I think this rocks, so here it is in honor of Veteran’s Day.
Archive for the 'Military Matters' Category
On the bright side, I’ll be able to save battery life on my iphone by turning off the gps. The downside of course being that the gps is increadibly useful.
Send in the SEALS
Well, here’s a true foreign crisis to test the President with.
My response is noted in the title. And we should kill the pirates. In fact, after rescued the hostages, and killed the pirates, we should get all Jeffersonian with the rest of them.
Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk confirmed that the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama had been attacked by pirates about 500 km (300 miles) off Somalia and had probably been hijacked. The company said it had 20 American crew on board.
A spokesman for the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) in Nairobi told Reuters that among the vessel’s cargo were 232 containers of WFP relief food destined for Somalia and Uganda.
At least the administration has already , although a weak one, so far.
A presidential spokesman says the White House is assessing a course of action to resolve the hijacking of a U.S.-flagged ship off the coast of Somalia.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that the White House was monitoring the incident closely. Said Gibbs: “Our top priority is the personal safety of the crew members on board.”
Keep checking back for updates when they’re available.
I’m not the only one following this: may have already retaken their ship. Should be an interesting story once we hear the whole truth. (hattip to tigerhawk) And there’s what I get for going out to lunch.
And it looks like Dam Riehl had the same idea as me… This mission would have been exactly why we have SEAL team 6, (now called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group,) isn’t it.
Well, I would have to say President Obama, and the Navy SEALs get passing marks for the resolution to this crisis. The bits-n-pieces to the story that I’ve heard are the stuff that will make great bar fodder when these SEALs cozy up for a brew. Two teams, parachuting at night in the seas near the Navy ship, to be picked up. 3 simultaneous shots from the deck of 1 ship into a towed lifeboat, taking at all three targets.
I’m sure if asked, all the SEALs involved would say it was “all in a days work.” Surely they deserve a moment of praise and adoration, even if they personally will be kept in the shadows as part of their mission.
And to all the second guessing about President Obama’s actions out in punditstan, we wouldn’t have done this to President Bush, so why disrespect the office now.
The scene got “tenuous” according to one official, shortly after the three pirates agreed to let the Bainbridge tow their boat. The sea conditions were worsening and the lifeboat was “floundering” before pirates acknowledged that by establishing a tow, it would be a smoother ride.
But sometime soon after the boats were hooked together, shots were fired from the lifeboat and the pirates were seen holding a gun to Captain Phillips back. Acting on a standing order from President Obama to move in when Phillips was in “imminent danger” snipers were ordered to fire.
They established clear head shots on all three pirates. One of the pirates was visible through the front window, and the other two were revealing their heads through the top hatch, presumably to get fresh air. It would be their last breath.
As to what this might portend for the future, one data point does not make a trend.
Iraq – We’re Winning!!!
A funny thing happened on the way to Iraq, President Obama declared that we’re winning.
Anyone who’s been keeping up to date knows we’ve been making great progress, and I say, winning in Iraq. President Obama acknowledges the courage and sacrifice of our troops, while ignoring the sacrifice of the Iraqis, and the choices President Bush made to enable progress to be made.
Under enormous strain and under enormous sacrifice, through controversy and difficulty and politics, you’ve kept your eyes focused on just doing your job. And because of that, every mission that’s been assigned — from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections — you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement, and for that you have the thanks of the American people. (Applause.) That’s point number one.
Point number two is, this is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it’s something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. (Applause.) They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty. (Applause.)
And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations. They’re going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means. They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens.
All those things they have to do. We can’t do it for them. But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success, that in terms of training their security forces, training their civilian forces in order to achieve a more effective government, they know that they have a steady partner with us.
Something’s missing from this. Oh yeah, an acknowledgment that Iraqis have made a huge commitment, and have sacrificed much more then we have towards achieving these goals.
Nor did he, or the press mention that Iraqis already have control of a large number of the provinces, and has been making tremendous progress in the last 2 years.
As of November 2008, 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces have successfully transitioned to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC). In fact, the current report, shows that the same provinces that hadn’t transitioned, are still the areas of concern for further transitioning.
Obama Snubs MOH recipients
In a sense, this is surprising to me. I thought Obama had more political sense to him then this. It might have been his handlers fault. That’s being generous though.
In this case, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, as well as other veteran’s groups, were sponsoring their gala that has coincided with the inaugural evening since Eisenhower took office in 1953. In total, nine presidents and 56 years have gone by, and each inaugural evening the new president arrived to thank the veterans and Medal of Honor recipients in attendance. As one of the “unofficial” balls, it meant quite a bit to have the president show up and make an appearance.
Except this time.
The president and first lady, for the first time in those ensuing 56 years, did not make an appearance at the Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball. In attendance at the gala were 48 of the 99 living recipients of our nation’s highest honor. Of the 99 who are still with us, not even half are in any condition or possess the wherewithal to travel to such an event. And by the next inauguration, likely half of those won’t be with us.
This ball was hosted by the Medal of Honor Society.
Frank Lovece sat down with Frank Miller for Newsday to discuss his upcoming film The Spirit. Toward the end of it Lovece asked Miller about remarks he’d made in 2007 in support of the Iraq War, and offered him an opportunity to clarify/retract. Miller was unapologetic:
Miller: When the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, we didn’t just declare war on Japan, we declared war on Germany. It was an international fascist effort. And so when I said that the attack on Iraq made sense, it was the same way we had to attack not just Afghanistan. Instead we had to attack the center of Islamofascism.
Roland picks up an interesting piece by Jacob Heilbrunn for the National Interest, describing an ongoing purge of neoconservative intellectuals from the American Enterprise Institute, allegedly instigated by Vice President Danielle Pletka. So far Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht are gone, with Joshua Muravchik soon leaving. Others are said to be soon in following.
This could signal the reemergence of an old conflict over machtpolitik and just war doctrine, which used to exist in Republican security policy circles (ie, coercion-for-values vs. coercion-for-interests). If Pletka is indeed purging with intent, we may even expect AEI to shift its attitude toward the Middle East, Asia and Africa, given how much more amenable authoritarian regimes tend to be to interest pressure.
And the idealism of the AEI departed is considerable. Gerecht for instance wrote a fascinating but bizarre book I read in the late 1990s under the pen name Edward Shirley, in which he smuggled himself into Iran in the trunk of a car, essentially for the romance of it.
Armies of the Obsolete
Al Qaeda technicians have apparently pioneered the use of electronics in old SEGA game cartridges for bomb detonators. A smaller precedent than the use of the airliner as suicide missile, but no less remarkable as a demonstration of the the transnational terrorist group’s acumen and artistry at the reuse of civilian technology for military purposes.
The West, having derived its military advantages from the possession of advanced technology for centuries, has been preoccupied with the security risks of technology transfer perhaps since the classical Greeks. But the emergence of massive civilian technology transfers from modern to relatively underdeveloped cultures, and the accelerating pace of Western technological advance, presents a new challenge that promises only to expand in risk and complexity.
The Captives of Years
On Monday the United States officially returned all security duties for Anbar province to Iraqi police and military. The collapse of the Sunni insurgency there now appears to be almost total, with attacks having declined 90% from only two years ago.
The progress is perhaps best illustrated by this dramatic chart from the New York Times:
Is 2006, 1968? The year the antiwar movement stopped paying attention to developments on the ground in the war, as Creighton Abrams’ Vietnamization strategy or Petraeus’ “Iraqification” approach later worked so spectacularly well? With their continued opposition to ongoing stabilization efforts, it certainly seems like a great many in the antiwar left are still captives of that dramatic and pivotal year.
Chuck Hagel wants to change the subject-Updated
From The Huffington Post, where this kind of BS is applauded:
“Quit talking about, ‘Did the surge work or not work,’ or, ‘Did you vote for this or support this,’” Hagel said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
“Get out of that. We’re done with that. How are we going to project forward?” the Nebraska senator said. “What are we going to do for the next four years to protect the interest of America and our allies and restructure a new order in the world. … That’s what America needs to hear from these two candidates. And that’s where I am.”
How cute. Take a nice piece of advice, concentrate on what comes next, and rob that discussion of all context. How are we supposed to judge who is best fit to move on to the next steps without some understanding of how people have judged things in the past? Especially something so recent and directly on point.
It isn’t that Hagel and Obama don’t have a legitimate, if wrongheaded in my view, defense. Stupid policy choices work out all the time. That doesn’t make them wise. If you jump off a bridge and a truck full of hay just happens to come by and break the fall, it hardly confirms ones good judgment. (more…)
We see this kind of thing in the press :
U.S. and Afghan troops have abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine American soldiers earlier this week, officials said Wednesday.
