Archive for October, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Talks between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah broke down today, according to CNN, meaning there will be no power-sharing arrangement to head off a highly problematic runoff vote.

That would be bad enough in itself, since the administration recognized the difficulties posed by getting a legitimate poll done before winter sets in and had hoped a power-sharing deal would provide legitimacy while dodging the dicey balloting.  But, things actually get much worse:

According to the source, Abdullah will likely announce this weekend that he will boycott the runoff presidential election slated for November 7, a runoff that had been scheduled after intense diplomatic arm twisting by the United States. [emphasis mine]

One hopes a CNN reporter simply failed to choose his/her words carefully and meant instead “drop out of” the race, because if Abdullah is going so far as to boycott the race, Afghanistan could become a much more dangerous place than it is already. Recall that earlier this year, Abdullah supporters were promising protests “with Kalashnakovs” if he simply lost in a fair vote, and, as if to prove their point, reports indicated a frightening flow of weapons toward Abdullah’s political base. Now we’re potentially talking about him urging people not to participate and declaring the entire runoff process illegitimate.

This has already been a terrible week for the U.S. as President Obama wraps up his sixth review of Afghanistan policy with a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today. Earlier this week, IED attacks pushed the U.S. death toll to its highest monthly level since the U.S. invasion. Yesterday, we learned that Hamid Karzai’s drug-trafficking, electioneering mafioso of a brother was on the CIA payroll.  If the CNN report is accurate, things may be about to get much worse.

This morning I had the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Earhart’s class at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas, about Afghanistan. I thought I’d post some helpful links, offer some expanded answers and share my presentation file in case anyone wanted it for future reference.

First, here’s the presentation in PDF format.

A question was asked regarding whether our presence in Afghanistan increased the risk of terrorism. Here’s a video clip from Rethink Afghanistan that features former CIA agents discussing that question.

Here’s the link to the information about the ICOS maps that was requested.

And, here’s a link to the methodology information for the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Yesterday, October officially became the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the war began. The death toll was pushed over that grim marker by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the single deadliest weapon used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. IED deaths have increased alongside U.S. troop increases every year since the U.S. invaded.

Paraphrasing Joint IED Defeat Organization Director Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, Stars and Stripes reported today that:

IED attacks in Afghanistan have gone up along with the rising troop levels and likely will continue to increase if more U.S. forces are sent there…

That’s a real problem for the measure of success set out by General Stanley McChrystal for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan:

American success in Afghanistan should be measured by “the number of Afghans shielded from violence,” not the number of enemy fighters killed, he said.

What’s the connection? Well, it turns out IEDs are also the single greatest conflict-related killer of civilians. The fact that the use of IEDs increases along with U.S. troop deployments explains the similarity between these two graphs:

Civilian Deaths Compared to Troop Deployments

Military officials have warned that sending more troops to Afghanistan will likely result in a “tough fight” (read: rising U.S. casualty rates). If President Obama adds more troops in Afghanistan, especially in densely populated areas, get ready to see another major spike in civilian deaths as well.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

My previous post intentionally left out mentions of Senator John Kerry’s defense of Ahmed Wali Karzai–the drug-dealing, election stealing, possibly Taliban-connected brother of the Afghan president–in an attempt to keep the piece to a manageable length. Boy, am I sorry I did that…today’s New York Times contains an article by Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti, James Risen and Helene Cooper that shows AWK is a CIA asset.

According to Andrew Exum (a.k.a., Abu Muqwama, h/t Steve Hynd), AWK is no run-of-the-mill petty criminal:

[N]umerous military officials in southern Afghanistan with whom I have spoken identify AWK and his activities as the biggest problem they face — bigger than the lack of government services or even the Taliban. …[Y]ou can be darn sure that if we think that AWK is the CIA’s guy, the Afghans most certainly believe that to be the case.

CIA’s certainly not earning any new friends in the intel sandbox. Military intelligence officials, for example, seem blindsided (or are feigning shock in the passive-aggressive manner typical of rival government agencies). From the NYT piece:

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

…“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” General Flynn said.

Tut, tut, general. You might want to check with your superiors before you run with that line of argument. Your “population-centric counterinsurgency” is propping up a whole government full of thugs like Mohaqiq, Fahim and Khalili (the latter two being Hamid Karzai’s vice-presidential nominees in the ongoing election!), not to mention General Abdul Rashid Dostum, all of whom got amnesty for their war crimes thanks to a measure Mohaqiq rammed through the Afghan parliament in the early days of the government. Next time, try to get outraged before we spend billions training a security apparatus at the thugs’ disposal, k?

