Sep 28, 2009

Off To Afghanistan !

Sept 28, 2009, Dulles Airport.

It’s actually quite simple; if you want to write accurately about what’s happening in Afghanistan, you need to go there, spend some time, ask a lot of questions, and get out in the field with our Marines and soldiers as they’re working all three blocks of the 3-Block War. Will that make me an expert? No, but it’ll enable me to understand more of the shifting dynamics of a war where friends, enemies, and even our NATO have different perceptions and vastly different goals as to what “we” all want to accomplish.

And through the magic of the internet, I’ll be able to share it with you.

I’ll be spending the next five week in Afghanistan. I’ll be two week with the Army in the east, split between 10th MTN and the Nevada National Guard, and then I’ll roll south to Camp Leatherneck, and the Marines. It’s my forth trip, last summer I was in far-south Helmand Province with the Marines in Garmsir and I’ve spent four months in the east with various Marine Embedded Training Teams up-country. But it’s a far different war today from those under-resourced days of the last Administration; the Taliban has resurfaced this year with a vengeance, and only a few days ago General Stanley McChrystal said that without an additional 40,000 troops we were in danger of losing the war – and that he’d resign if he didn’t get them. If there is a ‘best’ time to embed in Afghanistan – this is surely it.

So as I sit here at Dulles with my Kevlar hanging off my shoulder bag, I’m getting some strange looks from those pompous lawyers and triple-chinned bureaucrats waddling past – Hey Fatso - Fuck You; I’m off to embed with our Marines and soldiers and you can kiss my ass; you have no clue as to what you’re missing in life, and you’re the lesser man for it.

Next Stop: Bagram AFB.

Afghans Also Divided on Western Troops

Afghans Divided Over Foreign Forces

By Matthew Green in Bamiyan and Fazel Reshad in Kabul
Financial Times
September 28, 2009

A bullet-shaped niche hewn from the mountainside is all that remains of the colossal stone Buddha that watched over the Bamiyan valley for 1,500 years before the Taliban demolished it with dynamite.

Fragments of the fallen giant and its smaller twin joined the debris left by armies past: from the carcasses of Soviet tanks to the hilltop ruins of the City of Screams, site of a 13th century massacre by Genghis Khan.

The Hazara community that lives along the valley has fared far better since US troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, seven months after the Taliban destroyed their statues, than they have under past invaders.

Even as the insurgency blazes in the south and smoulders in the north, their central Bamiyan province remains a rare Afghan haven, patrolled by New Zealanders who pride themselves on friendly relations with locals.

Traders in the bazaar in Bamiyan town, once a thriving stop on the Silk Route from Europe to Asia, have a simple solution to the dilemma faced by Barack Obama, the US president, over whether to deploy more troops.

“I would advise him to send more soldiers to kick out the Taliban,” said Azizullah, a shopkeeper who, like many Afghans, goes by one name. “We want freedom and we want progress.”

If such views represented a consensus, then it would be easier for Mr Obama to heed the recommendations of Stanley McChrystal, the top US general in Afghanistan, who says more troops and a new strategy are needed to stop the west losing the war.

But in the southern and eastern provinces, where the insurgency is fiercest, people are far more likely to see foreign soldiers as oppressors. “For 1,000 years we have never had such a Ramadan, where blood was flowing everywhere because of explosions,” said Haji Dawood Khan, a shopkeeper from Helmand province, referring to the Muslim holy month that ended earlier this month. “I don?t want any foreigners building roads or big buildings for me when I am cleaning blood from my home.”

Recognising the resentment that foreign forces have caused, Gen McChrystal argues that protecting civilians must be the focus for a new approach based on persuading Afghans to side with the western-backed government instead of the Taliban.

Evidence of systematic rigging in last month?s presidential elections has, however, deepened doubts over whether President Hamid Karzai is capable of transforming an administration often seen as absent, predatory or corrupt into an entity worthy of loyalty.

The bitter legacy left by NATO forces who have found themselves enmeshed in local feuds has widened mistrust. “The more foreign troops there are, the more people will hate them,” said Mohammad Karigar, a businessman from Kandahar province, another flashpoint of the insurgency.

Haji Kamrdin, a tribal leader from Khost province in the east, was equally dismissive of the big development programmes needed to underpin classic counterinsurgency doctrine. “It is impossible for Britain and its allies to build an Afghan state,” he said. “Such a thing can come only from an Afghan national movement, not as a gift from foreigners.”

There are dissenting voices, even in the south, who see sense in Gen McChrystal?s strategy. Haji Ghafoor, a tribal elder from Wardak province, said: “You need the flexibility that more troops give you to maintain momentum.”

However, the only unambiguous point of agreement between Afghans and the general is on the need to accelerate training of the army and police to allow foreign forces to leave. “They must take the money that they would spend on sending more troops and use the money for the Afghan police and army,” said Shah Mahmood, a clerk from Kandahar.

In a country that has experienced centuries of invasion, the narrative surrounding foreign forces tends to blur into a story of oppression, regardless of whether the outsiders are Russians, Pakistani intelligence agents supporting the Taliban in the 1990s, or Nato troops.

Of 17 Afghans interviewed in recent days, three said they believed Washington was bankrolling the insurgency to justify a long-term presence in Afghanistan. “If the US wants to remove the Taliban, they could do it easily,” said Mohammed Akram, an elder who lives at the foot of the mountains where the Buddhas once stood. “The US is supporting both sides.”

Additional reporting by Ahmad Wali Sarhadi.

Sep 27, 2009

Finally - Gates Supports More Troops

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Afghanistan conflict has proven more difficult than anticipated, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in echoing President Barack Obama’s deliberative approach on whether to send more troops.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Gates said the focus on Iraq by the previous administration of President George W. Bush meant the operation in Afghanistan has been limited.

“The reality is, we were fighting a holding action,” Gates said of situation under Bush, whom he also served as defense secretary.

“We were very deeply engaged in Iraq,” Gates said, later adding: “We were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that … we have now.”

Setting an exit strategy for Afghanistan would be a mistake, but the United States also will closely monitor developments to ensure its strategy is achieving desired results, Gates said.

Obama is under increasing pressure from congressional Republicans who favor sending more troops, as desired by commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal, while many of the president’s fellow Democrats are expressing resistance.

Gates said McChrystal “found a situation in Afghanistan that is more serious than … we had thought and that he had thought before going out there.”

Asked why the Obama administration has yet to decide on McChrystal’s assessment that more troops will be necessary to defeat insurgents and protect the local population, Gates said it would take more time to properly analyze the situation.

"I think we are in the middle of a review," Gates told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, adding : “Once we're confident we have the strategy right, then — then we'll address the question of additional resources.”

Gates also noted that any additional combat troops for Afghanistan "really probably could not begin to flow" until January 2010.

He disagreed with setting a clear exit strategy for Afghanistan.

"The notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake," Gates said. "The reality is — failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States.

“[The] Taliban and Al Qaeda, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower, [the Soviet Union],” he continued. “For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, Al Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States.”

Gates said the process should be defining a strategy “that we think can be successful, and then to pursue it and pursue it with confidence and resolution." At the same time, Gates suggested that the administration was not moving toward an open-ended, indefinite commitment to having a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

"I think that we are being very careful to look at this as we go along," Gates said. "We've put out metrics so that we can measure whether or not we're making progress. And if we're not making progress, then we're prepared to adjust our strategy, just as we're looking at whether adjustments are needed right now."

Insurgents know what they want

McChrystal Says Insurgents Are Winning Communications Battle

By Walter Pincus, Washington Post
September 27, 2009

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan must "wrest the information initiative" from the Taliban and other insurgent groups that have undermined the credibility of the Kabul government and its international backers, according to the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country.

"The information domain is a battlespace," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in an assessment made public on Monday, adding that the allies need to "take aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception."

((It's simple: the Taliban focuses on Islam vs. the West; we focus on logistics of meals served and kilowatt hours. We don't have a message as to why we're in A'stan - they do. AJL ))
As an initial step, McChrystal wants to change the goal of public relations efforts in Afghanistan from a "struggle for the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan population to one of giving them 'trust and confidence' " in themselves and their government. At the same time, he said, more effort should be made to "discredit and diminish insurgents and their extremist allies' capability to influence attitudes and behavior in Afghanistan."

One way to accomplish that, McChrystal wrote, is to target insurgent networks "to disrupt and degrade" their effectiveness. Another is to expose what he calls the insurgents' "flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran," including indiscriminate use of violence and terrorism, and! attacks on schools and development projects.