Compounding the military setback, insurgents quickly seized the village of Wanat in Nuristan province after driving out the handful of police left behind to defend government offices there, Afghan officials said.
Factually true, and oh so very misleading. For the real story of these nine men and the fantastic job they and their comrades did I suggest letting McQ enlighten you.
From Galula, to Anbar and the Surge
In the ongoing discussion of who has done a better job of describing the time line around the surge, I certainly recommend McQ’s discussion.
The Minuteman however has a couple of key points to make on this issue as well:
But if McCain has the timing wrong, what about Obama? How could the US have failed to anticipate a Sunni uprising that was already occuring?
In fact, President Bush cited the Anbar uprising in his Jan 2007 speech announcing the surge:
As we make these changes, we will continue to pursue al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Al Qaeda is still active in Iraq. Its home base is Anbar Province. Al Qaeda has helped make Anbar the most violent area of Iraq outside the capital. A captured al Qaeda document describes the terrorists’ plan to infiltrate and seize control of the province. This would bring al Qaeda closer to its goals of taking down Iraq’s democracy, building a radical Islamic empire, and launching new attacks on the United States at home and abroad.
Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing al Qaeda leaders, and they are protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on al Qaeda. And as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists. America’s men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan — and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.
Of course that is correct, and as I have been arguing long before this dustup (in fact I had many posts pointing this out over a year ago) the only reason many people didn’t “anticipate” the awakening is because they were busy denying it was even happening in Anbar up until the Fall of 2007.
Some of us were discussing it in late 2006, and linking it to the surge before the surge officially began (As a side note, I am fond of that post, because it treated me to the odd sensation of having a post used as the basis for a segment on David Galula by Rush Limbaugh. Strange bedfellows.)
This revisionism is tiresome. The campaign in Anbar was a precursor to what was done on a larger scale once the surge was put in place. As the post of mine points out, what happened in Anbar was exactly the kind of thing that COIN is designed to achieve. It is true (and because David Kilcullen and others admitted it, it is used in a misleading manner) they didn’t foresee the awakening in its specifics.
That is the point though, to create an environment in which things such as the Awakening can occur. Galula’s laws, and modern COIN theory, make that clear. The particulars are always unpredictable, the outcome however has been proven to be more so. My post wasn’t prescient (in fact I end it discouraged in the belief that the effort would be ended before it could prove its effectiveness) just seeing clearly what was being attempted. If you didn’t see it then, no wonder the connection eludes you now.
Politics and Maliki’s Timetable
A deadline should be set for the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from Iraq, and the pullout could be done by 2011, an Iraqi government spokesman said Tuesday.
Ali al-Dabbagh said any timetable would depend on “conditions and the circumstances that the country would be undergoing.” But he said a pullout within “three, four or five” years was possible.
“It can be 2011 or 2012,” al-Dabbagh said. “We don’t have a specific date in mind, but we need to agree on the principle of setting a deadline.”
I think there are several things to take from this. First and foremost this is a sign that “winning” in Iraq is at hand. The primary goal was an independent Iraq, capable of defending itself and being an ally in the War on Terror. That the Iraq government is declaring it’s ready to take over the reins of defending and policing its own country is a fantastic sign of confidence in its ability to do so. Considering the fact that the Iraqi Army has increasingly taken the lead throughout the country, including most recently the formerly “lost” province of Anbar, a phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces seems like the natural next step. While there are still problems to be dealt with, such as the ever-present threat of more ethnic and sectarian violence, Iraq in general appears to be in a much better position to deal with them on their own than just a year ago. They also seem to more willing to do so, judging by the Basra and related campaigns. Under these sorts of conditions, the job of our forces would seem to be coming to an end, and talk of bringing them home is welcome news indeed.
Of course, the conditions meriting talk of a withdrawal timetable are being ignored by some in favor of scoring political points:
“President Bush refuses to listen to Congress or the American people, but he cannot support Iraqi political reconciliation and security and ignore Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a timetable for the withdrawal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
“I agree with Maliki,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added. “Let’s take off the training wheels and let Iraq handle their own affairs. We have spent enough of our blood and treasure in Iraq.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rham Emanuel wondered at the administration’s response to the Iraqi position.
“When Democrats called for a timeline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, they were attacked by President Bush,” the Chicago Democrat said. “When Prime Minister Maliki suggested a timeline for withdrawal, the White House said he was ‘reflecting a shared goal.’ Apparently, in the Bush White House, the messenger matters more than message.”
The other day McQ explained why previous calls for withdrawal were treated differently:
2 years ago, timetables for withdrawal were a bad idea because there were viable enemies still operating in Iraq.
Today? Not so much. Today we’re talking about withdrawal timetables in the wake of victory. Then we were talking about timetables in the face of possible defeat. If you can’t get you head around the difference, then I’d suggest you haven’t much worthwhile to add to any discussion of the matter.
Ironically, the one’s who should be using the latest news to score political points are the current Presidential candidates, who have been somewhat muted thus far. Obama referred to Maliki’s announcement as “encouraging” and McCain rather clumsily noted that Maliki’s comments were being misunderstood as a rigid time table for withdrawal of U.S. Troops instead of a “conditions based” plan:
McCain said he was confident the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would ask American troops to leave only if the military situation there warranted such a move.
“I know for a fact that it will be dictated by the situation on the ground, as it always has been,” McCain said.
“Since we are succeeding” in Iraq, he said, “then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about, since he has told me that for the many meetings we have had.”
He’s not wrong, but McCain’s not exactly grabbing the bull by the horns here either. Especially when he seemingly demeans Maliki’s call as a mere political move:
Of Maliki, McCain said, “Look, he’s a politician. He is a leader of a country that’s finally coming together.
“The fact is that we and the Iraqis will deal in what is in the national security interests of both countries. And there is no reason to assume that the Iraqis aren’t going to act in what they perceive as their national interest. I believe we’ll act in ours, and I believe we’ll come home, we’ll withdraw.
Again, it’s not that McCain is wrong so much as he hasn’t seized a real opportunity to the gain the upper hand. Obama has so far missed the opportunity as well, but his minimalist reaction is probably the better of the two at this point. What one them needs to do is to tout Mailiki’s call for a withdrawal timetable as a sign of victory in Iraq, and to applaud the fledgling nation for taking one of its most important steps towards full sovereignty. While I’m sure that both candidates will declare that we will happily withdraw our forces at the request of the Iraqi government, what neither of them have done so far is to highlight the request as a clear sign that our job in Iraq may be almost done. Pointing to the light at the end of the tunnel where our troops will emerge on the way home is exactly the sort of hope and change that Americans desire and can feel good about. I predict that the first candidate to figure that out will be our next President.
*Editing Note: I revised “timeline” to read “timetable” throughout because it makes more sense.
UPDATE: Welcome QandO readers. Please look around after you’ve finished with this post, but McQ says you have to go back over to QandO when you’re done … but I won’t tell if you won’t.
The recent Supreme Court case involving Guantanomo Bay (GITMO) detainees and writs of habeas corpus promises to be one of the most significant opinions for decades to come. Not because it grants foreign citizens the right to challenge their detention in U.S. civil courts (although that’s huge), nor because the decision will lead to possible terrorists being set free in the U.S. (which is almost inevitable), but because it sets a new standard for the power of the Supreme Court. However, no matter the angle from which one approaches the case, constitutional scholars will likely not tire of discussing its implications and applications for quite some time. This post will concentrate on just one of those angles (with others hopefully to follow). (more…)
This is the most recent of a series of posts on Registan.net where I explore some of the fundamentals of conflict within the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At the end of this post is a link to the rest of them.
Nightwatch argues that May was the most violent month in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion:
NightWatch almost has completed its monthly assessments of combat for both April and May. In the data sample drawn from unclassified reporting sources that NightWatch uses, April featured 199 violent incidents in 86 districts, making it the most lethal April in the six year conflict. May featured 214 incidents of violence in over 100 districts, also a new six-year total for May and the highest single monthly total. Despite official efforts to spotlight improvement, the spring offensive thus far is worse than last year’s spring offensive. The security situation has deteriorated again.
At no prior time has the Taliban managed to stage attacks in over 100 of the 398 districts. The previous highs were 86 in April 2008 and 83 in May 2007. Fighting has been heavy in Garmser District in Helmand Province but it has been significantly higher in Zormat District in Paktia Province; Andar District in Ghazni Province and Asadabad District in Konar, all across from the tribal areas of northern and central Pakistan. If Taliban fighters are heading to Pakistan, they are going back to base to rest and to get more ammunition and supplies.
