U.S. steps up special operations mission in Afghanistan — On The Frontlines in Afghanistan Video — A radical empire looms — From the Sand Pit – Message From a Recon Marine in Afghanistan — Christmas: The Heros of Helmand Province Afghanistan – Brave Shall Fall Video — SkyGrabber: the $26 software used by insurgents to hack into US drones — Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones — Questions No One Wants to Ask Gen. McChrystal — Loy Afghanistan landscape,heritage &culture — Afghan Elders to U.S.: Let Us Do Fighting — CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IN CENTRAL ASIA — 0 — Blog Post Photo Credit: Edward A. Ornealas @ MYSA Blogs
The current issue (November – December 2009) of Military Review (“The Professional Journal of the U.S. Army”) has a most interesting article on the Afghanistan War titled “Refighting the Last War: Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template.” It is particularly interesting since coverage of the Afghanistan War has been so thin. It outlines a possible winning strategy, but makes the case that we are not pursuing a winning strategy currently:
“Attacks of all types in Afghanistan have increased each year since 2003 and are up dramatically in 2009, the deadliest year yet for American forces.”
The thesis of the article is that in many ways – in most important ways – the U.S. is repeating its mistakes in Vietnam. It sees striking similarities between the two wars…]
Under the shift in strategy, the teams now focus on targeting key Taliban figures rather than mainly hunting Al Qaeda leaders and have increased the number of raids they conduct, officials say.
LA Times – By Julian E. Barnes
Reporting from Washington – The U.S. military command has quietly shifted and intensified the mission of clandestine special operations forces in Afghanistan, senior officials said, targeting key figures within the Taliban, rather than almost exclusively hunting Al Qaeda leaders.
As a result of orders from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, the special operations teams are focusing more on killing militants, capturing them or, whenever possible, persuading them to turn against the Taliban-led insurgency.
The number of raids carried out by such units as the Army’s Delta Force and Navy’s SEAL Team Six in Afghanistan has more than quadrupled in recent months. The teams carried out 90 raids in November, U.S. officials said, compared with 20 in May. U.S. special operations forces primarily conduct missions in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
The numbers reflect the evolving strategy and increased pressure on U.S. military leaders to show swift results against the Taliban.
The move marks the first major change in mission for the nation’s most elite military units since they were sent to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. It comes as the Taliban has tightened its grip on key parts of Afghanistan, where only a few dozen Al Qaeda operatives are thought to remain…
“What I have come to believe is you take the middle of the network,” McChrystal said. “You attack them, you capture, you kill and you turn as many of them as you can and you cause the network to collapse on itself.”…]
Asia Times – By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING – With 30,000 more United States troops on their way to Afghanistan, it is growing clearer that they will not suffice and that larger challenges loom. Afghanistan is also increasingly developing into a political proxy war between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan, which backed the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s and offered a safe haven and breeding ground to the Taliban in the 1990s, is now looking askance at the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, which it sees as pro-India. Conversely, India has fond memories of the time when Kabul was firmly under Moscow’s hands and out of Islamabad’s fist – and worries that the present American strategy will hand Kabul back to Pakistan.
India is also worried about the US’s diplomatic warming with China, the latter being Pakistan’s long-time ally. US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Beijing was a major success – despite some criticism – and set in motion a higher phase in bilateral ties.
Moreover, China is pressing in around India. It backed the peace process between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Colombo government this year, thus gaining new leverage in Sri Lanka. Nepal’s neo-Maoists are fashionably pro-Chinese, and sympathy for the Chinese government can be found in the neo-Maoist rebels active in about a third of India’s territory.
Further, on the eastern front, there is Myanmar, where New Delhi may gain ground but Beijing’s interests are firmly entrenched. If the new American policies in Afghanistan let Islamabad increase its clout in Kabul, New Delhi could rightly feel it is caught in a vice in which China – with American help – is pressing the levers.
However, this perception might be wrong. Afghanistan and Pakistan are not unstable domino tiles that can be moved at will in a careful balance of weights and counterweights, as in old political power games. Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of a more complex balancing act that is both domestic and international and in which we also find China and India. It is no mystery that the Afghanistan wound has festered to the point of poisoning Pakistan’s body.