McChrystal's appro ach mirrors one that U.S. intelligence operatives are taking covertly, with some success, in the Middle East, where direct and indirect support is being given to Islamic leaders who speak out against terrorists. Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last year that the goal is to show "that it is al-Qaeda, not the West, that is truly at war with Islam."

Echoing that idea, McChrystal recognized in his report that Afghans traditionally communicate by word of mouth. He called for better exploitation of those "more orthodox methods" -- getting "authoritative figures" such as religious leaders and tribal elders to deliver the messages "so that they are credible."

One of the main changes from the current approach should be creating "opportunities for Afghans to communicate as opposed to attempting to always control the message," McChrystal wrote.

Another element he wants changed is the military's public responsiveness to incidents involving U.S. or allied forces that result in Afghan civilian deaths. Overreliance on firepower that kills civilians and destroys homes "severely damaged" the coalition's legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, he noted, saying the Taliban publicized such incidents.

New procedures must be developed for sharing information about such events, he wrote, so that when they happen, "we are first with the truth."

McChrystal's recommended expansion of the Afghan strategic communications program followed public calls for such a step by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and by Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to the region. Holbrooke has repeatedly complained that the Taliban has communicated more effectively than the United States, and he told a House subcommittee in June that there was a need to refine the coalition's message and use new ways to reach Afghans, suggesting cellphones, radio and other means.

Mullen, in a recent issue of Joint Force Quarterly, emphasized that the problem with commun icating with people rested on "policy and execution." He added, "To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate."

McChrystal wants new emphasis put on improving the Afghan government's capacity in the information field, including better partnerships with the spokesmen of the Defense and Interior ministries. A proposed contract for 275 contractors to work in the Defense Ministry says two are to be assigned to the public affairs office to develop an "effective" media relations program.

McChrystal also called in his assessment for the coalition to develop its own print, radio and television systems, and to take steps to "partner more effectively with the Afghan commercial sector."

In addition, McChrystal lists as a goal making public relations efforts beyond Afghanistan more effective. There has already been a step-up in press material sent to U.S. journalists. On Friday, seven releases were sent to The Washington Post, including one with four photos. The caption of one photo reads: "An Afghan commando team advances toward practice targets at a Kandahar training facility Sept. 24. Afghan National Army and police training is overseen by ISAF military mentors, with a goal that the Afghans will one day independently foster peace and stability in Afghanistan."

Congress, however, has expressed concern about the rapid growth of the military's involvement in an area once under the purview of the State Department. In July, the House Appropriations Committee, in approving the fiscal 2010 defense funding bill, said it had identified 10 strategic communications programs that boosted costs from $9 million in fiscal 2005 to a "staggering $988 million request for fiscal 2010." The committee said many of the costlier programs appear as "alarmingly non-military propaganda, public relations, and behavioral modification messaging."

In Iraq, the U.S. m! ilitary spent more than $500 million over six years developing a publi c relations campaign run mainly by American contractors. Starting with nearly $100 million for a U.S. contractor to run the newspaper, radio and television networks owned by one of Saddam Hussein's sons, the strategic communications program was expanded to include billboards, pamphlets, radio and TV spots, and programs to place articles in Iraqi newspapers and magazines.

In June, The Post's Ernesto Londono reported from Baghdad that the multimillion-dollar campaign ultimately did not help burnish the U.S. military's image, marginalize extremists, promote democracy or foster reconciliation.

By way of example, Londono quoted Ziyad al-Aajeely, director of Iraq's nonprofit Journalistic Freedom Observatory, as saying while he flipped through an issue of the U.S.-subsidized newspaper Baghdad Now: "The millions spent on this is wasted money. Nobody reads this."

Sep 26, 2009

Pentagon Refuses to Forward McC's Urgent Troop Request

McChrystal Troops Request Shelved Pending Review

Filed at 11:14 a.m. ET

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has submitted a request for more troops, a spokesman said Saturday, but the Pentagon will hold it while President Barack Obama decides what strategy to pursue.

General Stanley McChrystal hand delivered his long-awaited request to U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, said spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis.

"At the end of that meeting General McChrystal did provide a copy of the force requirements to Admiral Mullen on the U.S. side and Admiral Stavridis on the NATO side," Sholtis said after McChrystal returned from the meeting at an air base in Germany.

In a bleak assessment prepared last month and leaked to the media in recent days, McChrystal wrote that his mission would likely fail if he is not given reinforcements for his force, now more than 100,000 strong, including about 63,000 Americans.

The additional troops would be needed as part of a complete overhaul of tactics, with new emphasis on securing civilians in population centers to loosen the grip of a strengthening Taliban-led insurgency.

The White House says it wants to review the entire strategy for the region before considering McChrystal's request.

"Right now the focus is on the strategic assessment itself. It (the troop request) will be shelved until such time that the White House is ready," a defense official said in Washington.

"It is not going to be addressed, or reviewed, or analyzed until the White House is ready to begin discussing! it."

The official, who asked not to be identified while discussing the confidential review, said several White House meetings on strategy were scheduled for next week.

Officials have not said exactly how many extra troops McChrystal believes he needs, although defense and congressional officials have suggested the request could be for about 30,000.

The war has intensified in recent months. A U.N. report released Saturday said 1,500 civilians had died so far this year, with August the deadliest month of the year and August 20 -- election day -- seeing the largest number of attacks since 2001.

August and July have also been the deadliest months of the war for Western troops, who launched major advances.

Obama, who has already ordered 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year, has described himself as a "skeptical audience" of the case for sending more, and says he wants to be sure the strategy is correct first. Republican critics have reacted sharply to the delay, accusing him of dithering.

A Gallup poll published Friday showed a fall in support for the war, with 50 percent of Americans opposed to sending more troops, while 41 percent supported it. Obama said he understood the public's concerns.

"This is not easy and I would expect that the public would ask some very tough questions," he told a news conference at a summit of world leaders in Pittsburgh Friday. "That's exactly what I'm doing, is asking some tough questions."

Increasing evidence of fraud in last month's Afghan presidential election has made the case for sending more troops to protect the Afghan government more difficult to defend.

"What's most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government," Obama said of the disputed election. "If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult."

In a quarterly U.N. report released Saturday, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: "Serious electoral fraud occurred, made possible primarily -- but not exclusively -- by the lack of access to parts of the country owing to the ongoing conflict."

"When the entire electoral process is completed, it will be of critical importance for the result to be accepted by all so that the election of Afghanistan's future preside nt can be certified and a new government can be formed," he added.

Preliminary results showed President Hamid Karzai winning in a single round with 54.6 percent of the vote, but if enough of his ballots are nullified because of fraud that he ends up with less than 50 percent, a second round must be held.

A U.N.-backed watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), has ordered a recount of some 3,000 polling stations, about 12 percent of the total, where it suspects fraud.

Afghanistan's election authorities and the ECC agreed this week to conduct the recount by studying ballots from a random sample of 10 percent of those suspicious polling stations, to speed up the process.

They hope to complete the recount and certify a result in the next two weeks so a second round, if needed, can be held before winter weather sets in.

Why is Gates Delaying Troop Request?

Afghan Troop Request Simmers

By Yochi J. Dreazen
Wall Street Journal
September 26, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, is expected to formally ask the Pentagon for up to 40,000 additional U.S. troops this weekend, military officials said, despite a plan to delay the request.

Gen. McChrystal has held off on the request for several weeks at the! direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Pentagon's civilian leadership, while the Obama administration conducts a broad reassessment of its strategy in Afghanistan.

Aides to Mr. Gates say the defense chief won't forward the request to the White House until that review has been completed -- and if its conclusion is to maintain the current war strategy.

On Friday, Gen. McChrystal flew to Germany to deliver a briefing on the request to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other senior military commanders.

Adm. Mullen, the nation's top military officer, requested the half-day meeting at an American base at Ramstein, "to gain a better understanding of the pending resource requirements," according to a military official familiar with the meeting. "He wanted to talk about it face to face with Gen. McChrystal, to really hear him out."

Another military! official said Gen. McChrystal used the session to detail the numbers of additional troops he wants and his overall plans for using them to beat back the resurgent Taliban.

Military officials familiar with the matter say Gen. McChrystal's written report lays out several options for additional forces, including one that would ask for more than 40,000 reinforcements. About 65,000 American troops are now in Afghanistan, the most since the war began in 2001.

It is far from clear that Gen. McChrystal will get the additional troops, which the commander says are vital to turning around the flagging U.S.-led war.

The Obama administration announced a new Afghanistan strategy in March that focused on protecting Afghan civilians from Taliban attack rather than hunting individual militants. It is now weighing whether to modify or jettison that approach in the wake of a lingering controversy over the country's flawed presidential elections and a wave of Taliban violence.

