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Tag: "afghanistan"

A Bunch of Stuff Happened…

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

So, lot’s of interesting defense news; read Spencer on the Afghanistan buildup and David Axe on the F-22. If you read the latter, please compare and contrast Axe’s case for purchasing more F-22s with Bowden’s; the former dispenses with myths, while the latter reinforces them; the former has a handle on the economic and strategic tradeoffs, while the latter ignores them; and the former rejects panicky arguments about the dwindling air superiority “gap” while the latter uncritically accepts them. In short, the former knows what he’s talking about and the latter is content to write agitprop for Lockheed.

Off to the ISA conference for the day; will blog more on both of these questions later.


Plausible Lies, Mr. Karzai…

[ 0 ] February 8, 2009 |

The key to diplomacy is to tell lies plausible enough that the listener isn’t embarrassed:

A foretaste of what would be in store for President Hamid Karzai after the election of a new American administration came last February, when Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator, sat down to a formal dinner at the palace during a visit here.

Between platters of lamb and rice, Mr. Biden and two other American senators questioned Mr. Karzai about corruption in his government, which, by many estimates, is among the worst in the world. Mr. Karzai assured Mr. Biden and the other senators that there was no corruption at all and that, in any case, it was not his fault.

The senators gaped in astonishment. After 45 minutes, Mr. Biden threw down his napkin and stood up.

“This dinner is over,” Mr. Biden announced, according to one of the people in the room at the time. And the three senators walked out, long before the appointed time.

Although, frankly, Karzai may have learned from eight years of experience with the Bush administration that Americans will believe anything. Via SWJ.


[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

Hadn’t seen this before… I wonder how many people have survived after throwing themselves onto grenades? There’s not even a category on wikipedia:

A Royal Marine who threw himself on to an exploding grenade to save the lives of his comrades is to receive the George Cross. Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher stepped on a trip-wire which triggered the device during a night raid on a Taliban compound in Afghanistan.

Realising that three other members of his patrol would be killed if he did not act, he launched himself forward to smother the explosion, managing to twist on to his back to let his rucksack take the full force of the blast. Having stepped on a trip-wire he threw himself on to the device allowing the rucksack to bear the brunt of the explosion and thereby save the lives of three colleagues

The explosion hurled him across the compound leaving him stunned, bleeding profusely from the nose and almost deaf. His rucksack was shredded and burning shrapnel from the kit he had been carrying was scattered around the area, with pieces found embedded in his helmet and body armour.

Miraculously the 24-year-old Marine survived and within minutes was on his feet, refusing evacuation and demanding to be allowed to stay with the patrol. He helped set an ambush and shot dead a Taliban insurgent in the ensuing gunfight.

Little Blue Pills…

[ 0 ] December 26, 2008 |

Creative COIN:

U.S intelligence officials use “novel incentives,” but this is not limited to Viagra. Sometimes, “notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains” can be won over with tools, school equipment, and surgical assistance. But it appears the “pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos” can be effective with older tribal officials.

Why not just hand out cash? It doesn’t work as well — Afghan leaders with U.S. dollars are recognized for having cooperated with the unpopular Americans. And with Taliban commanders, drug dealers, and even Iranian agents offering enticements, too, U.S. officials have had to get creative.

The key, one American said, is to “find a way to meet the informant’s personal needs in a way that keeps him firmly on your side but leaves little or no visible trace.” Viagra obviously fits the bill.

It’s all about the patriarchy, I guess. Via NB.

…I was also wondering about this.

From the Mouths of Wingnuts

[ 0 ] November 15, 2008 |

The Astute Bloggers make a claim:

I have believed from the start that Bush should have nuked Tora Bora in 2001. The GWOT would have ended right then and there. It would have sent the right message: Don’t Tread On Me!

Instead Bush has has the USA wage a war with one hand behind our back, a war of halfassery. That’s why I have long said that “Dubya stands for wimp ” and that I would have never voted for him again except if he ran against any Democrat.

Nuking Tora Bora with a few small tactical nukes would have killed the entire al Qaeda leadership and warned everyone – terrorists and the nations which aid or harbor them – that they shouldn’t fuck with us. Had Dubya done this the Bush Doctrine (“you’re either with us or against us”) would’ve has some teeth – and some positive effect. Now it’s too late; what we could’ve done then in righteous reprisal can not be done now. Not until we are attacked here in the USA again.

Heh; indeed.

I’m kind of curious; what do you think would have happened if Bush had ordered the use of tactical nuclear weapons when we thought we knew the location of Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora? I really haven’t the faintest idea; I suspect that it would have led to any number of horrible things, but I find myself unable to pick between them. Thoughts? What if Bin Laden and his top lieutenants had been killed? What if they had survived? Would the military have obeyed the order? What would it have meant for Iraq? For US foreign policy more generally? For proliferation?

