Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 8 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Hamid Karzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

Regular readers know that I am no proponent of the high value target program.  The middle of the night raids by SOF operators, the temporary stays in prison, the quick release, the lack of embedded of SOF with infantry and thus the lack of participation in the holistic counterinsurgency effort, etc.

While I am not opposed to making life hard for insurgents, I believe that the program is just generally ineffective.  Now comes Hamid Karzai to ensure its complete failure (edited for brevity).

Afghan security forces are freeing captured senior Taliban for payment or political motives, with President Hamid Karzai and his powerful brother among those authorizing and requesting releases.

The practice is so systemic that the Taliban have a committee focused on getting their fighters out of jail. It undermines the deterrent effect of arrest and the potential of the prisoner population as a card to play in peace talks, analysts say.

The releases, which were confirmed to Reuters by several sources familiar with a range of cases, also raise questions about the capacity and political will of Afghan security forces meant to be taking over from foreign troops starting next year.

But cases uncovered by Reuters including that of Ghulam Haidar, a top insurgent in the southern Taliban heartland of Kandahar, suggest that a web of complex loyalties and widespread corruption are undermining the fight against the insurgency.

Ghulam Haidar, meaning “servant of God”, is a common name in Afghanistan so when Canadian forces turned one of the most dangerous men in Kandahar city over to their Afghan counterparts in March, they may not have realized who he was.

Days later he was walking free again, according to three sources who have investigated prisoner releases or have seen documents about Haidar’s capture. They asked not to be named because they are not authorized to release information.

“They took this guy into custody in mid-March, but he was out again in a few days. This is a classic example of what has been happening,” one former Western official told Reuters.

A Kabul-based source with links to Western intelligence services confirmed Haidar was a Taliban leader known to have a major role in the insurgency around the city.

Yet his freedom was requested by Karzai’s younger brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council.

Dubbed “AWK” by Westerners working in Kandahar, he has an iron grip on the city but his loyalties are considered less solid. A U.S. government cable dated 2009, released by WikiLeaks, described him as a corrupt drug trafficker.

“When Ghulam Haidar was in (Afghan) custody AWK asked for his release,” said a second source, who rejected the idea that Haidar could have been set free because he was a double agent.

“If the Afghan government had good agents within the Taliban things should have gotten better — but that is obviously not the case,” the source added.

Ahmad Wali Karzai said he had never asked for the release of a Taliban prisoner and had not heard of Ghulam Haidar.

“I am the person most wanted by the Taliban, with nine suicide attacks against me,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“I would be the last person to release the Taliban — my position is for more tough measures against them.”

The Defence Ministry and National Directorate of Security, President Karzai’s office and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force all declined to respond to questions on Ghulam Haidar’s case or the wider issue of Taliban releases.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, said it had not been involved in release of any Taliban.

“We have no evidence and no examples that detained Taliban were released by government officials,” Zemarai Bashary said.

Haidar was one of the most high-profile insurgents in recent years to slip through prisoner release mechanisms that are designed to prevent innocent men from languishing in prison but are regularly exploited by the Taliban to free key commanders.

“The Taliban operate a commission for prisoners affairs and effecting releases is among its responsibilities,” said Michael Semple, a Harvard University fellow with over 20 years experience in Afghanistan and extensive contacts with the Taliban.

“It’s systemic. It is well beyond the level of having the occasional success,” he added.

Another source also confirmed the committee’s existence, although in practical terms most release operations were conceived and directed at the local level.

In cases like Ghulam Haidar, political connections are key.

One of the most high-profile examples in recent years was the 2007 release of Dastagir, a Taliban leader from northwestern Badghis province. President Karzai himself ordered the commander freed after village elders promised he would renounce violence.

His return to battle united feuding Taliban factions and he was personally responsible for the deaths of at least 32 Afghan policemen in attacks he organized before he was killed in 2009, said a government source from western Afghanistan.

Sometimes cash is more effective.

One source told Reuters Ahmad Wali Karzai had paid tens of thousands of dollars to secure the release of another Taliban commander, Anwar Shah Agha, who operates in the area to the west of Kandahar city and was captured in May 2009.

He was released by Afghan security forces in Kabul in March 2010, and has since returned to the battlefield.

Some Taliban are freed legally but with a worrying lack of transparency, said Kate Clark, senior analyst at Afghanistan Analysts Network who has studied Taliban releases. She cited the case of Akbar Agha freed late last year by Karzai.

“He was pardoned secretly and is now living under semi-house arrest. He was quite senior, and put away for kidnapping UN staff including a British woman,” Clark said.

“Pardoning criminals is a constitutional right of the president’s, but the lack of transparency, the fact that he does not necessarily announce the pardons, is concerning for anyone looking at it from a rule-of-law perspective.”

“What are we really fighting for? We risk our lives to catch them and bring them in and then they just release them,” said a Kabul-based source who followed the Ghulam Haidar case.

The releases attracted the notice, and anger, of Karzai’s Western backers, according to a cable released by WikiLeaks.

“Both (Karzai and the attorney general) authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court,” the August 2009 cable from the embassy in Kabul said.

It goes on to list 150 pre-trial releases from one Afghan detention facility since 2007, including 27 prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo Bay by the United States.