Parts of Pakistan are subject to tribal rule, That is, tribes straddling the border have brought their rule to Pakistan, and Islamabad, vying for its own state legitimacy, has to cope with them. In other words, Afghanistan’s falling apart puts Pakistan in jeopardy, as the latter could also crumble, split between tribal and national interests: Pashtuns versus Punjabis or Sindhi or Balochi. The problem has become so big that the real issue now is no longer to simply stabilize Afghanistan, but to also stabilize Pakistan and prevent its fall into anarchy, as many pundits see it as an almost failing state. Thinking of Pakistan as a failing state does not help its recovery, and it further fuels the flames of chaos…]
From the Sand Pit – Message From a Recon Marine in Afghanistan
It’s freezing here. I’m sitting on hard, cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains , along the Dar ‘yoi Pomir River , watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave. Stake out, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles.
I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I’ve actually given up battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but them scorpions give a jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard. The antidote tastes like transmission fluid, but God bless the Marine Corps for the five vials of it in my pack.
The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers and that’s where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the handheld, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware. We bash some heads for a while, then I track and record the new movement.
It’s all about intelligence. We haven’t even brought in the snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they’re in for. We are but days way from cutting off supply lines and allowing the eradication to begin.
I dream of bin Laden waking up to find me standing over him with my boot on his throat as I spit into his face and plunge my nickel-plated Bowie knife through his frontal lobe. But you know me, I’m a romantic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This country blows, man. It’s not even a country. There are no roads, there’s no infrastructure, there’s no government. This is an inhospitable, rock pit shit hole ruled by eleventh century warring tribes. There are no jobs here like we know jobs.
Afghanistan offers two ways for a man to support his family: join the opium trade or join the army. That’s it. Those are your options. Oh, I forgot, you can also live in a refugee camp and eat plum-sweetened, crushed beetle paste and squirt mud like a goose with stomach flu, if that’s your idea of a party. But the smell alone of those ‘tent cities of the walking dead’ is enough to hurl you into the poppy fields to cheerfully scrape bulbs for eighteen hours a day.
I’ve been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks, and Turkmen and even a couple of Pushtuns, for over a month-and-a-half now, and this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of ’em, are Huns… Actual, living Huns.. They LIVE to fight. It’s what they do. It’s ALL they do…
They have no respect for anything, not for their families, nor for each other, nor for themselves. They claw at one another as a way of life. They play polo with dead calves and force their five-year-old sons into human cockfights to defend the family honor. Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each other’s barbarism. Cavemen with AK-47’s. Then again, maybe I’m just cranky.
I’m freezing my ass off on this stupid hill because my lap warmer is running out of juice, and I can’t recharge it until the sun comes up in a few hours. Oh yeah! You like to write letters, right? Do me a favor. Write a letter to CNN and tell Wolf and Anderson and that awful, sneering, pompous Aaron Brown to stop calling the Taliban ‘smart..’ They are not smart.
I suggest CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for is ‘cunning.’ The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and wolverines. They are sneaky and ruthless, and when confronted, cowardly. They are hateful, malevolent parasites who create nothing and destroy everything else. Smart.. Pfft. Yeah, they’re real smart.
They’ve spent their entire lives reading only one book (and not a very good one, as books go) and consider hygiene and indoor plumbing to be products of the devil. They’re still figuring out how to work a Bic lighter. Talking to a Taliban warrior about improving his quality of life is like trying to teach an ape how to hold a pen; eventually he just gets frustrated and sticks you in the eye with it.
OK, enough. Snuffle will be up soon, so I have to get back to my hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice, but I’m good at it.
Please, I tell you and my fellow Americans to turn off the TV sets and move on with your lives. The story line you are getting from CNN and other news agencies is utter bullshit and designed not to deliver truth but rather to keep you glued to the screen through the commercials. We’ve got this one under control The worst thing you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we’re doing over here, because you have no idea what we’re doing, and really, you don’t want to know. We are your military, and we are doing what you sent us here to do, keep you safe, and keep the fight off of American soil.
Buy Bonds America.
Recon Marine in Afghanistan Semper Fi
Origins: This letter purportedly written by a Marine serving in Afghanistan began circulating on the Internet at the end of November 2001. It has since been read over the air by a variety of radio hosts, which has helped to disseminate the piece to an even wider audience.
