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February 27, 2009

Peeling the Faustian Orange
Posted by Patrick Barry

Till this point, discussions of peeling away elements of what is commonly known as the Taliban have been hypothetical up until this point, but if this story from Al-Jazeera English is accurate, we're getting close to testing that proposition.  Juan Cole has links and analysis below:

Aljazeera English gives an exclusive report on the British role behind the scenes in kickstarting negotiations between Gulbadin Hikmatyar of the Hizb-i Islami and the Karzai government. Apparently the hope is that Hikmatyar would go into exile in Saudi Arabia for a while and then ultimately receive amnesty and return to Afghanistan.


If true, this is a very interesting development, one that highlights both the advantages and significant drawbacks of negotiating with the insurgency.  In terms of advantages, there are a couple.  First, Hekmatyar's history of shifting allegiances makes him a likely candidate for co-option. Anand Gopal has several good pieces that discuss Hekmatyar's serpentine evolution from Mujaheddin warrior, to scorned exile, and back to powerful insurgent leader, all of which point to a clear opportunistic bent. 

More significantly, Hekmatyar is not some insurgent middle-manager.  As founder of Hizb-e-Islami, he commands one of the most formidable armed-groups currently operating with Afghanistan.  Were the government to forge an agreement with Hekmatyar, it would likely break off a significant number of his followers from the insurgency. 

That's not to suggest that making overtures to Hekmatyar is necessarily a good idea. It could easily be very bad. He is not an insurgent of necessity, and his movement bears responsibility for some of the very worst attacks against both coalition forces and the Afghan government, including an attempt to assassinate President Karzai.  Moreover, whatever opportunism exists in him, it is tainted by an unbelievable record of brutality.  As Gopal's reporting makes plain, the man is one of the worst of the acid throwers, and it is far from clear that his immoderate views are reconcilable with the principles of the Afghan Constitution, or the values of the Afghan government. 

Hekmatyar's case illustrates the fundamental dilemma posed by breaking bread with core elements of the insurgency.  On the one hand, a deal with someone like him is likely to mean far more than a piecemeal approach that whittles away smaller armed contingents from the main adversary pool.  But it also poses a pretty unpalatable set of drawbacks.  I don't want to suggest that I'm against political reconciliation, or support installing bloodthirsty warlords in the Afghan government.  But to a certain extent, that is the exact nature of the choice at hand. 

NSN Daily Update 2/27/09
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Reading

The Justice Department moves an enemy combatant case to U.S. courts instead of a military tribunal.

The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan will meet regularly for trilateral talks on the situation in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.

The Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to investigate the CIA’s detention and interrogation practices under the Bush administration.

The U.S. economy shrank 6.2% last quarter, more than expected and the largest drop in twenty-five years.  The U.S. will take control of up to 36% of Citibank in a further bailout arrangement.  The World Bank will offer aid to Eastern Europe.

Commentary of the Day

The Financial Times looks at options for talking to Iran.

Alexander Belenky applauds the decision to allow photography of the coffins of returning war dead
, but wonders if the decision is irrelevant due to the outcry over the Bush administration’s censorship.

Sunny Hundal slams a Daily Mail column for saying that second- and third-generation children born in the UK but of other descent are not “British."

February 26, 2009

NSN Daily Update 2/26/09
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Reading

About two-thirds of Americans support President Obama’s troop increase in Afghanistan.

Tibetans boycott celebration of the lunar New Year to remember those killed in violent protests against the Chinese last spring.

Fatah and Hamas begin reconciliation talks in Egypt.

CIA Director Leon Panetta says the CIA’s Pakistan campaign is working.  President Asif Ali Zardari stirs turmoil in Pakistan.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times looks at the use and misuse of the word “terrorism.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger looks at challenges for the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan
, and urges determination.

Jameel Jaffer wants the Obama administration to release Bush administration Office of Legal Council memos.

Rosa Brooks looks at the case of Binyam Mohammed.

February 25, 2009

Getcher Partisanship Here
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

If all this calm and concord about withdrawing troops from Iraq has you missing the bad old days of conservative-progressive combat; or if, like labor pains after months of sleep deprivation, you're starting to think that maybe the whole disagreement wasn't so bad after all; or, if you're under the illusion that progressives have "won" the debate on Iraq policy and there's nothing more to do, you need to watch my bloggingheads debate with the Washington Times' Eli Lake, in which he argues that "the Left" tried its best to make the wonderful Bush Administration Iraq policy, which Barack Obama now supports, fail.  The way I remember it, of course, is that it was "the Left" in all its multifariousness that actually made the Bush Administration change strategies to the one that has empowered Iraqis and our military both to get us where we are today -- not Valhalla, but not 2005 either.