The complex lines of the Afghan conflict also mean today’s enemy can be tomorrow’s friend. Ghulam Haidar, for example, is from the Popalzai tribe like the Karzais. Tribal loyalties run deep in Afghanistan.

I predicted that prisons would be problematic in Afghanistan, and they are.  As for the bastard Wali Karzai, it’s no surprise that his name comes up.  We have discussed this man before.

It isn’t just that the high value target campaign is generally ineffective and a misuse of highly skilled SOF troopers, and it is both.  No, it’s more than that.  The Afghanis are conspiring to ensure that what little to moderate effectiveness it could have has been neutered.

Prisons are generally problematic for counterinsurgency.  As I have argued before, there is no replacement for killing the enemy on the field of battle.

Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

In case you weren’t watching, there has been a covert cyberwar going on against Iran’s nuclear program.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn’t get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran’s nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they’ve all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department’s acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.

And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace.

That is what we are learning happened at Iran’s nuclear facilities — both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran’s nuclear power plant.

At Natanz, for almost 17 months, Stuxnet quietly worked its way into the system and targeted a specific component — the frequency converters made by the German equipment manufacturer Siemens that regulated the speed of the spinning centrifuges used to create nuclear fuel. The worm then took control of the speed at which the centrifuges spun, making them turn so fast in a quick burst that they would be damaged but not destroyed. And at the same time, the worm masked that change in speed from being discovered at the centrifuges’ control panel.

Read the entire report for a very interesting analysis of what apparently is the first real instance of effective cyberwar.  It occurred probably due to cooperation between intelligence agencies, lead more than likely by the Mossad.  This set the program back months or even years.

There is more.  Iranian nuclear physicists and engineers are dying at an alarming rate.

Earlier today, Majid Shahriari, a professor in nuclear physics at Martyr Beheshti University, was assassinated in Tehran. Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, professor in nuclear physics at Iran’s National Defense University, was severely wounded in a separate attack. Motorcyclists either stuck explosives to the physicists’ cars as they headed to work, or threw explosives into the cars. These were just the latest attacks — on January 10, 2010, Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, another Iranian physicist, was killed by a remote-controlled bomb as he left his home.

Iran has accused the CIA and Mossad of masterminding the attacks.  Ryan, from Dallas, TX, dispatches that concern. “I’m not worried about the CIA being to blame, the US government is not competent enough to pull an operation this clean off. A US attempt would have resulted in a lunch worth of mashed potatoes being placed on the wrong cars windshield and the subsequent explosion of a bicyclist.”

Unfortunately, Ryan is probably right.  Again, it is likely the Mossad that is responsible.  But these small efforts must end at some point (or be greatly expanded), since all they do will is temporarily cause the Iranian program to cease and desist.  These efforts won’t end the program.

Switching subjects just for a moment, I had originally judged the most recent Wikileaks data dump to be irrelevant.  The original two were, and told us things that we (I) already knew.  Most Milbloggers knew 95% of at least the broad strokes of the information contained in the data dump on Iraq and Afghanistan.  But this most recent data dump is essentially different.  It pertains to documents that embarrass the administration’s diplomatic efforts and show them to be fundamentally unsound and ineffective.

I predicted this two years ago.

… the State Department will begin the administration will high hopes, excitement and grand ambitions for the role of diplomacy, negotiations and multi-lateral talks. By the end of the administration, a general malaise and confusion will have descended upon the entire State Department, and yet there will still be sparse and shallow understanding of why negotiations have so miserably failed to prevent or ameliorate the various calamities for which they were targeted.

And concerning the failure of diplomatic efforts, we see now that Saudi Arabia has been begging the U.S. for military action against Iran.  It looks as it the folks who would be in a better position that us to understand the Persian mind don’t place much reliance on our “negotiating” and diplomatic efforts to dissuade Iran from their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Total war with Iran?  No.  That’s what I have wanted to avoid.  Too messy, and unnecessary when it can be done differently.  Covert war with Iran?  Yes, and I have been begging for this for some four years now.  What the Mossad is doing is good, but we need more, and we need the active participation of the CIA.  We need an insurgency within Iran, support for the protesting students, assassination of military commanders within the Quds force, disruption of their infrastructure, cyber attacks, more killing of Iranians inside of Iraq, obvious threats against the Iranian regime by the U.S., and an end to support for Iranian-backed politicians within Iraq.  This is only a start.

In short, we need comprehensive covert war.  I will not rest until I have my war.

The Slide from Kandahar to Kabul

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

Rosie DiManno is one of my favorite reporters and columnists.  In her latest she heaps great scorn and opprobrium on the Canadian withdrawal from Kandahar (quoting at length).

There are two occupying armies in Kabul: NGOs and ISAF.

The non-governmental agencies are in their element, many underscrutinized in their aid and development budgets, as literally billions of donation dollars flow through the capital.

Little of that largesse has substantially improved civilian life. But the humanitarian hyenas drive around in chauffeured SUVs, usually reside in highly secured compounds with extensive domestic staff, and enjoy a lively social whirl in restricted clubs where Afghans are rarely found — beyond serving alcoholic drinks they’re not permitted to imbibe.

