foreign policy

  1. Beyond boots on the ground – A cost-effective approach to US foreign policy

    Published: October 18th, 2011

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    In her recent Foreign Policy op-ed on forward deployed diplomacy in the Asia Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, “With Iraq and Afghanistan still in transition and serious economic challenges in our own country, there are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities.”

    Sec. Clinton went on to argue for a comprehensive foreign policy that employs a wide range of diplomatic tools; she did not explicitly equate the Afghanistan drawdown with downsized engagement. However, others have made that claim, calling the drawdown “neo-isolationism” and equating “leaving Afghanistan” with “abandoning Afghanistan.”

    This argument overlooks the nuances of a balanced foreign policy – a policy that relies on more than just military strength. As Admiral Mike Mullen, former JCS Chair, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “American presence and interest and commitment are not defined by boots on the ground, but rather by persistent, open and mutually beneficial engagement.” Bringing the troops home will not mark the end of the US commitment to Afghanistan, but a new approach that will be not only more effective but also more cost-effective.

    The violence of the past several weeks, particularly the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the collapse of the peace negotiations, have highlighted the multifaceted nature of Afghanistan’s troubles: poor governance, faltering economy, not to mention ongoing tensions with Pakistan. US soldiers and Marines cannot provide solutions to these problems – they are not trained to do so, they shouldn’t be asked to try.

    Developing a more nuanced strategy that includes fostering economic development and regional diplomacy will be not only a more effective approach, but also far less costly. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that the cost to deploy one civilian is about $570,000, compared to $697,000 for a soldier. According to a recent report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the State Department will spend $25-$30 billion in Iraq over the next five years. That’s more than twice what the Department of Defense spent in the first year alone, according to CRS.

    We should be spending smarter, not more. Bring the troops home, and revise our approach to make the most of our many foreign policy tools.Our economy will be the better for it, and our soldiers will thank us.

    Tags: , , , , ,

  2. Want Security? Buy a Warlord

    Published: October 14th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Earlier this year we reported on the case of Afghan National Police Commander Azizullah, a protégé of US Special Ops Forces and human rights offender, according to an internal UN report.

    The reports detailed several instances of police brutality involving Azizullah, and questioned the reasoning for keeping him on the US payroll. NATO officials conducted an internal investigation and brushed off the allegations, so TIME’s Julius Cavendish looked into the case, conducting interviews with local sources to find out how the stories match up. The results of the investigation are disturbing.

    Cavendish relays incidents of violence and abuse, including a rape, theft and the desecration of a mosque by Azizullah and his men, some 400 Afghan national security guards. What locals had to say matched up with the cases documented in an assessment by a reconstruction firm as well as the original UN report.

    Abuse of power is all too common in Afghanistan, according to a recent study by the, and not enough is being done by the US and NATO allies to prevent it. It is even more unacceptable that these abuses are bankrolled by US taxpayers.

    Continued support for Azizullah despite the evidence is further proof of short-sighted US policy in Afghanistan. Our leaders – both political and military – emphasize that the goal is to deny a safe haven to terrorists. In trying to accomplish that, we’ve empowered men like Azizullah, who have established a measure of stability, at the expense of human rights. We get a more-or-less reliable ally, and the Afghanis get a warlord in a police uniform.

    This year we spent $11.6 billion training and equipping the Afghan National Army and Police. Some of that money went to Azizullah and others like him ( and there most certainly are others like him). The Afghan people deserve better than this, and so do we.

    Tags: , ,

  3. Historical Counterinsurgency and Afghanistan

    Published: July 7th, 2011
    Author: Edward Kenney

    Edward Kenney Afghanistan Study Group

    Two papers published recently compare historical counterinsurgency experiences to the situation in Afghanistan.  The first, authored by Christopher Paul and published by RAND Corporation compares Afghanistan to 30 historical counterinsurgencies over the last thirty years.  The second, by Douglas Ollivant and published by the New America Foundation looks at lessons learned from the Iraqi surge.

    Beginning with the Iraq Paper, Ollivant looks at the success of the surge and concludes that the military aspect of the surge is only a limited factor in the decrease in violence.   A big part of the explanation, according to is the so-called Sunni Awakening, but here Ollivant has a refreshing—although not entirely convincing argument.

