The Dogs of Afghanistan: Obama vs Osama

It's ironic that at the time when the framing 'war on terror' has receded from US public discourse the most telling blows are finally being struck.  The conflict with al-Qaeda was always a war of ideas punctuated by horrible and unexpected violence for no other purpose than to provide tangible evidence of 'legitimacy' for the enemies of the 'Great Satan' who presumed to lead oppressed and potentially militant Muslims across the world.  Our strategy of fighting this 'war' by suspending civil liberties, promoting fear at home and apprehension overseas while unilaterally projecting US military power in the Middle East and South Asia always seemed as likely to play into the hands of the self-appointed enemies of the US as not.  

It almost seemed calculated that Bin Laden struck the US when our leadership was predictably willing to frame the conflict in the convenient medieval narrative of 'crusade.'  But things are different now, we finally understand the field on which this battle will be won:


"Barack Obama is not just trying to reach out to Muslims for the sake of it," says Mr. Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and an authority on modern jihad. "He's trying to hammer a deadly nail in Osama bin Laden's message." What President Obama understood more than his predecessors, Mr. Gerges says, is that it is not a war that can be won militarily, but only ideologically.

Jarret Brachman, a former West Point terrorism expert and author of a recent book, "Global Jihadism," said the speech "was the most important strategic step we've taken in this war."

"That's why Al Qaeda is so nervous," he said.

Rod Nordland - Forceful Words and Fateful Realities NYT 06 Jun 09

Woven within Obama's address to the Muslim world from Cairo was a carefully crafted refutation of the al-Qaeda argument, point by point, presented in the form of classical Islamic scholarly discourse, complete with quotations from the Qur'an:


Senior administration officials say the speech was carefully crafted to rob the Al Qaeda leader and his terrorist network of some of its chief recruiting totems, including fears the United States plans a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House officials say that the tide may be turning on the world's most wanted man. "For the first time, they're beginning to lose the propaganda war," said a top aide traveling with Obama during his six-day mission to Europe and the Middle East.

The week of high drama featured a showdown of sorts between the two leaders -- Obama vs. Osama -- with Obama's soaring speech and a bin Laden audiotape providing a powerful point-counterpoint as each sought to make his case to the Muslim world.

Mike Allen - Barack Obama takes aim at Osama bin Laden Politico 6 Jun 09

In January Bin Laden threatened to open 'new fronts' against the US and it's allies.  On the eve of Obama's speech his scratchy audio-taped prebuttal was more tactical, and clearly concerned with his own backyard:


In a tape broadcast by Al Jazeera shortly after Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, bin Laden said the president had inflamed hatred toward the US by ordering Pakistan to crack down on fighters in the Swat Valley.

He said: "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America.

"He has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars."

Bin Laden attacks Obama policies Al Jazeera 3 Jun 09

It is indicative that this message was focused on the Pakistani offensive in Swat, the frontline evidence of the turning tide of Muslim sympathies and aspirations.  The Taliban, having alienated public opinion in Pakistan, have increased popular support for the newly-minted civilian government's leadership and a determined military effort against this militant Islamist threat, including seeking and confronting the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, in their homelands.  Ideological rhetoric is always most effective when the winds of change are blowing in your favour, and they are blowing fair for us right now.

And Bin Laden's operational mastermind, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, issued a similarly pugnacious polemic:


Mr. Obama's speech referenced the future, quoted from the three major monotheistic religions, and talked about a new beginning, all delivered with his customary calm. The two voices of Al Qaeda were strident, almost violently so, in their discourse.

"Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them," Mr. Zawahiri taunted Mr. Obama, according to a transcript of his audio message distributed by SITE, which monitors and translates jihadi Web sites. "America has put on a new face but its heart is full of hate."

The contrast with Mr. Obama's central message is luminous.

Rod Nordland - Forceful Words and Fateful Realities NYT 06 Jun 09

If that sounds reminiscent of the fatalistic and meaningless rhetoric issuing from Berlin in the twilight of the Third Reich, let the historic parallel sink in.  For once in the eight-year long conflict we've prosecuted against al-Qaeda and their violent narratives, things seem to be breaking strongly our way.  There is every indication, for example, that after a brief period to allow for the secure return of IDP's to Swat the Pakistani government will direct a major military operation in the al-Qaeda homelands of North and South Waziristan:


TANK: The government is mulling over a plan to establish camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the wake of looming military operation against militants in troubled spots of the North and South Waziristan agencies, while the media reports about possible army offensive have scared the local residents.