Planet ISAF is equally insulated behind high UN and NATO walls, though officials in tandem with Afghan ministry representatives conduct weekly media briefings where not much of significance is ever discussed. The Kabul bureau for journalists is a surprisingly soft gig as most reporters rely ever more on stringers to bring back the goods, take all the risks.

Though International Security Assistance Force convoys venture out daily, the city’s security responsibility has for the past year been Afghan-led. Unlike their ISAF counterparts, barely visible from within their heavily armoured vehicles, Afghan security forces — national army and police — are dangerously exposed in mini pickup trucks.

If the Afghan National Police, in particular, is loathed by the citizenry as hooligans and extortionists, a considerable number in cahoots with insurgency elements, one can almost understand their treason and criminality: Pay is negligible, dangers omnipresent, command-and-control corrupt. For many Afghans who enter the police training program, the true objective is a year or two of shakedown opportunity, after which they can return to their villages with a useful nest egg.

I am not a cynic about Afghanistan’s potential to rise from the ashes of civil war, chronic misrule and international neglect. Its rich mining resources alone should provide economic buoyancy if ever properly administered rather than exploited by covetous multinationals. Even the corruption that exasperated donor nations endlessly drone on about — while their own NGOs and development contractors take their cut — is, in fact, a time-honoured alternative system of governance, arguably the only quasi-capitalism that works here.

The country has always been a suzerain for warlords; the original Taliban, for all their piety, were nothing less than another criminal gang, built on vast Pashtun tribal loyalties, armed and schooled in proxy sacking by Pakistan.

For Canadian combat troops and their support divisions in Kandahar, these past six years, Kabul was that mile-high mirage in the distant rear, redoubt of bureaucrats, la-la DMZ for pretend soldiers. Not one I ever met pined to be posted there. Even those sickened of life outside-the-wire, the perilous patrols and wearying village shuras, had no stomach for a politically massaged Kabul assignment.

In the pecking order of combat virility, even deployment as force protection for Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar city was viewed dimly: that place with the pool, surf and turf dinners and circle-the-wagon ramparts.

Ottawa has spent these past half-dozen years decrying the no-fight no-front caveats imposed by NATO troop contributors, and rightly so. The heavy lifting through the worst of the insurgency fell to Canada, Britain and Holland — latterly, Americans — while the likes of Germany, Sweden and Italy carved out relatively safe havens.

Now, we’re no different from the shirkers.

Make no mistake. Dress it up as both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff might like: If this new stay-in plan is put to effect as advertised, Canadian troops, highly valued for their combat skills, will be little more than decorative tassels on the Afghanistan uniform, their primary value to pick up the mentoring slack left behind by other bolting allies so that Americans can carry on their terrorist-tracking pursuits.

President Barack Obama is interested in Afghanistan only so far as preventing it from becoming once again a refuge for Al Qaeda and its assorted adjuncts, the ganglia of insurrectionists entrenched along the lawless border with Pakistan. While there is growing concern over Iran’s influence in Afghanistan, the U.S. objective is quite narrow and geopolitical; an exit segue it can live with.

It was NATO that always had the much grander vision for Afghanistan, if not the resolve or political commitment, not the troop contribution or — for far too long — the vigorous rules of engagement, to even begin imposing order on so large and complicated a battlefield.

With its shrinking ambitions for Afghanistan, NATO has confirmed its irrelevancy and inefficacy in the 21st century — the true reason for taking up this cause in the first place, and never mind building schools, emancipating women or laying down a democratic footprint. If Afghanistan has any future, it will be on the blood of Americans or via an ignominious rapprochement with the Taliban.

(Here’s adding insult to injury: The New York Times has reported that those promising secret talks between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war were actually being conducted with a Taliban imposter.)

So Canada is on board to shunt some 950 troops to Kabul next summer to run training programs until 2014. Having visited such instruction camps in Afghanistan, I’ve got news for you: The ANA, an institution respected by the citizenry, doesn’t need us for inside-the-wire training purposes; only for outside-the-wire command-and-control tutoring, which Harper insists we won’t provide. And the ANP, as constituted, is incapable of even A-B-C coaching. Better off opening up the cantonments and returning to Afghan men (and women) all those weapons collected in disarmament drives. At least then they’d have a chance of defending themselves against the next wave of marauders and power-hungry zealots.

As for Canadian soldiers turned into military metrosexuals: They make a nice latte in Kabul, guys.

Rosie is tough on the Canadian boys, or more precisely, the Canadian political establishment which is spearheading the “strategic redeployment” to Kabul.  A few observations are in order concerning Rosie’s commentary.

First, if Canadians believe that they will somehow be spared the onslaught of militant Islam because of proximity to the U.S., they can think again.  The U.S. cannot single-handedly defeat the transnational insurgency of radical Islam, and the regional AfPak insurgency is a significant and important element in the global campaign.

Second, Rosie hits an important nail on the head when she discusses the fact that it was always NATO which had the grand visions of nation-building in Afghanistan.  The U.S. had heretofore been primarily hunting and killing the enemy (although to be clear, that changed lately due to the influence of population-centric counterinsurgency dogma with McChrystal and Petraeus).  That NATO has now abandoned their lofty dreams of creating Shangi-La on the Asian continent is a pitiful testimony to what never could have happened anyway.  Not that woman’s rights or education for children isn’t a laudable goal, but there  is only so much the U.S. can do, and there is poverty and malfeasance of leadership on every continent.  All of those problems are not correctable.  Defeating the insurgency is possible, but a focus that has been lost in all the talk of creating legitimate governance.