    “The fundamental truth of the Iraqi settlement is that the sectarian civil war ended—and the Sunni lost”

    To Ollivant, the Sunni Awakening was not the rejection of al Qaeda, but rather the strategic calculation of the weaker side.

    “[They] realized that only the United States had the “wasta”[1], to intervene for them with the central government and secure their minority interests…”

    When you think about it, this explanation doesn’t make sense.  Why on earth did the Sunni militias trust the U.S. to act in their favor in Iraqi parliament?  Turning on al Qaeda was clearly a massive gamble—they could have found themselves entirely isolated—but this decision paid off in the end.

    Applying this same scenario to Afghanistan, the Taliban find themselves in similar situation to the Sunnis circa 2007:  They are both unpopular and (as Ambassadors Pickering and Brahimi point out in chapter 1 of their report) lack a plausible path to power.  They could “switch sides” and gamble that the U.S. would then protect some of their interests in Afghanistan, but they haven’t.  Why hasn’t a “Taliban Awakening” occurred?  Well, you can look to either differences in practices or differences in conditions.  Ollivant looks at differences in practices, but the only real difference he can come up with is the President’s use of timetables along with the surge in troops.  This to my mind is not a compelling explanation.  For one thing, it’s hard to imagine presidential words carrying this much weight in the eyes of insurgents, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the Taliban are mostly concerned that we won’t leave when we say we will, not that the U.S. is commitment-phobic as Ollivant’s theory implies.

    The great weakness in Ollivant’s paper is that he underestimates important differences between conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One key difference I would examine is the political structure of the insurgent groups.  As I have already noted, the decision to switch sides in Iraq was a major gamble.  This required a high level of legitimacy among the tribal sheiks.  I would wager, a careful examination of the Taliban would conclude that the Taliban leadership do not have this same level of legitimacy among their followers .

    The RAND Paper covers many more insurgencies and is arguably more ambitious.  Identifying twelve COIN factors and practices, they place Afghanistan’s score in between success and failure with an overall score of 3.5.  Looking deeper at the Rand numbers the picture is less optimistic.  According to this report Afghanistan lacks three fundamental conditions for success: security, government legitimacy and insurgent support networks.

    While I certainly agree with many of the conclusions, the paper has a significant weakness in that they lump together conditions and practices.  As the Iraq example hopefully illustrated, conditions on the ground should and often do determine “best practices”.  There is not a one-size fits all approach to defeating a counter insurgency.  To their credit, the experts sort of recognize this dilemma:

    To maximize effectiveness in the area of strategic communication, COIN forces will not only need to firmly establish the presence of more strategic communication—related factors but, as noted earlier, they would also benefit from improving the underlying conditions that inform the themes and messages communicated—namely, government legitimacy and security.

    Translation:  You can be the best car-salesman in the world, but if that automobile is a piece of junk, I ain’t buying.  The problem is not “strategic communication” (military-speak for PR); the security situation is deteriorating in much of Afghanistan.

    To put it another way, conditions are much determinative of success or failure than we like to admit.
    [1] Arabic translated by Ollivant to mean clout or influence

    Tags: , ,

  4. Pawlenty Punts on Afghanistan

    Published: June 1st, 2011
    Author: Will Keola Thomas

    Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

    Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has been on a foreign policy tear since beginning his campaign for the White House. In brandishing his foreign policy credentials (such as…<cough> “governor” <cough>), Pawlenty is apparently attempting to fill a void, which some observers have noticed among the Republican candidates, a lack of experience in international affairs.

    If Pawlenty’s performance so far is any indication, the void remains.

    There’s his “basic perspective on foreign policy” derived from early experiences with sandbox realpolitik:

    “You may have learned it on the playground, you may have learned it in business, sports. You may have learned it in some other walk of life, but it’s always true. If you’re dealing with thugs and bullies, they understand strength. They don’t respect weakness.”

    Okay, so Pawlenty admitted he was oversimplifying in the interest of time when he distilled his foreign policy vision as “strength.” Still, staking out a “pro-strength” position isn’t going to put much distance between the former governor and his opponents.

