By Christopher Swift
Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs
I've done fieldwork on the insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan and have studied the war there for nearly 15 years. I've also interviewed several very prominent rebels.
This would mark the first time Chechens have attacked any sort of U.S. target. Up until now their focus has been on Russia. This is a big deal. And it shows how the conflict in the Caucasus has metastasized into a kind of globalized jihadist theatre, at least in the minds of the young people fighting there.
These guys likely had no connection to the Caucasus Emirate in person; connection would likely have been online. This looks more and more like "resonant effects," rather than something planned and executed by a cadre-level organization.
Chechens I know are completely crushed. Let's hope the FBI gets to the remaining suspect before the Chechen refugee community in Boston does. Boston welcomed and protected Chechen asylum seekers like no other city. Those people will tear these kids to pieces for the harm they've done.
A midday update:
As I'm learning more and more, it looks like most of these "connections" would have been online rather than through working with a terrorist syndicate out in the field. These kids have been out of Russia for more than a decade. And it looks like they've been living highly compartmentalized lives as well.
Based on these facts, I doubt we have a Faisal Shahzad-style situation. The Caucasus Emirate is about two companies in size. Most of these guys are living in tents in the mountains and constantly moving between safe houses. Their reach outside the region is very limited. Even the Kavkaz website is run outside the region.
I've been in that terrain. It's very difficult physicial and sociological ground to traverse, even for a local. So I'd be shocked to see that they were connected directly to the group.
It looks like the bomber was in Russia just last year. If this is true, then we may in fact have a Shahzad-type event on our hands. It's still too soon to know whether this is international or a lone-wolf event based on these new facts.
Christopher Swift is an adjunct professor of national security studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a fellow at the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law.
Editor's Note: The headline on this post has been changed.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Prison is a good place to learn to really listen to your own mind and your own body. I've learned to read much more deeply, for instance. For four months, I had nothing to read but the Bible, so I read it for all four months -- diligently, picking everything apart. Prison is like a monastery -- it's a place for ascetic practices. After a month here, I became a vegetarian. Walking in circles for an hour in that tiny dusty yard gets you into a pretty meditative state as well. We don't get much in the way of the news. But enough to get inspired. "
Later in the interview, she comments, in an aside, "unlike Putin, we're not chickenshit."
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on June 6, 2011.
The Ink Spots has a good proposal for better names for phases of the Afghan war than "Consolidation II" and so on:
- Bombing the Piss out of the Taliban - Sept. 11, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2001
- Escape from Tora Bora - Dec. 1, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2001
- General Indifference - Jan. 1, 2002 to March 18, 2003
- Economy of Force - March 19, 2003 to Nov. 30, 2009
- The Good War - Dec. 1, 2009 to June 21, 2011
- The Expensive, Disappearing War - June 22, 2011 through a date to be determined
I didn't know it was possible, but Col. Wayne Steele has served in the Marine Corps for 41 years. Now 61 years old, he is deployed to Afghanistan. He's been a gunnery sergeant and a CWO5 and, for the last 30 years, an officer. One of his sons will retire from the Army before he retires from the Marines.
It reminds me of the time I saw an old soldier wearing an Americal combat patch in Baghdad. But he had broken time.
It's kind of like hearing the neighbors arguing late at night -- you can hear the shouts, but can't quite make out the meaning. That is, I don't quite understand the inside baseball here, but The American Conservative sets out to demolish neoconservative icon Leo Strauss:
Strauss was at best a mediocre scholar whose thought expressed a confused bipolarity between a very German and ahistorical Grecophilia on the one hand and a scattered, dogmatic, and unsophisticated apology for an American version of liberal universalism on the other.
This is the equivalent of one soldier calling another "a lardass REMF fobbit liberal." Why do I mention this obscure intellectual squabble in this blog? Because there are those who contend that followers of Strauss at the Pentagon and elsewhere in the Bush administration were instrumental in getting the United States to invade Iraq.
By Stacy Bare
Best Defense movie critic
Go see the movie High Ground. If you are a veteran or part of the military, it's an important film to watch to remind yourself of what you and your brothers and sisters in arms may be struggling with when they get out of the military, and more importantly, how they are triumphing and how even out of the military, you can continue to push yourself. If you are not in the military, it's an important film to watch because it puts several incredible human faces onto the 'veteran issues' our country is struggling to resolve when our men and service women come home from war.