Third, note how Rosie described the disconnectedness of the NGOs and ISAF to the population or countryside of Afghanistan.  Nothing could ensure loss any more than this.  For all the talk of knowing the population, we seem to know more about the huge bases we’re on than the people we are supposed to be winning.

Finally, of course it’s true that basic training in Kabul is a small part of the whole.  But this contribution by Canadian forces is pro forma.  The ANA needs to see good NCOs in action.  Instead, they will see good NCOs garrisoned at huge bases.  And as a certain Marine I know has remarked before, there is a difference between a garrison Marine and a grunt.  The ANA needs to be embedded with grunts.  Instead they get the garrison boys.  So much for Canada’s contribution to the campaign.

Should I Renew My NRA Membership?

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

It’s membership renewal time, and I cannot forget that Wayne LaPierre endorsed Harry Reid, saying “He is a true champion of the Second Amendment back in Washington, DC.”  There was ultimately no NRA endorsement, with Chris Cox saying “Reid’s push to confirm Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan” prevented the NRA from endorsing Reid.

Actually, it was the strong reaction by NRA membership that prevented it from happening.  Reid secured a significant amount of money for a shooting range in Clark County, Nevada (61 million dollars of tax money, to be precise), and there has been significant politicking on this issue within the NRA, with a gag order being issued to members of the NRA board on the Kagan nomination.

And here I thought that the NRA was above buy offs, influence peddling, and general corruption.  Even now it isn’t clear to me why Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox cannot simply be kicked to the curb and new leadership installed?  Thuggish behavior should not be tolerated, and the NRA deserves better leadership that these two men.  It is enough that they should beclown themselves and instigate internecine warfare on the board; we shouldn’t allow it to happen to the NRA too.

Yet I am just a member, and I know that there are other organizations that promise to be above the influence peddling.  So do I dump the NRA or give them one more chance?

Note: For Harry Reid’s record on the 2nd Amendment, see here.

Logistics, Russia and New START: Gates Over a Barrel

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

From the Los Angeles Times:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Saturday rejected claims by Senate Republicans that the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia would hamper U.S. missile defense programs and nuclear weapons modernization, warning of “significant consequences” if the Senate doesn’t ratify the accord.

He said that Russia could also respond to a failure to approve the treaty by scaling back its assistance for the war in Afghanistan. Russia has allowed the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization to ship supplies through its territory to Afghanistan, including a recent decision to permit transport of so-called mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, the heavily armored troop carriers used to guard against hidden bombs.

“Despite what anybody says, I, as secretary of Defense, and the entire uniformed leadership of the American military believe that this treaty is in our national security interest,” Gates said, taking on claims by critics of the treaty that some in the military privately oppose the accord.

His comments to reporters after meeting with officials in Chile were part of a lobbying blitz by senior Obama administration officials to persuade the Senate to ratify the treaty, which restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed long-distance warheads, before the end of the year.

In addition to Gates’ comments, President Obama devoted his weekend radio address to the treaty.

“Without ratification this year, the United States will have no inspectors on the ground, and no ability to verify Russian nuclear activities,” Obama said in the address.

“Without ratification, we put at risk the coalition that we have built to put pressure on Iran, and the transit route through Russia that we use to equip our troops in Afghanistan,” the president continued.

So the stated reasons for support of New START are (1) pressure on Iran, and (2) logistics through Russia.  As for Iran, it’s truly sad that this administration is still mired in the ideological framework that assumes, despite all assurances to the contrary by the radical Mullahs, that we can negotiate or pressure Iran into relinquishing their pursuit of nuclear weapons.  I guess at some point in my life (I don’t know, perhaps 2 or 3 years of age) I believed in fairy tales too, but I wasn’t leading the most powerful nation on earth at the time.

As for logistics, I’m wondering why no one has warned this administration that their choice to partner with Russia for logistics would end up dictating our foreign policy?  I’m also wondering why no alternative to the Khyber pass has been presented to this administration?

Gates and the administration look incredibly weak, with their tail in between their legs.  It’s a sad testimony to the lack of strategic, long range planning and foresight within this administration.

Michael Yon’s Mountaineering Photography

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

Those familiar with Michael Yon’s work remember him as much for his photography as his journalism – his snapshots in time that will be forever remembered because of his work.  But he has gotten better, technically speaking, with his photography.  Check out his Moonshine on Ama Dablam.  The photograph speaks for itself.

It’s a nice break from war coverage, especially for those who, like me, are fans of backpacking, mountaineering and adventure hiking and racing.

Holding Terrain in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part III

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

In response to U.S. Marine Corps Combat Action in Sangin, Old Warrior said:

… in my mind, if you go to war, go to war right. They are completely robbing most of these young men of the resources that are available to them. Also, as long as the Taliban is crossing over from Pakistan every minute, they will never cease to multiply and that blood vessel needs to be cut quickly. For every Taliban these men kill, another hundred cross the border to replace them. The fundamental strategy of this war is faulty, and it saddens me to see the young, brave men of the infantry, in particular, have to pay the price with their lives. -0311 Vietnam

Recall Lt. Col Allen West’s counsel regarding the difference between occupying terrain and chasing the enemy where he establishes himself.  Population-centric counterinsurgency isn’t any different than occupying physical terrain in time and space, except that the terrain is the mind and will of the population.  That’s why we have “human terrain teams” deployed in Afghanistan (and did in Iraq).