Now, it is notable that the worst fighting has actually not been in the south, but in Paktya, Ghazni, and Kunar, all of which are provinces operating under the new success metrics breathlessly regurgitated by our lazy propagandists. Kunar in particular was the site of David Kilcullen’s now-seminal piece on the magical IED-stopping power of roads; Asadabad in particular is the site of one of the PRTs making the most talked-about progress in terms of construction and violence reduction.
Are we being sold a bill of goods? Are the areas bordering the FATA in far worse shape than we were lead to believe, and is the South in comparative good health?
It is not as simple to answer as it may seem. There are three metrics to look at: actual numbers, comparative numbers, and perceived numbers. For our purposes—i.e. for the purpose of some sort of permanent defeat of the Taliban and associated militias—the real numbers don’t matter. The comparative numbers might, if there was an effective IO campaign in place—not selling roads as bomb shields, but selling the astonishing success of the brand new national telecommunications network, or the very real benefits of steadily improving developmental indicators. But since there is not, the comparative numbers could be interesting, but haven’t really gone anywhere.
What of the perception? Again, this is a difficult question to unravel: security is rarely at the top of a typical Afghan’s priority. Most want food, or an end to the pervasive and devastating impact of official corruption.
Fallon and Petraeus sitting in a tree…
I don’t believe for a second president bush wants a war with Iran.
Somebody tell the Sock Puppet and Mona. For two straight Autumns I have been told the tanks would roll by November.
I believe the best course is to retain the high confidence we have in General Petraeus and his team out there. Dave has done a magnificent job in leading our people in that country.
Huh? I kept hearing he was disdainful of Petraeus.
The idea we would walk away from Iraq strikes me as not appropriate. We all want to bring our troops home. We want to have the majority of our people back and we want the war ended. Given where we are today, the progress that they’ve made particularly in the last couple months, I think it’s very, very heartening to see what’s really happened here. The right course of action is to continue to work with the Iraqis and let them take over the majority of the tasks for ensuring security for the country and have our people come out on a timetable that’s appropriate with conditions on the ground.
My emphasis. Has anyone here made that same argument? Why, I think it was me, along with Michael, Keith, McQ and a host of others, and Fallon was claimed to be arguing against us in the past. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, but it sure is nice to hear that he agrees now. Note also his endorsement of the idea that there has been real progress, and it isn’t all just a misreading of what is “really going on.”
When the blood of any war soaks your clothes and covers your hands, and soldiers die in your arms, every breath forever more becomes an appeal for a greater peace, unity and reconciliation.
From face-to-face combat to arm-in-arm friendship — unity was restored by our efforts to come together. I implore our great leaders on “the many days after” Memorial Day to advance this most worthy of causes for peace and unity. People and nations rise above their differences only through effort, through trust.
Without trust, unity is beyond reach and restoration. With trust, unity is within reach and preservation. We must reach out to others in order to preserve the freedom we hold dear. We are each called to bear witness to the ideals of liberty. When we treat others with the respect and friendship that true liberty engenders, they will be brought into that same liberty.
When the heartbeat of one soldier stops forever, the heartbeat of our nation should accelerate, driving us to ensure that this life was not sacrificed in vain. That racing pulse should rouse us to seek, at all costs, better ways to understand, forgive and deal with our differences. Reconciliation should always be our objective.
We owe our dead and their survivors no less! We owe our children much more! We owe our children’s children even more! Let us pay our debts.
God bless America.
And God bless the men and women who serve her everywhere, past, present and future.
Have a happy and safe Memorial Day this weekend, and remember those who’ve sacrificed for the liberties we have.
Posted first to Registan.net, your one-stop shop for all things Central Asia, this is a tangent to a really excellent theme I’ve been tracking the past few weeks—the flow of press releases masquerading as journalism from Afghanistan to our largest publications. Check it out if you like this.
It appears NATO is feeling “battle fatigue” after six years of combat. I feel for them, I really do—and it would be impossible for me to criticize the stance since I have never been in combat. But why, then, is the notion that Afghans just might be too exhausted to fight any more so alien to western thinking? That some may not be as actively battling off Taliban and associated militants with sleepless fervor as they could because they’re just too exhausted?
The most battle-hardened U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have been there for a total of perhaps five years (this is an educated guess; it could be either more or less). After so much time fearing for one’s life, feeling utterly fatigued is perfectly natural. And the political desire to end the expense of such a sustained conflict is also perfectly natural and understandable.
Most Afghans, however, cannot remember a time without warfare. With a median age of only 17.6 years, the vast majority of Afghans simply were not alive during a period without active warfare in their country—warfare that will, in about 19 months, reach its 30th anniversary.
I would say the Afghans are rather more resilient than we are. But NATO’s fecklessness certainly doesn’t help. The revelation that German special forces allowed the Baghlan bomber to escape because they were not authorized to use lethal force—they were only permitted to capture him, not kill him—drives this point further home. Many NATO countries are simply not acting as if they want to win. Only five of the 26 countries currently operating in Afghanistan—the U.S., the UK, Canada, Denmark, and Netherlands—can behave like a normal army. The rest have their operations crippled by restrictive caveats, some of which now can be shown to be actively aiding the insurgency.
The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before. Warned of ISAF’s activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.
The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while — and to “eliminate” the hardliners through targeted assassinations.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The German KSK is actually a highly respected, highly capable force. They were able to track the bomber down, observe him for weeks without him realizing it, and even close almost to capture before they were discovered. But they were just not permitted to behave like any other SOF or even police unit would: kill a dangerous man if he looks ready to escape.
And this strategy of purchasing Taliban sympathizers is the height of folly: it is precisely what the British tried during their disastrous invasion in 1838. When the money ran out some years later, those Afghans they had bribed didn’t walk home thankful to have received British gold, they rose up in murderous fury at the foreign invader who now didn’t even have money to placate their wounded pride. Refusing to fight while spreading Euros like Nutella on toast might work for a little bit. But, as Der Spiegel has documented, it will also fatally undermine what had been one of the great successes of the war.
I’m sure hanging out in Feyzabad and getting fat is really tiring, but honestly, bitte, stop undermining everyone else.
This Topic Continues:
- Germany and Afghanistan
- “The Germans Have to Learn How to Kill“
- About the Baghlan Bombing
- Disassembling the Baghlan Bombing
This is the latest post in a running commentary on a new meme to emerge from the PR folks in Afghanistan: the security benefits of building roads. The argument, advanced by a few American reporters and one David Kilcullen, is that building paved roads reduces the IED threat and contributes to the security necessary for economic development. I find this highly inplausible, and the lack of evidence—across multiple reports from multiple reporters—deepens this suspicion. If I can arrange it with a magazine, I’m going to try to compile all of these into a single essay addressing the issue of journalist knowledge and gullibility, ethics, and what security really means.
Naturally, this was posted first at Registan.net, which is where you should be going for updates on the Forgotten War in Afghanistan, as well as the latest machinations in the still-simmering Former Soviet Union.
Remember David Ignatius’ pathetic excuse for reporting on Afghanistan? After a whole week in a few provinces in RC-East, he was making pronouncements about how the country was faring. Barnett Rubin properly called him out on this crap, but it’s worth looking at his ludicrous column and seeing if it might tell us anything.
Aside from the many facile references to Rudyard Kipling and British colonial administrators, and a curious inability to look at a map (Naray, in Paktya, is about 100 miles southwest of Asadabad, in Kunar… over Pakistani territory), there is a quite fascinating section.
Alison Blosser, a young State Department officer, is using a similar approach to help guide the Provincial Reconstruction Team for Kunar province, based south of here in Asadabad. An Ohio State graduate, she speaks fluent Pashto, which she learned before taking up her previous assignment at the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. Dressed in a head scarf and body armor, she might be a modern version of Gertrude Bell, the celebrated British adventurer and colonial administrator of the 1920s.
Blosser and her colleagues have employed what they call a “roads strategy” to bring stability to Kunar. The biggest project so far was building a paved two-lane road from Jalalabad in the lush flatlands up the Kunar River valley to Asadabad. The road is a magnet for economic development in what had been an insurgent stronghold, and the PRT is planning new roads into what Blosser calls the “capillary valleys” where the insurgents have fled.
At least we now know who’s been pushing the Roads thing.
The tribal elders see the prosperity the new roads have brought and want the same for their villages. “We say, ‘Fine, but you have to guarantee security,’ ” Blosser says. That’s the essence of the counterinsurgency strategy U.S. forces are using in Afghanistan. As the military clears new areas, the PRTs follow quickly behind with roads, bridges and schools.