As tiresome as it is -- and normally I really like debating Eli and respect his thought process -- progressives should recognize that we still have a narrative to contest.  (Also true, by the way, on Gitmo and the other due process executive orders.)

Islamic World's Views on Al Qaeda, Terrorism and the US
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The PIPA folks have put out their latest public opinion survey on perceptions of terrorism and the U.S. in the Islamic world.  I attended a talk by Steve Kull, who directed the project, and found some interesting conclusions.

First, there is real ambivalence towards Al Qaeda and other groups that attack Americans in the Islamic World.  Respondents in Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia were asked to rank their personal feelings about groups that attack Americans on a scale of 0-10 (0 being negative and 10 being positive).  In no country did a majority pick above 5 or below 5.   And in fact a significant majority chose numbers between 4-6 with the overall mean being 4.3.  This reflects a real ambivalence.  The issue seems to be that in all three countries the population overwhelmingly disapprove of Al Qaeda's tactics of attacking American civilians, who are in the United States or Muslim countries with less then 10% approving of attacks on civilians.   On the other hand, there is a lot of resentment towards U.S. policies and especially our military posture in the Middle East.  Al Qaeda's goal of getting all U.S. forces to withdraw from Islamic countries is overwhelmingly popular (87% in Egypt, 65% in Indonesia, 62% in Pakistan).  So basic deal is that neither Al Qaeda or the U.S. are all the popular in the Muslim World.

A more depressing finding is that an incredibly low 4% of Pakistanis believe that Al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.  Our entire policy in that region is predicated on the threat of Al Qaeda's safe havens to the U.S. homeland and to other countries.  But if no Pakistanis believe that Al Qaeda actually presents a threat to the United States, then they aren't going to be at all sympathetic to predator strikes inside their territory which they will view as a violation of their national sovereignty for no good reason.  In fact, if you don't believe that Al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 there can be no real sympathy for the American presence in the region.  You can also see how it becomes very hard for the Pakistani government to make counter-terrorism a real priority.  Of course, the Taliban insurgency in the tribal areas that has now dripped in to Pakistan proper is a different matter and though I have no data, I'm sure that threat is viewed seriously by more than 4% of the Pakistani public. 

Another depressing figure was the view of the American people.  26% of Egyptians, 33% of Indonesians, and 20% of Pakistanis had positive views of the American people.  The old mantra has always been that the population of the Muslim World does not resent the American public as much as it resents its governments policies.  I still think this is first an foremost about policy.  But it appears in this case that America's policies are dripping into the Muslim world's views of the American public as a whole.

Finally, its worth pointing out that all of this data was from before Obama's election.  Kull mentioned that he had done some polling since and there seemed to be some positive and hopeful bounces, but not enough to make a real dent in the overwhelmingly negative perceptions of the United States.  Expectations were still mixed and there was some skepticism about how much Obama could deliver. 

NSN Daily Update 2/25/09
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Readings

Iran successfully completed tests on its first nuclear power plant.

European diplomats quote a Syrian official saying that Syria has built a missile facility on the site of a possible nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in 2007.

Japan’s exports fell 46% in January, to the lowest figure in ten years.  China is suffering from the worst drought in more than fifty years.

A Kurdish lawmaker in Turkey gave a speech in the Turkish parliament in Kurdish, breaking taboos and the law.

Commentary of the Day

The Economist looks at Dennis Ross and the Obama administration’s Iran strategy.

Doyle McManus discusses the rhetoric of Obama’s speechBobby Jindal’s response disappointed Democrats and Republicans.

The Washington Post interviews Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

February 24, 2009

Bobby Jindal's Response
Posted by Adam Blickstein

As delivered by Kenneth from 30 Rock:

30rock_kenneth

Foreign Policy and "the Speech"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

When I saw the text of Obama's speech to Congress tonight, my first thought was, when has a president ever introduced the national security section of his State of the Union through the budget??

My second thought, as someone who watched a previous president and his staff agonize about how much national security was enough, how nice  and perhaps unexpected it was to see a first-term president with the self-confidence to say, ok, I'll do my Iraq-Afghanistan speech on Friday and leave it out of the SOTU.  

My third thought, having sat through the whole thing, is to point out how we are moving toward a worlcd where there is no "foreign policy section" because the issues are woven seamlessly through a framework of issues affecting America, energy security, global warming, and other issues.

My final thought, having seen excerpts of the Jindal response, is to note that apparently for all his "newness" the GOP doesn't have a retooled message on national security yet.  We'll see how that goes over.