But just like the 80-100 foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border into Iraq for many months on end, and the Quds forces who came across the Iran-Iraq border (many even before the war began), Afghanistan is a theater in a larger, transnational insurgency.  In fact, the problem is even more pronounced in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq.  Iraq was a country.  It’s best not to think of Afghanistan as a country.  It’s also best not to think of the Taliban as a Pashtun insurgency.  It isn’t.  There are Uzbeks, Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis and others involved (even a smattering of Europeans).

In Games of Duplicity and the End of Tribe in Pakistan, and then again in Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part II, we discussed Pakistan’s gaming the system of largesse with U.S. lawmakers and various U.S. administrations.  There is an important intersecting issue here pertaining to a much-discussed Taliban and al Qaeda ideological alignments.  I previously observed that:

… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

Finally, recall our discussions of David Rohde’s remarkable captivity by the Taliban and his subsequent escape to Pakistani Army forces.  At the time I found it especially troubling and even somewhat amusing how little the presence of Pakistani forces mattered to Taliban sanctuary.  Now comes a report by The Nation that adds to our knowledge base of the events surrounding David’s captivity and escape, and the collusion of Pakistani ISI with the Taliban.  Extensive quoting is necessary.

On a Friday night in June 2009, New York Times reporter David Rohde and his translator made a dramatic escape from captivity in Pakistan, climbing over a wall while their Afghan Taliban guards slept. Rohde wore sandals and a traditional salwar kameez, and he had a long beard, grown during his seven-month imprisonment. The two men walked in the darkness of the city, a Taliban ministate, past mud-brick huts, and found their way to a Pakistani military base just minutes away.

Rohde had been a prisoner shared by two competing groups of Taliban fighters, both of which appear to have held him not as a political or military tool in their operations against the US and Afghan governments but for his monetary value as a hostage.

Rohde’s escape was an unexpectedly joyous ending to a harrowing episode for him, his wife, his colleagues and friends. But it was by no means the end of the story.

An Afghan who is well acquainted with several of the participants in the kidnapping has provided The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute with new details about the perpetrators, as well as new information about what happened after Rohde’s escape. This source’s account reveals how Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) serves as an arbiter for the various Taliban groups that compete with one another for influence, loot and profits. According to the source, the ISI, acting on behalf of one Taliban faction, took two of Rohde’s guards into custody to interrogate them about how he escaped. Then, despite its knowledge of the men’s role in the kidnapping, the ISI simply set them free.

Though this new information merely lends more substance to already strong suspicions about the ISI’s close relationship with the Taliban, it’s still an explosive allegation: rather than cooperating with US authorities, Pakistan’s intelligence agency essentially became an accessory after the fact to Rohde’s kidnapping.

[ ... ]

After capturing Rohde, Najibullah quickly saw dollar signs. Realizing that he might have to hold on to Rohde for a long time to shake loose real money in ransom, Najibullah brought him to Pakistan, where the American reporter, his translator and his driver were placed in the custody of the Haqqani network. Rohde, in his forthcoming book, explains how he had made a mistake his second night in captivity: desperate to stay alive, he told Najibullah that he could be traded for “prisoners and millions of dollars.”

The Haqqanis, a mujahedeen clan from Khost province, may be some of the most effective commanders battling US forces. They deploy terrorist tactics—waves of well-trained attackers wearing explosive vests deployed in operations such as the assault on the Kabul guesthouses, the assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a series of large-scale actions against US combat outposts on the border near Pakistan.

The Haqqanis were even more effective against the Soviets in the 1980s, when they worked closely with the CIA. The late former Congressman Charles Wilson famously referred to Jalaluddin Haqqani back then as “goodness personified.” A former agency official who used to know Jalaluddin said, “I really regret the fact that we are tangling with him, because he is not a guy to fuck around with.”

When the United States invaded Afghanistan, the Haqqanis sided with the Taliban, not Karzai. By 2002 the Haqqanis were almost on the ropes. Jalaluddin was injured in a US bombing raid. So the younger generation took over. Jalaluddin’s son Siraj, trained like his father in the twin arts of paramilitary warfare and charismatic religious leadership, was now in charge.

The Haqqanis are also known to live well. “They do business,” The Nation’s source said. “They’ve done business for years. They are involved in war, but if they find some business opportunity, they do it. They like buying houses and selling them and stuff like that. Now they have trucks and trucking equipment in Peshawar.”