And by this, he directly contradicts what David Kilcullen was able to say with nary a critical peep from the professional counterinsurgency crowd. Whom to believe? I have no idea. Kilcullen says security follows roads. Ignatius says roads follow security, and then reinforce it. Ignatius’ version of causation makes more intuitive sense. But Afghanistan has a habit of defying intuition.
In either case, since Kilcullen is the supposedly serious thinker here, and Ignatius obviously is not, that places the burden of proof on Kilcullen (or anyone else who agrees with his version of causation) to build the case that roads equal security. Right now, there is precious little data and a great deal of pleasing talk in anecdotal generalities. Until there is an actual argument—involving evidence, which is noticeably lacking in Kilcullen’s writing on this subject—then no one can really say for sure.
And is Carlotta Gall the only reporter employed by an American paper to work off something other than official government press handlers?
This topic continues:
Of PR Campaigns and the Utility of Area Knowledge
War Is Peace, and Other Orwells at the Journal
A Practical Look at the Value of Roads
Learning from PRTs
The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan
KHOST, Afghanistan — Pfc. Monica Brown cracked open the door of her Humvee outside a remote village in eastern Afghanistan to the pop of bullets shot by Taliban fighters. But instead of taking cover, the 18-year-old medic grabbed her bag and ran through gunfire toward fellow soldiers in a crippled and burning vehicle.
Vice President Cheney pinned Brown, of Lake Jackson, Tex., with a Silver Star in March for repeatedly risking her life on April 25, 2007, to shield and treat her wounded comrades, displaying bravery and grit. She is the second woman since World War II to receive the nation’s third-highest combat medal.
Within a few days of her heroic acts, however, the Army pulled Brown out of the remote camp in Paktika province where she was serving with a cavalry unit — because, her platoon commander said, Army restrictions on women in combat barred her from such missions.
It’s difficult to find a better summary of some of the fundamental contradictions of the Army today. Women can serve, and valorously, so long as they’re not lauded for it—then, they must be taken away from their units. But it’s the same thing for gays, too—serve your country, just don’t ever let anyone know what you really are. Sad.
I can remember being about 10 or 11 and hearing arguments about how we can’t use the military for “social engineering.” This was during the days when Bill Clinton was pushing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, when Tail Hook was the End of the Navy, and so on. I would think that same logic should apply now: the rest of society has moved on: like it or not, women are serving in combat duties, and they are doing so valiantly. The restrictions on their service, and in this case punishment for being too brave, make less and less sense every day.
Cross-posted to Registan.net, which is “All Central Asia, All the Time.”
Last year, Georgia was abuzz with accusations against Russia for its military jets supposedly violating its airspace and possibly even attacking radio stations. Now, Georgian officials are hopping mad over accusations that Russia shot down one of their surveillance drones. They even have video:
The video is fuzzy enough to where the plane—which is only seen to have swept wings and twin tails—could very well be a MiG-29 Fulcrum. According to Wikipedia (my subscription to Jane’s has lapsed, alas), Georgia only flies the Sukhoi SU-25 as a fixed-wing attack aircraft—those have a single tail fin. With the understanding that that reference carries with it certain caveats as to its reliability, there is also a link in the Wikipedia entry on Abkhazia’s Air Force that claims they fly Sukhoi SU-27 fighter planes.
This is where the story becomes more interesting.
More Like This Please
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on Sunday, hours after the radical leader threatened to declare war unless U.S. and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers.
Rice, in the Iraqi capital to tout security gains and what she calls an emerging political consensus, said al-Sadr is content to issue threats and edicts from the safety of Iran, where he is studying. Al-Sadr heads an unruly militia that was the main target of an Iraqi government assault in the oil-rich city of Basra last month, and his future role as a spoiler is an open question.
“I know he’s sitting in Iran,” Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr’s latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. “I guess it’s all-out war for anybody but him,” Rice said. “I guess that’s the message; his followers can go too their deaths and he’s in Iran.”
Both my surprise and irritation are because our government has been notably reticent to openly ridicule people like Sadr and bin Laden, or to state the obvious with respect to the civilian-targeting terrorists who blow themselves (they hope) to high heaven. None of them are brave enough to face off against their enemies. Instead they snipe from the sidelines, issue crude and fantastic proclamations about their superiority, and in the end they prey upon the weakest and least protected members of the enemy herd. There is a word for these types of people: cowards.
When one considers the fact that we are knee-deep in an information war (as opposed to a conventional, battlefield, territory-taking war), it’s difficult to understand why we haven’t resorted to deriding the enemy much earlier. The war-supporting blogosphere does so on occasion, but our leaders certainly don’t.
By “deriding the enemy” I don’t mean producing propaganda. Instead, call them out regularly and forcefully as the cowards and charlatans that they are. Employ the poison pen and wipe that arrogant smile off of their collective faces. In other words, take them on in the battle space they’ve chosen. We can defeat them there just as easily as we’ve done in actual combat.
What Is ASHC?
There seems to be some confusion on the part of some as to exactly what sort of place ASHC is:
I was rather surprised to read this dubious and scornful appraisal of Michael Yon’s Wallstreet Journal editorial at A Second Hand Conjecture, a heretofore conservative site.
The post Mick Stockinger is referring to was created by Joshua Foust, our resident curmudgeon. Josh took aim at Michael Yon’s apparent advocation for more troops in theater:
This leads us to the most out-of-date aspect of the Senate debate: the argument about the pace of troop withdrawals. Precisely because we have made so much political progress in the past year, rather than talking about force reduction, Congress should be figuring ways and means to increase troop levels. For all our successes, we still do not have enough troops. This makes the fight longer and more lethal for the troops who are fighting.
The title of Yon’s WSJ piece was “Let’s ‘Surge’ Some More.” So the obvious inference was that Yon thinks we should be committing more troops to Iraq as we did with Petraeus’ “surge” last year. Josh took exception with that (in his typical, short-post, snarky way), and he made a valid point: our military is admittedly stretched and strained, to the point that further commitments are not exactly feasible.
I’m not concerned here with the merits of Josh’s post, but instead with the characterization of ASHC as “a heretofore conservative site.” I understand why Mick (and others) think that, but we should set the record straight. This is not a “conservative” site by any stretch of the imagination. The great majority of us support the war in Iraq, but not based on any sort of conservative principles. Essentially we all believe that winning is possible, and that winning is in the best interests of America. The only difference between Josh and the rest of us on this score is that Josh thinks (and can cogently explain when he wants to) that the war was a mistake and that the costs of continuing it are greater than any perceived benefits. Josh and I fundamentally disagree on this point, but that does not make him “liberal” nor me “conservative.”
Which leads me to the ultimate point: ASHC is not a conservative site. We are an amalgamation of views loosely coalesced around the idea that more freedom is better than less. We each hold different views on what that means, and the sole issue on which we are diametrically opposed is with respect to the war in Iraq. Josh stands alone here on ASHC, but I defy anyone to produce a more intelligent and reasoned voice when it comes to articulating why taking on Iraq was a bad idea. Even as I routinely and vociferously disagree with Josh’s assessments, I appreciate the value that Josh adds to the discussion. In other words, Josh may be wrong, but he makes wrong look as right as anyone possibly could.
In sum, if ASHC is deemed insufficiently “conservative” because of Josh’s posts then so be it. We never claimed that moniker, nor is it one that we’ve ever expressed any interest in holding. Personally, I’m proud to have Josh as a co-blogger precisely because our views conflict. You will often find arguments here opining as to how we are winning in Iraq and the GWOT, and you’ll also see arguments suggesting that Iraq was a huge mistake. That does not make ASHC deficient in any category. It makes us more useful and interesting.
I was sent this via e-mail from my Uncle Pat, also known as Colonel Alfred H. Paddock. Uncle Pat is a story in and of himself, but I’ll tell you a little more about him after the e-mail. Let it suffice to say for now that Pat is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable soldiers on the subject of unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency and psyops to have served in our armed forces. Thus he has a deep appreciation for the struggles our men and women are having in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the magnificent way they have conducted themselves relative to history or any other armed force in existence today. (more…)
What They Won’t Ask Petraeus
3. Recent Senate testimony by General William Odom and journalist Nir Rosen presented a portrait of Iraq that is at odds with the more rosy picture painted by the Bush Administration. General Odom has said “the decline in violence reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strong men who distrust the government and occasionally fight among themselves. Thus the basic military situation is far worse because of the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political bosses. This can hardly be called greater military stability, much less progress toward political consolidation, and to call it fragility that needs more time to become success is to ignore its implications.” How do you respond to this?
