Army/Police or NATO.  That simply doesn’t matter to Pakistan.  Pakistan wants the Taliban or a Taliban-like (Pashtun dominated) government in Afghanistan.  Always has, always will.

The Pakistanis also know that increased US pressure in the tribal regions, pushes the insurgency/terrorism against them.  If NATO/US gets better at preventing cross-border raids from Pakistan into Afghanistan (i.e. West), that energy-violence has nowhere to go but back into the heartland of Pakistan (i.e. East).

It’s the foreign policy equivalent of the financial meltdown.

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Meanwhile in Pakistan

Since everyone else is focused on the latest drama surrounding Sarah Palin (I’ve lost count already–but HuffPo comes in for the support), this would be more vastly more important:

Two helicopters carrying coalition forces landed in a Pakistani village in South Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan in the early hours of Wednesday morning and the soldiers opened fire on villagers, killing seven people, according to a spokesman for the Pakistani military.

The account by the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, broadcast on Pakistani television on Wednesday evening, described what appeared to be a first commando attack by NATO forces against the Taliban inside Pakistan.

Under normal circumstances, that would typically be labeled as an act of war.

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Taliban Attack

Afghanistan continues its deterioration–with another extremely (and sadly successful) attack by the Taliban.  Using more Global Guerrilla tactics…this time swarming and suicide bombings:

In unusually large and well coordinated operations in eastern Afghanistan Monday, Taliban fighters killed 10 French soldiers and at least six suicide bombers attacked a base of NATO alliance troops, NATO and Afghan officials said Tuesday.

The fighting with the French began late Monday afternoon when dozens of insurgents ambushed a French-led patrol near the town of Sarobi about 40 miles east of Kabul, according to NATO officials. Shortly after the ambush, a quick reaction force of NATO and Afghan soldiers and air support was sent to reinforce the French patrol.

Background Russo-Georgian War

Mostly to do with Russia. Recall when the Soviet Empire fell in 1989 and the immediate aftermath of its occurrence. Russia was promised (by the realists like Scowcroft of George HW Bush’s administration) that NATO would not expand East. And recall that the Soviet sphere covered all the way to East Germany.

Well obviously that didn’t take. First to go of course was German unification. Then Russia gave up Central Europe (Hungary, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles). Next Russia ceded the Baltics (ok, they still got a pro-Russian dictator in Belarus!!!). There was the ham fisted cyber war against the e-government of Estonia as the last gasp of influence in the region.

Continuing the trend, the Russians lost the Balkans having backed the losers (Serbs) and were unable to stop the eventual train to Kosovo independence. And again minus some balking and some abortive cyberwarfare attempts, Russia accedes to all of that loss of influence. Hell even Serbia is working hard to make themselves able to gain EU membership.

Russia also had the hugely face-losing moment in the early 1990s of Western backed Economic Shock Therapy (see Naomi Klein’s book on the subject). The rest of the developing world as a result looks to China not Russia for economic/political guidance (i.e. how to open your markets and keep one party rule/stay in power). Russia now seems to be taking a dangerous, more militaristic inspired path (plus the playing of petropolitics particularly vis a vis Europe and the Iranian nuclear issue).

Then comes the next inner core, what Thomas Barnett calls GUAM: Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan/Armenia, Moldova.

The GU pair of the quartet is where the Russians are making their stand. Particularly now the former. They are also are feeling of their oats after two decades of decline and humiliations.

Of those four, the two As so far seem closer to the Russian sphere (Moldova is mostly neutral), while Georgia and Ukraine both have majority pro-Western populations with large rump pro-Russian populations. Russia recall was involved in trying to back the (what appeared to be) vote rigging in the Ukranian elections (backing Yanukovich over Yukashenko).

So the line has clearly become Ukraine and now more dangerously Georgia. Both wanted into NATO and both were put on hold because of fear of domestic illiberality (both Saakasvili and even Yushchenko have had their marital law like episodes and are involved in their own political shenanigans it seems) as well as the obvious point of pissing off Russia and not wanting to get in a fight with Russia over these countries.

Not only that but the US is attempting to shore up relations with the Central Asian “istan” [former Soviet] republicans. Russia sees NATO undertake a mission outside of Europe, in its own former sphere/Vietnam (Afghanistan). Then the US wants Russia in on Iranian embargoes and the like. And now you see the Russians starting like they are being encircled and dictated to. The Russians see NATO increasingly as an anti-Russian alliance and their fears I think are pushing them in a direction of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Update I: I was assuming in my mind, but I realize I didn’t make explicit, that part of what is going on is Saak’s absolutely reckless (possibly immoral) stupidity in the initial round of escalation. That of course does not excuse Putin’s equally (even worse) further escalation–beyond simply South Ossetia into non-disputed Georgian territory. And civilians are getting killed as a result.

Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 10:35 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Rory Stewart on Afghanistan

Rory Stewart, author of two brilliant texts, The Place in Between and The Prince of the Marshes. Stewart (bio here) a British Foreign Officer spent years in Afghanistan in reconstruction and then deputy Gov. of a Southern Iraq Province.