The film, made by award winning filmmaker Michael Brown through Serac Films and the Outside Adventure Film School, is a survey of 11 veterans and one gold star mother (gold stars refer to those who have lost a son, daughter, spouse, or family member at war) who make a trek to the top of Lobuche Mountain in Nepal. They are supported in their mission by Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to summit Mt. Everest, and his team of climbers and support staff. Erik and his team initially set out to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his summit of Everest before taking on the larger veteran project through the organization Soldiers to the Summit.
The highlights of the film are not the breathtaking shots of the Himalaya mountains and valleys, or watching the physically impressive feats of men and women pushing their bodies in spite of a range of physical disabilities, from missing limbs to a loss of eyesight. While Brown does a fantastic job with these shots, the movie should be seen for the individuals whose stories are told, often using home movies and old photographs alongside the more polished cinematography.
Viewers are not invited to pity the veterans but are shown real people to connect to, and at times, brutally honest descriptions of the veteran experience. Most viewers should be able to see some of themselves in at least one of the participants and perhaps this alone will be the movie's triumph: to build a stronger bridge of understanding between the veteran and non-veteran.
You may, as I did, find yourself criticizing or questioning certain aspects of the overall project. For example, if as one of the participants -- Dan Sidles -- suggests, climbing a mountain in the Himalayas helps to create the camaraderie, sense of mission, and love that he felt while in the service, could that same sense of camaraderie be found in climbing mountains in the United States? And, for the same cost as climbing in Nepal, how many more climbs, with how many more veterans could be held within the borders of the country we defended?
The trick though is not to let the negatives that might seep in at the corners get to you. All in all, High Ground is a beautiful film, well shot, good action, and with a great story -- several stories in fact -- that America needs to hear about wartime and the military veteran experience. At 90 minutes, everyone has the time to go see the movie and to learn something about how and why we, as individuals fight and what it's like when we come home.
Make sure when the film comes to town to get your tickets and if you miss it in the theaters, definitely get yourself the DVD. Stay up to date on the film's tour and release dates here.
Stacy Bare served as a captain in the U.S. Army from 2000-2004 and again from 2006-2007. He served as the Counter Terrorism Team Chief in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 2003-04 and as a Civil Affairs Team Chief in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2006-07. He is now the Military Families and Veterans Representative for the Sierra Club. At 6'8" and 260 pounds of pure muscle, Stacy himself resembles a mountain. He probably would have been signed by the All Blacks as a flanker or fullback but for his love of veterans and rock climbing.
By Ken Weisbrode
Best Defense department of Thucydidian analysis
Some months after the 9/11 attacks the diplomatic historian Paul Schroeder published an article in The National Interest with the title, "The Risks of Victory: An Historian's Provocation." He posed a simple question that has been asked many times: How does a minor crisis lead to a major war? He considered the possibility that the 9/11 attacks would result in something far worse, and the analogy he gave was to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.
Another Great War has not taken place, and even if it were to happen in the near future, it would be difficult at this point to claim that the fuse for it was lit on September 2001. Much has happened since in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, Schroeder's provocation should still be taken seriously. We recall that not once during the entire Cold War (with the partial exception of Soviet pilots in the Korean War) did soldiers of the two main protagonists fire on one another. But both superpowers were engaged in armed conflict to one degree or another during the entire course of the conflict. The remarkable thing is that none of these smaller wars or crises escalated to an all-out hot war between the superpowers.
The consensus seems to be that nuclear weapons and the doctrine of mutually assured destruction are primarily responsible for that. This may be true but there is no way to prove it. We are told that John F. Kennedy had the 1914 scenario in mind (thanks to his reading of Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War calculus may have been reversed whereby nuclear weapons and the prestige associated with deterrence made escalation more, rather than less, likely in this instance.
A higher cost attributed to escalation, in other words, does not do away with Schroeder's basic question. How and why do major powers make crises worse? Political scientists and others have been testing hypotheses for a long time, but a general blueprint still eludes us. One reason may be that their models emphasize the roles of major actors over minor ones. For nearly a century historians have debated whether Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia or the "system" was most responsible for the escalation leading to World War I.