Sources told `The News' Thursday the unusual movement of army and paramilitary troops in the militancy-infested areas of the both agencies strengthened the tribesmen's view about the possible military assault on militants.

Looming operation in Waziristan The News (Pakistan) 16 May 09

This would be a significant move.  The Pakistan Army has attempted operations in Waziristan before but lack of public support and low troop morale with indifferent leadership led to a half-hearted effort and an embarrassing defeat.  Now it is different, the military are backed by the government and the government has support within it's coalition and increasingly among the people:


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: A year ago, the Pakistani public was deeply divided over what to do about its spreading insurgency. Some saw the Taliban militants as fellow Muslims and native sons who simply wanted Islamic law, and many opposed direct military action against them.

But history moves quickly in Pakistan, and after months of televised Taliban cruelties, broken promises and suicide attacks, there is a spreading sense -- apparent in the news media, among politicians and the public -- that many Pakistanis are finally turning against the Taliban.

The shift is still tentative and difficult to quantify. But it seems especially profound among the millions of Pakistanis directly threatened by the Taliban advance from the tribal areas into more settled parts of Pakistan, like the Swat Valley. Their anger at the Taliban now outweighs even their frustration with the military campaign that has crushed their houses and killed their relatives.

"It's the Taliban that's responsible for our misery," said Fakir Muhammed, a refugee from Swat, who, like many who had experienced Taliban rule firsthand, welcomed the military campaign to push the insurgents out.

The growing support for the fight against the Taliban could be an important turning point for Pakistan, whose divisions about its Islamic militancy seemed at times to imperil the state itself.

Sabrina Tavernise - Taliban Stir Rising Anger of Pakistanis NYT 4 Jun 2009

A push into Waziristan could have important effects elsewhere. The problems with our counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan are legion and there are clearly enormous political challenges to be met, but strategically there has always been the tyranny of geography and the inability to come to grips with the Taliban insurgency across international borders:


PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- President Obama is pouring more than 20,000 new troops into Afghanistan this year for a fighting season that the United States military has called a make-or-break test of the allied campaign in Afghanistan.

But if Taliban strategists have their way, those forces will face a stiff challenge, not least because of one distinct Taliban advantage: the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban, who are counting on the fact that American forces cannot reach them in their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

One Pakistani logistics tactician for the Taliban, a 28-year-old from the country's tribal areas, in interviews with The New York Times, described a Taliban strategy that relied on free movement over the border and in and around Pakistan, ready recruitment of Pakistani men and sustained cooperation of sympathetic Afghan villagers.

His account provided a keyhole view of the opponent the Americans and their NATO allies are up against, as well as the workings and ambitions of the Taliban as they prepared to meet the influx of American troops.

It also illustrated how the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of many brands of jihadist fighters backed by Al Qaeda, are spearheading wars on both sides of the border in what for them is a seamless conflict.

JaneE Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah - Porous Pakistani Border Could Hinder U.S. NYT 4 May 09

But that was a month ago, before the Taliban were winkled out of Swat or faced another large military operation by Pakistan against their bases in Waziristan.  With the possibility of denial of the border regions of Pakistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as the planned reinforcement of the US military presence in Afghanistan, new opportunities emerge.  And the August elections are shaping up as a time of increased activity on both sides:


The American-led military coalition is determined to ensure the election proceeds as safely and democratically as possible, while the Taliban are equally committed to sabotaging it.

Afghan and NATO forces have doubled the number of military operations in the past 10 days compared with this time last year, part of a new campaign to win over Taliban-controlled areas in the south before the elections.

About 3,500 American troops have recently been deployed to rural parts of Kandahar Province, and 10,000 Marines are expected to assume posts in rural Helmand Province over the next six weeks. The Afghan National Army will contribute an additional 5,000 troops in the south.

"We're now going to establish a permanent presence where we haven't had a presence in the past," said Col. Greg Julian, the spokesman for American forces here. "It does no good to clear an area. Insurgents come right back. And the last seven years has been an economy of force mission, and we haven't had the strength to hold these areas."

Adam B Ellick - U.S. and Taliban to Redouble Afghan Efforts NYT 1 Jun 09

If the Pakistani government continues to enjoy popular support for the eradication of the Taliban militancy from the NWFP and FATA the timing could coincide perfectly with the deployment of additional US forces in the south of Afghanistan, raising the possibility of a strategic 'hammer and anvil' effect on the previously secure Taliban and al-Qaeda safe areas on both sides of the border.  Bin Laden's and Zawahiri's recent comments tend to confirm that they are thinking defensively which in the long-term should help prevent other mischief elsewhere.  