We have no idea if the letter actually came from someone serving in Afghanistan or if it’s the fanciful invention of someone stateside as no information has been provided about its author. Although the article has been presented as true on the radio, that shouldn’t sway anyone into believing it’s the real thing, because radio show hosts are notorious for reading on air items harvested from the Internet that have proved to be fictions.
No doubt this piece is so popular because it contains much that Americans would find appealing. Besides the interest (and novelty) in hearing from a soldier right on the front lines of a war in which we’re engaged, it gives voice to ideas that many of us want to believe: that our soldiers are brave and tough (neither a scorpion’s sting nor its supposedly transmission fluid-like antidote fazes Saucy Jack the Marine); that our armed forces are a well-organized, technologically advanced fighting machine up against a primitive enemy from a backwards country; that our foes are our inferiors, morally as well as militarily; and that the media often don’t know what it is talking about, and we’d all be better off if it just butted out and let our servicemen do their jobs.
Is the story at least believable? Not really — the narrative is rife with errors and inconsistencies: for example, Ab Gach, the panhandle, and the Hindu Kush mountains are all in the northeast portion of Afghanistan, not the northwest; scorpion antivenin is injected, not drunk; and a true “Recon Marine” wouldn’t be broadcasting specifics about his position and mission to the world at large. If this really was the work of a serviceman in Afghanistan, he was deliberately trying to be misleading or funny, not to convey an account of real events.
The “Saucy Jack” letter is as popular as it is because it purports to give insight into the day-to-day reality of a soldier in the field that CNN fails to provide. News emerging from the war in Afghanistan seems rigidly controlled, and the people back home are hungry for information that is not forthcoming. A missive such as this one thus falls on highly receptive ears.
By the way, the handle “Saucy Jack” might come from the musical “Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens,” a cabaret then currently being performed in London.
Barbara “jack of all trades” Mikkelson
Guardian – Charles Arthur, technology editor
“SkyGrabber is offline satellite internet downloader,” the page begins confidently, at once informing the native English speaker that the page wasn’t written by one. In fact SkyGrabber is a Russian programme – the site is apparently run by Cherkashyn Vyacheslav in Nab Podeba, Ukraine.
SkyGrabber is a simple enough concept: grab the signals that spill from a satellite broadcast (or even narrowcast), aimed from a satellite towards a specific location, and turn them into TV feeds you can look at. Or as the website puts it: “You don’t have to keep an online internet connection. Just customise your satellite dish to selected satellite provider and start grabbing.”
The US drones would send their video up to a US military satellite (the “uplink”) that cannot be intercepted. The signal would then be beamed by that satellite or a linked one down to the controllers – who might be in Afghanistan or Iraq. Because that signal was unencrypted, anyone who tuned their satellite dish to the correct frequency and location in the sky could pick up the signal, and decode it. And because any satellite downlink signal spreads a little, the area where it can be picked up is potentially huge.
The weakness has been known for a very long time. In February this year Adam Laurie, an “ethical hacker” who has spent a lot of time looking at satellite feed hacking, told the BlackHat conference that “anyone with a [satellite] dish can see data being broadcast” and that “things you would expect to be secure turn out not to be secure. The most worrying thing is you can just see all this data going by.” He has been at it since the 1990s – and in 1997 could see French TV reporters beaming back closed circuit coverage of Princess Diana’s death to the UK over unsecured feeds.
The only surprise is that the US army is surprised – given that it has known since the 1990s that the “downlink” (from the satellite) of the drone video was unencrypted. The internet may have been invented in the US, but its knowledge has spread far and wide — and insurgents have used websites and computer networks to organise themselves for years.
The thinking of the author of SkyGrabber is clear enough, given the other products he touts: they include Tuner4PC – for establishing internet connections via satellite uplink and downlinks – and LanGrabber, which “intercepts network downloads started by other users and saves information on your hard disk”. The latter is what hackers call a “sniffer”, seamlessly picking up the data that others are transferring and making a copy for you.
$26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected
WSJ – By SIOBHAN GORMAN, YOCHI J. DREAZEN and AUGUST COLE
WASHINGTON — Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.
