Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 11 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]

2-13-08 Intelligence Roundup

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Four Arrested in U.S.-China Spy Case

The US on Monday announced a series of arrests in cases involving alleged spying by the Chinese government, including one where a Pentagon official was alleged to have helped Beijing obtain secret information.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Gregg Bergersen, a Pentagon employee with top secret security clearances, for allegedly providing a Chinese government agent with information about US weapons sales to Taiwan. In another case, Chung Dongfan, a former Boeing employee, was arrested for economic espionage involving US military programmes.

Pakistan Nuclear Technicians Abducted

Two employees of Pakistan’s atomic energy agency have been abducted in the country’s restive north-western region abutting the Afghan border.

Police say the technicians went missing on the same day as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, was reportedly abducted in the same region.

Russian Bomber Buzzed U.S. Ships

U.S. fighter planes intercepted two Russian bombers flying unusually close to an American aircraft carrier in the western Pacific during the weekend, The Associated Press has learned.

A U.S. military official says that one Russian Tupolev 95 buzzed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz twice, at a low altitude of about 2,000 feet, while another bomber circled about 50 nautical miles out. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because the reports on the flights were classified as secret.

Pro-Pakistan Government Tribal Elders Killed by Bomber in Waziristan

A suicide bomber killed six pro-government tribal elders and wounded nine others in Edak village in North Waziristan’s Mirali sub-district on Monday.  Local people said that a pro-government peace committee had been in session when the bomber struck at 12.55pm. Tribal elders were planning to form a force comprising local volunteers to go after foreign militants in the area.

Witnesses said the suicide bomber entered the open courtyard close to Madressah Nizamia and mingled with the people who were attending the meeting.  Haji Nekam, a tribal elder who heads the Edak peace committee, was wounded in the incident. He had survived an earlier bomb attempt on his life by militants.  ANP leader Nisar Ali Khan, who is contesting polls from North Waziristan as an independent candidate, also suffered injuries. He was said to be stable last night.

Muslim Aid Leaving Pentagon

In a stunning turn of events, a high-level Muslim military aide blamed for costing an intelligence contractor his job will step down from his own Pentagon post, WND has learned.

Meanwhile, his rival, Maj. Stephen Coughlin, a leading authority on Islamic war doctrine, may stay in the Pentagon, moving from the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the office of the secretary of defense. However, sources say a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey is trying to block his new contract.

The top Pentagon aide, Egyptian-born Hesham H. Islam, came under a cloud of suspicion after reports raised doubt about his resume and contacts he had made with radical Muslims. He is expected to leave the government next month, officials say.

Islam and Coughlin recently quarreled over intelligence briefings Coughlin presented showing a close connection between the religion of Islam and terrorism. Coughlin’s contract with the Joint Chiefs, which ends in March, was not renewed.

Pakistani Army Officers Recalled from Civil Posts

Pakistan Army on Monday called back all its serving officers from 23 civil departments, in what is being termed here as part of a plan to improve the image of the armed forces.

“More than 300 army officers are presently working in various civil departments and majority of them have been asked to report to the General Headquarters (GHQ) immediately,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told Dawn here on Monday.

He said the army authorities had written a letter to the federal government asking it to relieve all serving military officers from civil departments.

The move is in line with a decision taken by the 106th Corps Commanders’ Conference on Feb 7. The conference was presided over by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who had in an earlier statement, directed army officers to “stay away from political activities.”

The army chief’s decisions about reversal of officers from civil departments and restrictions on meeting politicians have been lauded by the civil society and all major political parties.

The induction of army officers in civil organisations has always been a controversial issue and has been questioned on different forums, including parliament.

The reversal of this policy is part of an ongoing diminution of the preceived power, authority and standing of the Pakistan army.  The army is seen as the center of gravity of Pakistan society, the king-maker, and the stabilizing force.  Or at least, this was once so.

Short Lived Ceasefire with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

A truce, or ceasefire, was negotiated only several days ago between the Taliban and Pakistan, but most good analysts believe that this can only be advantageous for the Taliban.

 … such measures will only increase the influence of the fundamentalist forces and accentuate the process of radicalisation of society. The ceasefire will enable the militants to reinforce their ranks and reorganise their cadres. In a feudal society like Pakistan, the fact that the government has been brought to the negotiating table gives them a modicum of respectability and enhances their stature as a fighting force. Moreover, as in the past, such deals are not going to stop Taliban attacks across the Durand Line in Afghanistan, and may result in reprisal attacks by the NATO, Afghan or the US troops, which may reignite the fires. At best, the Pakistan government might seek reprieve from the US till the polling is over.

Moreover, this ceasefire does not stop militants from carrying out attacks across rest of Pakistan. In fact it might even allow them to divert resources that were tied up in the tribal areas to carry out strikes on security forces across other parts of Pakistan. This period is also likely to result in the elimination of “agents of security forces” in the FATA and Swat Valley, further discouraging the local population from cooperating with the security forces.

It would therefore be correct to conclude that the new ceasefire in FATA may reduce the level of violence in parts of Pakistan’s Pakhtoon belt for a few days. But in the long-term, it will inflict a severe blow to the “War on Terror” in the region.

In fact, Asia Times has an important article on coming Taliban operations and how this ceasefire plays into the overall scheme.