Feigned pearl-clutch! faint! routines aside, this is a horrifying development for any attempt by the U.S. government to earn consent for the U.S.-backed Kabul cartel from the Pashtuns through a counterinsurgency campaign. AWK allegedly ran an operation that delivered huge numbers of fraudulent votes for his brother in the Pashtun heartland, and the locals knew it. Does anyone in Washington understand what a setback we’ll suffer when the population we’re trying to win over from the Taliban realizes that the person who stole their votes was on the CIA payroll?

The revelation about AWK’s CIA ties shows just how lost in the Afghan labyrinth American policymakers are. It’s a labyrinth of glittering generalities, wishful thinking, India/Pakistan gamesmanship, corruption, inter-agency competition and policies working at cross-purposes with one another.  It’s no wonder it’s taken six policy reviews and 10 months for some of the smartest people on the planet to form the basic outlines of even a misguided path forward. Funny thing about the labyrinth in Greek mythology: it’s not designed to keep you out. It’s designed to keep you in.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Senator John Kerry came back from Afghanistan calling President Hamid Karzai a “patriot” and supportive of a plan “closer to McChrystal than to Biden,” meaning he loves him some counterinsurgency, just not in the doses prescribed by Gen. McChrystal. Kerry’s Monday speech to the Council on Foreign Relations shows that in sipping the COIN Kool-Aid, he’s beginning to display the worst habits of internal contradiction prevalent among the counterinsurgency glitterati.

Kerry proceeds from a nonsensical definition of success:

I define success as the ability to empower and transfer responsibility to Afghans as rapidly as possible and achieve a sufficient level of stability to ensure that we can leave behind an Afghanistan that is not controlled by Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Having the “ability” to do something is not success. Saying you’re going to do something “as rapidly as possible” tells you nothing about how quickly you will do it. What, you think there’s a plausible future where the president tells the American people that he screwed around a bit instead of getting Afghanistan done as “rapidly as possible?” Sloppy definitions make poor policy, and that’s what we get from the rest of the speech. For example, take this goofy piece of self-contradiction:

Second, we simply don’t have enough troops or resources to launch a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency campaign.  But importantly, nor do we need to.

We all see the appeal of a limited counterterrorism mission— and no doubt it is part of the endgame.  But I don’t think we’re there yet.  A narrow mission that cedes half the country to the Taliban could lead to civil war and put Pakistan at risk.

What a mess. We don’t have enough troop “for a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency,” but we can’t cede “half the country to the Taliban” without risking civil war. Following his warning about the dangers of ceding “half the country,” Kerry calls for “narrowly focused” counterinsurgency operations in less than 40 percent of the country.

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Jeff Huber’s recent piece describes the “tragic flaw” of the Obama presidency in his recent Antiwar.com piece:

Candidate Obama stuck his nose in the wringer when he deflected criticism of his vote against the surge in Iraq by saying it took vital assets away from the effort in Afghanistan, the “war of necessity.” That may turn out to be the tragic flaw of his presidency. The war in Afghanistan is no more necessary than most other American wars have been. None of the 9/11 attackers came from Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda isn’t there any more. As best we can tell, what remains of al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, and very little remains of it.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

“It is a blasphemy to say non-violence can be practiced only by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals.” –M.K. Gandhi

On September 8, 2009, President Obama sat with a group of students to answer their questions. A student named Lilly asked him who he would have dinner with if he could have any guest, dead or alive. Here’s the full transcript of the exchange. From the Boston Globe:

STUDENT: Hi. I’m Lilly. And if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Dinner with anyone dead or alive? Well, you know, dead or alive, that’s a pretty big list. (Laughter.) You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine. Now, it would probably be a really small meal because — (laughter) — he didn’t eat a lot. But he’s somebody who I find a lot of inspiration in. He inspired Dr. King, so if it hadn’t been for the non-violent movement in India, you might not have seen the same non-violent movement for civil rights here in the United States. He inspired César Chávez, and he — and what was interesting was that he ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves — and help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they’re doing is oppressing people, then that’s not a really good exercise of power.

So I’m always interested in people who are able to bring about change, not through violence, not through money, but through the force of their personality and their ethical and moral stances. And that’s somebody that I’d love to sit down and talk to.