Gen. McChrystal also faces hurdles in Congress, where many Dem! ocrats have expressed resistance to a troop increase and have been pressing for an exit strategy.

Five U.S. troops were killed in volatile southern Afghanistan Thursday, part of a surge of American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troop fatalities that is sapping public support for the war in the U.S. and Europe.

Thursday's casualties pushed the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan to 218 this year, including 36 this month, a sharp increase over last year's record toll of 155. Britain, which maintains the second-largest troop contingent, has lost 80 soldiers this year.

In a sign of the growing doubts about the war on both sides of the Atlantic, a British military commander who had led its forces in Afghanistan resigned suddenly after reportedly accusing the government of failing to provide its troops with the proper protective equipment and vehicles.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Mackay, who led the British forces in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province in 200! 7 and 2008, submitted his resignation Thursday. An American officer wh o served with him in Afghanistan said Gen. Mackay had come to believe British troops there were being exposed to unnecessary risk.

Osama bin Laden, the fugitive head of al Qaeda, apparently sought to seize on the war's unpopularity in Europe by releasing a recording Friday demanding that European nations withdraw troops and threatening attacks against European targets. U.S. officials said they believed the recording to be authentic.

The five-minute monologue by the terrorist mastermind made specific mention of a recent airstrike ordered by German forces and was part of a video that featured German subtitles, a still photo of Mr. bin Laden and a map of Europe.

Re-Supply Problems in Afghanistan

Military Supply Line Threatened By Taliban

By Associated Press
September 26, 2009

POL-I-KUMRI, Afghanistan — Growing Taliban influence in northern Afghanistan is threatening a new military supply line painstakingly negotiated by the U.S., as rising violence takes hold on the one-time Silk Road route.

The north has deteriorated over just a few months, showing how quickly Taliban influence is spreading in a once peaceful area. Local officials say the Taliban are establishing a shadow government along the dilapidated road that ultimately could prevent vital supplies carried in hundreds of trucks every week from reaching the military. It also raises the danger that the supplies could end up in militant hands as fodder for suicide attacks.

People in Baghlan and Kunduz provinces complain that international forces, the government in Kabul and aid have passed them by in favor of more troublesome regions. Militants are taking advantage of that resentment, and control by either Afghan or international forces is slipping.

"For the past two to three years, it's deteriorated day by day," said Ahmad Jawid, 43, a car dealer who sat in the shade with a half-dozen friends watching the highway in Baghlan's provincial capital, Pol-i-Kumri. "The people are demoralized."

A young man in the group had an easy smile but spoke bitterly on Wednesday when asked about the Taliban.

"I'm engaged and I can't go to the village of my fiancee," said 23-year-old Farshad, who like many Afghans goes by only one name. The village fell to the Taliban before the wedding could be planned. "I'm going to wait for the situation to get worse or get better. Otherwise I'll have to become a Talib."

Just to the north, Kunduz province is home to the first leg of the highway. The full northern route, which starts in Europe and snakes through Central Asia to Afghanistan, was cobbled together by the U.S. earlier this year after Taliban violence repeatedly disrupted the two main Pakistani routes.

Local officials and analysts say the militants want to show they can control the north and take over the supplies. Taliban militants hijacked two fuel trucks on the highway on Sept. 4, and German forces in Kunduz called in an airstrike by U.S. fighter pilots, saying they feared the trucks could be used in suicide bombings. Thirty civilians and 69 armed Taliban died in the strike, according to a probe by an Afghan presidential commission.

"The mere fact that the trucks were hijacked, the mere fact that we had this level of challenge to the government's control and sovereignty to me shows we need an effort here," U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said in a recent news conference.

Kunduz was among the last Taliban strongholds during the 2001 U.S. invasion that drove the Islamic government from power, and — until this year — had been relatively peaceful, despite a largely Pashtun population sympathetic to the militants. That began to change after the Taliban solidified control in the south as U.S. supply lines from Pakistan came under increasing attack.

Sep 25, 2009

Afghan Policy: The 5 Votes That Matter

What Next In Afghanistan? The Five People Obama Is Asking.

President Obama has said he is reviewing US strategy in Afghanistan. Here are five of the most important people he is listening to – and what they might be telling him.

By Mark Sappenfield
Christian Science Monitor (
September 24, 2009

When he announced his administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan this spring, President Obama added an important asterisk.

“Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course,” he said March 27. “We will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.”

Now, he is making good on that promise.

Mr. Obama has already held one meeting of his top foreign policy and military advisers to discuss the Afghan war, according to news reports. Several more are expected, beginning next week.

What comes out of this high-level review could determine whether tens of thousands more American troops head to Afghanistan or whether America essentially pulls back and focuses on targeted counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda.

Here is what is known about where the members of the National Security Council might stand.

President Obama
Back in March, Obama said his goal was “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

He has consistently repeated that goal. But his strategic calculus about how to do that appears to be changing.

Media reports suggest that Obama has been shaken by the allegations of widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential elections. The results have sowed doubt about whether President Hamid Karzai is a reliable partner.

Also a factor is the dire battlefield assessment by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is expected to request as many as 40,000 more troops. At a time when Obama is strained to his political limit by the healthcare debate, the prospect of having to sell an Afghan troop surge is decidedly unpalatable.

The shift in Obama’s outlook was evident Sunday, when Obama told “Meet the Press”: “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face.”

The comment contrasted strikingly to the tone of an Aug. 17 speech – three days before the Afghan election – when he said that the war in Afghanistan “is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

Vice President Joe Biden
So far, Vice President Biden has been the most outspoken critic of expanding the Afghan war.

In different venues, he has proposed different courses of action.

In an interview with CNN, he advocated a wait-and-see approach. He noted that Obama approved 21,000 more troops for Afghanistan in March, and not all of them have even arrived.

“They’re now only getting in place; they’re not all fully in place and deployed,” he said, calling discussion of adding troops “premature.”

More controversial, however, is his advocacy of a plan to scale back US forces and move toward a narrower counterterrorism strategy. In short, the US military would use missiles fired from drones and special forces operations to attack Al Qaeda in Pakistan and prevent their return to Afghanistan.

Such a strategy would return to the central goal – targeting Al Qaeda – without having to rebuild a corrupt and impoverished nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Like Obama, Secretary Clinton has said she is open to any options going forward, so long as they keep Al Qaeda at bay.

“If Afghanistan were taken over by the Taliban, I can’t tell you how fast Al Qaeda would be back in Afghanistan,” she said in an interview with PBS’s “NewsHour” Monday.

But Clinton was not necessarily swayed by McChrystal’s assertion that the US must add more troops to accomplish this.

“I can only tell you there are other assessments from, you know, very expert military analysts who have worked in counterinsurgencies that are the exact opposite [of McChrystal’s],” she said. “So what our goal is, is to take all of this incoming data and sort it out.”

National Security Adviser James Jones
While General Jones has not given a recent indication of where he stands on Afghan strategy, past statements provide some potential insight.

On a trip to Afghanistan in June, Jones told commanders not to expect any more troops this year. Clearly, much has changed since then. McChrystal had just been confirmed as the new US commander in Afghanistan, for instance.

Yet Jones seemed to think the time for troop requests ended when Obama announced his new strategy in March.

“Everybody had their day in court, so to speak, before the president made his decision,” he told McClatchy news service in an article published July 1. “We signed off on the strategy, and now we’re in the implementation phase.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike MullenMullen’s position in the debate is virtually certain.

He has endorsed McChrystal’s report and told Congress Sept. 15 that “a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces.”

Mullen’s viewpoints likely reflect those of the Pentagon brass, which means the full weight of military support is behind McChrystal and his assertion that the situation in Afghanistan “demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Gates appears to be the biggest wild card.

As secretary of Defense and a Republican whose opinion is widely respected both in the administration and in Congress, his opinion would be influential. Yet of all Obama’s main advisers, he has been perhaps the most obviously conflicted.

Gates is a strong supporter of McChrystal, having engineered the retirement of McChrystal’s predecessor in order to get his man into Afghanistan.

On Sept. 3, Gates said: “I’m very open to the recommendations and certainly the perspective of General McChrystal.” Yet in general, Gates has been wary of adding more troops, fearing that it would make the US look like occupiers.

If Marines Ran GTMO....

Marine Officer Who Set Up Guantanamo Prison Dismayed By What It Has Become

When Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert established the facility, humane treatment of prisoners was a top priority. He discusses how that principle fell out of favor in the seven-plus years since he left.