On the other hand, as has been clearly demonstrated in Pakistan in recent weeks, the likelihood of suicide bombings and other civilian attacks increases as these insurgencies are denied political and territorial gains and we may be about to enter a period where the risk of terrorism, even in the West, is temporarily heightened in response.

Whatever the outcome it is clear that we are now directing this conflict at the heartland of our self-appointed enemies, ideologically, diplomatically and militarily.  Better late than never and an indication that our current leadership is prosecuting this conflict with a clearly defined mission and the balanced application of reason and force.  To those who have wondered aloud why we should continue to aid Pakistan or escalate our commitment to Afghanistan it could be argued that at this moment in time we just might be poised to 'win' some decisive turning points in these elusive conflicts.

Tags: Afghanistan, al qaeda, Barack Obama, Osama Bin Laden, pakistan, Taliban, US Foreign Policy, war on terror (all tags)

Comments

21 Comments

How much longer are we going to FUND the Taliban?

Your last paragraph: "Whatever the outcome it is clear that we are now directing this conflict at the heartland of our self-appointed enemies, ideologically, diplomatically and militarily.  Better late than never and an indication that our current leadership is prosecuting this conflict with a clearly defined mission and the balanced application of reason and force.  To those who have wondered aloud why we should continue to aid Pakistan or escalate our commitment to Afghanistan it could be argued that at this moment in time we just might be poised to 'win' some decisive turning points in these elusive conflicts."

The turning point is right around the corner, so let's keep crucifying our troops, right?  Pshaw, dude.

I'm sure the Administration appreciates your rationalization for all the body bags and horrid disabilities which will be coming home this summer, which are the only guarantee in this quagmire.

But one mind-blowing tidbit you overlooked: the United States government is FUNDING the Taliban.

-----"American officials have complained for more than a year about the ISI's support to groups like the Taliban. But the new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known -- even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI's playing a "double game" had ended."  The rest of the story is here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/world/ asia/26tribal.html?_r=1

We send money to Pakistan, whose ISI funds the Taliban.  Who thinks the ISI is going to turn their backs on the Taliban, which was largely the ISI's creation?

by ElwoodBlz 2009-06-07 08:15AM | 0 recs
No Black and White Hats in this Mess

That the ISI has been the prime patron of the Taliban is no revelation, though that relationship seems to have soured:


The SITE cited the group as saying the attack `targeted the `nest of evil' in Lahore, and was a `humble gift' to the mujahideen who suffer beneath the attacks of Pakistani forces in Swat.'

TTP claims Lahore bombing, threatens more attacks Dawn Media 28 May 09

The 'nest of evil' was, of course, the ISI headquarters in Lahore.  I think it's pretty safe to say that both parties to the previous arrangement feel betrayed.  And you may recall that Unocal, a US pipeline consortium, was funding the Taliban in Afghanistan and seeking to influence US policy in favour of their leadership in the interest of a gas pipeline deal prior to 2001.  We have a history of affiliation with the Taliban ourselves back to their origins.

But that raises a larger point, who exactly are the 'Taliban' we are fighting, and how does one make the distinction between generic, sometimes very localised, insurgencies and al Qaeda, clearly the target of US operations?  Taliban merely means 'student' and the US, as recently as May, was seriously considering negotiating with their representatives:


The talks, if not the withdrawal proposals, are being supported by the Afghan government. The Obama administration, which has publicly declared its desire to coax "moderate" Taliban fighters away from armed struggle, says it is not involved in the discussions and will not be until the Taliban agree to lay down their arms. But nor is it trying to stop the talks, and Afghan officials believe they have tacit support from the Americans.

Dexter Filkins - U.S. Pullout a Condition in Afghan Peace Talks NYT 22 May 09

The case of Siraj Haqqani, for example, illustrates some of the challenges we face in Afghanistan. He spoke to the Western media last year claiming responsibility for deadly attacks on US troops in Khost and the bold assassination attempt on Karzai in Kabul:


Siraj Haqqani recently gave an unprecedented interview to an American media network from his hideout in eastern Khost province and boasted about carrying out both attacks.  "Yes, I organized those attacks," Haqqani told NBC, "but I had help from a serving Afghan military general. There are some people with government portfolios who are supporting us because they are worried about their own security. They inform us of the movements of U.S. and NATO troops. There have even been some instances where they have assisted us in carrying out attacks," he added.