    Then there’s the whole keeping Iran and Iraq straight thing:

    But it was hard to hear the reporter’s question and Gov. Pawlenty is undoubtedly tired from all the campaigning and it’s just that one damned letter separating the two countries anyway, right? It wouldn’t be fair to judge the governor’s potential for strong leadership on foreign affairs based on such minor details.

    The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is no detail. And when Pawlenty was asked what he would do if he found himself in charge of the longest war in U.S. history, a war that is currently maxing out the national credit card at almost $120 billion a year with no end in sight, the governor essentially dodges the question like it was a bullet in The Matrix.

    From the Des Moines Register’s account of a meeting between Pawlenty and Republican party activists in Iowa:

    “Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the country should try to decrease its troop levels in Afghanistan within the next two years, if conditions are right…

    When addressing specific troop levels, Pawlenty deferred to recommendations from military leadership, who have said decisions should be based on conditions in the country.”

    “…try to decrease troop levels…” + “…deferred to recommendations from military leadership…” + “…based on conditions in the country…” = PUNT

    Why would he pass off responsibility for the most important foreign policy issue facing the country?

    “Pawlenty said General David Petraeus told him during a visit to Afghanistan last fall that troop levels could be decreased in two years. Petraeus has since said the timeline could be shortened to about a year and a half.”

    Come on, Governor…you fell for the “two-years” line? Man, that one is just plain tired.

    As Democracy Arsenal’s Michael Cohen reminds us, Gen. Petraeus was whispering that sweet nothing into President Obama’s ear back in the heady days of September, 2009:

    Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

    “Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

    “Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

    “Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

    So much for projecting strength. Pawlenty is showing deference to the big boys and girls at the Pentagon before he even steps foot onto the presidential playground, Gov. Pawlenty is guaranteeing that if he is in charge the taxpayer’s lunch money is going to get “taken”.

    Tags: , , ,

  5. A Tale of Two GDPs

    Published: February 11th, 2011

    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
    Will Keola Thomas

    The latest report from the outgoing Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) summarizes the progress made in laying the foundation for long-term and sustainable economic growth in Afghanistan, a key requirement of the U.S. stabilization strategy for the region.

    How are things progressing on this front? Gangbusters — if one is considering the World Bank’s prediction of 8.5-9% growth in Afghan GDP for 2010/2011. That puts Afghanistan just behind China (at 10.3%) in global rankings, which is pretty fine company.

    How was this accomplished? It helps to start from zero. War-devastated economies similar to Afghanistan’s circa 2001 often experience extremely high rates of growth as even modest economic activity makes the indicators spike upward from the flat-line levels of wartime.

    But what really gets the GDP jumping is a massive infusion of cash…like a stimulus program.

    Since 2002 the United States has “stimulated” the Afghan economy to the tune of roughly $56 billion in foreign aid. In the coming year alone, the U.S. will spend over $18.7 billion on reconstruction in a country whose government is projected to collect only $1.7 billion in revenues and whose entire (legitimate) economy was valued at under $17 billion in 2010.

    To put this in perspective, President Obama’s ever controversial domestic stimulus package amounted to just 5.5% of U.S. GDP and President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” equalled 5.9% of the economy in 1933. In Afghanistan we are flooding the economy with aid equivalent to 110% of the country’s entire GDP every year.

    So the present achievement of 9% growth is neither long-term nor sustainable, because, as the SIGAR report states:

    “The chief factor behind this strong level of economic activity…(is) the high demand for goods and services resulting from the security economy and the influx of U.S. and other donor spending.”

    In other words, the United States and coalition partners are trying to develop a stable Afghan economy as an essential requirement for ending the war and facilitating the withdrawal of troops, but the presence of those troops and the war they prosecute is the Afghan economy.

    However, deflating the war economy by negotiating an end to the conflict won’t harm the economic aspirations of ordinary Afghans. Why? Because the vast majority of Afghans don’t benefit from the war economy anyway. While a small circle of elites and “conflict entrepreneurs” siphon up foreign funding so they can stimulate Dubai’s economy, most Afghans are left no better off. In fact, many fare much worse as they struggle to feed themselves while surrounded by increasing violence and a government more beholden to foreign donors than to its citizenry.