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
September 25, 2009

Reporting from Camp Pendleton--In late 2001, when the Pentagon decided to put detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the task of setting up a camp and establishing its rules went to Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert.

Lehnert planned to rely on what he learned while running a camp at Guantanamo in the mid-1990s for nearly 19,000 Cubans and Haitians trying to flee to the United States.

And he was determined to follow the spirit, if not the letter, of the Geneva Convention, providing decent food, banning extreme interrogation and allowing religious services. He brought in a Muslim chaplain and permitted visits by the Red Cross.

When detainees went on a hunger strike, he spoke to them, even allowing one to get a phone message from his wife in Afghanistan.

But in the bureaucratic jostling that followed, Lehnert's approach was supplanted by that of a hard-nosed Army general.

Initially assigned to the project for 60 days, Lehnert stayed for 90 and then returned to the U.S. In the intervening seven-plus years, he has held several key jobs, been promoted to major general and kept a public silence about the controversy that has enveloped Guantanamo.

On Thursday, as the 58-year-old officer prepared to retire after 36 years in the Marine Corps, he expressed his deep disappointment about what happened at Guantanamo after he left.

"I think we lost the moral high ground," Lehnert said. "For those who do not think much of the moral high ground, that is not that significant.

"But for those who think our standing in the international community is important, we need to stand for American values. You have to walk the walk, talk the talk."

In her recent book, "The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days," Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law, suggests that history would have been much different if Lehnert's approach had prevailed.

"Certainly the reputation of the United States would not have been damaged as it has been by the unabashed pushing aside of law," she wrote.

As outlined by Greenberg, one of the biggest differences between Lehnert and his successors at Guantanamo was over the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

"I think you need to step back and say, 'As a country, is this something we want to do?" Lehnert said.

When tapped for the Guantanamo job, he said he had few direct orders on how to handle prisoners who were not members of a foreign military force but nevertheless suspected of crimes against the U.S.

"Once they were out of the fight, I felt we had a moral responsibility to care for them in a humane fashion," Lehnert said. "I think it's extremely important how we treat prisoners."

Lehnert recalled talking to young Marines who thought the detainees were being treated too well.

"They said, 'They wouldn't treat us this way,' " Lehnert said. "I said 'You're correct, and that is entirely irrelevant. If we treat them that way [as they might treat U.S. prisoners], then we become them."

Shortly after leaving Guantanamo, Lehnert said he concluded that the detention center should be shut down as soon as possible, a position that he holds more strongly now.

"I think we should close it down," he said. "I think the information we're getting is not worth the international beating we're taking."

During the assault on Baghdad in 2003, Lehnert led the logistics movement, making sure front-line troops had the gear needed to keep advancing.

For the last four years he's been the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West, overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars of construction on seven West Coast bases and handling delicate issues about preservation of endangered species. His successor is set to arrive next week.

Lehnert and his wife plan to retire in their native Michigan, not that far from the prison at Standish, Mich., which is in the running to take some of the Guantanamo detainees once the detention facility is closed, which is planned to occur in the coming months.

"I think they're following me," Lehnert said with a smile.

Sep 22, 2009

Civilian Political Weasels Stymie Afghan Policy

General's Review Creates Rupture

As Military Backs Call for More Troops In Afghanistan, Civilian Advisers Balk

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's grim assessment of the Afghanistan war has opened a divide between the military, which is pushing for an early decision to send more troops, and civilian policymakers who are increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort.

Senior military officials emphasized Monday that McChrystal's conclusion that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" without an urgent infusion of troops has been endorsed by the uniformed leadership. That includes Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command and architect of the troop "surge" strategy widely seen as helping U.S. forces turn the corner in Iraq.

But before any decision is made, some of President Obama's civilian advisers have proposed looking at other, less costly options to address his primary goal of preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in Afghanistan. Those options include a redirection of U.S. efforts -- away from protecting the Afghan population and building the Afghan state and toward persuading the Taliban to stop fighting -- as well as an escalation of targeted attacks against al-Qaeda itself in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Obama's public remarks on Afghanistan indicate that he has begun to rethink the counterinsurgency strategy he set in motion six months ago, even as his generals have embraced it. The equation on the ground has changed markedly since his March announcement, with attacks by Taliban fighters showing greater sophistication, U.S. casualties rising, and the chances increasing that Afghanistan will be left with an illegitimate government after widespread fraud in recent presidential elections.

In television interviews Sunday, Obama said he would take his time in weighing McChrystal's recommendations and an anticipated formal request for more troops. "The first question is: Are we doing the right thing?" Obama said on CNN. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?"

The commander's report, administration officials said, is only one of many "inputs" the president is considering. Others include assessments from the State Department, the intelligence community and his White House advisers.

Obama's decision is complicated by a deepening domestic political divide and no guarantee of success whichever option he chooses. One observer, characterizing the president's dilemma at its most extreme, said: "He can send more troops and it will be a disaster and he will destroy the Democratic Party. Or he can send no more troops and it will be a disaster and the Republicans will say he lost the war."

Few lawmakers had seen McChrystal's closely held report before an unclassified version was published by The Washington Post on its Web site Sunday night. Their reactions were sharply divided along party lines, with many Republicans advocating full support for the military commander.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled . . . by reports that the White House is delaying action on the General's request for more troops" and was questioning the "integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency" Obama himself set in motion. "It's time for the President to clarify where he stands on the strategy he has articulated," Boehner said, "because the longer we wait the more we put our troops at risk."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that "any failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal's request could serve to undermine the other good decisions the president has made" on Afghanistan.

But Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Navy veteran of Vietnam who once led opposition to that war, praised Obama's deliberative pace.

"All the president is saying is that he wants to take the time to make sure this decision is not done like the Gulf of Tonkin" resolution, where "underlying assumptions aren't questioned," Kerry said. The 1964 joint congressional resolution, based on false information about North Vietnamese actions and adopted amid an anti-communist frenzy, authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to use military force in Southeast Asia.

"You've got to figure out . . . what is the counterinsurgency mission," Kerry said. "The president has all the right in the world to properly vet that mission and define it. It may well be we'll all decide [McChrystal] is absolutely correct, and the mission he's defined is correct."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has positioned himself between the urgency expressed by military commanders and those calling for a reconsideration of the strategy, last week suggested that all involved take a "deep breath." He has told McChrystal to delay sending his formal request for additional resources until the policy discussion is further along.

But senior military officials have expressed growing frustration, while warning that delay could be costly. "Time does matter," said one military official. "The longer the situation deteriorates, the tougher to reclaim" the initiative against Taliban forces. Military and civilian officials agreed to discuss White House decision-making and McChrystal's report on the condition of anonymity.

This military official and others cautioned that any strategy revision that resulted in a pullback by U.S. and NATO forces would leave Taliban forces in uncontested control of territory and could lead to a return of civil war in Afghanistan, opening the door to reestablishment of al-Qaeda sanctuaries there.

But some civilian officials believe that such a scenario is based on possibly faulty assumptions about who the Taliban insurgents are, what their aims may be, and whether some can be co-opted. If Obama's core objective is to prevent al-Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan, this reasoning goes, it may not depend on defeating the Taliban. An equally viable policy, they argue, could include stepped-up, targeted attacks on al-Qaeda's sanctuaries in Pakistan and convincing amenable Taliban fighters that it is in their best interests to keep al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan.

Why The Confusion On Afghan Policy?

Wavering On Afghanistan?
President Obama seems to have forgotten his own arguments for a counterinsurgency campaign.

Washington Post
September 22, 2009

IT WAS ONLY last March 27 that President Obama outlined in a major speech what he called "a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan" that, he added, "marks the conclusion of a careful policy review." That strategy unambiguously stated that the United States would prevent the return of a Taliban government and "enhance the military, governance and economic capacity" of the country. We strongly supported the president's conclusion that those goals were essential to preventing another attack on the United States by al-Qaeda and its extremist allies.

So it was a little startling to hear Mr. Obama suggest in several televised interviews on Sunday that he had second thoughts. "We are in the process of working through that strategy," said on CNN." The first question is . . . are we pursuing the right strategy?" On NBC he said, "if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy" of defeating al-Qaeda, "then we'll move forward. But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan."

The president's doubts come at a crucial moment. He has just received a report from the commander he appointed, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, saying the United States and its allies are in danger of losing the war if they do not work more effectively to shore up the Afghan government and army and protect the population from insurgents. Gen. McChrystal, along with his seniors in Washington, believe that this counterinsurgency strategy is the only route to success, and that it will require a commitment of substantial additional resources, including thousands more U.S. troops next year.