Although Afghan officials have dismissed Siraj's comments as "propaganda of the enemy," eight Afghan officials were sacked in May for their alleged participation or negligence pertaining to the failed assassination attempt. Among those relieved of their command and questioned were Muhammad Salem Ehsas, Kabul's police chief; Abdul Khaliq, the chief of the defense ministry's intelligence and detection wing; Abdul Manan Farahi, the chief for counterterrorism in the interior ministry; and Nazar Shah, the head of the intelligence department for Kabul.

Matt Dupee - The Haqqani Network: Reign of terror Long War Journal 2 Aug 08

That's quite an impressive collection of the Afghani security leadership which was removed in the wake of the attack.  It should serve to illustrate the comingling of affiliation and loyalties among the sovereign government we are trying to protect and their 'enemies' among the Taliban.  The slippery sociopath Hekmatyar is another example, there is no group with an interest in this conflict with whom he has not been allied at one time or another or that probably doesn't have a price on his head for past deeds or betrayals.

I'm not suggesting that a negotiated settlement with these lunatics is the answer but it may prove to be part of a carefully calibrated solution involving increased economic reconstruction, continued military presence, reform of the Afghani leadership and the gradual demilitarisation of these factions.  They are basically just the same petty warlords who have governed by force in Afghanistan for generations.

But back to your point, and it's basically sound, that there is no way out of this 'quagmire.'  History would suggest that the likely outcome in Afghanistan in the absence of military occupation by a foreign power, which is clearly counterproductive, is a descent into feudal warlordism.  Our stated objective there is to remove the leadership of al Qaeda and render them incapable of mounting another significant attack on the US.  As I attempted to demonstrate in the diary that is largely an ideological objective coupled, I might add, with international criminal investigation of terrorist networks.  The al Qaeda heirarchy has eluded us, however, and remains out of reach.  I think it is perfectly reasonable for the US to bring that aspect of our operations to a successful conclusion.  Once that has been achieved the incident can be closed and we can move on to the issue of how Afghanistan is governed, hopefully with the involvement of the international community.  I agree our 'exit' strategy there remains unclear but wonder how much responsibility for that lies directly with the Obama administration?  I'm guessing the US will be pretty tolerant of the Taliban in the context of a political solution not unlike the 'house-breaking' of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Russian veterans of the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan have recommended investing a considerably higher order of magnitude of our resources in infrastructure and economic development than attempts to secure or pacify territory.  I am hoping that is the approach we take, it strikes me that unemployment among young males is the crux of the security problem there.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 02:24PM | 0 recs
Re: No Black and White Hats in this Mess

Yep, no black and white hats, but plenty of red blood http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/02 /21/magazine/0224-AFGHAN_11.html
and body bags http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/02 /21/magazine/0224-AFGHAN_12.html

I remember what JFK said in the inaugural address, 'cause I watched it on the ol' black and white TV.  He distinctly said "pay any price, bear any burden". Just wondering, since you're all for our troops getting bloodied in this, what's your own stake in it?  In what material, practical, tangible ways are you, yourself, paying the cost and bearing the burden for the consequences of the war you endorse, eh?

by ElwoodBlz 2009-06-07 05:41PM | 0 recs
Re: No Black and White Hats in this Mess

None whatsoever, beyond the moral burden of expressing a clearly controversial opinion and accepting the consequences.  I'll spare you the arguments of future calumnities we might face if we simply struck camp and left, which in the long run is obviously where we are headed, it's just a matter of sooner or later, really, and the outcomes we bear responsibility for in our wake.

Ironically I didn't think our invasion of Afghanistan, at least in respect of the overthrow of the Taliban and installation of the Karzai government, was justified in the first instance.  But I can see the necessity of Obama's policy there now and I believe that we have only two alternatives, bail out or attempt to complete the mission properly with adequate resources and a coherent strategy.  I certainly believe that leaving al Qaeda in possession of the field sets a terribly bad precedent among allies and adversaries and threatens American lives, both civilian and military, in the near future.

But you seem to have a pretty strong opinion on the subject, and a healthy, humanitarian sense of the cost of continuing the conflict.  What do you think US policy in Afghanistan should be at this juncture?

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 06:10PM | 0 recs
Re: No Black and White Hats in this Mess

Ok, you're all for the fight, and are not bearing any of the consequences.  Back where I grew up, someone who went around advocating for a fight, and then didn't somehow show up for it, might get punched in the nose by those who did.

Well, there's a whole boot camp rehab program for chicken warhawks, or you can call 'em citizen- slackers.  Enroll, and your head will go all woozy from the newfound credibility you'll earn.  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/23/ 720493/-Uncle-Sam-Needs-You!-for-the-Afg han-fight!

