Archive for the 'Musa Qala' Category



White House Shifts Afghanistan Strategy Towards Talks with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

From The Guardian (The report is fairly lengthy, but it’s important to read it all.  Stay tuned until the end for a very special surprise!):

The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties – a policy to which it had previously been lukewarm.

Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.

The Guardian has learned that while the American government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations.

“There is a change of mindset in DC,” a senior official in Washington said. “There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else. There was something missing.”

That missing element was talks with the Taliban leadership, the official added.

Barack Obama, apparently frustrated at the way the war is going, has reminded his national security advisers that while he was on the election campaign trail in 2008, he had advocated talking to America’s enemies.

America is reviewing its Afghanistan policy which is due for completion in December, but officials in Washington, Kabul and Islamabad with knowledge of internal discussions said feelers had been put out to the Taliban. Negotiations would be conducted largely in secret, through a web of contacts, possibly involving Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or organisations with back-channel links to the Taliban.

“It will be messy and could take years,” said a diplomatic source.

Earlier this year Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, distinguished between “reintegration”, which the US supported, and “reconciliation” or negotiating with senior Taliban. Holbrooke said: “Let me be clear. There is no American involvement in any reconciliation process.”

The US has no agreed position on who among the leaders of the insurgency should be wooed and who would be beyond the pale. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, would be a problem as he provided Osama bin Laden with bases before the 9/11 attacks.

The US would also find it problematic to deal with the Pakistan-based insurgents led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose group pioneered suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The third main element in the insurgency is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has hinted he is ready to break ranks.

A source with knowledge of the process said: “There is no agreed US position, but there is agreement that Karzai should lead on this. They would expect the Pakistanis to deliver the Haqqani network in any internal settlement.”

The US has laid down basic conditions for any group seeking negotiations. They are: end all ties to al-Qaida, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.

A senior Pakistani diplomat said: “The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.

“The Afghan government is already talking to all the shareholders‚ the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar. The Americans have been setting ridiculous preconditions for talks. You can’t lay down such preconditions when you are losing.”

Some Afghan policy specialists are sceptical about whether negotiations would succeed. Peter Bergen, a specialist on Afghanistan and al-Qaida, told a US Institute of Peace seminar in Washington last week that there were a host of problems with such a strategy, not least why the Taliban should enter negotiations “when they think they are winning”.

Audrey Kurth Cronin, a member of the US National War College faculty in Washington, and the author of How Terrorism Ends, said talks with Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network were pointless because there would be no negotiable terms.

She said there could be talks with Hekmatyar, but these would be conducted through back channels, potentially by a third party. Given his support for jihad, she said, “it would be unreasonable to expect the US and the UK to do so”.

Asked how Obama’s Afghan strategy was progressing, a senior former US government official familiar with the latest Pentagon thinking said: “In a word, poorly. We seriously need to be developing a revised plan of action that will allow us a chance to achieve sufficient security in a more sustainable manner.”

Officials have mentioned possible roles in negotiation for the UN and figures such as the veteran UN negotiator, the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi, who heads, along with the retired US ambassador Thomas Pickering, a New York-based international panel which is looking at such a reconciliation.

Another name mentioned is Michael Semple, an Irishman based in Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School who has extensive contacts with the Taliban.

Michael Semple?  Bwaaaaaahahahaha … gasp … Bwaaaaaaahahahahahaha … (gasp, tries to catch breath, snortle, gasp) … Bwaaaaaahahaha.  Remember Michael Semple’s involvement in Musa Qala?  Let’s rehearse just a bit.  Semple was expelled from Afghanistan for back-channel negotiations with supposed mid-level Taliban commanders in an attempt to cause an uprising against hard core Taliban back in late-2007 and early-2008.

He was negotiating with one Mullah Abdul Salaam.  He promised to bring the tribes along with him in his revolt against the Taliban, and retake Musa Qala from the Taliban without so much as a shot being fired.  In reality, he and a few of his men cried like little girls and ran for cover.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

Instead of the peaceful, serene transition to a Taliban-free area, the battle for Musa Qala caused the loss of two NATO lives along with seven Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne being wounded.  Even after that, Musa Qala has been problematic, with the Taliban not going completely away.  The British are mostly hated around the Musa Qala area for the grand bargain, and are blamed for the lack of security.