The generals believed they had Mr. Obama's commitment to their approach after the policy review last spring. Now the president appears to be distancing himself from his commanders -- including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who testified before Congress last week that more forces would be needed.

What has changed since March? As Mr. Obama noted, Afghanistan's presidential election has been plagued by allegations of fraud, sharpening questions about whether the government can be a reliable partner. Taliban attacks are spreading despite the deployment of 21,000 additional troops approved by the president earlier this year. Some in and outside the administration have argued for a more limited strategy centered on striking al-Qaeda's leaders, giving up the more ambitious political and economic tasks built into the counterinsurgency doctrine.

It's hard to see, however, how Mr. Obama can refute the analysis he offered last March. "If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged," he said then, "that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." Afghanistan, he continued, "is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan," where al-Qaeda and the Taliban now aim at seizing control of a state that possesses nuclear weapons. Moreover, Mr. Obama said, "a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people- especially women and girls."

"To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban's gains, and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government," Mr. Obama concluded. As Gen. McChrystal's report makes very clear, keeping faith with that goal will require more troops, more resources and years of patience. Yet to break with it would both dishonor and endanger this country. As the president put it, "the world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos."

Needed: Bi-Partisan Support on Afghanistan

Obama's Befuddling Afghan Policy
Why is the president hesitating on more troops to fight his 'war of necessity'?

By Leslie H. Gelb
Wall Street Journal
September 22, 2009

I'm lost on President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy—along with most of Congress and the U.S. military. Not quite eight months ago, Mr. Obama pledged to "defeat" al Qaeda in Afghanistan by transforming that country's political and economic infrastructure, training Afghan forces and adding 21,000 U.S. forces for starters. He proclaimed Afghanistan's strategic centrality to prevent Muslim extremism from taking over Pakistan—an even more vital nation because of its nuclear weapons. And a mere three weeks ago, he punctuated his commitments by proclaiming that Afghanistan is a "war of necessity," not one of choice. White House spokesmen reinforced this by promising that the president would "fully resource" the war.

Yet less than one week ago, Mr. Obama said the following about troop increases: "I'm going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions. There is no immediate decision pending on resources, because one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make a determination about resources." He repeated that on Sunday's talk shows.

Are we now to understand that he made all those previous declarations and decisions without a strategy he was committed to? Prior to his recent statements, it seemed clear that the president and his advisers had adopted a strategy already—the counterinsurgency one—and that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was tapped precisely because he would implement that plan. The idea, to repeat, was to deploy forces sufficient to clear territory of Taliban threats, hold that territory, and build up the sinews of the country behind that.

Nothing significant has changed to account for the shift from Mr. Obama's confident policy proclamations to his temporizing statements of recent days. The president certainly understood before last week that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating. And he knew when he was inaugurated and when he first uttered his colorful "war of necessity" phrase that his party, and the public generally, were increasingly opposed to the war.

Americans are now confused and caught somewhere between remembering the president's insistence on Afghanistan's importance to U.S. security and rapidly rising pressure from his party to bring the troops home.

What is to be done? Even though I strongly believe that the United States does not have vital interests in Afghanistan, I also believe that Mr. Obama can't simply walk away from the war. A lot of Democrats don't seem to fathom this. At a minimum, the president has got to give Afghan allies a fighting chance to hold their own and prepare the ground to blunt the Taliban and al Qaeda. That will take time.

For their part, Republicans and others who advocate an open-ended U.S. commitment can't simply ignore the fact that political time is running out at home. It would be utterly irresponsible of them to simply shake their fingers at the Democrats and wait for them to fail in Afghanistan. Despite President George W. Bush's rhetoric on Iraq, he saw the writing on the wall and agreed to an American withdrawal. And if the hard-headed realists among conservatives aren't just playing political games, they also have to honor the time problem.
Democrats have to realize that more time is needed, and Republicans must acknowledge that America's combat commitment cannot be indefinite. If political leaders accept these underlying political realities, the Obama administration can craft a strategy along the following lines:

*Surge two additional combat brigades, or roughly 10,000 troops, to lift the U.S. total to about 78,000 from 68,000.

*Deploy an additional 5,000 to 10,000 troops strictly for the purpose of training and supporting Afghan police and armed forces, and embed U.S. advisers with heavy intelligence backup. As important as increasing troop numbers is changing the American attitude toward the war. Our armed forces can't continue to treat most problems as American problems, and they must begin to turn over real authority to the Afghans.

*Provide support to leaders in Kabul and tribal leaders around the country who will oppose the Taliban and fight for their independence.

*Put money on the table to divide Taliban from Taliban, and Taliban from al Qaeda. We know many of them respond to financial—as well as security—inducements.

*Build alliances to contain the Taliban and other regional extremists. Focus on India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, China, and yes, even Iran, which cooperated with Washington at the outset of the Afghan war. These states share common interests with America in combating al Qaeda-like terrorism and the drug trade.

*Set up tough and credible deterrence capabilities. It's particularly critical to retain special operations forces in Afghanistan with the ability to fire from drones and perform other operations. Capabilities for missile and air attacks launched from beyond Afghanistan need to be honed as well. Token attacks won't be enough.

Putting this strategy and the attendant capabilities in place would take two to three years. But doing so would make this war Afghanistan's responsibility. It must be this way in order to avoid defeat. If the war remains essentially America's, it will guarantee failure. As almost always in such situations, the Afghans will tire of their American saviors. Even more certainly, Americans will eventually lose all patience and demand immediate pullouts, leaving Afghans unprepared to defend themselves.

The U.S. now faces many very serious troubles abroad. These were all born before the Obama presidency. The president's failure in Afghanistan would be America's failure, and we cannot allow this to happen. Defeat for America in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be avoided only if Democrats acknowledge that the Afghans need major help for two to three more years, and Republicans admit that the political clock at home won't give them much more time than that.

Sep 21, 2009

Time is on the Side of the Taliban ? London Times

Vision Of Victory In Afghanistan -- But Time Is On The Taleban's Side
In the first of several special reports, The Times outlines the challenges facing Western forces in Afghanistan

By Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor
London Times
September 21, 2009

Nadali and Wootton Bassett are 3,550 miles and several centuries apart. The latter is the comfortable Wiltshire village near RAF Lyneham that has become the symbol of public mourning at the terrible loss of life among British forces fighting in Afghanistan. The former is a primitive Afghan village in the heart of the Helmand river valley that has changed little in hundreds of years and where the deeply conservative population ekes out a meagre livelihood from growing poppy and other crops.

Yet the two places have more in common than they know. They have been thrown together by fate to decide the outcome of the battle waged by British and other Western forces against the Taleban. If the campaign proceeds along its present course, there is every indication that public support in Wootton Bassett — and, by extension, across the rest of Britain — will turn against the war. A similar public reaction is being felt in the US, Canada, Germany, Italy and the other key nations contributing to the Nato forces on the ground.

If the bloody campaign that has marked this summer in Helmand continues to threaten the lives of villagers in Nadali and other communities in southern Afghanistan, they will reluctantly conclude that the Taleban offer a better chance of peace and stability than a weak and corrupt central Government in Kabul that is backed by foreign forces.

The populations of both countries are tired after eight years of war and impatient for a solution. The most immediate challenge facing Afghanistan is not the Taleban but its own Government; in particular, President Karzai, once seen as something of a saviour but now regarded by many as a liability.

He was re-elected last month with 54.6 per cent of the vote, enough for an outright win in the first round, but reports of massive electoral fraud and the recount of 10 per cent of the ballots could yet deny him victory and force a run-off against his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

With winter approaching, there are fears that a new vote cannot be held until next year, further undermining the credibility of a government weakened by widespread corruption and whose authority barely stretches beyond the precincts of Kabul. Another alternative is to call a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of Afghan leaders, to agree on a way out of the constitutional crisis.

Without a credible leader with a clear mandate to rule, the entire mission in Afghanistan is under threat. A government that can bring security and services to ordinary Afghans is by far the West’s best exit strategy. Without a respected central authority, the Western mission is doomed. That is why there is a real urgency about the US-led campaign. Mistakes may have been made by the Bush Administration, but the war is now squarely President Obama’s problem and he will be judged on the outcome.

While foreign diplomats, led by the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, address the constitutional crisis in Kabul, the military campaign is being stepped up on a scale not seen since the Soviet invasion 30 years ago.

General Stanley McChrystal, the newly installed commander of US forces, is overseeing a surge of troops that will bring the tally to 68,000, alongside 35,000 from other Nato contributors. He is expected to request additional soldiers in a report to Washington. The American counter-insurgency tactics — revised in Iraq by General David Petraeus, now the regional commander — call for a massive force deployed on the ground to protect the civilian population and to enable development and the local economy to recover. The tactic worked well in Iraq, where the Sunni Muslim population turned against the insurgency and supported the Americans. Afghanistan, however, is more complex, the terrain more rugged and the key Pashtu-speaking population in the south less open to outsiders.