I'm not into nation building.  Looks to me like we're not going to change a damned thing in a feudal warlord culture, except spread more weapons around.

We had a big civil war, ourselves, right here, awhile back, in the context of our own culture, and whose business was it?  Who are we to say that other people in a different culture are not allowed to have a civil war in their own context, eh?

NGOs will have to do the best they can. US Aid too.  I have nothing against the Afghans.  Just don't see any tangible way our deployment there is protecting us.

Petraeus says AQ basically isn't even in Afghan any longer. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/05/10/P etraeus-Afghanistan-not-Al-Qaida-base/UP I-24461241981450/

And as for your claim that AQ is such a threat to us in that part of the world, you can try convincing John Mueller of it.  http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/6 4932/john-mueller/how-dangerous-are-the- taliban

Besides, AQ is already moving out of AfPak and going to Africa, and to the Sahara.  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090606/ap_o n_re_af/af_algeria_al_qaida_franchise

Basically, any argument you make for expending our troops lives and health in Afghan, not to mention a pile of money we could use right here for health care, infrasturcture repair, technology to get us off foreign oil, and on and on, will come down to, "Well, IF such and such happens, then Oh my gawd Oh my gawd THIS could happen!" Just a bunch of IF and COULD. The CERTAINTY is this  http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/02 /21/magazine/0224-AFGHAN_9.html and you are AWOL on doing anything tangible to pay the price and bear your share of the burden, ya dig?
 

by ElwoodBlz 2009-06-07 07:22PM | 0 recs
Re: No Black and White Hats in this Mess

I think the strongest case there, outside of the generic pacifist argument, is Meuller's, which I read back in April.  His point is that the Taliban and al Qaeda are distinct entities and that there are fault lines and a history of conflicting objectives between them, and I agree with that.  I think it's very important that we don't frame the Taliban as a long-term enemy in the region, as I implied above in questioning who they actually are and suggesting we would likely end up in some kind of a negotiated settlement with them before our withdrawal.  That doesn't mean that at the moment we are not engaged in a violent conflict with them or that they don't pose a serious threat to future governments in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Let them win the elections if they want to govern.

As for Petraeus' argument it bears closer reading:


Rather, al Qaida is "a syndicate of extremist organizations" with sanctuaries in the country, Petraeus said Sunday in an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" program.

"They do come in and out of Afghanistan. But al Qaida -- precise al Qaida, if you will -- is not based per se in Afghanistan. Although its elements and certainly its affiliates ... certainly do have enclaves and sanctuaries in certain parts of Eastern Afghanistan," he added.

Petraeus, who heads U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, said the Afghani element of al Qaida has a presence in some parts of Pakistan.

"The federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan -- that very, very mountainous, rugged terrain -- just east of the Afghan border and in the western part of Pakistan is the locus of the leadership of these organizations although they do, again, go into Afghanistan and conduct operations against our troops," he said.

Petraeus: Afghanistan not Al Qaida base UPI 10 May 09

That rather substantiates the point I was attempting to make in the diary about the necessity of having US forces in Afghanistan to contain al Qaeda if and when Pakistan mounts a military operation in the Waziristans, otherwise the opportunity is lost.

I take it from your response that you are proposing an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and let the chips fall where they may?  I'm not suggesting that is an entirely irresponsible notion, given the past history there but it seems a hard policy to justify in respect of our alliances, recent activities and intentions in the region at this time, not to mention the broader Middle East.  It may, in fact, come to that.  I am suggesting we make a concerted effort and if that had clear objectives and a finite timeline we failed to meet I would agree with your approach.

As for the 'punch in the nose' and enlisting myself or my kids in the struggle that's a fair point too, I suppose.  I can certainly understand serving personnel feeling bitter about our military operations and the human cost where there seems to be no moral or humane purpose to our activities.  The same applies to the civilian casualties we have caused as well, if not more so.  Your points about the moral implications of advocating armed conflict as a citizen of the United States are worth overstating.

But my understanding of civics suggests that I have a citizen's right to vote and an obligation to be as well-informed when I exercise that right as can be reasonably expected.  As I interpret the Constitution it is not the intention of our system of government that only serving members of the armed forces are entitled to an opinion on foreign and military policy, irrespective of the moral obligation of all citizens to collectively bear the outcomes.  In fact it seems dangerous to me that only the armed forces would be entitled in that respect so I wonder what is served by the argument that only those with 'skin in the game' have those rights.  Past history in other countries would seem to serve as a warning against overemphasising that entitlement.