Tom has recently reminded us to ask who won the Peloponnesian War and, by implication, who lost the most after starting it. Our eyes are trained to hunt for underlying structural conditions, "the long fuse," and great, zero-sum rivalries.
Overlooked in many of these accounts are the active and sometimes dominant roles of instigators: Corcyreans, Serbs, Cubans, et al. These second- and even third-tier revisionist powers tend to follow a different, more opportunistic calculus. They too -- potentially -- have everything to lose, but also much more to gain, they must imagine, from provoking a war among much bigger powers. The burden falls upon the latter to master the ways of defusing crises before it is too late.
As a follow-up item to yesterday's post about the blown-up captain getting a ticket in Bagram for not wearing a reflector belt, a congressional staffer passes along this photo he took at the big base at Kandahar air field in 2009.
Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22 that it is the nature of military organizations that staffs established to support line units eventually begin thinking that the line units work for them -- and treating line soldiers like it.
I think fiction must use a different part of the brain. I wouldn't read an academic analysis of CIA-ISI relations til past midnight, but after a long day of travel, I stayed up hours to finish reading this book.
As it happens, the other day I ran into an American diplomat who is an expert in the Middle East and strongly recommended Ignatius' previous novel, The Increment, about Iran.
So what should foreign policy wonks read on the beach this summer? I'd say the complete works of Ignatius, which amount to a grand tour of the Middle East -- start with Agents of Innocence (Lebanon, and worth the price of admission just for the stomach-churning chapter in the middle about being an Israeli agent in Syria) and work your way with him through the region.
By Lt. Col. David Flynn, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Thanks, Tom, for allowing me to contribute. For those who think I don't have the time nor should I be involved in the business of blogging, I feel privileged to exercise my First Amendment rights in the name of the Constitution I have sworn to support and defend.
I'm glad that Mr. Foust has gained a certain degree of civility in the debate, and I respect his positions. Before I dive into the Tarok Kalache discussion I want to reiterate a couple points made in my initial post that apparently were not clear. No weapons have been issued to the Charqolba ALP, and the vetting process, not yet complete, IS thru the MOI and other government officials.
We're not arming "militias," and we monitor the program in concert with the local police by living in the village with the prospective members. We all recognize the risks moving forward, but have entered this venture wholly with the Afghan government and citizenry at their request in our district. To fully describe the ALP program would require more space than this blog can hold, so allow me now to step into the eye of the hurricane in this Taliban sanctuary elimination discussion.
We arrived in June of 2010, fully vested in the population-centric COIN principles promulgated by the former COMISAF, Gen. McChrystal, FM 3-24, and nearly a year's worth of preparation to fight in Afghanistan. We didn't walk into our initial fight and seek air support at the first sound of gunfire because we were very much in tune with the potential adverse effects on the population we are trying to separate from the insurgent.
Our intelligence suggested the enemy was meeting the surge in Arghandab with hundreds of IEDs and mines, turning a relatively small area into a veritable minefield. During the relief in place as explained by some other readers we saw firsthand the density of mines and IEDs laced throughout the battlefield. In the first one hundred days of fighting we saw more than 200 IEDs in a 2 by 6 kilometer area roughly equivalent to an IED exposure every 60 meters patrolled on foot by our soldiers. The enemy had the advantage of knowing the terrain, excellent cover and concealment to conduct their attacks, and knowledge of where the IEDs had been inserted.
As we made our plan to clear the villages of the district we made an assumption that the villages were inhabited. We discovered soon after the initial raids that many of the villages were occupied by the Taliban, defended heavily with IEDs, and devoid of any civilian presence. We asked for and received all the enablers required to fight in a minefield. We fought for nearly 100 days prior to the assault on the Taliban sanctuary of Tarok Kalache. During those 100 days we endured multiple killed and wounded in action mostly from the IEDs/mines dotting the landscape. Never did these devices deter our soldiers from continuing forward and pushing the fight to the enemy.
During those 100 days, I became friends with the malik of Tarok Kalache. He explained to me on more than one occasion that there were no civilians living in his former village. They had all sought refuge in homes throughout the province, and all that remained in the village were Taliban fighters. We fought this enemy, 600 meters to the south of COP STOUT that we seized on July 30th. To those who think it's easy to simply move 600 meters through a densely vegetated minefield under fire, I will tell you I had other objectives to accomplish and devised a plan to take the village later in the fighting season as we did. It was part of the plan.