    While billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money is spent to create the illusion of sustainable 9% growth in Afghanistan, the American economy struggles to maintain a 3% growth rate that has failed to solve the problem of long-term unemployment for millions of Americans and is disproportionately impacting veterans returning from the war. Increasingly, voters from across the political spectrum are connecting the dots between the $120 billion spent yearly on the war in Afghanistan and severe budget cuts at home. Perhaps the raised voices of these voters will help elected officials in Washington make the same connection and realize that some of the biggest budget savings are to be found at the negotiating table in Afghanistan.

    Tags: , ,

  6. American Enterprise Institute: Where’s the Beef?

    Published: January 11th, 2011

    Frederick and Kimberly Kagan take an unusual approach in their recent paper on Afghanistan for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  Ignoring the vast amount of research and commentary to the contrary, they have prepared a thoroughly optimistic portrait of Afghanistan.  Not only do they argue that the U.S. is winning the war—thanks to the counter-insurgency “surge” strategy, of course—they also suggest that victory is essential to the U.S. global war on terrorism.  Neither claim is true.

    The Kagan’s flatly assert that “unprecedented damage” has been inflicted on the insurgency:  safe-havens have been eliminated, insurgent leaders captured or killed and the Taliban’s momentum “unquestionably arrested.”  This argument happens to be both unsubstantiated and untrue as even our own intelligence services can attest.  Based on two National Intelligence Estimate’s released last month, the insurgency remains resilient and cannot be defeated unless Pakistan acts against Taliban strongholds in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  A November Department of Defense Progress Report also delivered a candid appraisal of the insurgency’s strength at odds with the AEI report. The Kagans do not comment on these reports, other than to dismiss them as “alarmist”; nor do they discuss measurable metrics available to the public such as troop and civilian casualties, both of which show a continued downward trend.  One wonders whether the Kagans missed last week’s Associated Press article which cited NATO officials arguing that the Taliban’s strength has not diminished over the past year or Monday’s USA Today article on the Taliban’s “surge” of deadly improvised explosive devices. Seldom has a report been written that is more at odds with both the media narrative and what the vast majority of Afghan experts are saying; still, one has to credit their audaciousness.

    The notion that victory in Afghanistan is a critical element of the war against terrorism is an argument that we have rebutted many times before.  Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan[i], nor do they have any logical or sensible reason to abandon their safe-havens in Pakistan and return.  Furthermore, even if al Qaeda were to return to Afghanistan, it is unclear what effect, if any, this would have on their ability to conduct operations worldwide.

    Rather than re-hash old arguments, let’s take a moment to address another line of reasoning that is frequently used to defend the al Qaeda-Taliban link.  Pro-surge commentators frequently cite evidence that Taliban and the Haqqani are working together and have links to international terrorism to support their pro-war position.  Fighting one group is paramount to fighting all of the groups, they argue.  The Kagans take precisely this approach:

    All of these groups coordinate their activities, moreover, and all have voices in the Peshawar Shura (Council).  They are not isolated groups, but rather a network-of-networks

    This argument tends to play up ideological similarities among groups, which may or may not actually exist, while downplaying the strategic rational for forming an alliance.  The Afghanistan Study Group[ii], among others, has pointed out that al Qaeda’s global scope differs greatly from the Taliban, which is predominantly made up of local Afghans fighting for over local grievances, first among them the presence of foreign troops in their land. There is actually a simple explanation for the collaboration of disparate groups; they all face a common threat, the United States.  They also share a common goal—in this case the withdrawal of NATO troops.   Indeed, if the Taliban has any interest in self-preservation, it would be shocking if they were not working closely with the Haqqanis, Hezb Islami, the TTP and others.

    Afghanistan Study Group Member Paul Pillar explains how this strategic calculation combined with faulty assumptions by policy makers in the U.S. have contributed to a counter-productive strategy:

    We read on the front page of the New York Times that armed groups along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that have long been rivals to one another are now cooperating in combat operations against NATO forces. The groups include elements of the Taliban under the Quetta shura, the fighters of the Haqqani family, and militias associated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The impetus for such new cooperation is the military pressure that our own forces have applied. A false assumption underlying much of the rationale for the NATO campaign in the AfPak theater is that the forces on the other side are an alliance of bad guys, including militias and terrorist groups, with a common set of objectives opposed to our own. Now by our own actions we are making this false assumption come true, at least at the tactical and operational level.