Having said that I certainly respect the merits of your opinion, your advocacy for the well-being of those who serve, your disdain of those who would trivially put them in harm's way and the moral authority of those who speak on behalf of the wounded or killed in action.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 08:23PM | 0 recs
Re: No Black and White Hats in this Mess

Feel free to step up to the plate, anytime you want some credibility.  There's plenty you can do, right from the safety and comfort of your armchair.

You can:

-organize for Adopt-a-Platoon

-make frequent and generous contributions to the USO and Paralyzed Veterans of America, or any other troop and veteran support organizations of your preference.

-Give generously to the TAPS program, which among other things, runs Grief Camps for the children of dead service members.  NPR did a good story on it http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story .php?storyId=13863193  and here's where you can donate http://www.taps.org/

-visit hospitalized veterans (requires getting out of the armchair comfort zone, though).

-write your Congress critters and the White House for a war tax and war bonds, instead of saying, "Just charge it!" on the Bank of China Mastercharge Card.

Oh, and this: "As I interpret the Constitution it is not the intention of our system of government that only serving members of the armed forces are entitled to an opinion on foreign and military policy, irrespective of the moral obligation of all citizens to collectively bear the outcomes.  In fact it seems dangerous to me that only the armed forces would be entitled in that respect so I wonder what is served by the argument that only those with 'skin in the game' have those rights."

There are few duties as a citizen.  There's jury duty, and there's military service.  Absence of either, on your part, does not preclude you from an opinion, last time I looked at the Constitution.  It's your own personal credibility which suffers when you're all for war, and don't bear any of the burden.  But you can do something, man.  Otherwise your arguments for war are just as empty and hollow as a big ol' 55 gallon drum.

And, I care more about our troops' well-being than to urge an "immediate withdrawal" from Iraq and Afghan.  I do want a safe, orderly, on-going re-deployment, in earnest, and without foot dragging.  Since the American people are not actually, materially, tangibly supporting and paying for the wars, but only putting "Support The Troops" magnets on their cars, it's the only reasonable thing to do.

by ElwoodBlz 2009-06-07 09:22PM | 0 recs
Re: No Black and White Hats in this Mess

A big ol' 55 gallon drum is 44 gallons here.  I've applied to Adopt-a-Platoon, thanks for the tip.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 11:35PM | 0 recs
Afghan Parliament Charges US with War Crimes

Afganistan's lower house of parliament, Wolesi Jirga, has accused the US-led occupying forces of committing war crimes after bomb attacks caused civilian deaths.

"Foreign troops poured into the country under the banner of security and stability, much to the contrary however, they committed unforgivable crimes," [Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi] said.

Khawaasi added that foreign troops based in Afghanistan have violated the Constitution as well as international agreements in more than 20 instances.

..."Afghanistan's parliament plans to pass an approval and send all related documents to the country's High Court as well as the international Hague tribunal," Khawaasi said.

Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi told reporters that 73 members of parliament are collecting documents regarding foreign troops' crimes and offences in Afghanistan.

by IndepEnergy 2009-06-07 10:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Afghan Parliament Charges US with War Crimes

They probably have a reasonable case.  Surely the 'poor cousin' approach we have taken in Afghanistan has led to misues of airpower and special operations, much to the consternation of our allies who have been complaining about this for some time.

It seems we are at the 'fish or cut bait' stage in Afghanistan, what we've done there for many years is clearly dysfunctional and counterproductive.  My reading is that we are giving it one last, good shot and taking it from there.  The Obama administration has has been very reticent about our long-term strategy in Afghanistan and I assume is keeping their options open and an eye on the exits.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 02:44PM | 0 recs
Pakistan is still engaging in double dealing..

at one end they are "now" fighting the Taliban and at the other side releasing LET's chief architect of Bombay massacre Hafiz Saeed.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 11:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Pakistan is still engaging in double dealing..

It seems that there is still quite a bit of skullduggery going on internally regarding Lashkar-i-Taiba, though the civilian administration opposes Saeed's release.  I'm guessing the ISI continues covert management and funding of terrorist groups in Kashmir:


`The government has decided to file an appeal against the release order of Hafiz Saeed,' Rana Sanaullah, law minister in Punjab province, told AFP after the high court in Lahore ordered the cleric's release.

`We have received the detailed verdict of the court. Our legal advisers are studying it and we told them to file an appeal against this verdict,' he said.