Ms. Broadwell corresponds, "I thought I'd ask LTC David Flynn, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th in Kandahar Provence, Afghanistan to clarify the Afghan Local Police initiative skepticism and punditry on one blogger's mind. Here's what Flynn had to say in response to Joshua Foust's blog.":
Tom comment: No matter where you come down on this, I am impressed to see Lt. Col. Flynn respond in real time -- very unusual for an Army that still likes to move 2.5 MPH in media engagements.
So, duck and cover, and here goes:
Flynn: It has been with great pleasure that I've had the opportunity to read the orator Joshua Faust report from his desk in the U.S. via Registan.net. It seems, unfortunately, Mr. Faust lacks the context to editorialize in a way that enables his readers to ascertain an objective view. My name is LTC David Flynn and have been operating in the Arghandab District since June 2010. This is my second deployment to Kandahar and have over 20 months of experience in the Arghandab. Allow me to explain the nascent ALP in one of 4 villages that we have stood up in my Area of Operations in response to Foust's punditry.
Foust: LTC Flynn decided to give one elder in a district the power to build his own militia, which that elder liked. The men he chose for that militia could not be vetted by the Ministry of the Interior quickly enough, so the LTC decided to abandon General Petraeus' orders and the legal restrictions on arming militias and give them weapons and training anyway. LTC Flynn's trainers are having a hard time convincing these men not to beat people in the street, but are hopeful they can be "smarter than the TB."
Flynn: The men chosen for this particular ALP were vetted by senior Afghan Police Officials, who are subordinate to the MOI, and vectored my way to begin a training process that is led by some of my finest infantry NCOs and mentored by an ODA Team operating in my AO. The ALP members have been approved also by the village Shura and are led to training by their Malik. We will issue them weapons to operate on their own after they have completed background checks, biometric screening, medical checks, District Chief of Police and District Governor vetting and final approval by the MOI. I expect this process to take a few more weeks before we are ready to issue weapons. The weapons are issued by MOI officials and at that time the District government will issue identification cards with the serial numbers matching the weapon issued.
Tom's bottom line: "one of the most important accounts on the subject to appear in years." By now you can guess that I liked it.
Politics and Prose
I remember how I used to listen to various NATO officials complain about how member nations were not sending enough helicopters to Afghanistan. Now it appears that the chickens have come home to roost: The Canadian media is reporting that the Canadian Ministry of Defence has quietly leased a bunch of Russian helicopters to use in southern Afghanistan.
My first thought was this was to fool the locals. But I don't think it would fool the Taliban, who know their Russian helicopters. Canadian Navy Lt. Kelly Rozenberg-Payne said that Canadian forces in Afghanistan simply needed some additional vertical lift: "The (operational) tempo within the air wing became very great and it was just assessed by commanders on the ground that they needed additional platforms to help move troops around," she said.
My guess is that because both the Afghan and Pakistani militaries use the Mi-17, this makes it more convenient to fly NATO forces across the border and into the FATA as necessary, with lots of plausible deniability, especially if they are flown at night and no one gets around to painting a lot of markings on the aircraft. That would explain why, as the Canadian report puts it, "details were kept off the MERX web-site, which formally lists government procurement competitions, and no news release was issued about the new choppers, which have been in use since the spring."
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a response to Col. Gian Gentile's comments that I ran Monday about how to revise the Army/Marine counterinsurgency manual. The author must remain anonymous.
By "Clair Huldenbild"
Best Defense counterinsurgency defender
I don't usually agree with Gian, but I have supported the idea that FM 3-24 is incomplete and requires substantive updating. I don't buy the "deconstruction" argument, though, or his three options. I wanted to underscore the fact that the Operations chapter lays out three separate but not exclusive operational approaches -- one is pop.-centered, long term and it got the most coverage, while the Limited/El Salvador option and Combined Action (shared FID) got VERY short shrift.
I think our leadership wrote the manual for the war they knew we were fighting and not for posterity. It was doctrine with a mission, and thus it is not applicable enough for future scenarios, as Gian argues.