    Whether or not you agree that the U.S. military pressure has been “the impetus for new cooperation” among insurgent groups, this is clearly an important factor in any analysis of Taliban collaboration.  The fact that the AEI completely fails to address the strategic aspect in their analysis is a major weakness of the paper.

    [i] Of course information on the Taliban’s strength in Afghanistan comes from our “alarmist” intelligence community

    [ii] See Myth # 5

    Tags: , ,

  7. An Honest Partner in Afghanistan?

    Published: December 13th, 2010

    Edward Kenney
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    The New York Times has reported that U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan “seem to search in vain for an honest partner” .  The idea is that with the right honest leadership, the Afghan ship of state can be righted, and the U.S. strategy salvaged.  However, the reason the U.S. will continue to search in vain for honest leadership is that the Afghan system itself is corrupt.  No honest politician would ever be able to attain a position high enough in the Afghan government to institute change.  The systemic nature of the problem is apparent in recently leaked diplomatic cables:

    “ A November 2009 cable described the acting governor of Khost Province, Tahir Khan Sabari, as “a refreshing change,” an effective and trustworthy leader. But Mr. Sabari told his American admirers that he did not have “the $200,000-300,000 for a bribe” necessary to secure the job permanently.

    Mr. Sabari may be an “effective and trustworthy leader”, but for him to hold any position in the Afghan government he needs massive amounts bribe money.  A similar story revolves around Abdul Sahibi, the mayor of Kabul.  Mr. Sahibi was recently convicted to four years in prison for “massive embezzlement”.  Far from being a victory against corruption,

    “a cable from the embassy told a different story. Mr. Sahibi was a victim of “kangaroo court justice,” it said, in what appeared to be retribution for his attempt to halt a corrupt land-distribution scheme.

    This anecdote again highlights the systemic nature of the corruption.  Anyone who attempts to counter the system soon finds themselves on the outside looking in, (or in the case of Mr. Sahibi on the inside looking at hard time.)  These stories should caution anyone who thinks the governance problem can be solved by removing Karzai or his close advisors.  Unless substantial reforms are made—reforms done in tandem with reconciliation—the governance problem in Afghanistan is not likely to go away.

    Tags: , ,

  8. Center for American Progress Policy Paper: A Powerful Compliment to Afghanistan Study Group

    Published: December 9th, 2010

    An impressive paper released last month by the Center for American Progress strongly advocates political inclusion, reconciliation, and diplomacy—the hallmarks of a more rational foreign policy in Afghanistan.  Among the recommendations:

    1.       Create a political strategy with deadlines and benchmarks to create greater checks and balances…

    2.       Encourage inclusive reconciliation among fighting parties and unarmed actors.

    3.       Reduce the military footprint, realigning U.S. and NATO military strategy with core security interests.

    These recommendations are strikingly similar to those presented by another group of foreign policy experts in a paper published in August.

    Tags: ,

  9. Wikileaks, The Deluge: Part I

    Published: December 8th, 2010

    Edward Kenney
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    There has been a raft of articles over the last few days on corruption in Afghanistan, the result of a series of secretly leaked diplomatic cables posted by wikileaks.  The cables describe in detail the challenges facing U.S. diplomats as they try to find honest partners in the Afghan government.  The New York Times reports, U.S. aid money seems to be directly contributing to the problem:

    One Afghan official helpfully explained to diplomats the “four stages” at which his colleagues skimmed money from American development projects: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”

    The Afghanistan Study Group has long argued that working with “local leaders” to re-establish governance, a hallmark of the Counter Insurgency Strategy, becomes toublesome when the local leaders are so corrupt that their actions fuel the insurgency.

    The other pernicious effect of U.S. money—it makes reconciliation more difficult.    The International Crisis Group claims that as long as the Taliban are receiving aid there will be “no incentive to negotiate”.  However, incentives are far more likely to affect the local leaders the U.S. is backing than the Taliban.  A World Bank study notes, failed peace plans are

    “Far more likely in cases where the organization is held together by profit-motives or force.  This situation may confront the international community in Afghanistan, where local warlords cobbled together to defeat the Taliban, may attempt to reinforce their political and economic power and may resist plans for their incorporation and demobilization.”