Govt to appeal against Hafiz Saeed's release Dawn Media (AFP) 3 Jun 09

As for the Taliban, long a client of the ISI, it is interesting to note that the suicide attack in Lahore was targeted at the ISI headquarters there.  Seems things have gone a bit sour in that relationship.  The deaths of TNSM's deputy chief, Maulana Mohammad Alam, and spokesman Amir Izzat in army custody is also raising a few eyebrows.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 01:17PM | 0 recs
The problem is I don't know how we are

fighting this war. In Nov 2001 when Taliban was cornered in Kunduz, we mysteriously allowed Pakistani AirForce to airlift Taliban leaders (like Maulana Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammed) and Pakistani military and intelligence officers who were with Taliban fighting us and Northern Alliance. The same folks are now tormenting us in NW Pakistan. I seriously don't think Pakistan knows which side they are on.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3340165
http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists tvaradarajan?id=95001523
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/24/intern ational/asia/24AFGH.html

NYTimes last month was reporting that 1 in 7 released from Guantanamo had returned back to active terrorism. Some like Ghulam Rasoul and al-Shihri are reaching higher echelons in Taliban and Al-Qaida hierarchy. Are we doing the due diligence before releasing the prisoners?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/pol itics/21gitmo.html

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 04:14PM | 0 recs
Re: The problem is I don't know how we are

Well the Times article was deeply flawed and actually seems to document the radicalising effect of Guantánamo on previously innocent detainees:


The article seemed to adopt the Pentagon's contention that freed prisoners had "returned" to terrorism, ignoring independent reporting by The Times and others that some of them may not have been involved in terrorism before but were radicalized at Guantánamo. It failed to distinguish between former prisoners suspected of new acts of terrorism -- more than half the cases -- and those supposedly confirmed to have rejoined jihad against the West. Had only confirmed cases been considered, one in seven would have changed to one in 20.

Clark Hoyt - What Happened to Skepticism? NYT 6 Jun 09

As for the past history of Pakistani support for the Taliban there can be no question that it is true but as your aware I have been attempting to document the recent shift in public opinion and official policy there as it seems to be the most critical event in recent years changing the geopolitical and diplomatic context for the Afghanistan operations and our counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda.  I agree it remains to be seen whether Pakistan wavers in this decisive change of policy but it looks very promising:


It is Obama's approach to Afghanistan which has enhanced Pakistan's importance -- whether Pakistan's inept leadership understands this or not. Crucial to any American success in Afghanistan -- anything that enables the US to make a half-dignified exit from there -- is Pakistan's role or, specifically, the role of its army.

On its own, the US is in no position to commit the kind of resources and troops that could bend Afghanistan to its will. For that it needs the active engagement of Pakistan's 600,000 strong army. Which should explain the Obama administration's desperation to get the Pakistan army involved in seriously fighting the Taliban.

For reasons we need not go into here, the army was reluctant to take on the Taliban. And this is how things would have remained had it not been for the Swat Taliban's ineffable stupidity. Their aggressiveness, when a quieter posture would have suited their interests better, left the army with no choice but to shake off its lassitude and commence serious hostilities.

American pressure also played a part. But by itself this pressure, without the unerring folly of the Swat Taliban, would not have created the tipping point which led to the Swat operation.

The leadership of the Swat Taliban can now rue the consequences of their overreaching belligerence. A thousand drone attacks could not have done to them what an aroused Pakistan army is now doing. If the Pakistan army's will to fight which it had sadly lost, now stands restored, it is because of these bearded warriors. The Pakistani nation owes them a debt of gratitude. As does the CIA and the Pentagon.

But we will be kidding ourselves if we think that what we are in is a passing storm. The Swat Taliban are on the run but they haven't been eliminated. They have taken to the mountains and will remain a threat unless they keep being pursued. Which means that the army will have to remain in Malakand division for a long time.

FATA, especially the two Waziristans, remain no-go areas. Sooner or later the army will have to take them back. Everything is negotiable except Pakistan's unity and integrity. There cannot be space in Pakistan for any independent emirate, which is what South Waziristan to all intents and purposes presently is.

So we are in this for the long haul. This is not going to be a summer's campaign. The Taliban are not about to vanish overnight and the US too is not about to disappear from Afghanistan in a hurry.

