The Best Defense

A dispatch from the latest terrorism conference: Gloomy gus news all over

The other day my CNAS colleague Soriana Crisan wandered over to the National Press Club to see what the terrorism big thinkers are thinking. She came back all gloomy, but what did you expect? I think next time we should send her to a Lady Gaga concert.

Here is her report:

By Sorina I. Crisan
Best Defense terrorism punditry bureau

Hey Tom, as you requested, here are some "high points" from the Jamestown Foundation's 4th Annual Terrorism Conference, held on Thursday, Dec. 9.

  • Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, kicked off the proceedings by arguing that there is no "understanding of what terrorism strategy is." Today, al Qaeda is a networked transnational movement that is just "a shadow of its former self" but has been able to survive "because it has managed to adapt to a changing environment." He said we should employ a dual strategy of capturing terrorists and breaking the recruitment cycle by better reaching the youth demographic.
  • Looking at the current Afghanistan strategy, Amrullah Saleh, former director of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, argued that the problem is that the "U.S. still believes that Pakistan is honest." For the United States, he said, failure is now very much an option. What it and its allies should do, he said, is "take control of the headquarters hiding in ISI's basement, and push the Taliban to operate under democracy."
  • Scarier news on Afghanistan: Muhammad Tahir, a Radio Free Europe Analyst, provided a grim account of a trip from Kabul to Kunduz in September. Tahir, who hails from that northern province, said that, "Kunduz city has become a dangerous city." An inefficient German intervention and weak Afghan security forces have allowed terrorist networks and criminal gangs to flourish. "The people feel no connection with the [central] government" and whenever the issue of corruption is addressed, it is no surprise to hear the following: "OK, I will decrease corruption but, how much are you going to pay me for that?"
  • General Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, attempted to put lipstick on the cow by arguing that he believes the U.S. has been successful: "I don't want to overstate this but, we became reasonably good at detecting threats." Yet even he lapsed into a grim forecast, stating that, "In the future, it is most likely that al Qaeda orchestrated attacks will be far less complex organizationally and less lethal if they do succeed. They will just be more numerous."

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The Best Defense

Exum vs. AfPak, and more

My CNAS colleague Andrew XM has a good summary of his most recent vacation in Afghanistan.

I was most struck by his conclusion that counterinsurgency is being practiced well, which is encouraging, given all the chatter recently about how Petraeus had gone all CT on us. (And yes, I know that CT really is the savage heart of COIN but apparently some of youse haven't been paying attention.) Tactical intelligence also is improving, he reports, and that is more important than it may sound.

On the downside, as usual, are the performances of the Afghan and Pakistani governments. This no good. Sometimes I think we should just be done with it and cast our lot with India.

Exum's actual bottom line: "I completely agree with a CT strategy for Afghanistan. Just, you know, in 2014 -- and after setting the necessary conditions."

Meanwhile, I just caught up with this classic quote in the August issue of Army magazine, from Capt. Justin Pritchard of the 25th Infantry Division, who has been operating in Khost. I would say this is successful COIN in a nutshell:

The big breakthrough for me personally was shifting from 'I'm here to solve problems and to make it happen' to helping the Afghans solve their problems. It was a shift in mind-set, a reframing of my role and purpose. I went from hearing a report of a bomb and immediately taking action to going to the Afghan battalion commander and district governor and asking them how they wanted to handle it. You come are it almost like you are an OC [observer-controller] with combined action.

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