    The good news is that the U.S. can bring pro-Karzai warlords to the negotiating table by decreasing the flow of money and resources to them.  Stephen Biddle from the Council on Foreign Relations has long advocated “contract reform” along similar lines.  This change would be a substantial departure from the current Counter Insurgency Strategy, which relies on providing resources to local leaders in order to build capacity.

    Tags: , ,

  10. 11/29/10 Afghanistan Study Group Update

    Published: November 29th, 2010
    Author: Edward Kenny

    Edward Kenney
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    What Went Down In Lisbon?

    The President has just returned home from a relatively successful trip to Lisbon for the the NATO summit.  For Afghanistan junkies there are really two take-home messages.

    1.       Obama still has strong support for his Afghanistan strategy from European leaders.

    2.       Differences between the administration and Karzai are sharpening.

    One of Obama’s main goals was to shore up support among NATO member countries for a sustained commitment in Afghanistan.  Inside Europe there have been rumblings about NATO commitments decreasing in Afghanistan.  The French were hoping to transfer from Sarobi District next year.  In England, where support for the war is at 32%, the defense minister has called for a speedy drawdown.

    Perhaps in an effort to gain support from these NATO allies, President Obama set a date of 2014 to end major combat activities.  Although the President’s statements are fuzzy enough to allow flexibility and most news reports acknowledge that there will still be a large troop presence in Afghanistan in three years, 2014 nonetheless represents the closest thing to an established end date to the war.  All in all, the new deadline was a small price to pay in order to achieve support among crucial NATO allies.

    In Latest Dispute with Washington, Karzai has the Right Idea

    The Lisbon conference also highlighted the growing public feud between Washington DC and Kabul.  At Lisbon, Obama responded sharply to Karzai for his recent comments criticizing U.S. special operations and night raids.  Karzai had also banned private security contractors, which are often hired to protect development projects.  On the surface, Obama is entirely justified in his critique:

    He’s got to understand that I’ve got a bunch of young men and women… who are in a foreign country being shot at and having to traverse terrain filled with IEDs, and they need to protect themselves. So if we’re setting things up where they’re just sitting ducks for the Taliban, that’s not an acceptable answer either.”

    However, Karzai’s main beef with Obama is on the current U.S. strategy; it is not on the tactical level.  A recent column by Ahmed Rashid highlights the essence of the dispute:

    “In a suggestion that alarms and infuriates western officials, [Karzai] says there is a political alternative to Nato—to depend more on regional countries, especially Iran and Pakistan, to end the war and find a settlement with the Taliban”

    Both Iran and Pakistan are moving to maximize their bargaining positions in the event of a settlement.  This explains Iran’s recent surge in support for elements in the Taliban, when in the past Iran had always supported the Taliban’s enemies the Northern Alliance.  It also explains why Pakistan is reluctant to free Taliban leaders prematurely.   The main obstacle to a negotiated settlement continues to be the Americans themselves, for as long as the U.S. clings to the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Doctrine, there is no incentive for the critical players—the Quetta Shura, the ISI, the Haqqani Network, and Iran—to come to the table and negotiate.  Instead of embracing Karzai’s attempts at diplomacy, the U.S. criticizes his efforts to end the conflict.   This is what should “alarm” and “infuriate” anyone who favors a sensible policy in Afghanistan.

    START and Afghanistan

    In Lisbon, Obama also had success gaining the support of NATO members for a strategic arms treaty with Russia.  The main reason to sign a nuclear deal with Russia is that it will foster greater cooperation between the two countries on other issues.  Last year, Russia stepped up big for the U.S. when it agreed to establish economic sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council.  Further, Russia has also been playing a bigger role in Afghanistan.  Last month they even conducted a joint drug raid—the first military operation for Russia in Afghanistan since the Russian army retreated in 1989.  If the START Treaty facilitates greater cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan, this could assist with a U.S. drawdown, a factor which the anti-war libertarians should consider in deciding whether to back the treaty.