That and more, courtesy Abu Muqawama—including the excellent question: “How do we know if we’re losing? How do we know if our strategy is not working? Is it falsifiable?”
These are important questions to ask, and they haven’t been.
This will be good news if it happens…
Iraq’s major Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties have closed ranks to force anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to disband his Mahdi Army militia or leave politics, lawmakers and officials involved in the effort said Sunday.
Such a bold move risks a violent backlash by al-Sadr’s Shiite militia. But if it succeeds it could cause a major realignment of Iraq’s political landscape.
The first step will be adding language to a draft election bill banning parties that operate militias from fielding candidates in provincial balloting this fall, the officials and lawmakers said. The government intends to send the draft to parliament within days and hopes to win approval within weeks.
“We, the Sadrists, are in a predicament,” lawmaker Hassan al-Rubaie said Sunday. “Even the blocs that had in the past supported us are now against us and we cannot stop them from taking action against us in parliament.”
And it looks like Sadr is reading the writing on the wall…
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday.
The surprise announcement was the first time Sadr has proposed dissolving the Mehdi Army, one of the principle actors in Iraq’s five-year-old conflict and the main opponent of U.S. and Iraqi forces during a recent upsurge in fighting.
It came on the day Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a television interview, ordered the Mehdi Army to disband or Sadr’s followers would be excluded from Iraqi political life.
Senior aide Hassan Zargani said Sadr would seek rulings from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, as well as senior Shi’ite clergy based in Iran, on whether to dissolve the Mehdi Army, and would obey their orders.
That effectively puts the militia’s fate in the hands of the ageing and reclusive Sistani, a cleric revered by all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions and whose edicts carry the force of Islamic law, but who almost never intervenes in politics.
“Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his offices in Najaf and Qom to form a delegation to visit Sistani in Najaf and (other leaders) in Qom to discuss the disbanding of the Mehdi Army,” Zargani told Reuters.
Fred and Kimberly Kagan have a decent analysis of what we do and don’t know about the situation in Iraq.
Just the highlights (as I see them)
* The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.
* The Sadrists and Special Groups failed to set Iraq alight despite their efforts–Iraqi forces kept the Five Cities area (Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, and Kut) under control with very little Coalition assistance; Iraqi and Coalition forces kept Baghdad under control.
* Sadr never moved to return to Iraq, ordered his forces to stop fighting without achieving anything, and further demonstrated his
dependence on (and control by) Iran.
* What was his (Maliki) precise aim? He continually spoke about fighting “criminal elements,” but then issued an ultimatum for the disarmament of all JAM (a task clearly beyond the means of the forces he sent to Basra).
* Did Maliki accept a deal with Sadr in return for his stand-down order and, if so, what was involved? We know what Sadr’s demands were (at least publicly), but he ordered his forces to stop fighting before Maliki publicly accepted his terms.
Let’s see, the Mahdi Army is in retreat, and the ISF is continuing operations, and sending reinforcements.
Isn’t it OBVIOUS that Maliki is loosing.
This puts things into perspective…
Mission accomplished has been duly declared, although the JAM in Basra remains apparently intact and raids are still ongoing to seize some of the weapons whose surrender was the accomplishment the mission was aimed at. I’ve given up trying to figure out who won, a conclusion I reached when I found myself nodding along with this theory that Sadr’s actually in cahoots with Maliki to target the “rogue” JAM units who are operating essentially as renegades but under the Mahdi Army banner.
What’s wrong with Iraq War Movies?
I’m often guilty of seeing connections between things that others seem to think make no sense at all. So bear with me and then tell me what you think.
The New York Times review of “Stop-Loss” explains the failure of Iraq themed movies in this way, “The commercial failure of last autumn’s crop of high-profile Iraq-themed movies — Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah” and Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” among them — has hardened into conventional wisdom about the moviegoing public’s reluctance to engage the war on screen.”
We’re tired of the war. We don’t want to hear about it. But does that even make sense?
There is no perfect option
Posted first on Registan.net.
While I cringe at the idea of missile strikes in Pakistan—no matter the attention or care paid, there will be innocent people killed in the process (especially when a target is missed and vows increased attacks)—it is also useful to point out the risks of house raids. I tend to prefer raids, because, at least ideally, they can be more targeted: soldiers on the ground have much greater real-time decision-making, and an M-16 is a much more precise and limited weapon than a Hellfire missile or Howitzer round.
House raids, however, not a perfect solution either:
At least six people have been killed after US forces raided an Afghan home near the border with Pakistan, officials say.
Khyber Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor of Khost province, said one woman and two children were among the dead.
The raid began early on Wednesday in the village of Hom, and lasted for about an hour.
According to Mirza Gul, a villager from Hom, three men were also killed, including one who worked as a border policeman patrolling the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Gul also said that angry villagers gathered at daybreak, chanting anti-US slogans.
Al Jazeera’s Waliullah Shahin, reporting from Kabul, the capital, said that local residents refused to bury the dead until the Afghan government provided a “sufficient reason” for the operation.
Now come on, “Khyber Pashtun” is simply a ridiculous name. But the problem here is manifold as well: in a gun fight, people get hurt and killed. It sucks, but a lot of the time it is a sadly necessary evil. And at least raids make it easier to create the impression Western governments are trying to be limited in how they go after the bad guys (precision artillery and bombs still can lend a rather indiscriminate impression). But the gunfight itself is not really what worries me: if a major Taliban leader had been captured or killed, it could be justified as a successful operation. Unfortunately, the raid only resulted in “two suspected fighters” being detained… at the cost of between three and six civilians’ lives.
This kind of thing, sadly, reinforces the growing belief that, to the US and NATO, life—that is, non-Western life—is cheap (in a real sense it is, as we obsessively count the number of our own dead in operations, but just as often write off civilian dead as either uncounted “collateral” or outright Taliban propaganda).
But imagine for a moment if the LAPD displayed such metrics in conducting house raids: two minor thugs arrested while women and children are shot up in their homes. There would be riots in the streets. In Afghanistan, we call that victory.
How Protectionism is Undermining A Key Defensive Alliance
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Posted first on Registan.net.
Yesterday, I expressed skepticism about the “decapitation” strikes the U.S. military carries out in Pakistan (and also Somalia, Yemen, and so on). One issue I skirted around was the messy problem of sovereignty: in a very real sense, we don’t have the right, no matter who is there, to launch an attack on Pakistani soil. It is an act of war. And I’m certain most Americans would feel uncomfortable about us being at war in Somalia and Pakistan.
Posted first on Registan.net.
There is a fine line between sympathetic reporting and outright propaganda. I would say this post at Long War Journal crosses that line:
At 9:40 PM local time, US officials declared the group posed an imminent threat to forces inside Afghanistan and the call to strike the compound was made. After the orders were given to launch a coordinated strike, fixed-wing and rotary-wing air support along with Predator surveillance and reconnaissance began scanning likely insurgent attack positions inside Afghanistan. US military officials confirmed no women or children had been seen in the targeted North Waziristan compound or in any structures near it over the last five days.
Nearly four hours later, a salvo of indirect fire targeting the compound hit its mark, completely obliterating the building and killing an unknown number of people inside of it. Several insurgents working sentry posts around the compound were observed by aerial surveillance leaving the area on foot. Initial intelligence reports on March 12 indicated three “high-level Haqqani network commanders” were killed and that “many” Chechen fighters also died in the blast.
First off, aside from solemn official assurances they keep running under our bombs, there is no evidence for any Chechens in Afghanistan, or anywhere nearby. Military officials admit they have no idea how many people died in the attack, just that no women and children were among them. Uh huh. The Pakistani military says several women and children were killed in the strike. The LWJ insists, despite credible evidence that firing artillery into a group of houses might actually kill innocent people, that “intelligence,” which is always 100% accurate, says no innocents were killed. Who to believe?
The former commander of inifini-detention center Guantanamo Bay—a man who has sown tremendous mistrust and hatred of the U.S. in the Muslim world—is now being made chief Defense Representative… in Pakistan.
There are many reasons to speculate about Fallon’s resignation at CENTCOM: a probable policy dispute over how best to handle Iran (despite the self-serving claims by military officials there was none, it was clear Fallon is at odds with the Iran hawks), a rumored severe personality clash with friend-of-the-President David Petraeus, and so on. Debating these are perfectly reasonable, though in the end Fallon’s resignation can only be seen as the honorable action of a man whose many conflicts simply made his continued employment untenable.
Unless you’re Max Boot.