Stewart has a must-read op-ed in Time. It raises again the specter of Afghanistan becoming Obama’s Iraq (or Vietnam). Here’s hoping someone in their camp reads this.

Stewart (speaking from on the ground experience/knowledge) states that NATO/US should not send more troops to Afghanistan. The Soviet experience, the British experience (19th-20th c.) even all the way back to Alexander the Great. Afghans are fiercely anti-occupation and the NATO force sadly in the last years has gone (like in Iraq) from being seen as a liberator to an occupier.

The country in other words has to come to its own political future and choices. Stewart points towards what can be done by the West.


A smarter strategy would focus on two elements: more effective aid and a more limited military objective.

On the former:

We should focus on meeting the Afghan government’s request for more investment in agricultural irrigation, energy and roads. And we should increase our support to the most effective departments, such as education, health and rural development; they are good for the reputation of the Afghan state and the West. Creating more educated, healthier women and men and better transport, communications and electrical infrastructure may be only part of the story, but they are essential for Afghanistan’s economic future.

On the latter:

Our military strategy, meanwhile, should focus on counterterrorism — not counterinsurgency. Our presence has so far prevented al-Qaeda from establishing training camps in Afghanistan. We must continue to prevent it from doing so. But our troops should not try to hold territory or chase the Taliban around rural areas. We should also use our presence to steer Afghanistan away from civil war and provide some opportunity for the Afghans themselves to create a more humane, well-governed and prosperous country. This policy would require far fewer troops over the next 20 years, and they would probably be predominantly special forces and intelligence operatives.

This would fit with Obama’s overall focus on destroying al-Qaeda and his publicly expressed realism and understanding of having to work with bad/less than ideal actors in less than ideal circumstances. He has also talked (following his mentor on these issues Joe Biden) about increasing aid to Pakistan for civil society predicated on certain other political measures. A similar move could be done in Afghanistan rather than Obama’s (to date) seemingly more open-ended blank check promises to the Afghan government. Though it should be noted that Obmaa criticized President Karzai in his latest speech.

This Stewartian vision pushes directly against Petraeus–assuming Petraeus as Cent Com Commander will push for some modified version of his COIN doctrine in Afghanistan. [That assumption may be prove to be false. Either A)Petraeus only continues to focus on Iraq as his baby or B)He realizes somehow that what worked in Iraq won’t work in Afghanistan].

Update I:  Per this story of Obama’s trip to Kabul and the security deterioration there, there may be a way to split the difference if (and this is undoubtedly a Big If) the increase in troops to Afghanistan is based on a very short term horizon then transiting to the kind of vision Stewart lays out.  Alternatively of course it could just entangle them in further and lead to a longer, bloodier stalemate.

War in Afghanistan

A must read post on the state of Afghanistan in the Australian. Not the kind of media coverage you would see in the US sadly.

Does this sound familiar?:

“Coalition forces are winning every battle but losing the war,” a private security consultant told me. “You can go out and kill Taliban all day long. You kill 20,000 – and there’s another 20,000 that will follow them.”


The senior ISAF commander who briefed me there last week was forthright. The conflict, as it’s being fought, cannot be won. He cites two reasons: the safe haven enjoyed by the militants and their al-Qa’ida sponsors in neighbouring Pakistan; and the rampant corruption in Afghanistan itself. “We can reduce the physical insurgency and hand over to Afghanistan,” the commander says. “It is containable, but while those two things remain, it’s not solvable. The insurgents will never beat us. We can contain it, but we can’t solve it.”

He says the best they can hope for is to “reduce it to a stalemate favourable to our side”.

And the Iraq parallels get even more destructively eerie.

1)There is not one insurgency in Afghanistan:

Another factor in the war’s intransigence is the complex nature of the insurgency. This is neither a foreign-based terrorist movement as the Afghan Government likes to claim – “garbage”, says the commander – nor a simple “Taliban insurgency”. Instead, it is “a number of parallel insurgencies”.

The players include the so-called “southern Taliban” led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001; and the “northern Taliban”, led by Beitullah Mahsud, suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud is reported to have an army of 20,000 men, including countless would-be suicide bombers, at his disposal in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (a misnomer, as they are clearly out of Islamabad’s control.)

This group is closely affiliated with the network of warlord Jalalludin Haqqani, based in the eastern city of Khowst. Another player is the wily mujahed, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a 30-year veteran of the jihad, whose shelling of Kabul during the civil war of the early 1990s left the city in ruins. Hekmatyar has aligned himself with the Taliban, in an example of the murky and ever-shifting alliances that dominate the country’s political landscape.

Supporting all of them is al-Qa’ida, which, thanks to the sanctuary provided in Pakistan, has been able to successfully re-locate its headquarters after the destruction of its bases in Afghanistan. As the ISAF commander explains it, al-Qa’ida now operates as a “facilitating network”, providing money, ideology, training, recruits and weaponry to its allies.

2)Suicide bombings and road side IEDs/guerrilla insurgency is the tactic of choice rather than straight up fighting (those techniques actually learned via the guerrilla laboratory of Iraq).