Nir Rosen: The Worst American Journalist Since Jane Fonda

[ 42 ] October 30, 2008 |

Lots of commentary on Bing West’s attack on Nir Rosen today; see especially Ackerman and Abu M.

A couple points of my own:

It’s obviously different in a lot of ways, but if we didn’t have war correspondents embedding in the forces of the enemy, we wouldn’t have History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides was an Athenian general before he was a historian. While it’s fair enough to note that Nir Rosen has yet to be exiled for his failure to prevent the seizure of Amphipolis, it’s also true that Thucydides believed that his ability to observe both Spartan and Athenian forces was critical to the History:

It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly.

This isn’t terribly surprising; perspective requires knowledge. If History of the Peloponnesian War read as a patriotic account of stalwart Athenians defeating tyrannical Spartans (or vice versa) then no one but classicists would read it today. It’s strength comes from Thucydides ability to observe the motives, behavior, and self-justifications of both sides; his analysis of why the war happened and how it was conducted depends on a degree of empathy with both Athenian and Spartan interests.

Second, this point by West is simply nonsensical:

Rosen described how he and two Taliban fighters deceived the guards at a government checkpoint. Suppose during World War II an American reporter had sneaked through the lines with two German officers wearing civilian clothes. “When we caught enemy combatants out of uniform in the 1940s,” a veteran wrote in The American Heritage, “we sometimes simply executed them.” The Greatest Generation had a direct way of dealing with moral ambiguity.

Yeah… and what if a Nazi functionary had allowed an American journalist to visit Auschwitz in early 1942? It’s equally absurd, but as long as we’re making things up let’s consider a scenario that weighs rather heavily in favor of allowing journalists to embed with the enemy. It doesn’t even occur to West that reporting on the enemy doesn’t imply approval of enemy activities; that he compares the behavior of Rosen (a journalist) to Jane Fonda (not a journalist) indicates that he really doesn’t understand what journalism is.

It’s certainly possible to develop scenarios in which the professional identity of “journalist”– to say nothing of “scholar”, “lawyer”, or even “soldier”– runs counter to the other commitments that we have. Such conflicts are part of life, and can’t be wished away. I don’t find Rosen’s behavior, however, even close to troubling; his work opened a window into how the Taliban functions, how its warriors think, and why they’re willing to die for what they believe in. To the extent that West believes that the destruction of the Taliban is a desirable goal, he should be thankful that Rosen has provided this window, and should devote his efforts to using the information as effectively as possible.

Either that, or he can engage in rambling, pointless bluster about how in the old days, we earned our moral clarity by shootin’ folks. Your call, Bing.

Ackerman from Afghanistan

[ 5 ] September 30, 2008 |

Last week, Spencer Ackerman and I diavlogged about Afghanistan. Spencer was in Kabul at the time; I was merely in Cincinnati…

Also check out Spencer’s Afghanistan coverage at the Washington Independent.

700 Cell Phones?

[ 0 ] June 28, 2008 |

While recognizing the general principle that prisoners, even in Afghanistan, ought to have some contact with the outside world, I have to question the wisdom of allowing this:

This month’s spectacular prison escape in Kandahar began with a jailed guerrilla’s phone conversation with the No. 2 leader of the Afghan insurgency, according to one of the roughly 350 Taliban fighters who broke out. Speaking to NEWSWEEK by phone from his home in eastern Afghanistan late last week, Taliban subcommander Mullah Khan Muhammad Akhund, 36, said more than 700 of the prison’s approximately 1,000 inmates were allowed to have their own mobile phones. It was one of the few comforts at the antiquated and squalid Sarposa Prison, where 15 to 20 men were crammed into each tiny cell, he says. Counting on prisoners’ families to pay, prison authorities charged each inmate $100 a month for the privilege of keeping a phone, according to Akhund, who was serving an eight-year sentence in Sarposa before the escape.

Right… in a place where an active insurgency can move about more or less freely, someone thought it was a good idea to allow inmates of a prison holding over 350 members of that insurgency to use cell phones without supervision. I suppose that to make it even easier, they could have faxed prison blueprints and guard shift schedules…

Canada’s Contribution

[ 0 ] May 5, 2008 |

Back in 2005 I sat on a panel at the University of Kentucky library on the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point the conversation became heated, with an interlocutor from the audience suggesting that those who opposed the wars should move to Canada, where (and I paraphrase) the people seemed to have little inclination for fighting in defense of liberty and freedom. I was forced to remind the questioner that Canada had entered the fight against Kaiserine Germany nearly three years prior to the United States, and Nazi Germany more than two years prior. In both conflicts, Canada suffered casualties proportionately far greater than the United States. Nevertheless, in the right-wing imagination Canada seems to exist as a Great Pacifist North, the area to which hippies flee to avoid the draft and which demurred from joining the crusade to liberate Iraq.