To see why Tuesday’s “retirement” of Navy Adm. William “Fox” Fallon as head of U.S. Central Command is good news, all you have to do is look at the Esquire profile that brought about his downfall… [a discussion of Thomas Barnett's profile of Fallon, the fallout of which Barnett refuses to comment on beyond his "duty as a journalist" or something, follows]
What Fallon (and Barnett) don’t seem to understand is that Fallon’s very public assurances that America has no plans to use force against Iran embolden the mullahs to continue developing nuclear weapons and supporting terrorist groups that are killing American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is highly improbable that, as the profile implies, the president had any secret plans to bomb Iran that Fallon put a stop to. But there is no doubt that the president wants to maintain pressure on Iran, and that’s what Fallon has been undermining.
By irresponsibly taking the option of force off the table, Fallon makes it more likely, not less, that there will ultimately be an armed confrontation with Iran.
Notice the cop out: the President has no plans to bomb Iran, but by Fallon saying bombing Iran would be counterproductive, he is undermining the President’s policy. By this logic, then, advocating for peaceful resolution of conflict leads to war, while suggesting armed conflict (I don’t believe “agitating” applies yet) for resolving disputes leads to peace. In other words, Boot does not believe in a negotiated settlement of compromises, merely coercion with the implied threat of force. Not exactly somebody I trust to tell me who “got it wrong.” Boot continues:
Not only was Fallon “quietly opposed to a long-term surge in Iraq,” as Barnett notes, but he doesn’t seem to have changed his mind in the past year. He has tried to undermine the surge by pushing for faster troop drawdowns than Petraeus thought prudent. (”He wants troop levels in Iraq down now.”) The president wisely deferred to the man on the spot — Petraeus — thus no doubt leaving Fallon simmering with the sort of anger that came through all too clearly in Esquire.
Like a lot of smart guys (or, at any rate, guys who think they’re smart), Fallon seems to have outsmarted himself. He thinks the war in Iraq is a distraction from formulating “a comprehensive strategy for the Middle East,” according to the profile. The reality is that the only strategy worth a dinar is to win the war in Iraq. If we fail there, all other objectives in the region will be much harder to attain; if we succeed, they will be much easier.
That’s something that Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno — the architects of the surge — understood, but that Fallon never seemed to get.
This is deeply disingenuous (and ironic, given the first sentence of that middle ‘graf). Not only was Odierno very slow in realizing the need for reinvigorated counterinsurgency, but there is a grander debate in play. Noting that a full-on exploration of the topic is beyond the scope of this post, there is a very real conflict within the Army about the actual efficacy of the Surge, lead by LTC Gian Gentile. Fallon is not out on a limb in being skeptical of Petraeus’ ability to achieve a long-term “success” in Iraq—however that is defined (a topic with varying “benchmarks” Boot routinely ignores in his writings on that conflict).
Alas, Boot’s complaints against Fallon do not concern the very real reasons his resignation was probably a good idea—most of which relate to his disagreement over current military policy—but for his dissention from the reigning ideology of GEN Petraeus as a mythical god-like figure, and for recognizing the possibility of unachievable “victory” in Iraq. Which is too bad: Boot probably could have bothered to explain how Fallon’s very public dissent placed strain on the civilian-military relationship… but he apparently had other axes to grind.
As for the future of CENTCOM now, it’s up in the air. Far from the Wall Street Journal’s self-serving accusation of back-stabbing generals trying to undermine General Petraeus, Fallon’s resignation reflected a growing chorus of dissent within the military: is the Iraq war a distraction of grander objectives in the Middle East and Central Asia? Certainly, this blogger would argue that position—especially given the drastic disparity in attention, funding, manpower, and equipment between the two.
Whomever his successor turns out to be, it is remarkable that, despite an enormous personnel turnover at the upper reaches of the DoD, the word “Afghanistan” rarely ever gets mentioned as anything beyond an afterthought. All the successor talk surrounds Iraq; there is no discussion whatsoever about who might be able to turn Afghanistan around—it certainly isn’t happening under NATO commander General “Bomber” McNeill.
So drama at CENTCOM: Fabulous. Don’t expect anything to change where we care, however.
Apparently rumors have been swirling around for awhile that Fallon was on his way out. Well, today he resigned and the speculation is that it was over a recent interview he did in Esquire, written by Thomas P.M. Barnett (regarding which Josh noted Fallon’s strange reaction last week). However, you can rest assured that a different meme will be floated as to why Fallon is gone:
Adm. William J. Fallon, the top American commander in the Middle East whose views on Iran and other issues have seemed to put him at odds with the Bush administration, is retiring early, the Pentagon said Tuesday afternoon.
The retirement of Admiral Fallon, 63, who only a year ago became the first Navy man to be named the commander of the United States Central Command, was announced by his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who said that he accepted the admiral’s request to retire “with reluctance and regret.”
Despite the warm words, there was no question that the admiral’s premature departure stemmed from policy differences with the administration, and with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq.
The bone of contention between Fallon and the Bush Administration, according to this meme (and sometimes, Adm. Fallon himself), is that Fallon refuses to go to war with Iran. From the Barnett profile in Esquire (HT: Allahpundit):
Just as Fallon took over Centcom last spring, the White House was putting itself on a war footing with Iran. Almost instantly, Fallon began to calmly push back against what he saw as an ill-advised action. Over the course of 2007, Fallon’s statements in the press grew increasingly dismissive of the possibility of war, creating serious friction with the White House.
Last December, when the National Intelligence Estimate downgraded the immediate nuclear threat from Iran, it seemed as if Fallon’s caution was justified. But still, well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don’t want a commander standing in their way.
And so Fallon, the good cop, may soon be unemployed because he’s doing what a generation of young officers in the U. S. military are now openly complaining that their leaders didn’t do on their behalf in the run-up to the war in Iraq: He’s standing up to the commander in chief, whom he thinks is contemplating a strategically unsound war.
The only problem with the meme is that Administration officials who want to go to war with Iran are somewhat hard to come by:
The current issue of Esquire Magazine portrays Fallon as the one person in the military or Pentagon standing between the White House and war with Iran. The article credits Fallon with “brazenly challenging his commander in chief” over a possible war with Iran, which Fallon called an “ill-advised action,” and implies Fallon would resign rather than go to war against Iran.
Still, the gruff, outspoken CENTCOM commander has his detractors. “How many times can [Fallon] get away with these kinds of remarks,” before he’s forced out the door, asked one senior Pentagon official. The reason may be that on Iran, Gates and many senior military officials happen to agree with Fallon.
Most military leaders against military strike on Iran
Gates has said publicly and privately that under current conditions he’s opposed to war with Iran. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is also against it. In fact, almost every senior military officer we’ve talked to is against launching military strikes against Iran, because as one senior official told us, “then what do you do?”
In addition, military officials dispute the premise of the story that the White House is pressuring the military to go to war with Iran. “Not true,” said a senior military official, despite the anti-Iran drumbeat from Vice President Dick Cheney.
In fact, during a conference in Bahrain last December, Gates had to convince Gulf state Arab allies that the United States was not going soft on Iran, because from their vantage point it appeared the Bush administration was backing away from its tough stand against Iran.
In other words, Fallon seems to have erected a strawman against which to battle, and the Administration was not pleased with the argument being made, nor the way in which Fallon was portraying the CiC.
Admiral Fallon had rankled senior officials of the Bush administration with outspoken comments on such issues as dealing with Iran and on setting the pace of troop reductions from Iraq — even though his comments were well within the range of views expressed by Mr. Gates.
Officials said the last straw, however, came in an article in Esquire magazine by Thomas P. M. Barnett, a respected military analyst, that profiled Admiral Fallon under the headline, “The Man Between War and Peace.” The article highlighted comments Admiral Fallon made to the Arab television station Al Jazeera last fall, in which he said that a “constant drumbeat of conflict” from Washington that was directed at Iran and Iraq was “not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.”
It seems that Fallon saw the writing on the wall, however, leading to his strange “poison pen” comments:
Sources in the Pentagon said Fallon was worried the White House would perceive the magazine piece as a challenge to the president’s authority, and insisted that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the same time the sources said Fallon “doesn’t sound like someone considering resignation.”
In his own defense, Fallon told the Washington Post that the Esquire article was “poison pen stuff…disrespectful and ugly.”
While any policy differences, real or perceived, between top U.S. military commanders and the civilian leadership are not necessarily unusual, it’s rare when those commanders take the debate so public.
…Wolf’s sources, for months now, have said that this was coming, not for disagreements with the administration about a looming war with Iran, but for some other internal “issues” that have nothing to do with policy or the administration. His replacement has been considered for some time now.
The media is speculating that this is another case of Shinseki-izing – the Bush administration getting rid of another dissenter. They are wrong.