The drone intercepts mark the emergence of a shadow cyber war within the U.S.-led conflicts overseas. They also point to a potentially serious vulnerability in Washington’s growing network of unmanned drones, which have become the American weapon of choice in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama administration has come to rely heavily on the unmanned drones because they allow the U.S. to safely monitor and stalk insurgent targets in areas where sending American troops would be either politically untenable or too risky.
The stolen video feeds also indicate that U.S. adversaries continue to find simple ways of counteracting sophisticated American military technologies.
U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds. In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.
In the summer 2009 incident, the military found “days and days and hours and hours of proof” that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. “It is part of their kit now.”
A senior defense official said that James Clapper, the Pentagon’s intelligence chief, assessed the Iraq intercepts at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and concluded they represented a shortcoming to the security of the drone network.
“There did appear to be a vulnerability,” the defense official said. “There’s been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there’s an issue that we can take care of and we’re doing so.”
Senior military and intelligence officials said the U.S. was working to encrypt all of its drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but said it wasn’t yet clear if the problem had been completely resolved.
Some of the most detailed evidence of intercepted feeds has been discovered in Iraq, but adversaries have also intercepted drone video feeds in Afghanistan, according to people briefed on the matter. These intercept techniques could be employed in other locations where the U.S. is using pilotless planes, such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, they said.
The Pentagon is deploying record numbers of drones to Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration’s troop surge there. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversees the Air Force’s unmanned aviation program, said some of the drones would employ a sophisticated new camera system called “Gorgon Stare,” which allows a single aerial vehicle to transmit back at least 10 separate video feeds simultaneously.
Gen. Deptula, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said there were inherent risks to using drones since they are remotely controlled and need to send and receive video and other data over great distances. “Those kinds of things are subject to listening and exploitation,” he said, adding the military was trying to solve the problems by better encrypting the drones’ feeds.
The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control. The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.
Last December, U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered copies of Predator drone feeds on a laptop belonging to a Shiite militant, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. “There was evidence this was not a one-time deal,” this person said. The U.S. accuses Iran of providing weapons, money and training to Shiite fighters in Iraq, a charge that Tehran has long denied.
The militants use programs such as SkyGrabber, from Russian company SkySoftware. Andrew Solonikov, one of the software’s developers, said he was unaware that his software could be used to intercept drone feeds. “It was developed to intercept music, photos, video, programs and other content that other users download from the Internet — no military data or other commercial data, only free legal content,” he said by email from Russia…]
Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s long-awaited testimony before Congress on the Afghanistan “surge” was, according to one account, “uneventful.” The general himself, another story noted, was “a study in circumspection.” And questioning from lawmakers was, said a third, “gentle.”
That’s a nice word for it. “Ineffectual” is more like it. Throw in “callous,” too, given House members’ obligations to constituents in the war zone, operating under what are surely the most restrictive rules of engagement (ROE) in U.S. history.
But not a single lawmaker appears to have ventured one question about these dangerously disarming ROEs, which, in Gen. McChrystal’s controversial view, are key to the success of his “counterinsurgency” strategy. What kind of a commander puts his forces’ lives at increased risk for a historically unsuccessful theory that depends not on winning battles against enemies, but on winning the “trust,” or, as we used to say (and as Gen. David Petraeus put it in Iraq), the “hearts and minds” of a primitive people immersed in the anti-Western traditions of Islam?
That would have made a nice ice-breaker of a question for any lawmaker troubled by the Petraeus-McChrystal policy of elevating Afghan “population protection” over U.S. “force protection” to win “the support” of this 99 percent Islamic country, and the rules that American forces must follow to do so. If, that is, there were any lawmakers so troubled.
Things really tightened up back in July, when Gen. McChrystal essentially grounded air support for troops except in dire circumstances. This, in the words of British defense intelligence analyst John McCreary, is “like fighting with a hand behind your back.” And with deadly results, such as the September firefight in Ganjgal where three Marines and a Navy Corpsman were killed when, according to McClatchy newspapers’ Jonathan S. Landay, repeated requests for support were nixed due to “new rules to avoid civilian casualties.”