Note the observations of the Pakistani diplomat.  We are “losing.”  We are losing because we lack a clear strategy, are looking for the exit, and lack the will to project force.  This strategy of reintegrating the Taliban is absurd because there is no reason to reintegrate if they are winning (or if they have the perception that they are).  Furthermore, none of the main actors mentioned in the report above are going to reintegrate or accept the conditions necessary for a government that is free of alignment with globalist Islamists.

This strategy is only further indication of the depths to which the morale of this administration has sunk.  That Michael Semple’s name has come up is a depressing landmark for the trail of confusion down which we are stumbling.  The desire to disengage from Afghanistan has become desperate, and this desperation will only further hurt military morale.  No one wants to die on the way out of a war.

Prior reading on Musa Qala:

One Kilometer Outside of Musa Qala

British Hated Because of Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Update:

For more reading, Joshua Foust deals with Michael Semple in:

A Children’s Treasure of Worthless Experts

Talking About Negotiations First is Exactly Backwards

Update #2: Jules Crittenden finds himself in agreement with Taliban propaganda.  I think he’s right.

One Kilometer Outside Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

British troops are poised to hand over control of Musa Qala to the U.S. Marines.

British troops are to hand over control of the largest town in north Helmand to US forces as part of a major “rebalancing” of UK forces in Helmand, the Defence Secretary said yesterday.

Speaking on a visit to Helmand, the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said that Musa Qala would be handed over to US forces in the next month and that “further changes” are likely to ensure that British forces have the “greatest effect in countering the threat posed by the insurgency and protecting the civilian population.”

The decision to hand over Musa Qala to US forces had been one of a series of options under consideration by senior Nato commanders. In January The Times reported that British troops were likely to be pulled out of Musa Qala, Kajaki and possibly the iconic town of Sangin …

British troops originally moved into Musa Qala in June of 2006 to counter Taleban attacks that threatened to overwhelm weak local security forces in the town. In late 2006 British forces withdrew from Musa Qala under the terms of a controversial deal that saw local tribes promises to exclude the Taliban and govern the town.

However, Taliban fighters retook Musa Qala in February 2007 and held it till December when it was retaken in a major offensive by a mixed US and UK force. The retaking of the town was aided by the defection of a local Taleban commander, Mullah Abdul Salaam, who was subsequently installed as the local district governor.

Twenty-three British soldiers have died in and around the town. General Messenger said that British forces would leave behind a success story.

There is a problem within the Ministry of Defence (and the higher echelon of the chain of command) in Britain.  Musa Qala is not a success story.  The British warrior is a good as any on earth, but the officer corps has a troubling predilection to grant themselves special dispensation to turn their own failures into successes (it happened with the campaign in Basra).

Let’s take a quick detour through recent history.  The British were on the front end of the attempt to make deals with the Taliban, and even earlier, the local tribes.  A deal was indeed struck with the locals to turn away the Taliban.  The promise didn’t obtain, and the Taliban took control of Musa Qala.

In a tip of the hat to more deal-making, the British befriended one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called “former mid-level Taliban commander” who promised to bring his fighters to bear upon the Taliban during the initial assault of U.S. and British troops to retake Musa Qala.  In fact, upon the initiation of the assault, Salaam “stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.”  In other words, he screamed like a little girl.

This whole incident has been a stain on the British effort, and is not indicative of the high quality enlisted men in the British military.  The CTC Sentinel at West Point had some very direct words to the MoD regarding Musa Qala in July 2008.

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan … If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

One and a half years ago the relations between Salaam and the British troops had soured.  The British had accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he had accused the British of undermining his “authority.”  Salaam was “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming from the largesse poured into Musa Qala.  It would appear that relations have not gotten any better in the last year.  “At their latest meeting, Mullah Salaam is complaining that the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, which has been here for nearly six months, simply isn’t violent enough.”

This is from a man who couldn’t convince his own “fighters” to make good on their promises to take Musa Qala back from the Taliban.  Yet it also appears that Salaam hasn’t added one iota to the security around the area in the time that he has been “governor” of the area.  Government officials still can’t move more than one kilometer outside of Musa Qala because of security problems.

It’s time for some serious counterinsurgency in and around Musa Qala, and this means that Salaam must go, or be relegated to the sidelines as the irrelevant lackey that he is.  If the British didn’t have the resources to pacify the area, then the U.S. Marines might be able to squeeze the enemy out of hiding and kill them – and retake the roads in the area.  And so much for tribal engagement and deals with the Taliban as the answer to every problem in Afghanistan.