UPDATE: According to Think Progress (@ UpdateIV), Harry Reid is ready to get the meme rolling:
I am concerned that the resignation of Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and a military leader with more than three decades of command experience, is yet another example that independence and the frank, open airing of experts’ views are not welcomed in this Administration.
Admiral William Fallon, the bulwark between Bush and a war with Iran, is resigning as head of U.S. Central Command. According to the tidbit I just saw on CNN, apparently Secretary Bob Gates said that Fallon quit for the most postmodern of reasons: Fallon thought a recent, highly-controversial Esquire article portrayed him as in opposition to Bush’s bellicosity over Iran … Gates said in a press conference just now that no one should think the move reflects any substantive change in policy. That sure won’t be how Teheran sees it. The Iranians will consider Fallon’s resignation to indicate that the bombing begins in the next five minutes.
Although, to be fair, Ackerman does offer another explanation:
This sounds like a resignation on principle. Either that or Fallon got caught with “Kristen.”
“Affordability can’t always be the rule.”
So says U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne when explaining his mad rush for hundreds more hyper-advanced single-role air dog fighters than either the SecDef or President thinks his service needs to Senator Carl Levin.
Overweight? Under-trained? Non-branch qualified? Still wondering what will become of your career after that general officer letter of reprimand?
Today, the NY Times announced that the US is looking to send 100 combat advisers to Pakistan…
Anyway, now you, high-speed individual, have the opportunity to join another under-resourced mission to assist the Taliban, I mean, Pakistan Frontier Corps.
A poll conducted by Foreign Policy and the Center for a New American Security (which just hired the almost-retired LTC John Nagl, one of the coauthors, along with GEN Petraeus, of FM 3-24) asked what worries 3,400 active and retired military officers ranked O4 and above.
88% think Iraq has stretched the armed forces “dangerously thin” (but only 42% think it is “broken”). 60% think the military is weaker as a result. Nearly 45% do not trust the President to make sound decisions (and 16% registered zero confidence). The DoD fared 1% better, and the State Department, CIA, and even VA scored very low confidence. Nearly 80% think the civilian leadership—which has had a tenuous connection to the military nor two administrations now—sets unreasonable goals for the military.
Disappointingly, only 22% seemed to think letting gays and lesbians serve openly was a good idea. But here I’d want to look at selection bias—by only surveying higher-grade officers, who have likely been in the service for 15 or more years, you’d be facing a generation gap in expectations and values. Think of the split between boomers, Gen-Xers, and whatever the hell you call the rest of us, over gay rights.
So what does the military need? In stark contrast to most of the cilivian pundits I read talking about “the next war,” the military seems to want better and more intelligence, and bigger ground forces. With the exception of the Air Force, of course, which seems to think the next big deployment can best be served by $150 million dogfighters.
I could be completely historically ignorant, but the growing disconnect between the military and the administration seems like a development worth watching further. At least in the popular narratives, even during the darkest depths of Vietnam the military and Administration seemed to be on the same page (I know there are exceptions, I’m just going off perceptions from someone who never lived through it). Five years ago, my military friends would either only say something good about the administration, or they would keep quiet. Now, however, even in places where it can get them into trouble, there is openly-expressed anger at what the wars have done to their services.
What all of this means in the long run I can’t say. But the growing discontent is certainly worth watching further.
‘Chaos is the enemy’
War correspondent David Axe notices that the Army seems to be cluing itself in to the fact that its conflicts in the short-to-medium term will be counterinsurgent, “small” wars, while the Air Force keeps wanting to bomb China. There are many things to discuss here (can/should the State Department be retasked to handle primarily nation-building, rather than diplomacy, while leaving the Army/Marine Corps to do the fighting?), but while I was thrilled to see another in agreement with me, I was just as thrilled to see he linked to my review of John Robb’s excellent book on 5th generation warfare.
New Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey thought, in stark contrast the many mil bloggers and several co-bloggers here, that Barrack Obama’s claim about equipment shortages was credible. This doesn’t mean anything, though—he just can’t discount it, and believed supply issues in 2003-4, when the anecdote took place, were widespread.
Compromising his neutrality on the matter, however, is the realization that, of the three Presidential candidates left in the race, Obama is the only one to have voted for Casey’s confirmation to head the Army. Again, it still doesn’t mean anything beyond maybe withholding judgment on the whole affair until we actually know what’s going on.
So, you know… FYI.
Does the Air Force Hate Us?
First it’s their reckless profligacy, replacing old airframes with fewer, newer ones at a 300% markup. Then they dig for $59 million to lobby Congress to spend another $20 billion on worthless junk. This is to say nothing of how they actively undermine the war effort.
Does anyone else think it’s time for some major personnel changes at USAF? Like, say, their entire command staff?
Everything You Need To Know About Berkeley
If you are like me, and have trouble understanding the mindset of the Berkeley City Council, here’s an easy way to figure it out.
In the City Council’s letter to the U.S. Marine Recruiting Center, why is the term “unwelcome intruder” NOT a redundant phrase?
(Answer below the fold): (more…)
A Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) member in Arab Jabour, Iraq (photo: DoD)
In extraordinary documents confiscated in November by the United States, we get an enemy’s eye view of the Awakening in Iraq, and further confirmation about how debilitating the effects were for Al Qaeda. An AQ commander, Abu-Tariq, relates that his own unit declined from 600 terrorists to less than 20 over the summer.
“We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” he says. “Those people were nothing but hypocrites, liars and traitors and were waiting for the right moment to switch sides with whoever pays them most.”
A second unnamed commander acknowledges awareness that Al Qaeda’s hopelessly misguided tactics alienated the population and crippled their capabilities:
“We helped them to unite against us . . . The Americans and the apostates launched their campaigns against us and we found ourselves in a circle not being able to move, organise or conduct our operations.”
“This created weakness and psychological defeat. This also created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight. The morale of the fighters went down . . . There was a total collapse in the security structure of the organisation.” The emir complained that the supply of foreign fighters had dwindled and that they found it increasingly hard to operate inside Iraq because they could not blend in. Foreign suicide bombers determined to kill “not less than 20 or 30 infidels” grew disillusioned because they were kept hanging about and only given small operations. Some gave up and went home.
The unnamed emir recommends a change of tactics, but one that seems to have taken few lessons from their devastating defeat in Anbar. He suggests offering bounties for killing traitors, using Iraqi doctors to murder Americans and giving gifts to tribal leaders. Strategically he recommended a shift in focus toward Diyala and Baghdad. However, Al Qaeda has met with equally strong resistance in their attempt to do so.
Berkeley Backs Off
Probably a wise decision when up against Marines, although, as is usual with politicians, this decision is driven mainly by government largess (or the lack thereof):
As six Republican senators devised a plan to yank $2.3 million in federal funding for Berkeley programs, the mayor of the famously liberal city apologized Wednesday for his hard stance against a Marine recruiting center.
Two City Council members vowed to soften their stance as well. At their Tuesday council meeting, leaders will discuss scrapping a letter that might be perceived as targeting the center or the Marines….
“That letter will probably be pulled back and maybe more moderate language will be put in place which is appropriate I think,” said Berkeley mayor Tom Bates.
“Subtly stated in the resolution is perhaps an impugning of the soldiers fighting for us in Iraq and other places,” Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “And that was never the intention but that really needs to be cleared up. As I walked to my car that night I realized I regretted it and I had made a mistake.”
City officials said they got a flood of e-mails, many asking them to reconsider their position.
Councilmembers have said they would replace the “intruder item” with words expressing their support for the troops but not the war in Iraq.
Of course, some of the council members have the courage of their convictions and are resolute in driving the Marines out of Berkeley. Those members have the backing of everyone’s favorite communist sympathizers, Code Pink:
Code Pink announced they would have what they called a “24-hour peace-in” leading up to Tuesday’s city council meeting. They will be camping out but will have a lot of company. A group of pro-troop protesters will also be there.
I wonder if that will be 24 hours in a row, or if Code Pink follows the Pelosi method of measuring time?
In any case, the fact that the Berkeley City Council allowed the unfettered use of public property for the pursuit of private interests (i.e. the harassment of U.S. Marines) is coming back to haunt them:
“What we’re doing is we’re announcing a bill that we intend to get on the floor to strip transportation from the city of Berkeley,” said East Bay Republican Assemblyman Guy Houston. “What they have done in Berkeley is they have set aside a parking spot and in my opinion a public right of way, a public transportation corridor, specifically for a private organization — in this case Code Pink — to harass and annoy the United States Marine Corps and their recruiting efforts. We think that playing around and having an agenda with the public right of way is subject to ramifications. There is $2.3 million in proposition 1B transportation dollars. We think that should be in jeopardy.”