I liked this line, and support it: "we would move away from the dogmatic belief currently held that anytime an insurgency is fought it must be of the population centric (FM 3-24, aka state building) persuasion, and that methods of CT and FID are subsumed within it and hence are seen as 'lesser' operations. To reemphasize the key here is operational equality of the respective three."
We definitely need to broaden the aperture of our understanding of different COIN/CT/Civil conflict challenges.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Target, one of three stray dogs who battled a suicide bomber, keeping him from entering an Army barracks in Afghanistan and ultimately saving the lives of the 50 soldiers inside, met an unjust and sad end this week.
The heroic Target, who got her name because, according to one soldier, local Afghans made sport of trying to "off her" (she was shot in the shoulder and even run over by a car), was picked up last week by animal control and brought to the Pinal County Animal Care and Control Shelter in Arizona where she was euthanized by mistake.
Ironically, Target was hardly a stray when she was brought to the shelter. This summer, Target had been safely delivered from Afghanistan to her adoptive family, that of Sgt. Terry Young, one of the soldiers she'd saved.
The outpouring of response to the news about Target has been tremendous. (A quick Google search shows over 400 articles in only three days time.) As has the outcry of support for the Youngs and anger toward the shelter. The employee responsible who failed to follow standard procedure and snuffed the dog too quickly has been suspended. A full investigation is expected.
Sgt. Young and his family are devastated. He told the New York Times:
"My 4-year-old keeps saying: ‘Daddy, bring Target home. Daddy, get the poison out,' " Sergeant Young, a father of three, said in a telephone interview, his voice choking with emotion. "Obviously, at first there was extreme anger and horror. Now that a couple of days have passed, the anger has been replaced by sorrow."
Perhaps it's little consolation at the heartbreaking end of an otherwise happy story, but here's one detail that doesn't appear to have been widely reported:
Target was pregnant when she helped thwart the suicide bomber by attacking him. She had her litter of puppies in Afghanistan [and they've] since been brought to the United States.
A candlelight vigil in Target's honor is scheduled for Dec. 3.
Five 101st Airborne soldiers were killed on Sunday by small arms fire in Afghanistan's Kunar province -- I am guessing in operations in the Pech Valley, which has been frisky lately.
When I saw five had died, I first thought it must have been a big IED. But five being killed by small arms fire feels like a patrol got ambushed or an outpost nearly got overrun, which reminds me of Wanat.
Here's the Pentagon announcement:
They died Nov. 14 in Kunar province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked their unit with small arms fire.
Spc. Shane H. Ahmed, 31, of Chesterfield, Mich.
Spc. Nathan E. Lillard, 26, of Knoxville, Tenn.
Spc. Scott T. Nagorski, 27, of Greenfield, Wis.
Spc. Jesse A. Snow, 25, of Fairborn, Ohio.
Pfc. Christian M. Warriner, 19, of Mills River, N.C.
They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.
My condolences to their families and comrades.
U.S. Department of Defense
Here is a note from my CNAS colleague Ethan Kapstein, who has been hanging out in Kabul lately:
The firing of General Stanley McChrystal following his remarks to a Rolling Stone reporter risk overwhelming the real progress that is now being made in Afghanistan. In particular, Afghanistan is enjoying strong economic growth in several parts of the country.
What explains these regional booms? The answer is clear: It's security.
For that reason, a premature withdrawal of American forces -- now slated by the Obama Administration to begin in July 2011 -- could undermine all that is being achieved. The data show that when Afghans feel secure, they invest in their economy. The United States and its coalition partners should not depart before they are confident that this economic momentum can be maintained, since it is growth which provides the surest foundations for a more peaceful future.
It's not really surprising that Afghanistan is ready for an economic take-off; after so many decades of conflict, there's pent-up demand for almost every good and service imaginable. As a result, many different sectors of the economy are booming, including construction, finance, and transportation.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
I'm not kidding.
As I write this, my two dogs are rolling around on the floor wrestling. After I finish this we are going for a walk in the woods. They suspect the ayatollah is just giving religious cover to national custom. They also think he probably is a damn cat lover.