Prior:

The British and Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

British Hated Because of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has made it clear before concerning the British that our gripe is not with the enlisted man who has been heroic and hard fighting, but with the officers and strategy-makers of the British Army who have let their experiences in Northern Ireland cloud their judgment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have also covered the deal the British struck with one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called mid-level Taliban commander who allegedly sided with the British, with the British thinking that Salaam would field fighters when the British and U.S. attacked Musa Qala to retake it from hard core Taliban fighters.  As it turns out, Salaam was pretty much just a despicable and cowardly weasel.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

So instead of fighting the Taliban, he and his men stayed home and screamed like school girls.  Some deal the British made – a pig in a poke.  But yet, he was the “only game in town” and spoke “bloody well,” so he was rewarded with governorship of Musa Qala by the British.

The British have since accused him of corruption, while Salaam has leveled counter-accusations of the British undermining his authority in testimony to how bad the relations have become.  Security is still problematic in Musa Qala, and Dexter Filkins at the New York Times gives us a little glimpse into the current state of affairs of Musa Qala.  Many themes here at The Captain’s Journal appear in the Filkins article, including the notion that the countryside is being turned over to the Taliban because there aren’t enough troops to protect the population.  But one exchange occurs regarding Musa Qala that is instructive for all such future tactics employed by either the British or U.S.

Mr. Hediat said he had no great gripes with the British soldiers who were occupying the town — for one thing, he said, they do not raid houses and peer at the women. But the biggest complaint, he said, was the Afghan the British installed as the district governor, Mullah Salam. The governor is unpopular and corrupt, demanding bribes and tributes from anyone who needs something.

“This is why people hate the British, because they put Mullah Salam in power, and they keep him there,” he said.

The CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, July 2008, has an important article by David C. Isby entitled “The High Stakes Battle for the Future of Musa Qala.”  Isby made several key conclusions.

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan. British differences with the government in Kabul have increased, and Britain has become the focus of much of the frustration with coalition efforts [page 12].

For the United Kingdom, it is a chance to show that the second largest coalition member in terms of troops in Afghanistan can demonstrate results on the ground commensurate with their status in bilateral and multilateral security relationships. As British policy is to channel aid through Kabul where feasible, this provides an opportunity for aid to be directed in Musa Qala in order to show a long-term commitment at preventing the Taliban from returning to burn schools and kill Afghans. If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

The Musa Qala tactic stands out as one that should never be repeated.  It should also be noted that the Afghan population has very little confidence in tribal militias versus the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (i.e., in spite of the corruption in the police and ineptitude in the Army, they are seen as better than the alternatives).  In the mean time, the British must find a way to dismember Salaam’s network of corruption in Musa Qala in order to restore confidence in their counterinsurgency capabilities.  Thus far they have failed – miserably.

Prior:

The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban

The Example of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

We have previously covered the secret negotiations between MI6 agents and mid-level Taliban commanders, the result of which was the agreement between British forces and one Mullah Abdul Salaam who had promised military help when British and U.S. forces retook Musa Qala late in 2007.  The military assistance never materialized, and instead of engaging in the battle, Salaam and his “fighters” stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.  “He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

For this he was rewarded with rule of Musa Qala.  But not more than half a year later relations between Salaam and the British have badly degraded.  The British have accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he has accused the British of undermining his “authority.”  Salaam is “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming.  As for the most recent account of the situation in Musa Qala, the Times recently penned an important article on the crumbling dream of utopia in Musa Qala.  It is a sorry tale of lack of electricity, lack of services, wasted and lost reconstruction money, complaints from city elders, and comparisons with life under the Taliban (where it is being said that life was easier and without corruption).

The security is still problematic since the retaking of Musa Qala.

Musa Qala seems a desolate place of broken houses and rubble, though we are assured it has a clinic, a mosque and a paid workforce. The building in which we sleep was once a hotel and then the headquarters of the Taleban, but is now little more than a concrete shell, pock-marked by bullet-holes. The town’s security depends on its resident defence force – 5 Scots (the Argylls) and the Afghan National Army.

Its population is testimony to its instability – estimates vary from 3,000 to 20,000. We sleep outside, under mosquito nets, taking care to shade our torches in the night, woken occasionally by the sound of artillery fire (which we hope is ours not theirs).