Rohde’s kidnapping was in essence a business opportunity. Najibullah, the young commander who first captured Rohde, was not a subordinate of the Haqqanis; but by bringing Rohde to them, he would build up his reputation with the clan, giving him a safe base from which to conduct negotiations. Najibullah and his men brought Rohde across Afghanistan’s border to the Haqqanis to make it easier to hold him for an extended period, according to the source familiar with the kidnapping. In Pakistan, they figured, they were safe from American rescue efforts, since they understood that the Haqqanis had the protection of the ISI …

The Nation’s Afghan source said that guarding Rohde was a task shared by Najibullah and the Haqqanis, who provided the logistical support, housing and a secure environment in which to operate near Afghanistan. With so much money at stake, each faction was mistrustful of the other. Of Rohde’s three chief guards, one was a Haqqani loyalist and two were Najibullah’s men. So important was this operation to Najibullah that he had his brother Timor Shah act as a full-time guard for Rohde. (These details are corroborated in Rohde’s book.)

Not only were the Haqqanis and Najibullah eager to use Rohde for profit but the main Taliban Shura—the head council that oversees the Afghan Taliban—hoped to get involved as well, according to The Nation’s source …

Throughout his captivity, Rohde was well aware of the likely connections between the ISI and the Haqqanis who held him, though he said no ISI agents made themselves known during his captivity. “I didn’t witness any direct contact between the ISI and the Haqqanis.” That said, he was living proof, in a sense, that Pakistani authorities gave the Haqqanis full freedom to do as they liked. “What I did see,” he emphasized, “was that Pakistan forces never came off their bases, and the Haqqanis were allowed to operate their own Taliban ministate in North Waziristan.”

In Pakistan, Rohde’s escape was devastating for the Taliban. Not only had they lost their prize prisoner but the loss caused the Haqqanis and Najibullah to turn on each other. They were both convinced, in a case of mirror imaging, that the other one must have released Rohde as part of a secret arrangement in which they kept the ransom money for themselves. Instead of suspecting incompetence on the part of the guards, they believed someone was cheating and getting rich.

“There was a big problem between Siraj [Haqqani] and Najibullah,” the source familiar with the kidnappers told me. “A huge issue. Siraj was blaming Najibullah, that he’s the one who took money from the Americans and let the guy go. 
And [Najibullah] was blaming him, that he did it, because it was his compound.”

Even the Taliban Shura in Quetta got involved, the source said. They “thought that Siraj kept the money.”

To arbitrate the dispute about the kidnapping, the Haqqanis turned to the Pakistan government’s intelligence service, according to The Nation’s source. Siraj, the source said, turned over the two guards affiliated with Najibullah to the ISI for questioning. “One of them,” the source said, “was Najib’s brother Timor Shah.”

The guards were allegedly interrogated fiercely and tortured by the ISI. The interrogators demanded to know exactly how Rohde had escaped. Who had let him go, and why? Were the men paid a ransom they had not shared? In other words, the ISI was making sure that the relations between the Taliban factions weren’t destroyed by anyone’s betrayal.

Once the ISI was convinced that there had been no bribes and no ransom, Rohde’s guards were set free. Despite their role in the kidnapping, they were not charged in court or handed over to the Americans. After more than a month in custody, they were let go.

First, while this report ends with musings on civil war within the Taliban, there is no such war.  There might be individuals who battle each other for preeminence, but the various factions seem to me to get along remarkably well, from the Tehrik-i-Taliban to the Haqqani network, to the Quetta Shura, to al Qaeda.  Anyone who questions the religious and ideological underpinnings of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s fighters should make sure to watch this interview by the NEFA Foundation.  Regardless of the internecine battles, the Taliban factions are well connected.

Second, we have previously focused in on Matthew Hoh’s arguments to get out of Afghanistan because the enemy is in Pakistan.

Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis).  It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side.  Both suggestions are preposterous.

This isn’t about nation-states and imaginary boundaries.  When we think this way we do err in that we superimpose a Western model on a region of the world where it doesn’t apply.  This is about a transnational insurgency, and it’s never better to give the enemy more land, more latitude, more space, more people, more money, and more safety.  Any arguments to this effect are mistaken at a very fundamental level.

Seeing things in terms of Pakistan or Afghanistan is a category error.  We aren’t dealing with European nation-states, but dangerous waters in which rogue elements freely swim, where they exchange ideas and are increasingly becoming radicalized, and where elements of the Pakistani ISI collude with the enemy rather than fight them.

As we focus on physical and human terrain in Afghanistan, it has become painfully obvious that no amount of focus or effort will secure that terrain when the very insurgents we fight are supported by the Pakistani ISI and given both safe haven and free passage across the border.

Finally, the Durand line is imaginary, and unless we chase and kill the insurgents where they are, the campaign in Afghanistan is doomed.  The press is filled with positive reports lately about progress in Afghanistan, but wherever the ebb or flow of the war is, they enemy awaits our withdrawal to reclaim his own territory.  Pakistan is an enemy in this campaign, not an ally.  Unless we take clear-headed action in the coming months to address this problem, not only will the opportunity to win the campaign be lost, but the opportunity to use this theater to wage war on our enemy will have been relinquished.  We will not find a better theater than this one.

Forget the Rules – Trust the NCOs

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

From The Global Post:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — While battle rages on in warmer climes around the world, the fighting season in Afghanistan is drawing to a close as bitter cold descends upon its mountains and deserts.

American troops typically serve yearlong tours in Afghanistan, so they all must learn to operate in both the heat and the cold, even if the fighting largely subsides. The largest military bases in America are in places like Texas, California and the southeast — many soldiers garrisoned there have little experience in cold-weather soldiering.