It’s in this context that articles like Samantha Power’s recent Time magazine piece are particularly important. Canada has borne a disproportionate share of the fighting in Afghanistan, and has suffered dreadful casualties. Eighty-two Canadians have thus far been killed in Afghanistan, as compared with ninety-five from the much larger UK contingent. The death rate has taken its toll on Canadian public opinion, but one lesson of the Power article is that Iraq continues to poison everything; to the extent that the Afghan operation is conceived of as part of greater US foreign policy, it becomes less popular.

Power suggests that NATO rules be altered such that members that contribute less in terms of fighting forces should be required to contribute more to the funding and reconstruction side. To be fair, much of this already goes on, but the interaction could nevertheless be further institutionalized. Given that the non-American percentage of casualties in Afghanistan has steadily increased since 2001 (this year, they outpace American 34 to 21), tensions that strain the NATO alliance seem likely to increase.

Isn’t that Cute

[ 2 ] April 13, 2008 |

Congressional Budget Office, The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans: Summary Update for Fiscal Year 2005

In its cost-risk projections, CBO assumes that activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere could cost as much as $56 billion in 2005. That figure rests on the assumption that force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan will remain at their current levels throughout fiscal year 2005–an assumption consistent with CBO’s understanding of DoD’s current plans for both operations.

Over the long term, CBO projects that the cost risk associated with those (or similar) operations could amount to about $21 billion annually. That estimate is based on the assumption that between 2006 and 2009, U.S. force levels in Iraq decline to about 50,000 military personnel, operations in Afghanistan decrease to a level comparable to the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Operation Noble Eagle slowly diminishes. Of course, those specific assumptions are unlikely to hold true through 2022. The $21 billion estimate is simply a proxy for the budgetary impact of continued engagement by the U.S. military in such operations. If U.S. foreign policy shifted in a way that increased or decreased the nation’s military presence overseas, costs would change accordingly.

Current Iraq force level: ~140000
Current Afghanistan force level: ~30000
Estimated Iraq cost/year: ~$140 billion
Estimated Afghanistan cost/year: ~$48 billion

But remember; just another dozen or so years of this, and it will all have been worth it.

Not Confused…

[ 8 ] February 8, 2008 |

SecDef Gates:

“I worry that for many Europeans the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are confused,” Mr. Gates said as he flew here to deliver an address at an international security conference.

“I think that they combine the two,” he added. “Many of them, I think, have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan, and do not understand the very different — for them — the very different kind of threat.”

It’s not that they’re confused, or that they don’t understand, Bob; it’s that Iraq casts a shadow over the legitimacy of everything the United States does. It’s that support for the United States in Afghanistan inevitably means support for the US in Iraq; Europeans worry that any resources they devote to Afghanistan will be responded to by an increased US commitment to Iraq.

On some level I sympathize with Gates, and I do think that some European countries could and should do more in Afghanistan. But the problem isn’t primarily that Europeans are stupid and confused. Rather, it’s Iraq, and that’s entirely a problem of our own making.

Bagram: Still There

[ 72 ] January 7, 2008 |

There’s a good piece by Tim Golden in today’s Times about the detention center at Bagram, where conditions are even more bleak than at Guantanamo; conditions are overcrowded (the population having increased from around 100 to nearly 700 since 2002), detainees have no access to lawyers, and the the US continues in many instances to prevent the Red Cross access to prisoners in a timely fashion. Moreover, as Emily Bazelon among others reported nearly three years ago, there’s no question that the US has used torture at Bagram as well as other facilities in Afghanistan. And the Jacoby Report, the only official investigation into these abuses, was so heavily redacted as to be nearly useless — at least to anyone who might be interested in how detainees are defined, what kinds of interrogations tactics were approved, what oversight measures might have been in place to prevent abuses, and so on.

The Bush administration vaguely claims (as it does with Gitmo) that it would prefer to shut down the facility and turn over the mostly Afghan prisoners to the Karzai government, but the Times article makes it clear that this won’t be happening any time soon. There are several reasons for this, but among the more telling points made in the piece, Golden reports that while a new Afghan-run facility has been completed, the US won’t turn over the detainees unless Afghanistan promises to replicate the legally dubious system created by the Bush administration.

Yet even before the construction began in early 2006, the creation of the new Afghan National Detention Center was complicated by turf battles among Afghan government ministries, some of which resisted the American strategy, officials of both countries said.

A push by some Defense Department officials to have Kabul authorize the indefinite military detention of “enemy combatants” — adopting a legal framework like that of Guantánamo — foundered in 2006 when aides to President Hamid Karzai persuaded him not to sign a decree that had been written with American help.

On the one hand, it’s instructive to note that the Afghan government seems to be pushing back on this; I’m sure the weakness of the state itself (rather than any devotion to principle) explains the resistance. Still, the apparent permanence of the Bagram facility is an appalling prospect.

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