As the Washington Times recently reported, the McChrystal counterinsurgency rules now include: No night searches. Villagers must be warned prior to searches. Afghan National Army or Afghan Police must accompany U.S. units on searches. Searches must account, according to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, “for the unique cultural sensitivities toward local women.” (“Islamic repressiveness” is more accurate, but that’s another story.) U.S. soldiers may not fire on the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first. U.S. forces may not engage the enemy if civilians are present. U.S. forces may fire at an enemy caught in the act of placing an IED, but not walking away from an IED area. And on it goes.
Here’s another ROE that Gen. McChrystal should have been asked to justify to all Americans who hope to see their loved ones return home in one piece. The London Times recently reported that Marines, about to embark on a dangerous supply mission, were shown a PowerPoint presentation that first illustrated locations of IEDs along the way and then warned the Marines “not to fire indiscriminately even if they were fired on.”
Even if they were fired on? Could they fire at all – even “discriminately”? How long does Gen. McChrystal think troops can hold their fire and maintain healthy morale? And how about a progress report on the investigation into that deadly disaster at Ganjgal? Congress wasn’t interested in any of these questions.
The Times story went on to note: “The briefing ended with a projected screen of McChrystal’s quote: “It’s not how many you kill, it’s how many you convince.”
Another question: How many you convince of what, general? Of the depravity of child marriage? Of the injustice of Sharia laws that subjugate women and non-Muslims? Of the inhumanity of jihad?
Of course not. In an oblique reference that likely took in Islam, Gen. McChrystal told Congress: “I think it’s very important that from an overall point of view, we understand how Afghan culture must define itself, and we be limited in our desire to change the fundamentals of it.
Fine. I don’t want to change Afghan culture, either. But acknowledging its roots in an ideology that is anti-Western is crucial to devising strategy for the region. That’s obvious. But not to any of our leaders.
Final question: Are such leaders, civilian and military, doing their duty when they send the nation to war with a strategy that totally ignores jihad, the war doctrine of the enemy?
CBS News – Posted by Kimberly Dozier
As we flew in to Forward Operating Base Frontenac, the terrain was mountainous — jagged hills cropping up suddenly in the middle of southern Afghanistan’s lunar rocky landscape.
But the day — the whole trip — was like a flashback to Iraq. There was Admiral Mike Mullen speaking to the troops, telling them their new strategy is to protect the population, just as previous commanders had done with troops in Anbar, and Mosul, and Baghdad in 2006 and 2007.
“We can tactically win,” the admiral said. “But if we’re killing local civilians we’re going to strategically lose.”
He didn’t have to argue the point. There were nods in the crowd. A Stryker Company he was speaking to had taken more casualties than any unit since 9/11 when kicking this new strategy into high gear – 21 KIA so far, one of the largest losses borne by a single unit in this entire war.
But the Stryker guys had been through this before. One told us how they’d been at the frontline of counterinsurgency in Iraq, and they’d seen it turn things around after initially being skeptical the plan would work.
“We’ve closed the gap on human intel,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Neumann told us, ticking off what he saw as gains tallied against soldiers lost. He told a ragged group of reporters traveling with chairman Mullen that the intel from Afghans, which started flowing once locals were convinced the Americans would stay, meant his guys had been able to sweep up caches of weapons and stockpiles of explosives at a record rate.
He said they still faced a steady stream of IEDs — improvised explosive devices — but he said the construction and composition of the bombs was generally more primitive, and they were finding more of them. “We’ve hit them so hard, they’re making mistakes,” the colonel said. But he also admitted the drop in lethality of the bombs being used against them was probably also due to what he called the “snowbird syndrome,” where top Taliban commanders, including bomb engineers, spend the winter across the border in Pakistan . . . planning the spring campaign.
He was also laying out his campaign in broad terms: to develop the relationships with locals so that they will turn their backs on the Taliban.
It’s the other side of the “win trust and confidence” coin of COIN (or counterinsurgency): keep up the pressure on the remaining Taliban fighters with raids. The ultimate goal is that the Taliban leaders would find no one willing to give them shelter, food or aid when they returned, so they would leave — and the low-level Taliban fighters left behind, with no place to hide, would leave as well, or take off the black turban and go back to farming.
We asked how he felt about trying to accomplish all this by the President’s target drawdown date of July 2011. His reaction to it, rather than the outrage by some in Washington, was one of relief. He said it gave his troops something to shoot for, and most importantly of all, he concluded, “It means we won’t be here forever.”