For the Taliban, the winter poses nearly insurmountable tactical difficulties. Frozen mountain passes cut off supply chains, radio batteries fail quickly and campfires are easily spotted by drones and thermal cameras aboard attack helicopters.

Between mid-November and early April, particularly at high elevations, attacks on soldiers decline dramatically.

“There are a few hard-core guys that will still set the occasional IED or ambush,” said Terry Arsenault, a former Special Forces soldier who does security contracting work in Afghanistan. “Many [Taliban] head into the cities to live out the winter, some head to Pakistan, others just hunker down in their villages. Mainly they just try to survive.”

Even in the restive southern province of Kandahar, the site of the U.S.-led coalition’s major offensive this past summer and fall, although the weather doesn’t have quite as a dramatic effect on militants, their supply chain is severely disrupted through attrition.

“Because so many [fighters] look for warm places to hole up and plan, the ones who do stay quickly run out of supplies and ammo and are unable to fight for long,” Arsenault said.

And so as the violence wanes, complacency and low morale become the chief problems affecting U.S. soldiers, according to 1st Sgt. David Fiske, of D Company, 1-187 Infantry. Fiske and most of his company were stationed at Combat Outpost Zerok, an austere post 8,000 feet above sea level in Paktika province. Winter temperatures there can dip to 20 degrees below zero.

“The excitement of fighting gets replaced by boredom and long guard shifts in the cold,” Fiske said. “The winter is so much harder on soldiers here — some of them really fall into deep depressions.”

As first sergeant, Fiske’s foremost responsibility is to make sure his soldiers are fit and healthy, so he has learned a great deal about keeping morale up when the temperature falls. He said he often pulls guard shifts with his troops and encourages competitions to stave off boredom and keep skills sharp.

“If you live strictly by Army regulations, with no imagination, your company will suffer,” Fiske said. “You’ve got to nurture ideas among your men — like inventing games, fitness competitions, marksmanship competitions, whatever you can imagine.”

In the primitive, nameless outpost Fiske and his men recently occupied in Talukan, burning fires, around which troops crowded around, joking and playing cards, offset the cold nights and lack of electricity.

“Having the campfires at night gives soldiers something to look forward to — it’s like a community event,” Fiske said. “It also allows me to keep my finger on the company’s pulse and hear what issues are coming up. The loss of light discipline is worth the tradeoff in morale.”

From CBS:

The average Sergeant Major is not characterized by his delicacy. The job requires a sandpaper-grade sternness, pain-inducing vocal projection and withering facial demeanor that can vaporize the slightest precursor of trouble with a single glance. And as the senior enlisted man in a battalion, the sergeant major has to deal with plenty of misguided would-be trouble-makers.

At home it is DUI’s, motorbike crashes, fights and so on – on deployment the infringements are less excessive, but still worthy of the sergeant major’s gruff discipline. “My job,” says Samuels, “is not to control the 1,000 Marines in the battalion. It is to control the 30 Marines who won’t follow what the other 970 are doing.” He says he has to “keep his foot in every door”, and be able to answer all the questions the battalion commander asks him – “which is a lot”.

[ ... ]

But even with the forbidding exterior, there are a few cracks. On one inspection tour Samuels arrived at an outpost in Kilo Company where the 12 Marines, living in the corner of a field, had adopted a local stray dog as a pet.

“Bad for hygiene,” said Samuels gruffly when he first spotted the dog, and said if there was no other way, the Marines needed to take the dog out to the desert and shoot it.

He sat down to discuss other issues, and as he did so the dog lay down at his feet, and Samuels absent-mindedly began petting the dog. When he was ready to leave, the Marine in charge asked delicately “about shooting the dog, Sgt. Major?”

Samuels uttered a guttural grunt, which the Marines interpreted as a negative, and he then turned around to leave.

Rules are rules, and sometimes rules are dumb.  NCOs can decide when they need to be followed and when they don’t.  Any backpacker and camper knows that a campfire is everything to morale on the trail.  And no one should ever come between a man and his dog.  Nothing to see here folks.  Move along.  Let the NCOs do their job.

U.S. Marine Corps Small Unit Maneuver Warfare in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

I have previously discussed the notion of offensive posture in small unit maneuver warfare in Afghanistan.

In Odd Things in Counterinsurgency after detailing a Marine unit’s all-day efforts to locate a local elder’s home in order to befriend him (when in fact neither he nor his people wanted him to be located), I observed the following:

This effort is misplaced.  It would have been more effective to kill insurgents, make their presence known, meet villagers, find weapons caches, question young men, and interrogate prisoners (or potential prisoners).  They have given no reason for this tribal leader to ally himself with the Marines.  The Marines haven’t yet shown that they are there to win.  When the Marines get the Taliban on the defensive, the tribal leader will more than likely come to the Marines rather than the Marine searching him out.

The next patrol should focus on those fighters who were setting up the ambush.  Send a few Scout Snipers that direction.  Flank the insurgents with a squad or fire team, and approach the area where these men are supposed to be doing their nefarious deeds.  Find them, kill them. Do this enough and the Marines won’t have to search out the leaders.  Then it will be time to sit down and drink tea.  This is the recipe for success.

In the same province there is another example to study.