**On this last point, CNN's Dana Bash just reported a GOP Congressman Twittering to his colleagues that he "wished the war was on page one of this speech."  Ol' playbook's the only playbook they've got.

Some Observations on the Speech
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Obama's speech today was obviously about the economy with foreign policy clearly playing second fiddle.  But I did like a few things in there.

1.  "We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use."  Refreshing to hear.  Obviously we'll have to see what is in the budget.  But this is a good start.

2.  Arab-Israeli issue:   With only six paragraphs on foreign policy he chooses to give a nod to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  A refreshing reorientation from the previous administration.  This is a real priority form the very beginning. 

3.  Economic crisis as foreign policy issue:  A clear recognition that the econoimc crisis has undermined our credibility internationally and weakened our international position.  And that we need to take a strong international leadership position on this issue - something that the Bush administration failed to do.

CT, COIN, and Working out the Difference
Posted by Patrick Barry

One of the maddening aspects of Afghanistan and Pakistan's worsening security environment is historical overlap between insurgent and terrorist elements, but different, even contradictory responses for addressing the two threats.

You see this chiefly in the way people sometimes confuse the Taliban with al-Qaeda, despite one being a localized insurgency, and the other a transnational terrorist group. Past relationships, and our own questionable assumptions make it difficult to separate the two, even though they have have different motivations, share different goals, and require different responses.  That said, I think George Packer's concern over yesterday's revelation that the U.S. Special forces are training Pakistan's Frontier Corps is somewhat misplaced:

In other words, now that we’ve had to learn to fight insurgencies (again), we need to help the Pakistanis do the same. If so, this piece in today’s Times, about American military advisers in Pakistan, contains worrying news. Not the revelation that seventy mostly Special Forces troops are training the Pakistani military and providing advice and intelligence on operations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier province. That’s neither worrying nor particularly surprising, though the news is sure to spark protests in Pakistan, where our popularity is at an all-time low. What’s worrying is the nature of the help American forces are giving: intelligence for Pakistani air strikes and commando operations aimed at killing or capturing Taliban and Qaeda leaders.

What’s wrong with this picture? Have a look at the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual, written under the leadership of General Petraeus. What experts call the kill-capture model was exactly the wrong approach to take during the early years of the Iraq war. This kind of emphasis always ends up creating more new enemies than it can eliminate old ones. Only when the military changed its strategy to protecting the population did the war in Iraq take a turn for the better.


There's a real need to disaggregate here. Kill-capture is the wrong way for the U.S. to fight a full-blown insurgency, but it does occasionally fall within the kit of counterterrorism practitioners after more effective law enforcement options have been exhausted. I'll never know for sure without the full details, but there are a few reasons to believe that what was outlined in yesterday's New York Times was really a pilot program aimed at targeting al-Qaeda (and irreconcilable elements of the Taliban), and not a COIN training program to address Pakistan's worsening insurgency.  For one, the size and composition of the force in Pakistan - Special Forces mixed with medics, communications specialists, and other technicians - suggests something other than a COIN training. Compare that to Afghanistan, where the Afghan National Army is fighting an insurgency -  there are 10-20 U.S. soldiers to assist each of the ANA's 49 battalions along with NATO-ISAF Operation Mentor and Liasons Teams, consisting of 12-19 participants. Clearly two different models.  Furthermore, by developing a Frontier Corps "commando" unit,  US trainers appear to be building Pakistan's capacity for targeted CT operations, rather than the full-spectrum missions typically used against insurgencies. 

The best indication that the training program in Pakistan has a CT, and not a COIN purpose, is a simple one - we appear to be getting better at CT.  In the late 1990s the U.S. tried very hard to kill\capture Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but a perfect storm of absent ground intelligence, untrustworthy proxies, bureaucratic inertia, insufficient technology, and broader political constraints foiled those efforts. Today's Pakistan is a different story.  CT operations directed at al-Qaeda appear to have been successful enough for DNI Director Blair to significantly downgrade the threat posed by the organization. Combine that with separate reporting on the tactical efficacy of predator strikes, along with the increased desire of the Pakistanis to become partners in that policy, and finally speculation that the better HUMINT cooperation from Pakistan's military is at the source of this newfound success, and it's not tough to discern a substantial shift.    This military program, which extended across roughly the same timeline, is likely related to the change. 

Packer is right - the U.S. will have to sort out its insurgents from its terrorists and adjust policies accordingly. In Pakistan that's an especially daunting challenge.  But it's wrong to say that a program is failing at counterinsurgency, when it seems more oriented toward something completely different. 

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