The Pug Father/flickr
The New York Times's breathless coverage of minerals in Afghanistan was greeted with chuckles not only by FP's Blake Hounshell but by old Afghan hands. Here John Stuart Blackton, who has shaken more Helmand River sand out of his shorts than most Americans in Afghanistan have walked on, provides some background. By the way, before running USAID in Afghanistan, John attended Stephens College of Delhi-as did Pakistan's Gen. Zia.
By John Stuart Blackton
Best Defense Afghan natural resources editor
The " discovery" of Afghanistan's minerals will sound pretty silly to old timers. When I was living in Kabul in the early 1970's the USG, the Russians, the World Bank, the UN and others were all highly focused on the wide range of Afghan mineral deposts. The Russian geological service was all over the North in the 60's and 70's.
Cheap ways of moving the ore to ocean ports has always been the limiting factor. The Russians were looking at a northern rail corridor.
Take a look at this little bibliography of Afghan mineral assessments. This one is mostly Russian, but pre-dates the DoD/USG "discovery" period by 30 years. In my day we did a joint USG/Iranian study of a potential rail line from Afghanistan to several of the Iranian rail hubs. This was predicated on mineral exploitation in a way that would thwart the Russian's northern rail corridor plans.
In the early 70's the USG had an old FDR New-Deal planner/economist/brains-truster - Bob Nathan - working with the Afghan Ministry of Plan to work out a fifty year mineral exploitation program. When the Russians took over they picked up Bob's plans and extended them. So this is anything but a "new discovery".
Low cost, long haul transport infrastructure remains the constraint. The Louis Berger "four inches of asphalt on the old Ring Road" doesn't do it.
CanadaGood / Flickr.com
Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine warns that high-tech surveillance gear is nice to have, but can't be seen as a substitute for getting out there yourself, and can get in the way, too.
Technology. Used appropriately, can be a force multiplier. Unfortunately, Marines look at our technology as short cut tools. If I got my trusty G-Boss aimed down that road, I don't need to patrol it or if there is a boom in the area, no reason to go and investigate as I will just track it on my handy G-Boss. No doubt these things are impressive tools and can help considerably but nothing compares to a Marine being there or seeing it with his own eyes. I don't know how many times I have seen stuff on G-Boss that I was 100 percent convinced a hostile act is occurring but when I got down there, I found the guy was slaughtering a goat in the middle of the road at five in the morning and that historic IED spot was just the place to do it at or just farming at night because it's hot in the day time. Things aren't always what they appear, especially when it's two clicks away and at a sloping angle. We used to claim that the difference in the Marine Corps and other services was that we trained the man and equipped him, where the other branches just manned the equipment and it did the job. Most of our leaders are doing the right thing but some have become trapped into the economy via G-Boss and Scan Eagle.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Here Army Maj. Nathan Murphy, who toils on AfPak counterterrorism issues in the SO/LIC salt mines of the Pentagon, suggests that more collection platforms and more computer databases are not the answer to the problems that plague the American intelligence community.
We now live in a time where a simple order of any item is just not good enough. It has to be faster, bigger, and the very best ever seen by mankind to this point. It's not good enough to have a burger and fries; we have to make them enormous providing enough calories for a long day toiling on a construction site which very few of us do. Our quest for portion dominance on the world's culinary table pours over into other aspects of American culture as is evident from our oversized SUVs to our 42 roll packs of toilet paper. Am I against such luxuries afforded to us as arguably the world's last super power? Of course not. The 72 oz. big gulp sitting in the cup holder of your Hummer is a part of modern Americana but is unfortunately an indictment on our society as a whole.
What up with that? I don't understand what is going on. He was planning to go to China and was told he was on the "Exit Control List" and couldn't go.
MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a response from my old hood to the item the other day about Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, calling on U.S. military spending in that country to be re-directed in such a way as to stimulate the Afghan economy. He says some of the things Khalilzad mentioned already are being done:
Greetings from Kabul. To introduce myself, I'm Colonel (Canadian Army, Retired) Mike Capstick, the Country Director, Peace Dividend Trust -- Afghanistan. We're an International not-for-profit NGO, see: http://www.peacedividendtrust.org/
One of our major projects is Peace Dividend Marketplace -- Afghanistan. The mission of this project is to advocate and facilitate local procurement by the entire international community. The concept is simple, keep more of the money being spent on Afghanistan in Afghanistan. On this point I couldn't agree more with the spirit and intent of the comments attributed to Ambassador Khalilzad in your post dated 16 December.