3)The NATO forces are even more bunkered down than the US in Iraq pre the surge. They have therefore relied on aerial bombings, which has killed scores of Afghan innocent civilians, turning the popular street level view of NATO as going from liberator to occupier.

Now the outlines of a President Obama (as looks much more likely each day, my best guess now is 60% odds and rising) are becoming clearer. With even the PM of Iraq (h/t Newshoggers) sounding like Barack, here’s a prediction.

In a strange twist of fate, Obama has his own surge in Afghanistan (which he has long said he wants to do). Guess who is now CENTCOM Commander with emphasis on Afghanistan? You guessed it David Petraeus. Obama has Petraeus unleash his vaunted COIN counter-insurgency strategy, teaching it to NATO, to similar effect to Iraq. Who knows what happens with Pakistan as Obama seems wise enough to realize the Pakistanis are full of s–t and always have been and no “democratic” government or Dictator-lite like Musharraf is going to go after the Taliban, the tribal regions. Do we? I have no clue.

[I assume in this prediction that if the US goes in, NATO is going to follow (or at least not get in the way).]

However, bracketing the Pakistan question for a sec, as in Iraq, the central fundamental issue remains: no government. Hopefully as in Iraq, NATO can break the code on IEDs (now killing 80% of NATO troops in Afghanistan, higher casualty figures total and much higher per soldier than in Iraq) and like in post-surge Iraq reduce the number killed/wounded through these style of attacks.

But as in Iraq this will only further fragment the insurgencies (evidence here) which will work at cross-purposes to the stated goal of a unified central government. The primary difference I see however is that the Pashtun (unlike al-Qaeda in Iraq) have become the standard bearers of Pashtun resistance. The Sunni Flip/Pay off only worked in Iraq because AQI had started slaying tribal leaders and their families. Not sure this will work quite the same with the Taliban–unless they overplay their hand which is always possible I suppose.

The political issue–i.e. the only issue–will remain outstanding and then Obama may be forced with his own John McCain like moment (circa his second run for the president in 2012) of whether he pivots to a withdraw position from Afghanistan or doubles down on his own surge. If he does the latter (doubles down), BO could then have someone run to his left in 2012 (now I’m on a roll) and run the Obama script from ’08 on the Obama cum McCain 2012 version.

Obama, however, has let it be known that his primary purpose in Afghanistan and Iraq has been to eliminate al-Qaeda and leave secondarily about as best a situation as can be expected in the countries. So he’s not locked himself into the “victory” delusion mindset of the current Bushian McCainian Republicans.

Right now Obama has the center and left (and sane right) with the idea that Iraq was a failure strategically (however well fought militarily). As Iraq pull down begins and is mostly finished about halfway or 2/3 into his first term, I wonder if a new chorus will begin applying the same logic to Afghanistan?

The wild card of course in all this is the country nestled between Iraq and Afghanistan, i.e. Iran. Obama realizes that you can’t be fighting 3 wars (or 2 1/2 I guess as Iran wouldn’t be a land invasion) simultaneously. As Thomas Barnett has always said, Iran has always had a veto in Iraq. And they as well as Sistani now appear to be cashing that in.

If things with Iran get “kinetic” then all bets are off as the board is completely re-altered and then we might be headed for a political terrorist singularity beyond anyone’s ken.

US-Iran Hostility Bleeds Over into Afghanistan

Emphasis on bleeds.

Story from Time.  

Iran recall was a huge supporter of the Northern Alliance’s effort (with US/NATO) to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan.  That is because Iran was a sworn enemy of the Taliban. Iran is Shia and the Taliban are militant Sunnis who believe all Shia (including Afghan Hazara Shia) are infidels.

Iran in fact at a key point of impasse on deciding the future leader of post-Taliban Afghanistan, was the arbiter of the Karzai consensus.

For their help, the Iranians were listed as a member of the Axis of Evil.

Now, with the US continuing to ratchet up the pressure and talk against Iran and hardline elements in Iran playing chicken with the US, Afghanistan suffers the consequences.

In the past six months, however, Iran’s actions have taken a more sinister turn. U.S. and NATO troops have intercepted shipments of Iranian-made arms in Afghanistan, including mortars, plastic explosives and explosively formed penetrators that have been used to deadly effect against armored vehicles in Iraq. U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood said on January 31, “There is no question that elements of insurgency have received weapons from Iran.” The discovery of the first caches of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan in April, says a State Department official, “sent shock waves through the system.” Iran was doing more than just bringing western Afghanistan into its sphere of influence.

Two caveats.  The Army to date has not (to my knowledge) shown evidence of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan (or Iraq really).  Second and more importantly, assuming weapons did come from Iran they are just as likely to come from the black market, in fact more so than anywhere else. The implication of the press release is that the higher ups in the Iranian gov’t have ordered this weaponization.  It’s a long, porous border (Iran-Afghanistan) and the black market is a huge force, particularly with poppy production in Afghanistan reaching record levels.

Where the government has played a role is in the deportation of Afghanis from Iran back to their homeland putting further stress on the already weak infrastructure of the poor country.

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 11:04 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,