The same day the president opined about his admiration for nonviolent luminaries Gandhi, King and Chavez, Afghan insurgents in Kunar Province killed Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton, Gunnery Sergeant Edwin Wayne Johnson, Jr., 1st Lieutenant Michael E. Johnson and Staff Sergeant Aaron M. Kenefick. At least 253 U.S. soldiers died so far in 2009 in Afghanistan, and between January and August of this year, U.S forces and their opponents killed 1561 civilians. We don’t have estimates of how many “Taliban” the U.S. and allies killed. Before President Obama answered Lilly’s question, he’d increased U.S. force levels in Afghanistan from 30,100 to 50,700, and as he answered he was considering up to 80,000 more.

In that context, it really takes some nerve to pontificate to school children about the importance of Gandhi and nonviolence. It’s a little like being lectured about vegetarianism by the local butcher. If you line his words up next to his actions as president, the implicit message is, “Sure, nonviolence is great, but c’mon–this is the real world.”

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Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Bruce Riedel, the chair of one of the many Obama policy reviews on Afghanistan, is ridiculous.

Here he is discussing pre-election optimism in Afghanistan:

However, this is likely the last time we will have the benefits of a fresh start;

Here he is five days after the election:

Here, I agree with what I think both Kim, Mike and Tony said, that this really is the last chance.  We’ve had three chances to get it right in Afghanistan. We’ve blown the previous two in the 1990s and after 2001.  You only get three chances in baseball, and, in Afghanistan, I don’t think you can expect a fourth chance either.

Here he is today:

NATO cannot succeed without an Afghan partner who has Afghan support and can led the majority of Afghans who reject the Taliban. Senator Kerry has given President Obama and NATO a second chance to get this right.

It’s always a new, fresh, second, last chance with this guy.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

All hail the birth of Afghan democracy!

The willingness of Americans to allow our political leaders to spend $1 million per troop, per year in Afghanistan has been rewarded: we can now stand back in awe as the unpunished perpetrators of massive election fraud vie for control of the criminal enterprise called the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Extra-constitutional President Hamid Karzai (whose initial vote totals were 32.2 percent fraudulent) and prime challenger Abdullah (whose initial vote total was 12.8 percent fraudulent) will face off on November 7. The process of the last election was so corrupt that the UN is replacing 200 — more than half — of the top election officials who were complicit in the fraud. No matter who loses, fraud wins.

So here’s a question for those who are pushing COIN who haven’t totally abandoned their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success (and believe me, those are few and far between these days): what systemic changes have or will be made prior to November 7 that will prevent a replay of the August fiasco? While replacing bad apples is essential, it won’t prevent rot if the barrel itself is corrupted. Recall that during the last round of voting, fraud schemes included:

  • Alliances with warlords, who will deliver votes from their territories for Karzai by hook or by crook. Some have already made threats of reprisal against village elders if they did not cooperate with the vote fraud schemes.
  • Massive registration of underage voters (up to 20 percent of the rolls)
  • Rampant (as in 85-percent occurrence) issuance of multiple voting cards to single individuals, including one case where one person was given about 500 voting cards.
  • Issuance of voting cards to people before they registered.
  • Issuance of cards to women without their physical presence based on lists provided by family (in some provinces this practice was used in 90-99 percent of registration stations).
  • Allowing men to take registration books home for the ostensible purpose of obtaining their women-folk’s fingerprints for registration. This practice, combined with the list practice mentioned above, led to outrageously fraudulent numbers of “women” being issued cards–between double and thirty percent more than the number of cards issued to men. Female Members of Parliament in Afghanistan have called these numbers not credible.
  • Purchase of voting cards from locals by warlord vote organizers.
  • Manufacture and sale of many thousands of fake registration cards.

What steps have been taken to prevent these sorts of violations of the process from recurring? I’ve not seen a single indication that the systemic factors that allowed and rewarded election fraud have been addressed. Not one. Have you?

In this context, it’s understandable that Nagl and Co. would want to wave their hands and assert that counterinsurgency can work when host-nation elections break, but that’s contemptible, dishonest, face-saving bull. Sarah Sewall’s introduction in the COIN manual calls host-nation government legitimacy a “north star.” The main text of the manual defines victory flatly as the moment when “the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” And Nagl’s backpedaling in the L.A. Times’ opinion section aside, it’s clear throughout the manual he helped write that he wasn’t talking about the local mayor: he was talking about the host-nation government. And there’s not a single possible outcome now for the ’09 Afghan elections that leaves us with a credible, legitimate partner. What we’ll get is a regime staffed with former warlords, human rights abusers and drug lords, headed by Mr. 32.2 Percent, Mr. 12.8 Percent, or both. Take your pick.