    The Refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan

    Two interesting articles appeared in the Washington Post on the refugee problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Although the articles focused on the same theme—locals who have been forced from their homes because of war—they highlighted two different problems.

    The article on Afghan refugees focused on a group of Pashtuns from Helmand province who have moved to Kabul as a result of the war.  In many cases these refugees favored neither the U.S. nor the Taliban, but were nonetheless caught in the middle of the fighting.  As one Afghan put it:

    “If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us.  If we shaved the Taliban gave us a hard time,” he said.  “What are we supposed to do, shave half our beard?”

    In a country where kinship and family ties are very important, the Taliban had one crucial advantage; they were local.  As one refugee illustrated:

    Who are the Taliban?  They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives.  The problem is the Americans

    The U.S. strategy, which is based on winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans, needs to confront this reality.  Afghans caught in the middle of a conflict will surely back their family and tribesmen over a foreign force from a distant land.

    The second article looked at a policy to repopulate regions of South Waziristan that have been cleared of insurgents.  So far the program, which pays refugees $300 to move back to Waziristan, has garnered only mixed results.  A major problem continues to be a lack of governance and an inability to consolidate military gains.  As a White House report noted:

    “Congress noted that an absence of government authority has resulted “in short lived military gains that allow militants to regroup in these areas”

    As a result, the resettlement program has been “repeatedly postponed” with many prospective families voicing concern over a “Taliban resurgence”.  Many of the same lessons the Pakistanis are learning in Waziristan are also true in Afghanistan.  The military success in Kandahar is terrific, but without a return to governance, these gains will almost certainly be temporary.

    Budget Issues

    Last post, discussed the importance of the wars in Afghanistan with respect to the long-range fiscal outlook of the United States.  Several Afghanistan Study Group Members, as well as other foreign policy experts, signed a letter address to Deficit Reduction Commission Co-Chairs Bowles and Simpson arguing along similar lines.  The letter emphasizes the source of the U.S.’s power is our massive and dynamic economy.  Unless the U.S. moves away from ill-advised military adventurism, the necessary military cuts will not be made and American power will erode.

    “ The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the limits of military power. Avoiding these types of operations globally would allow us to roll back the recent increase in the size of our Army and Marine Corps.”

    Afghan Confidence Game

    This blog and the members of the Afghanistan Study Group advocate a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan in the way that saves face and protects U.S. interests, while bringing stability to Afghanistan and the region.  There are many challenges to a policy of negotiation:  How much power should Karzai cede to Islamic militants? What roles should Pakistan and Iran play?  One unanticipated obstacle, however, was figuring out whom to talk to.  After all in a policy of reconciliation, talks must take place with high-level political leaders in the Quetta Shura and Haqqani Networks.  Surely you would think that the U.S. has the intelligence capabilities to identify the leaders of the Taliban.  Well, think again.  Last Tuesday’s Washington Post has a story that can only be described as a monumental intelligence screw-up.  Apparently some “lowly shopkeeper” claiming to be Akthar Mohammad Mansour, the second ranking Taliban leader in Quetta Shura, was flown to Kabul and possibly managed to con NATO out of “large sums of money”.  For months the Taliban has denied reports floating around the western press that they were engaged in negotiations.  Now the Taliban’s denials seem more credible.

    This story obviously paints a very troubling picture of the U.S.’s intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan.  As Jeremy Scahil points out, how can anyone trust the Pentagon’s assurances that civilians aren’t being killed in the secret drone attacks and night raids after reading this?

    The Taliban impostor incident also calls into question scores of deadly night raids that have resulted in the deaths of innocent Afghans. Several survivors of night raids recently told The Nation that they believed they were victims of bad intelligence provided by other Afghans for money or to settle personal grudges.

    When it comes to night raids and drone attacks the stakes are much higher.  As Afghanistan Study Group Director Matt Hoh illustrates, the death of one civilian can lead to ten more insurgents.

    “We might get that one guy we’re looking for or we might kill a bunch of innocent people and now make ten more Taliban out of them.”

    Since we can’t seem to differentiate between the Taliban and the locals, this observation should cast doubt on the current war strategy, which presumably relies on solid intelligence.   Guess we can thank the intelligence community for giving us yet another reason to rethink Afghanistan.

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,