Ambassador Khalilzad is on target when he advocates an "Afghan First" approach that leverages the impressive spending power of the US military and other international entities to stimulate the economy. He is, however, a bit out of date when he implies that the US Mission is still importing everything that it consumes.
In recent months Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal (as CG USFOR-A) have issued a formal Afghan First policy that applies to the entire mission -- the military, USAID, State and their contractors. This policy formalizes the Afghan First effort that the DOD contracting system has been pursuing since 2006. Khalilzad is entirely correct in his assessment of the enormous potential impact of US military spending on the Afghan economy. The Ambassador understands this as does the military -- in the last FY, the DOD contracting system awarded over $1 Billion in contracts to Afghan businesses. This represents around 70% of their total expenditures, and we estimate that this will exceed the $2 Billion mark this year.
I could listen to CWO2/Gunner (and former gunnery sergeant) Keith Marine -- he insists that is his real name -- all day long. As one of the commenters said, he speaks real English. So listen in here as he discusses partnering with Afghan forces:
[W]e will never succeed unless these guys know we care and get them proficient enough to do the job. First understand that they are not Americans and have a different culture. You will more than likely not be able to keep them from having sex with each other, smoking pot, or taking a little off the top. You can take their drugs when you find it and remind them it is against their religion and diminishes their capabilities in combat and if you are truly partnered with them you can prevent them from stealing from the locals, because you are with them 24/7. Focus on how we can make them a better force. You don't have that far to go with the ANCOP and ANA (they already have an acceptable level of corruptness and the people respect them and are proud of them. Additionally in my experience they are braver than Iraqis and not as lazy). Just teach them basics fundamentals -- patrolling formations and techniques, weapons handling, fire discipline, and TTPs that you commonly train to. You have to have patience and treat them with respect. Include them in the planning process, rehearsals, and allow for patrol orders to be translated.
I honestly am not convinced that the ANP will be an acceptable force in the next few years. I have had numerous locals on patrol tell me that they don't trust them and would rather have the Taliban in charge. Locals here have long memories and it will be a herculean effort to change the attitude towards the ANP. They go far beyond the bounds of acceptable graft and indicators lead me to believe are not always on our side of the fight. They are a localized force, unlike the ANA and ANCOP, and in turn probably have relatives fighting for the Taliban. We had similar problems in Iraq with the IPs. We solved that problem by putting squads in police stations and keeping a constant eye on them -- different type of partnering.
My CNAS colleague Iranga Kahangama went to see former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speak at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. This is his report:
While the intended purpose was to discuss what is at stake for the U.S. in Afghanistan, I found myself more intrigued by the discussion of internal economic development in Afghanistan that actually dominated the night.
Ambassador Khalilzad raised two key economic points worth examining. First, with all the talk of investing in small Afghan businesses and building the economy through local entrepreneurs, we seem to have forgotten the behemoth investment firm in Afghanistan that is the United States Military. Khalilzad stressed the importance of using the military's purchasing power, and how procurement with an "Afghan first" mentality could help build up an Afghan economy. He mentioned having to drink bottled water from Dubai and eat German fruit while serving in Afghanistan, but these goods were available in Afghanistan too, just not institutionalized. With over 30,000 more troops headed into the country, the military can create not only major demand, but a demand significantly financed through DOD's budget to stimulate the economy.(Read on)
I can remember when Gen. David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill was big news. It shows how much times have changed that I didn't even realize that Petraeus, a senior Army officer who was prominent in 2007-2008, was appearing until I noticed a small story deep inside this morning's New York Times.
So as remedial work I sat down and read the hearing transcript this morning. I thought Petraeus was surprisingly confident in knocking down talk of a military coup d'etat in Pakistan:
Senator, as one who's been in Pakistan, in fact, about four or five times in the last six months and had a lot of conversations with military leaders as well as the civilian leadership, I actually don't think that the current challenges imperil civilian rule. There clearly are challenges to -- potential challenges to President Zardari, but again, I don't see the prospect or the desire for anyone to change civilian rule.