I can’t prove it, but the willingness of the pro-COIN crowd to fudge their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success and definitions of victory makes me suspect the American people have been the victims of what’s essentially an intra-military turf battle, with the Petreauses and the Nagls and the McChrystals of the world (all Army men) fighting to return the infantry to primacy in a world of stealth bombers and killer drones. The Army’s doctrinal weapon in that fight, COIN, seems to have fit perfectly with the Bushies’ PNAC-sponsored imperial eschatology, paving the way for a civilian/military public relations campaign to make infantry-heavy pacification campaigns the new, sexy way of war. Congrats on the snow job, gentlemen.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

According to the New York Times and CNN, Senator John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry have prevailed upon Afghan President Hamid Karzai to concede that he did not win 50 percent in the initial presidential vote, which would pave the way for a runoff. (In fact, about a quarter of the votes counted in the initial balloting were fraudulent, and a third of Karzai’s were bogus.)

But that’s where things get tricky: the law (you know, the law that remains after Karzai stayed in the presidency long after the Afghan constitution required him to vacate) requires the runoff be held within two weeks of the certification of the election results. However, the reason Karzai purportedly had to stay in office beyond his constitutional term in the first place was the inability of Afghan officials to set up an election process within the security situation in the time allotted, and it’s not exactly gotten easier to do so in the interim. It will be extremely difficult to set up a runoff in two weeks, and many have indicated that they would not participate in a runoff after risking their lives defying the Taliban the first time. And, the longer this drags out, the closer we get to winter, which would shut down any possibility of a nationwide election.

Here’s what Abdullah had to say:

Abdullah told CNN on Monday he was prepared to participate in a runoff, but said “the door is open” to other alternatives.

“There are some practical questions ahead,” Abdullah told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, citing winter, the security situation “and other realities on the ground.”

If the election were not held by early November, winter weather would make voting impossible in some areas and force a delay until spring of 2010, according to Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad.

Such a delay, he warned, would be a “recipe for disaster” that would create confusion in Afghanistan and heighten tension between the United States and Karzai’s government.

The solution proffered by the Obama administration is to have Abdullah concede the runoff as soon as it’s announced in exchange for the placement of some of his key supporters in positions in a sort of unity government. For his part, Abdullah seems to be telegraphing his willingness to do so, something in which he previously indicated no interest. Abdullah’s switch on this could be  a way out of the potential constitutional death spiral I wrote about several weeks ago, but that’s only if this goes down in the best of all possible ways. If Abdullah balks, then the runoff must proceed, tentatively scheduled for November 7th. Steve Hynd’s post describes the difficulties of that scenario.

In the best case scenario, we’ll have an Afghan partner* that’s a “unity government” of warlords and drug lords. Good deal. I know I’m excited.

[*Even that generous description of the Afghan contribution to the effort seems to put paid to the notion that we are in a supporting role of a legitimate government fighting off an insurgency. We’re not. And if we’re not, we’re occupying/pacifying, plain and simple.]

Charting a course through the post election tangle, though, does not weed out the bad answers given to basic questions about the ongoing military enterprise in Afghanistan. Today’s STRATFOR’s article makes much the same point I made a few days ago: we can play in the Afghan sandbox all day and not move toward a world without al-Qaida. STRATFOR:

If the strategic objective of the war in Afghanistan is to cut the legs out from under al Qaeda and deny these foreign jihadists sanctuary, then what of the sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal belt where high-value al Qaeda targets are believed to be located? Pakistan is fighting its share of jihadists according to its own rules; the United States cannot realistically expect Islamabad to fulfill its end of the bargain in containing al Qaeda. The primary U.S. targets in this war are on the wrong side of the border, and in areas where U.S. forces are not free to operate. The American interest in Afghanistan is to defeat al Qaeda and prevent the emergence of follow-on jihadist forces. The problem is that regardless of how secure Afghanistan is, jihadist forces can (to varying degrees) train and plan in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia — or even Cleveland for that matter. Securing Afghanistan is thus not necessarily a precondition for defeating al Qaeda.

Not only is a hugely expensive COIN effort in Afghanistan not sufficient to defeat al-Qaida, but it’s not even necessary. Thus, an Afghanistan-centric anti-al-Qaida policy is nonsense. It’s worse than useless; the monstrous human and opportunity costs mean it’s actually self-destructive.

As important as the Afghan elections are to the future of that country, getting them right isn’t sufficient to correct the bad assumptions driving the destructive, militarized policy in Afghanistan. It’s time to drop the silly idea that war helps anyone, and charge our policymakers with finding civilian solutions to a political problem. Sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition for civilian solutions.