PressZoom) – NAWA, Afghanistan (Oct. 21, 2010) — The men of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have spent enough time in Afghanistan to understand some of the workings of the Taliban presence there.

There’s no denying they’re fighting a crafty enemy. Combatants will usually engage the American and Afghan forces from a well-concealed position, and then dispose of their weapons as they flee. They don’t stay for long-drawn out battles.

They shoot and run.

And so during Operation Black Tip, Oct. 14, India Company saw much of what they’ve grown accustomed to — shooting and running. Except this time, it was a little different.

When Sgt. Bryan Brown’s squad started taking fire, they were the ones who ran. They ran toward the bullets. They ran to the enemy’s position to take away his ability to flee.

“It’s always impressive to see Marines running toward fire,” said 1st Sgt. William Pinkerton, the India Company first sergeant.

Not that the enemy didn’t try to run away, but a well-placed sniper team left them with limited escape options. The snipers suspect they killed one enemy combatant and wounded another, Pinkerton said.

The Marines are growing in their application of small unit tactics in the Helmand Province.  Not long after I observed that a different approach was needed the Marines showed that they were adapting to their environment.

Tim Lynch gives us yet another great example of the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. Marine Corps small unit maneuver warfare in Afghanistan.

The 2nd Battalion 6th Marines is currently responsible for the southern, central and some of the northern portions of Marjah which is actually a series of villages organized around a gigantic grid of canals which were built by US AID back in the 60’s.  They are expanding their control block by block by spreading their Marines out into platoon and squad size outposts from which Marines foot patrol constantly.  The villains still offer battle but only on their terms which means they will fire on a patrol only when they have set up IED’s between their positions and the Marines.  When the Marines came back to Afghanistan in 2008 the Taliban had forgotten that they were not like other infantry.  The Marines maneuver when fired upon closing with and destroying those stupid enough to take them on.  After getting mauled time and again the Taliban learned to use small arms fire to augment IED blasts in an attempt to lure aggressive Marines into mine fields full of more improvised explosive devices.  Now the Marines maneuver to fix and then swarm with other units coming in from a different direction or with precision fire from drones.  To facilitate this they establish multiple small postions – partrol from them constantly and then push out to establish more small bases once the area they are working comes under their control.

This is outstanding reporting and analysis by Tim.  He has titled his post “Healing Ulcer” (so much for General McChrystal’s stupid notion of Marjah being a bleeding ulcer).  The entire Helmand Province is tough, and Sangin is especially tough right now.   A year ago and two years ago it was Now Zad.  But the Marines must have time and the commitment of the brass and the country – and more troops – and they will succeed and prevail.  They are the best troops in the world at small unit maneuver warfare, and their efforts in Helmand prove that once again.

Gates on a Nuclear Iran

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

From Reuters:

Sanctions against Iran are biting hard and triggering divisions among its leadership, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday, as he argued against a military strike over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iran has agreed to meet with a representative of the six big powers for the first time in more than a year over its uranium enrichment drive, but diplomats and analysts see little chance of a breakthrough in the long-running dispute.

Gates said he saw little choice, however, to pursuing a political strategy that includes sanctions and renewed his concerns that a military strike would only delay Iranian nuclear capabilities by two or three years.

He added that sanctions “have really bitten much harder than (Iranian leadership) anticipated,” and suggested Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was increasingly at odds with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“We even have some evidence that Khamenei, now, (is) beginning to wonder if Ahmadinejad is lying to him about the impact of the sanctions on the economy. And whether he’s getting the straight scoop in terms of how much trouble the economy really is in,” Gates told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington.

[ ... ]

Although he acknowledged on Tuesday that Iranian leaders “are still intent on acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said military action was not a long-term answer.

“A military solution, as far as I’m concerned … it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert,” Gates said.

“The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest. Everything else is a short-term solution.”

Oh goodness.  Gates has bought into the notion that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons because they seek a deterrent to aggression against Iran.  Convincing Iran to relinquish its pursuit of nuclear weapons is synonymous with convincing them that no one intends Iran harm.  Military action only pushes they into the very decision point we wish to avoid.  Or so the narrative goes.

It’s the same mistake made by most of the secular, post-modernist Western elite who sees things mainly through Western, secular eyes.  It’s all about self preservation viz. Darwin, and upon being assured that they are safe, and since there is no such thing as real evil in the world and no absolute against which to measure such a thing as right or wrong, there is only the pragmatic.  The Iranian rulers will be pragmatic and see the error of their pursuit and act in the defense of themselves and their own people.  Altruistically, of course.  It’s all about diplomacy.  It just means saying the right things.

Except the world and mankind don’t work that way, and objective evil does in fact exist.  Seeing things through eschatological eyes is uncomfortable to the Western secularists, but absolutely necessary in order to understand the radical Mullahs, who believe that:

“We do not worship Iran. We worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”

To be sure, military action is undesirable.  There is always another way, involving covert operations, intelligence warfare, fomenting an internal Iranian insurgency, and catalyzing regime change.  But with eyes through which the Western secularists see the problem, this will never occur.  This virtually ensures war with Iran, sooner or later.  Our own desire to avoid confrontation is at least a contributing cause to such an exigency.

This is the second awful decision Gates has made within a week.  Does this set the expectations for the remainder of his  tenure?  Will it be two per week?


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