I appreciate Colonel (retired) McCuen's thoughtful and forceful reply to my recent Parameters article. I also respect and appreciate his longstanding, hard service to the nation as a combat commander in Vietnam and his ongoing engagement with issues as a defense intellectual, and his current involvement as a senior-level advisor in our current conflicts.
Where to begin with his critique?
Let's start with the Sorley thesis about the Vietnam War. McCuen says that Sorley was "right;" I disagree and believe Sorley's thesis is wrong. More importantly Sorley's methodology in the use of sources is open to criticism. Go to his book, "A Better War," and view the chapter toward the end of the book that he labels as "Victory" which essentially argues that the Abrams "pacification" approach had won the war for the US and the South Vietnamese. Then go to the end of the book and view the citations of evidence to this chapter and see how many of them are Vietnamese sources: none. In a chapter that argues the United States had won the war under Abrams-think about that for a minute, "won" the war and its sweep as a breathtaking assertion--there are a paltry 8 endnote citations, and none of them from the side of the Vietnamese enemy. Interestingly this is the very same problem that plagues so many Iraq Surge triumph stories-the idea that the Surge was the primary cause for "victory" in Iraq yet with little sources or evidence from the side of the Iraqi people and more importantly the enemy. A close reading of the operational record of the history of the Vietnam War along with the majority of secondary literature confirms that there was much more continuity than discontinuity between Abrams and Westmoreland. As far as McCuen's statement that by 1972 "90" percent of the South Vietnamese population had been pacified or returned to "our control" is simply not true. Current scholarship by historians such as Eric Bergerud, Richard Hunt, and Kyle Boylan, Andrew Birtle, and Dale Andrade either flatly reject this assertion or question it deeply. In my view we should always keep in mind when thinking about the Vietnam War the profound conclusion by one of the leading scholars on the history of the Vietnam War for the last 30 years, George Herring. His conclusion still holds that "the war could [not] have been 'won' in any meaningful sense at a moral or material cost most American's deemed acceptable."(Read on)
On Friday I ran my mouth on NPR's "All Things Considered" about similarities and differences between Iraq '07 and Afghanistan '09.
Here you go:
MELISSA BLOCK, host: When President Obama gave his speech on Afghanistan Tuesday night, he said the debate over the Iraq War was well-known and bore no repeating.
President BARACK OBAMA: It's enough to say for the next six years the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy and our national attention. And that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.
BLOCK: Now as the U.S. prepares to escalate its involvement in Afghanistan, have the lessons of Iraq been learned? To explore that question, we turn to Thomas Ricks, who has written extensively about the Iraq war in two books: "Fiasco" and "The Gamble." He's now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Welcome to the program.
Mr. THOMAS RICKS: Thank you.
BLOCK: As in Afghanistan, there was a surge of U.S. troops, of course, sent to Iraq in 2007, more than 20,000 troops, most of them sent to Baghdad. In your view, did that surge work?
Mr. RICKS: I think the surge in Iraq worked tactically, that is, it improved security, but it didn't work strategically. That is, it didn't lead to a political breakthrough. All the basic problems you had in Iraq before the surge are still there. That said, the surge was good thing because it stopped a civil war that was going on in central Iraq and killing thousands of Iraqis every month.
BLOCK: When more troops were sent into Iraq, as they're about to be sent to Afghanistan, there was also a re-thinking of how those troops would be used - what the mission was. Why don't you walk through what that was?
Mr. RICKS: I think that's an important point because it was something I think was really missing and oddly missing in the president's speech the other night. You're not just sending in more troops to do the same thing, you're sending in more troops in order to do things differently.(Read on)
Richard Armitage is an unusual guy in Washington -- both candid and well-spoken. He also has a talent for making the right enemies. Now he of thick neck and broad shoulders has given an interesting interview to Prism, which is some sort of new publication at the National Defense University.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The best commentary on President Obama's speech came, oddly enough, from a British newspaper. Clare "Hold-and-Build" Lockhart writes:
President Obama has got it right. After taking his time to wrestle with the enormous challenge of defining the US national interest in Afghanistan and its region, he has provided a credible vision of ending the war, stabilising the country and handing over responsibility to Afghan self-rule. His move away from fighting, endorsing General Stanley McChrystal's analysis, will protect the population and provide a security bridge while Afghan forces are trained."
Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.