Camp Nathan Smith – Kandahar City
At our next stop, another flashback. Admiral Mullen sat down for a shura with five colorfully-dressed Afghan elders who had risked their lives just showing up for this meeting — just like Iraqi chiefs used to gather with U.S. commanders in Ramadi, or Tikrit or Kirkuk. Another five elders were invited but never showed.
For security reasons, they hadn’t been told who they’d be meeting with (only that is was an “important American”).
Mullen pulled up his chair to their table, instead of sitting across the room from them at the executive table set up for him. Then he pulled out a notebook, and asked them to tell him what they need.
They did not hold back. For two hours, while Mullen’s staff kept cups of tea coming, the admiral heard everything from demands for a new dam (or two, if we Americans could swing it), to complaints that their young men need an army training facility built in Kandahar, instead of having to go all the way to Kabul, where the elders say their southern Pashtun ways make them the butt of abuse from Northerners.
But the most striking message of all was this: Stop fighting for us.
“You must understand our culture,” one said. “It’s insulting for you to die for us. We should be dying to take back our country, not you.”…]
By Stephen J. Blank, June 2009 (PDF) (65 PAGES)
Specifically, the U.S. Government under President Obama should consider and act upon the following recommendations and policies to facilitate the aforementioned strategic goals of victory in Afghanistan and the enhanced independence of Central Asian states.
First, it must continue the Bush administration’s emphasis upon regional integration of Central Asia with South and East Asia in regard to energy, electricity, and other commodities.
As S. Frederick Starr, Director of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, has written, Clearly defeating the Taliban and destroying Al Qaeda should be a priority.
But these goals are best pursued in the context of a broader and more positive regional purpose. This would be true even if the rise of the SCO and Eurasec [Eurasian Economic Community] did not call for a strategic response from the United States.
Washington should also expand its horizons to foster greater U.S.-European and U.S.-Japanese cooperation in Central Asia so that these states are able to trade more openly with Europe and the United States as well.
In other words, the West should leverage its superior economic power to achieve constructive and jointly conceived strategic objectives. While energy and access to pipelines are the priorities, other goods and services must also be included wherever possible.
Greater involvement by the EU and Japan that parallels NATO involvement would therefore contribute to this latter enhancement of existing U.S. policies.
Second, the administration must build upon that foundation and conceive of the road it now seeks to build for logistical purposes to supply U.S. forces as also being a powerful engine for regional economic development and integration.
This aspect of the policy called for here as part of the overall strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan and stabilizing Central Asia must be a multilateral project with as many local and other key partners (NATO, Russia, and China) as possible.
This is because “The more consent America attracts abroad, the greater the practical assistance upon which the country will be able to draw and the more likely that U.S. policy will succeed. If this sometimes elusive condition is met, American strategy should prove sustainable.”
This multilateral support is essential to persuade local participants that U.S. aims are not inimical to their own but rather in sync with them. As Sir Michael Howard wrote in 2003, American power is indispensable for the preservation of global order, and as such it must be recognized, accommodated, and where possible supported.
But if it is to be effective, it needs to be seen and legitimized as such by the international community. If it is perceived rather as an instrument serving a unilateral conception of national security that amounts to a claim to world domination—pursuing, in fact, a purely “American War against Terror”—that is unlikely to happen.
Third, it must not detach this road from other parts of U.S. policy. Instead the administration should see it as the centerpiece of a coordinated policy and policy actions to integrate existing programs for trade, investment, and infrastructural projects, particularly with regard to water quality and increasing water supplies for all of Central Asia.
This will lay a better foundation for the lasting economic and thus political security of Central Asian states, and indirectly through such support will help their continuing economic political independence and integration with Asia and the global economy.
Fourth, it must, at the same time, reform the interagency process which is universally regarded as broken. We need to pursue security in this region and in individual countries as specified above, namely in a holistic, multidimensional, and integrated way that enhances all the elements of security, not just military security.
While we do not espouse any particular course of reform of the interagency process, several points should be made here. First, the strategy and policy outlined is not purely or mainly military. Second, it therefore optimally should not be led by the U.S. military but include it under civilian leadership as an important, but not dominating, element in that strategy for Central Asia.