The only government institution that has been strengthened since the ouster of the Taleban in 2001 is the Afghan National Army. Much of the Nato effort is focused on training and equipping a force that should have 134,000 soldiers in uniform by the end of 2011. The rise of the Afghan military is seen as the only way that foreign forces can begin to lower their profile and gradually hand over responsibility for security to the locals — much as American forces have done in Iraq.

In Washington, London and other Western capitals there is now a sense of urgency. Defeat in Afghanistan could mean the end of Nato as an effective military alliance. Western leaders long ago gave up any hope of building a modern, democratic state in Afghanistan and are lowering public expectations at home. The best they can hope for is to stabilise security and attempt to lure or bribe moderate elements in the Taleban into negotiations.

A key figure in this delicate work is Sir Graeme Lamb, a retired British general who performed a similar role in Iraq’s restive Anbar province. “I always said in Iraq, you can buy an insurgency if you have enough money,” he said. “If somebody is on the wrong side of the wire and is inclined to come back, then I have to set the conditions, or we have to set the conditions, whereby that young man comes back in, so he is not a pariah.”

For soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, the greatest threat to life and limb comes from the deadly roadside bombs planted along their patrol and supply routes. For the Taleban fighters, the ghostly drones that patrol the skies day and night and rain down missiles without warning are the most feared enemy.

The commanders know, however, that the ultimate weapon is something less tangible. Major-General Nick Carter, the incoming commander of 9,000 British forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged before he took up his command that time was not on his side. A few days later Mullah Omar, the fugitive Taleban commander, responded in a message marking Eid al-Fitr — the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — by predicting another defeat of British forces in Afghanistan. “We would like to point out that we fought against the British invaders for 80 years, from 1839 to 1919, and ultimately got independence,” he said. “Today we have strong determination, military training and effective weapons. Still more, we have preparedness for a long war, and the regional situation is in our favour.”

Time is running out. Most experts accept that the Western mission in Afghanistan probably has two to three years to get it right before the battle is lost.

McChrystal - More Troops or We Fail....

McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'

Washington Post
12:00 AM EDT Monday, September 21, 2009

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

F'ing Pak's Think They're A Serious Country

AQ Khan blows the whistle on Pakistan

The Times of India
20 September 2009

WASHINGTON: An angry, humiliated, and wounded A.Q.Khan has finally made public and official what has long been suspected: his nuclear proliferation activities that included exchanging and passing blue-prints and equipment to China, Iran, North Korea, and Libya was done at the behest of the Pakistani government and military, and he was forced to take the rap for it.

"The bastards first used us and are now playing dirty games with us" Khan writes about the Pakistani leadership in a December 2003 letter to his wife Henny that has finally been made public by an interlocutor. "Darling, if the government plays any mischief with me take a tough stand,'' he tells his wife, adding, ''They might try to get rid of me to cover up all the things they got done by me.''

But Henny was unable to play hardball because Khan had also sent copies of that letter to his daughter Dina in London, and to his niece Kausar Khan in Amsterdam through his brother, a Pakistan Airlines executive. Pakistani intelligence agencies got wind of it and threatened the well-being of the family, forcing him to recant and publicly take the blame for the proliferation activities in a humiliating television spectacle engineered by then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

However, a copy of the four-page letter reached Khan’s long-time journalistic contact Simon Henderson in 2007. In fact, in the letter, Khan tells his wife, ''Get in touch with Simon Henderson and give him all the details.'' Henderson says when he acquired the copy of the letter, he was shocked. His acquaintance with Khan goes back to the late 1970s, but it was never intimate, and consisted of an occasional
interviews and conversations, and seasonal greetings.

Describing the four-page letter as ''extraordinary,'' Henderson says in numbered paragraphs, it outlines Pakistan’s nuclear co-operation with China, Iran and North Korea, and also mentions Libya. Some of the disclosures are stunning , and in one para that is bound to embarrass Beijing, besides implicating it, Khan writes about how Pakistan helped China in enrichment technology in return for bomb blueprints.

''We put up a centrifuge plant at Hanzhong (250km southwest of Xian),” Khan writes. “The Chinese gave us drawings of the nuclear weapon, gave us 50kg of enriched uranium, gave us 10 tons of UF6 (natural) and 5 tons of UF6 (3%).'' UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous feedstock for an enrichment plan.

On Iran, the letter says: ''Probably with the blessings of Benazir Bhutto, General Imtiaz [Benazir’s defence adviser, now dead] asked me to give a set of drawings and some components to the Iranians. The names and addresses of suppliers were also given to the Iranians.''

On North Korea:" A now-retired general] took $3 million through me from the N. Koreans and asked me to give some drawings and machines.''

Henderson does not explain why he waited nearly two years since he got hold of the letter to make it public. But he writes sympathetically about Khan’s travails in Pakistan, where he is held largely incommunicado under house arrest. The Pakistani government and the military have repeatedly rejected and challenged court orders to free him, and an episode last month, where Khan was freed just for a day on court orders before Islamabad locked him up again under pressure from Washington, appears to have precipitated the leak of the explosive letter.

Henderson’s Sunday Times expose also implicates the U.S and other western powers, who he says, basically shoved Islamabad’s rampant proliferation (while blaming it solely on Khan) under the carpet in order to get Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror. The move also saved Washington from huge embarrassment since it was basically asleep on the watch when Pakistan began its nuclear proliferation and then
winked at it when it was discovered, all the while lavishing billions in military supplies on its unstable client state.

Henderson also implicitly defends Khan from charges that he profited from proliferation activities, as alleged by deposed military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Khan, he says, is adamant that he never sold nuclear secrets for personal gain. So what about the millions of dollars he reportedly made?

''Nothing was confiscated from him and no reported investigation turned up hidden accounts. Having planted rumours about Khan’s greed, Pakistani officials were curiously indifferent to following them through,'' Henderson writes.

According to Henderson, much was made of a ''hotel'', named after Khan’s wife, Henny, built by a local tour guide with the help of money from Khan and a group of friends in Timbuktu. But it is a modest structure at best, more of a guesthouse, he says. A weekend home at Bani Gala, outside Islamabad, where Khan went to relax, is hardly the palace that some reports have made it.

In fact, says Henderson, Khan was close to being broke by the summer 2007, when he was finding it difficult to make ends meet on his pension of 12,200 (Pakistani) rupees per month. After pleading with General Khalid Kidwai, the officer supervising both Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and Khan, the pension was increased to $2,500 per month and there was a one-off lump-sum payment of the equivalent of $50,000. Hendersen says he has copies of the agreement and cheques.

Henderson’s 3000-word expose also reveals a couple of intriguing tid-bits that should interest the world’s strategic community, including New Delhi. Besides details of the Pakistan-China nexus, he says Pakistan tested only two devices in its 1998 tit-for-tat nuclear tests that followed India.

While Pakistan claims it conducted six tests to be one-up on India’s five tests, Western experts and seismologists have long said they recorded only two signals for devices that measured between two and four kilotons. Khan also states clearly that China gave Pakistan designs for the nuclear bombs.

In fact, in one colorful passage in his article, Henderson describes how Khan was warned by a Chinese counterpart about the Pakistani Army. On a visit to Kahuta, Li Chew, the senior minister who ran China’s nuclear-weapons programme, tells Khan, ''As long as they need the bomb, they will lick your balls. As soon as you have delivered the bomb, they will kick your balls.''

Henderson himself seems deeply conscious of any perception that he is close to Khan or that he is a cat’s paw for any country. ''Any relationship with a source is fraught with potential difficulties. One doesn’t want to be blind to the chance of being used. Government officials and politicians in any country are seldom interested in the simple truth. They all have their particular story to tell. In this
context, I am frankly amazed that Khan has chosen me to be his interlocutor with the world,'' he writes.

But Pakistani authorities were clearly aware that he and Khan had been in touch and Khan may have managed to smuggle a copy of the letter implicating Islamabad to him. Henderson says in a court document that Khan was asked to sign when he was promised freedom, there is a line that read “That in case Mr Simon Henderson or anyone else proceeds with the publication of any information or material anywhere in the world, I
affirm that it would not be based on any input from me and I disown it.” That line was eventually deleted and replaced with a more general prohibition about unnamed ''specific media personnel."

In other words, stand by for a flurry of denials.

Sep 19, 2009

Yet ANOTHER Contractor Scandal...