Ayaz Amir - Changing the way we have been The News (Pakistan) 5 Jun 09

Prior to 9/11 we ourselves were only one step removed from supporting the Taliban, for a variety of reasons, but much has changed since then and some of it only very recently.  What I am proposing is that we consider the dynamically changing environment as we readjust our strategy.  I consider the turnabout in Pakistan, whether by accident or design, and probably a bit of both, a stunning diplomatic victory for the Obama administration and advocate supporting them in leveraging this to our best possible advantage in the immediate future.  As I suggested in the diary the prospect of establishing the 'writ of law' of the Pakistani government in the Waziristans is an opportunity we have never been offered, of even considered seriously, in our past, indifferent policy in the region.  If the winds of change are blowing let's trim our sails to take fullest advantage of them.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 04:48PM | 0 recs
I know you're optimist about the situation...

I just happened to be a skeptic.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:00PM | 0 recs
Re: I know you're optimist about the situation...

No worries on that score, I think some healthy skepticism is highly recommended in this case.  On the other hand we do want to be able to grab opportunities when they arise, for example as a consequence of Obama's address in Cairo, part of an arguably different, and coherent, US strategy for the region:


Obama's message also contained an assurance that U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban won't stay longer than absolutely necessary. That too may have resonated with militants in that region, said Ahmed Rashid, a Lahore-based analyst and author of a book on the Taliban.

"The extremists used to lie that the U.S. wants military bases in this region," he said.

Essam Derbala, a leader of one of Egypt's largest militant groups, al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya Al-Qaida, told an Egyptian newspaper over the weekend that the Taliban should reciprocate by announcing they will no longer target Americans. That would ensure U.S. troops will eventually leave the region, he said.

Karin Laub - Evidence Suggests Obama's Speech Already Undercutting Extremists Huffington Post (AP) 7 Jun 09

Wow.  This from an organisation alleged to have allied with al Qaeda in 2006.  We are entering new territory here and we best shift some of our stereotypes as Obama encouraged us to do in his speech.  It strikes me as no accident that the reportedly narrow victory of the March 14 coalition over Hezbollah in Lebanon comes shortly after Obama's address.  I wouldn't be surprised to see an upset in the pending election in Iran either, frankly.

Maybe we should be giving more attention to elections in the Middle East for awhile and less to suicide attacks and airstrikes.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 05:14PM | 0 recs
Well..looks like first results are in

with Said Hariri and his pro-Western coalition had defeated Hezbollah and their allies in Lebanon elections...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/world/ middleeast/08lebanon.html

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Well..looks like first results are in

That should mollify public opinion in Israel a bit, curiously enough, and get a few more people on board with Obama's agenda.  They were shitting bricks over that election and I reckon Obama pulled a few chestnuts out of the fire if you credit his address with any influence in a very, very close-run result.

And a narrow loss doesn't discourage Hezbollah from continuing an engaged political strategy either.  Bouquets all 'round.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 05:59PM | 0 recs
Re: The Dogs of Afghanistan: Obama vs Osama

Have we begun to see the effect of the speech on the region.  Pro-Western forces have appeared to win the election in Lebanon.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/07 /lebanon-election-results-_n_212359.html

Iran votes on Friday I believe.

by Piuma 2009-06-07 05:28PM | 0 recs
sorry didn't read this before posting my

reply to Shaun...

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Dogs of Afghanistan: Obama vs Osama

Hard to quantify, isn't it?  But equally hard to assume Obama's address had no effect:


Official results for Sunday's election were not expected until later Monday, but the winners were already celebrating by shooting in the air, setting off fireworks and driving around in honking motorcades.

The election was an early test of President Barack Obama's efforts to forge Middle East peace. A win by Hezbollah would have boosted the influence of its backers Iran and Syria and risked pushing one of the region's most volatile nations into international isolation and possibly into more conflict with Israel.

Sam F Ghattas - Lebanon Election Results: Pro-Western Majority Declares Victory Huffington Post (AP) 7 Jun 09

If only US domestic opinion was as receptive to his message, there was a pointed reference to Western stereotypes of Islam which hasn't been widely referenced in the analysis of his remarks.  Having said that we are on a good wicket, for now.  I am wondering about the Iranian election myself.  My understanding is that the winning candidate must achieve more than a simple plurality which might force Ahmadinejad into a runoff election with Moussavi, an interesting outcome.  Ahmadinejad clearly stepped all over his privates in the debate with Moussavi recently and seems to be well on his way to alienating the ruling clerics.  That and Obama's speech can hardly be good news for his prospects.  We will be watching Ahmadinejad's career with great interest.  The official English language Iranian election coverage, such as it is, is here.  Anyone seen a poll on this recently?  Insider baseball seems pretty thin on the ground in Iran.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 05:53PM | 0 recs

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