This remains a highly charged war zone. Three days ago, while we were in the district centre – the army camp on the outskirts of Musa Qala – three platoons of D Company of the Argylls came back from a 48-hour patrol to the north of the town, in the course of which they came under heavy fire on three separate occasions. Private David Poderis, 37, showed us tangible evidence of the Taleban’s ferocity in the form of two neat bullet-holes in his helmet.

Finally, the CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, July 2008, has an important article by David C. Isby entitled “The High Stakes Battle for the Future of Musa Qala.”  A very few of his observations are pointed out below (while the entire article is recommended reading).

The Musa Qala Taliban were not destroyed in battle, but moved largely to adjacent districts in 2007. Helmand member of parliament Nasima Niazi has claimed that the Taliban remain active in Musa Qala despite the reoccupation. Security outside the district center remains uncertain [page 11].

The British 2006 campaign in southern Afghanistan has already become part of military history—marked by a popular 2007 exhibition at the National Army Museum in London—but the results of that fighting have not helped the United Kingdom’s image as NATO’s foremost practitioner of counter-insurgency and stability operations, employing tactics refined since Malaya in conflicts worldwide. Rather, the image was of besieged “platoon house” outposts under Taliban attack and of too few deployed forces being desperately under-resourced. British forces in Afghanistan lack an ability to fund quick response development programs in a way comparable to the United States, and, according to the Economist, “a growing number of British officers grudgingly recognize that America is learning the lessons of irregular warfare, drawn mainly from British colonial experience, better than the modern British Army” [page 11 & 12].

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan. British differences with the government in Kabul have increased, and Britain has become the focus of much of the frustration with coalition efforts [page 12].

Isby goes on to discuss the importance of Musa Qala for Kabul and then for the UK.

For the United Kingdom, it is a chance to show that the second largest coalition member in terms of troops in Afghanistan can demonstrate results on the ground commensurate with their status in bilateral and multilateral security relationships. As British policy is to channel aid through Kabul where feasible, this provides an opportunity for aid to be directed in Musa Qala in order to show a long-term commitment at preventing the Taliban from returning to burn schools and kill Afghans. If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

We have already pointed out that the British grunts are among the bravest on earth, but the problems here are associated with strategy and force projection.  The campaign didn’t begin well in Musa Qala, with the British appointing by fiat a man who had neither moral authority nor personal investment in the area.  The situation has degraded since then.

Musa Qala is a thorny set of problems, but this could also have been said of the Anbar Province.  But the U.S. Marines had continual force projection for a protracted period of time, and when kinetic operations needed to be mixed with biometrics and gated communities, this transition was instantaneous.  Then when Lt. Colonels had to be at city council meetings, they participated as warrior-scholars.

When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood.

As insurgent violence continues to decrease in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar Province – an improvement that President Bush heralded in his visit to Al Asad Air Base Monday as one sign of progress in the war – the conversation is shifting in Anbar. Where sheikhs and tribal leaders once only asked the US to protect them from Sunni extremists, now they want to know how to get their streets cleaned and where to buy generators …

The changes here have allowed provincial and local governments to get established over the past few months, US officials here say. And now, true to the tribal culture that permeates Iraqi society, Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.

The U.S. Marines have had significant success in the Garmser area of operations in the Helmand Province, but the 24th MEU will be rotating out soon.  Whether the replacements are U.S. Marines or British forces, the strategy must be one of being the most powerful tribe in Helmand.  Only then can a society be [re]constructed so that forces can turn over to legitimate governmental authorities and stand down.  It is a proven paradigm, and without it, we will fail in Afghanistan.

There is no magic to perform, no secret Gnostic words to utter, no tricks.  Troops are necessary, and warrior-scholars who can fight a battle as well as govern a city council meeting.  Under-resourced forces and shady deals with corrupt, second rate, has-been Taliban commanders (or religiously motivated hard core Taliban commanders) simply won’t do the job.  The CTC Sentinel has it right concerning the need for the British (and NATO) to get Musa Qala right.  The CTC Sentinel might be overestimating the importance of Musa Qala to the campaign.  The real importance of Musa Qala is the shining example it gives us as to the wrong way to do counterinsurgency in a tribal region fighting a transnational insurgency.

Prior:

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban


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