Pakistan Police Raid U.S. ContractorAssociated Press
Sept 19, 2009

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani police raided a local security firm that helps protect the U.S. Embassy on Saturday, seizing dozens of allegedly unlicensed weapons at a time when unusually intense media scrutiny of America's use of private contractors has deepened anti-U.S. sentiment here.

Pakistani police raided a local security firm that has a contract with the U.S. Embassy, seizing dozens of allegedly unlicensed weapons at a time when American use of private contractors is under unusual scrutiny here, officials said.

Two employees of the Inter-Risk company were arrested during the raids in Islamabad, police official Rana Akram told a news conference. Reporters were shown the disputed weapons -- 61 assault rifles and nine pistols. Mr. Akram said police were seeking the firm's owner.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said the U.S. contract with Inter-Risk took effect at the start of 2009. It is believed to be the first contract the firm has signed with the U.S., said Mr. Snelsire, who did not have a figure for its amount.

"Our understanding is they obtained licenses with whatever they brought into the country to meet the contractual needs," he said. "We told the government that we had a contract with Inter-Risk, that Inter-Risk would be providing security at the embassy and our consulates."

Mr. Akram said he had no idea about any U.S. links to Inter-Risk, but the company was recently mentioned in local media reports that have been trying to establish the types of private security firms American diplomats use in Pakistan.

In particular, Pakistani reporters, anti-U.S. bloggers and others have suggested the U.S. is using the American firm formerly known as Blackwater -- a claim that chills many Pakistanis because of the company's alleged involvement in killings of Iraqi civilians.

The U.S. Embassy denies it uses Blackwater - now known as Xe Services - in Pakistan.

Scandals involving U.S. private contractors have occurred elsewhere in the region.

In Washington on Friday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting heard testimony about another contractor - ArmorGroup North America --involving alleged illegal and immoral conduct by its guards at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

The Iraqi government refused to grant Xe Services an operating license earlier this year amid continued outrage over a 2007 lethal firefight involving some of its employees in Baghdad, although the State Department has temporarily extended a contract with a Xe subsidiary to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

Many of the reports in Pakistan have been fueled by U.S. plans to expand its embassy space and staff. Among the other rumors the U.S. denies: that 1,000 U.S. Marines will land in the capital, and that Americans will set up a Guantanamo-style prison.

The U.S. says it needs to add hundreds more staff to allow it to disburse billions of dollars in additional aid to Pakistan.

Legislation making its way through Congress will triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan -- one version would provide $1.5 billion a year over five years in humanitarian and economic aid. The goal is to improve education and other areas, lessening the allure of extremism.

The U.S. considers stability in Pakistan critical to helping the faltering war effort in neighboring Afghanistan, and has pressed Pakistan to crack down on extremism on its soil.

Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are believed to use Pakistan's northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan as hide-outs. Their presence has fueled violence in Pakistani territory, including attacks that pit Sunni Muslims against Shiite Muslims.

Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

Army Picks Woman to Train D.I's

Army Picks First Woman To Train Drill Sergeants
Sgt. Maj. with 28 years service

By Susanne M. Schafer, Associated Press
September 19, 2009

FORT JACKSON, S.C.--Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King can dress down a burly, battle-hardened sergeant in seconds with a sharp phrase and a withering look, then turn around and tell trainee soldiers to be sure they get seven hours of sleep.

As the first woman to take charge of the Army’s school for its order-barking drill sergeants, the sharecropper’s daughter said she’s used to breaking down barriers in military roles normally reserved for men.

“It’s so easy because I love it,” said Sgt. King, a single, 48-year-old North Carolina native who has been in the Army 28 years. “I have a family in the Army. It is my family.”

The stern discipline dispensed by her late father to his 12 children set her on a path of taking responsibility for herself and her siblings early on, Sgt. King said during a recent interview on the Army’s training base near Columbia.

She learned to “give a hard day’s work for whatever I earned and take no short cuts,” said Sgt. King, who enjoys passing her values to young soldiers and watching them grow into senior officers and enlisted men and women.

Lt. Col. Dave Wood, Sgt. King’s battalion commander, said she was chosen for her approach to “the business of taking civilians and making them into soldiers.”

Gone are the days of two decades ago, Col. Wood said, when his drill sergeant made him clean wax off a floor with a razor blade or run around the barracks loaded down with a full duffel bag.

“She’s got this unique way of dealing with soldiers where she can be correcting them, but it’s in a manner that they’re wanting to please her and wanting to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s not degrading to them.”

Sgt. King takes over command of the Drill Sergeant School on Tuesday at Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest training installation. This year the school will churn out about 2,000 of the in-your-face instructors.

The tough-love approach came through as Sgt. King conducted her barracks inspections and daily walkabout to meet with senior enlisted men and women on a recent weekday.

A touch of bright red lipstick and kohl-dark eyeliner doesn’t soften her stern gaze when she spots a sheet corner not properly tucked or a young soldier with a uniform askew.

“What’s going on here?” she asks, soldiers jumping to attention as she enters a room as they relax between classes on becoming finance clerks or legal aides. “Get back to school and get back to doing something!”

Sgt. King’s face softened once she determined one soldier in exercise gear wasn’t goofing off, but had just gotten back from the dentist and a root canal. “Get some rest, soldier,” she advised the woman with a swollen face and jaw.

Sep 18, 2009

New Marine Recruiting Program Begins Tomorrow !

QUANTICO, Va. (September 18, 2009) – The United States Marine Corps is launching a new multimedia campaign, America’s Few, to challenge America’s youth to prove they have what it takes to become a Marine.

The America’s Few campaign includes national TV, print and online advertising, in addition to digital mall signage, in-school TV, and social media websites. The TV advertisement airs on Saturday, September 19, during the University of Florida vs. University of Tennessee college football game on CBS at 3:30 p.m. ET. The TV advertisement will air again on September 20 during the NFL Today Show at 12:00 p.m. ET and again during the NFL Regional and National football games. The TV advertisement will also run September 21 on ESPN during Monday Night Football’s coverage of the Indianapolis Colts vs. Miami Dolphins game at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The Marine Corps aims to recruit the best in each generation, focusing on young Americans who hear the call to become a Marine and decide to make the life-changing decision to answer it. The America’s Few campaign features three Marines who answered that call and earned the title Marine after completing the most demanding recruit training our nation offers. The three Marines, LCpl Oscar Franquez, Jr. of Canyon Country, Calif., LCpl Benjamin Lee of Tulsa, Okla., and LCpl Martin McCallum of Freeport, N.Y., are all members of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon, based at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.

“The calling to become a United States Marine has always been answered by the best and brightest of each generation,” said Major General Robert E. Milstead, Jr., Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

The America’s Few campaign comes at a juncture when the Marine Corps is focusing not only on enlistment numbers, but on the quality of new Marine recruits when more and more young men and women are considering military service as an option.
“There is only one reason to put yourself through the toughest 12 weeks of your life – and that is to become a United States Marine,” said LCpl Franquez. “Becoming a Marine has allowed me to defend my country and become part of a centuries old tradition of service and sacrifice.

For generations, the Marine Corps has taken young Americans who have answered the call and forged them into Marines through a time-tested crucible known as recruit training.

“Recruit training was the greatest challenge of my life,” said LCpl Lee. “Our title is earned, never given.

Marine Corps recruit training transforms the many into the few. It is an unwavering and relentless process that presents the ultimate challenge: an epic test of mind, body and character that molds our Nation’s greatest warriors.

“The training pushed me far beyond my perceived limits and inspired me to be my best. In the end, I demonstrated to myself and my family that I have what it takes to be a Marine,” said LCpl McCallum.

America’s Few is a prequel to America’s Marines, launched in January 2008, to strengthen America’s understanding of what the Marine Corps stands for. The America’s Marines campaign consisted of a nationwide tour, a new Web site and a TV advertisement that featured a symbolic line of Marines standing ready to defend our nation. It was filmed at iconic landmarks and picturesque small towns across the United States. America’s Few was filmed this summer at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and on location at Point Judith, R.I.

Forget "Enablers" - Just Send in the Marines

Gates To Boost 'Enablers' In Afghanistan Mission

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post
September 18, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that he has ordered the deployment of as many as 3,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to meet what the top commander there has described as pressing security needs.

The additional troops, who Gates said were requested by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, are not part of units designated to be deployed under President Obama's original orders to send 21,000 more service members to Afghanistan this year.

Senior defense officials said, however, that Gates has the flexibility to add the forces without exceeding the planned overall increase there by the end of this year. Some units Obama ordered have not deployed at full strength, and McChrystal has decided that at least 1,000 troops currently in Afghanistan are not needed.