While in Afghanistan actual hostilities requiring a military strategy are required, it is also accepted that an important component of our policy and strategy there must be to improve governance and economic conditions for the population.
The overall strategy must shun the previous procedures and lack of integrated planning for both hard and soft power elements that have led to “stovepipe efforts that do not achieve full and efficient results and effects in areas of operations.”
Unfortunately this attribute is pervasive and not only in regard to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Thus, in 2005 Congressman J. Randy Forbes testified to the congressionally mandated U.S.-China Commission that, At every briefing we attend, no matter how high ranking the participants, we are told that there is no coordinated approach to analyzing the multi-faceted complex nature of the China problem and the communication between agencies is inadequate at best. This must be remedied as soon as possible.
Instead, as one recent paper on the subject of reforming this process notes, if the U.S. system is to address the ever increasing level of complexity in providing security at home and abroad, “indeed if it is to operate as a system at all rather than a collection of separate components—then security reform must stress unity, integration, and inclusion across all levels.” This new process must take a long-term view of the problems with which it will grapple, especially in the light of our own financial crisis.
Within that call for reform, there are several common themes in recent works and statements on this subject that emphasize, as well, the need for multilateral support for such programs.
Furthermore, in all our efforts, whether they are regional or within a particular country, experience shows the absolute inescapable necessity that the operation to provide such multidimensional security must be organized along lines of unity of command and unity of effort to succeed.
Whether the format is one of a country team led by the ambassador that pulls all the strings of U.S. programs together or a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF) is almost a secondary question. The paramount need is for well-conceived plans that can be implemented under the principle of this unity of command leading to a unity of effort.124
Fifth, a key component of an expanded, integrated, and holistic approach to security in both Afghanistan and Central Asia must entail a vigorous effort to combat narcotics trafficking. This is not just because it is a scourge to both Afghanistan and the CIS, but also because it is clear that the Afghan government is either incapable or unwilling to act and is more concerned with blaming others for its deficiencies.
Furthermore, such action will convince Central Asian states and Russia that we take their security concerns seriously and will facilitate their cooperation with our policy and strategy.
Sixth, the administration and NATO should jointly offer Central Asian states an expanded menu of “a la carte” programs for enhancing security, border defense, train and equip programs, interoperability, antinarcotics, and, if possible, combat support roles for Central Asian countries in Afghanistan. “Parallel to this, the United States should enter into 5-year military to-military agreements with each country similar to what it has recently renewed with Kazakhstan.”
Doing so would further engage the U.S. military with those forces in Central Asia and provide them with an alternative model to the Russian army’s ways of doing business. This would also be a visible sign of continuing high U.S. interest in Central Asian countries’ defense and security and of its desire to cooperate with them toward realizing their goals.
Arguably, only on the basis of such an integrated multidimensional and multilateral program can a strategy to secure Central Asia against the ravages of economic crisis and war be built, while we also seek to prosecute the war in Afghanistan in a similarly holistic way.
It has long since been a critical point in U.S. policy for Central Asia that we seek to advance these states’ independence, security, and integration, both at a regional level and with the global economy. U.S. experts and scholars have also argued for such a perspective.
Thus this project could and probably should serve as the centerpiece of a renewed American economic strategy to help Central Asia fight off the Taliban and cope simultaneously with the global economic crisis.
An integrated program of economic and military action in Central Asia is surely called for given the scope of our growing involvement and the stakes involved in a region whose strategic importance is, by all accounts, steadily growing.
Especially as we are now increasing our troop commitment to Afghanistan and building this new supply road, challenge and opportunity are coming together to suggest a more enduring basis for a lasting U.S. contribution to Central Asia’s long-term security.
In effect, the present crisis has brought matters to the point where the United States has obtained a second chance in Central Asia, even as it is becoming more important in world affairs.
It is rare that states get a second chance in world politics. But when the opportunity knocks, somebody should be at home to answer the door.
Related Previous Posts:
PBS (Frontline): Obama’s War
Express Buzz: ISI’s feeling pretty bubbly
Long War Journal (Multimedia): Pakistan Strike Data
Wash Post Interactive Map: Coalition Troops – Afghanistan
Wash Post: The Battle of Wanat
Strategy Page: The Pakistani Paradox
Updated American Thinker Article and Related Links – end