And now for your quote of the day from someone whom I’m guessing pronounces her name “Zany Joy”:
“I was under the impression that we have the right of free speech,” said Xanne Joi of Code Pink. “To me, I thought free speech meant you get to say what you want without recrimination.”
Normally, I would say this was a “mask slips” moment, but that implies that the speaker understands that what she really means is best left hidden. I don’t think
Zany Xanne understands the difference between what free speech is, and what she thinks it is. She truly seems to be under the impression that she can say whatever she wants without any consequence. Then again, that is always the problem with this crowd — consequences are not the likely results of one’s actions, but instead the unjustified fault of someone else (e.g. men, white people, capitalists, corporations, etc.).
M16s for Iraqis
Photo: Atlantic Firearms
Upgrades for Iraq’s Presidential Brigade. They’ve purchased M16 rifles to replace their AKs:
The Iraqi Army’s Presidential Brigade turned over their older AK-47 model rifles for newer and more accurate M-16s at Besmaya Range Complex in Iraq starting Feb. 5.
The weapons were issued using the biometrics system, which ties each soldier’s photograph, fingerprint, voice, retinal scan and name to the weapon they receive for accountability.
From what I’ve heard our standard battle rifle is coveted among the Iraqi troops (although their special forces are issued M4s).
A Candidate Without A War
Is the Iraq War hurting John McCain’s candidacy? By “hurting” I’m referring to his struggle to be the true conservative candidate who unites the party. Despite his clear lead in the primary race, McCain has not been able to capture the Christian right (who predominantly go for Huckabee), nor has he been able to win many races without the help of independent voters (strict conservatives breaking mostly for Romney). Indeed, Republicans don’t even seem terribly motivated this election season, as nearly double the number of Democratic voters went to the polls on Super Tuesday compared to Republicans (14.7 million vs. just 8.9 million). Meanwhile, the conservative and libertarian intelligensia (as well as yours truly) have been sniping at McCain from the right, including right-wing diva Ann Coulter who declared that she’ll vote for Hillary (yes, Hillary!) over John McCain. So, what’s going on here when even the hated Hillary Clinton can’t seem to force a consensus amongst the Republican Party to vote for the Maverick?
Amidst the internecine fighting on the right over the McCain “inevitability” train, something has been forgotten: there’s a discernible, even palpable, glimmer of hope on the Iraqi horizon. If Republican voters were as concerned about the Iraq War now as they were in 2004, then McCain would be winning hands down at this point. Since the only positive reason anyone can put forth to vote for McCain is his stance on the war in Iraq [Ed. -- OK, there's this too], it stands to reason that any diminution in the war’s importance as an election issue correlates to a decrease in support for McCain’s candidacy.
In other words, as Republican voters become less concerned about how the war will turn out, they place more importance on other issues — e.g. the economy, abortion, earmarks, values, etc. Because McCain is not perceived as being reliably conservative on all these other issues, he faces greater scrutiny from opinion-makers seeking to advance the small-government, conservative (or libertarian) agenda, and Republicans in general feel free to focus on issues that are closer to home for them personally. Much like Peg suggested as the reason for Rudy’s campaign fizzling out, McCain’s lackluster support amongst the Party base seems to be greatly affected by the decreased urgency and anxiety of the Iraq War, and worries about terrorism in general.
Taking this hypothesis to its logical conclusion, is it possible that Bush’s successes with respect to the GWOT, including the relative post-surge calm in Iraq, will be the undoing of a Republican presidency? Are we on the verge of the Republican Party faithful, who are not only “not in love” with McCain, but also threatening not to “fall in line”, blaming Bush for the loss of the White House? These are strange political times indeed.
Bob Owens tackles the lazy reductionist thinking behind claims that the recent use of air strikes in Iraq shows a worsening situation, or is at odds with the counterinsurgency strategy we should be pursuing.
I especially like this quote from Human Rights Watch, no friends of the administration:
…the air surge has not caused “an appreciable loss of civilian life.”
“It is very deliberate; they are very careful,” Garlasco said. “The way that the Air Force is fighting there now is in lockstep with the hearts and minds strategy on the ground.”
The increase in air strikes is a result of greater cooperation with Iraqi civilians, it is not damaging the attempt to build such cooperation. They, and our commanders on the ground, see these strikes as a way to avoid casualties, including civilians.
Mukasey on Waterboarding (UPDATED)
Attorney General Michael Mukasey sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the interrogation technique known as waterboarding. Mukasey remarked that it is not an authorized interrogation technique, and that it “is not, and may not be, used in the current [CIA interrogation] program.” As in his confirmation hearings, however, Mukasey declined to absolutely declare the technique illegal:
The important part of that excerpt is this:
Indeed, I understand that a number of senators articulated this very concern in the fall of 2006, in the course of defeating an amendment that would have expressly prohibited waterboarding.
Essentially, Mukasey is telling Congress to declare the technique illegal if that’s what they want. He’s not going to do their job for them.
Mukasey politely adds that reasonable minds may disagree on the issue, which does not present an easy question, and that:
There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.
He goes on to say that opining on “generally worded legal provisions” absent concrete factual circumstances is not wise, and that his reluctance to do so now is precisely because there are no such circumstances. This is typical judge-speak for not providing advisory opinions, and is a bit weaselly. Mukasey could at least identify what some of the “closer questions” are where waterboarding may be deemed legal, and I expect that he is being drilled on such scenarios in the Senate today.
My guess is that Mukasey is vaguely referring to “ticking time bomb” types of situations. He seems to be reluctant to proscribe waterboarding altogether, at least publicly, because our enemies may use that information to withhold vital information:
The principle that one should refrain from addressing difficult legal questions in the absence of concrete facts and circumstances has even more force as to this question. That is because any answer that I give could have the effect of articulating publicly — and to our adversaries — the limits and contours of generally worded laws that define the limits of a classified interrogation program.
Frankly, Mukasey’s reasoning makes absolute sense, but in this climate of highly charged partisanship regarding any matters concerning the war, all discussion is framed in terms of absolutes. Today’s Senate hearing has nothing to do with practical legal matters. Instead it is a battle for moral superiority. More accurately, it’s a highly publicized display of how morally superior the Democratic leadership on the Judiciary Committee considers itself, especially vis-à-vis the Bush Administration. In short, it’s a dog and pony show designed to make Democrats look good, and Bush (and any who agree even tangentially with him) look bad. Waterboarding is merely the current foil.
In the end, we’ve learned that the technique is not available to the CIA for use in interrogation and that, at least in some situations, it is clearly prohibited by law. However, there maybe other scenarios (presumably involving imminent and catostrophic danger) where either (a) waterboarding is not necessarily illegal, or (b) we don’t want our enemies to know we won’t use it. The rest is just stentorian drama of little to no consequence or utility (i.e. Senators blathering away).
UPDATE: Andy McCarthy reports from the Senate hearings (emphasis added):
In the hearing today at which AG Mukasey is testifying, Sen. Specter — who believes waterboarding is torture — has pointed out that his opinion is not the end of the matter. He noted that the Senate had voted down a provision that would have made it illegal. He then pointed out that, quite apart from waterboarding, the use of torture in ticking-bomb exigencies has been approvingly discussed by President Clinton, the Israeli Supreme Court, Sen. Schumer, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, and others. (He left out Sen. Clinton, but could have included her too.)
Has Specter been reading ASHC?
I would have to think Saddams bluff against the world would be up there at #1.
A possible number 2 would be Rumsfeld, in 2004, siding with decision not to publicaly release information that supported going to war.
One member of UNSCOM told this author that in April 2003, shortly after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, an Iraqi biological scientist called to tell him that part of Iraq’s biological program had been moved out of the country and part of it had been destroyed shortly before OIF began. Indeed, James R. Clapper Jr. headed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is now Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and the Director of Defense Intelligence. In October 2003, Clapper told reporters that “satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria, just before the American invasion in March, led him to believe that illicit weapons material ‘unquestionably’ had been moved out of Iraq,” as the New York Times reported.
The Iraq Survey Group learned that Iraqi intelligence operated five biological laboratories until the start of OIF. In 2004, the Pentagon debated whether to release a cache of captured Iraqi documents. Individuals familiar with those papers say they justified the war. Then Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, however, argued against publicly releasing them, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sided with Cambone. Subsequently, a handful of those documents were leaked to a small on-line news service.
Among the leaked Iraqi papers is one detailing the production of small amounts of anthrax and another detailing the production of small amounts of mustard gas. Such quantities could be used for terrorism.