"I'm prepared to ask for the flexibility to send more enablers if we need to before the president makes a decision on whether or not to send significant additional combat troops," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference, using the term "enablers" to refer to support troops as opposed to combat units.

The 2,500 to 3,000 troops include explosive ordnance disposal teams, route clearance teams, medevac units and intelligence specialists needed to combat the growing threat of impro vised explosive devices, or IEDs, which are the leading cause of death among U.S. forces in the country.

Under Obama's earlier order, the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan can reach 68,000.

"No matter what we do about more combat troops, our forces there require the best counter-IED capabilities we can provide," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Meanwhile, McChrystal has finished drawing up his request for what is expected to be thousands or tens of thousands of additional trainers and combat troops for Afghanistan, but he is awaiting instructions before submitting the request to the Pentagon.

Senior defense officials said that, in effect, McChrystal has been asked to delay submitting the request.

"We're working through the process by which we want that submitted," Gates told reporters, without elaborating.

Asked when Obama would make a decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan, Gates replied: "I don't want to get into t! he timing. The president will make his decision when the questions that he has asked and the assessments that are going on have been completed. And I don't think anybody should put any conditions on that."

Gates also stressed that the uncertainty in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election in Afghanistan has created new challenges for the administration as it assesses its strategy. Such political questions must be weighed by the administration and are "outside of General McChrystal's area of authority," Gates said.

Gates said McChrystal's assessment is "a pre-decisional document," indicating that it should not be released publicly. On Thursday, the Pentagon distributed only a small number of copies of the still-classified assessment to the House and Senate. Those copies were available only to a select few members.

Lawmakers have been pressing the administration to be more forthcoming about its strategy in Afghanistan and have urged that it bring! McChrystal to Washington to testify. On Thursday, House Minority Lead er John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued another call to hear from the general, whom Obama put in charge in June.

"It is imperative that the American people and members of Congress hear from General McChrystal directly about the situation on the ground -- and soon," Boehner said.

Boehner noted that when Gen. David H. Petraeus was the top commander in Iraq, he returned to testify and "spoke plainly" about his strategy.

"That testimony was critical to Congress making informed decisions regarding success in our mission there," Boehner said. "The request to hear from General McChrystal is bipartisan and appropriate. The American people have real concerns about what's going on in Afghanistan, and so do I."

Sep 17, 2009

Obama "Honored to Present MoH"

Obama to present his first Medal of Honor

Awarded to soldier killed in Afghanistan while trying to save comrade

The Associated Press
updated 9:49 a.m. ET, Thurs., Sept . 17, 2009

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will award his first Medal of Honor today.

The president will give the nation's highest military honor posthumously to Army Sgt. First Class Jared Monti. Monti was shot to death in the Afghan mountains in 2006 while trying for the third time to save a wounded comrade.

The White House says Monti went above and beyond the call of duty in sacrificing his own life to save another during combat.

His father, Paul Monti, told the Boston Herald that he never liked medals because he would not want to show off about the good things he did in life.

“He spent most of his life doing things for other people, even when young,” Monti was quoted as saying.

Monti was a Massachusetts native and is the second service member awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan. His parents will join the president in the East Room for today's ceremony.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Sep 16, 2009

Afghanistan: Taliban - Karzai - US

Why The Taliban Is Gaining Ground In Afghanistan

By Tim McGirk
Sept 16, 2009

The Taliban today in Afghanistan is a markedly different movement from that of those warriors whose one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar, riding on a motorcycle, escaped capture from American forces in Kandahar in December 2001. Mullah Omar is still their leader, even though, as a senior Afghan intelligence official told TIME, he is thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, moving between the towns of Quetta and Zob in the scorched Baluchistan desert. Nowadays, though, the Taliban encompasses a vast and disparate array of players. A look at who they are is key to understanding why they are gaining ground against 63,000 U.S. troops and their NATO partners after eight years of guerrilla war.

The Taliban is not monolithic. It composed of several layers: a hard-core group of former Taliban commanders (including Mullah Omar) who operate out of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan and who maintain ties with Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency (though Islamabad vehemently denies this); bands linked to al-Qaeda whose ranks have recently swelled with Arab, Chechen and Uzbek fighters operating in the craggy, northeastern ranges of Afghanistan; and, a last group, probably the largest, made up of local tribesmen who have allied themselves loosely with the Taliban as a result of President Hamid Karzai's often corrupt provincial officials pitting one tribe against another. Mullah Salam, a tribal elder from Helmand province, scene of heavy fighting between Taliban and NATO forces, told TIME why he switched to the Taliban: "Karzai's people made promises to me, and I in turn made them to my tribe, but these were never honored." This last segment of the Taliban is also made up of those seeking justice against NATO forces, a roster likely to grow after coalition jets killed over 30 villagers in Kunduz who were filling up fuel from hijacked NATO tankers.

Western military officials, diplomats and Afghan officials interviewed by TIME all agree that the battle with the Taliban is entering a critical phase, especially after the Aug. 20 presidential elections marred by fraud. Karzai's credibility is now damaged. After 30 years of war, Afghans have developed a sixth sense about survival: they can detect subtle shifts of power. Rarely do they have qualms about changing to the winning side, even in midconflict. In an essay on the Taliban for Foreign Affairs magazine, Afghanistan expert Michael Semple and MIT political scientist Fotini Christia write: "Changing sides, realigning, flipping — whatever you want to call it — is the Afghan way of war."

And right now, that Afghan sixth sense is telling them that the U.S. and the other Western nations are losing the heart for battle. In the Pashtun strongholds of Afghanistan, it is now perceived to be a good idea for a tribe to start siding with the Taliban, even though members of the tribe may not agree with their harsh medievalism. A critical mass is gathering, experts say. Elders who belong to once neutral tribes in Kandahar province are now telling their youths to take up arms against the foreign invaders, as their fathers did back in the 1980s against the Red Army. In Tahkt-e-Pul, on the edges of Kandahar city, an influential mullah recently refused to preside over the funeral of a dead Afghan government soldier, a local boy; meanwhile a Taliban, who died fighting the Americans or the British, was honored as a brave martyr. It is a disturbing change among Afghans who in 2001, after the benighted years of the Taliban, welcomed foreigners bringing aid and progress.

The Taliban is surging into the vacuum created by Karzai's government, which is based on patronage rather than competence, coupled with the international community's often bungled and chaotic distribution of aid. One indication of how far the Taliban have come: this summer, Mullah Omar tried to consolidate his grip on his unruly commanders with a 13-page Code of Conduct (among the rules: no senior government officials are to be executed without his say-so, and civilian casualties must be minimized when attacking foreign troops). In large swathes of the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, Oruzgan, Paktia and Paktika, a shadow Islamic republic of the Taliban already exists, with governors, a radio station, law-enforcing militias and courts. In recent months, the Taliban opened a northern front in Kunduz, Baghlan and Badakshan provinces, with a strong contingent of al-Qaeda foreigners among them, according to senior Afghan officials. In all these areas, a new saying prevails: "Government courts for the rich (because the judges are bribable), Taliban justice for the poor." And Taliban justice, they say, is usually more swift and fair.

But a Taliban win is not necessarily inevitable. Non-Pashtuns like the Tajiks, Hazaras and other minorities are certainly resisting a return of the Taliban; the parts of the country that they dominate, including sections of central and northern Afghanistan, are relatively peaceful. Also, while American and European casualties may be rising — 810 U.S. servicemen have died so far in the eight-year conflict — so has the number of Taliban deaths. Dozens of Taliban are killed every week.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani comrades of the Afghan Taliban are now locked in battle with the Pakistani army, and this has slowed the number of Pakistani volunteers infiltrating across the border to kill American soldiers. These frontier Pashtun tribesmen, who once provided the Afghans with a steady flow of weapons, young fighters and suicide bombers, are suddenly too pinned down to give anything but a trickle of support. Mullah Omar and the other members of the so-called Quetta Shura, or military council, have stayed on the sidelines for fear of losing their covert support from the Pakistani military and the ISI, who hate Karzai and his northern allies and want to see the Taliban back in power and the NATO forces gone from Afghanistan.

Says one top Afghan official: "We and the Americans gave the Pakistanis the addresses of madrasahs [religious schools] where the Taliban are training young recruits and suicide bombers, but the ISI refuses to act." Now that Pakistani authorities are finally realizing that support of an Islamist revival in Afghanistan comes with its own risks at home, that attitude may start to change. Only with the loss of his Pakistani sponsors can Mullah Omar and his Taliban be coaxed into striking a truce with Karzai.