PESHAWAR, North-West Frontier Province – The ceasefire deal between the Pakistani security forces and a leading member of the al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, brokered by two stalwart Afghan commanders who persuaded Mehsud to stay in Afghanistan, is just the lull before a big storm and the beginning of a new chapter of militancy in Pakistan.

On Thursday, the government officially announced a ceasefire in the restive South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan. At the same time, Mehsud’s spokesperson announced a ceasefire throughout the country.

“A ceasefire has been agreed. This is why there has been little by way of major exchange of fire in the past few days,” a senior Pakistani official said on Thursday night.

Over the past few months, Mehsud, a hardline Takfiri – a believer in waging war against any non-practicing Muslims – has become isolated from the Taliban leadership, with Mullah Omar “sacking” him because of his fixation in waging war against the Pakistan state. Mehsud has widely been accused of complicity in the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpinidi on December 27.

As an editorial note, the idea that Mullah Omar had the power to “sack” Mehsud is contrary to the best reports about his power in the tribal area, and in fact, this was denied by representatives of Mullah Omar.  Rather, the Taliban have sustained an amicable split, both organizationally and with respect to goals.  Continuing with the Asia Times report:

The ceasefire deal, brokered by Taliban commanders Sirajuddin Haqqani and Maulvi Bakhta Jan, is face-saving for both the militants and the security forces and provides them with breathing space; they had reached a stalemate in South Waziristan.

The militants had laid siege to the main military camps at Razmak Fort and Ladha, and were firing missiles and mortars from three sides into the camps, at the same time cutting off their supply lines.

Earlier, commandos from Pakistan’s Special Services Group launched an operation to catch Mehsud, but the mission only resulted in them losing several score men and the militants about a dozen.

At this point, Islamabad reached the conclusion that its only option was to unleash an aerial assault on suspected militant camps. However, local tribal elders intervened and assured the authorities they would get Mehsud to retreat.

Once this was guaranteed, the authorities accepted with alacrity, mindful of the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 18 and the demoralization of their troops in the bitterly cold weather and harsh terrain.

The Afghan Taliban see the ceasefire as the ideal opportunity to step up their preparations for their annual spring offensive – they rely heavily on the Pakistan border areas for manpower and provisions.

Acutely aware of this, the US State Department has indicated its disapproval of the ceasefire. A ceasefire in North Waziristan in September 2006 – after partial ones beginning in April of that year – led to the Taliban’s strongest showing in the battlefield since being ousted in 2001.

Even before Thursday’s ceasefire, the Taliban’s preparations in the strategic backyard of Pakistan were well underway. This included the isolation of Mehsud and appointing a new team of commanders in the Pakistani tribal areas. Most of the new appointments are Afghans, to signify the importance of fighting a war in Afghanistan rather than in Pakistan. The two main commanders are Abdul Wali in Bajaur Agency and Ustad Yasir in Khyber Agency.

A key component of the Taliban’s offensive this year will be to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) plans against them and al-Qaeda.

Last year, the New York Times published a story of a classified US military proposal to intensify efforts to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This was to be part of a broader effort to bolster the Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, US military officials said.

This would include pumping more military trainers into Pakistan, providing direct finance to a tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective, and providing funds for smaller militias to fight against the militants. The US currently has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, according to the Pentagon, and this number could grow by dozens under the new approach.

A contact affiliated with al-Qaeda told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, “Pakistan has already tried to revive an outdated tribal system to counter the Taliban, but by killing tribal elders in Waziristan, the Taliban effectively stopped that scheme. Now the Americans and the Pakistani government are working on tribal elders of the Shinwari and Afirdi tribes of Khyber Agency, which is the main route of NATO supplies to Afghanistan. Approximately 80% of supplies pass through this route.

“But since the Taliban want to chop off NATO supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban have warned these tribal elders to stay away from the conflict. However, the elders have received huge bribes [funds] from NATO, and so they are obsessed with providing protection to the supply convoys. Therefore, the Taliban will increase their activities in Khyber Agency, which means a war with the elders of the Shinwari and Afirdi tribes,” the contact said.

The second sector of Taliban activity will be in Nooristan and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan, where US forces are conducting huge counter-insurgency operations.

“This year, the Taliban will focus their main attention on a new plan specifically aimed at Kunar and Nooristan. The details of the plan cannot be revealed at this point,” said the contact.

The contact said that the al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan is convinced that American pressure will be so strong that the ceasefire will not be long-term.

This perception is not without substance. Wana military airfield in South Waziristan and Miranshah airfield in North Waziristan have been upgraded from makeshift airstrips into proper runways with backup facilities, which indicate plans for a powerful air operation.

The deployment of US forces at Lowari Mandi and Ghulman Khan checkpoints (both on the Afghan side of the border near North Waziristan) and the construction of a new military camp near Shawal (North Waziristan), on the Afghan side, indicate that the US is not planning on peace for very long.

The only real issue is which side will strike first, and where.

This Asia Times report is a good balance to the reports that the only Taliban campaign this spring will be in Pakistan.  However, in the spirit of balance, I continue to maintain that there will be two Taliban fronts, one in Pakistan (led by Baitullah Mehsud) and the other in Afghanistan (led by Mullah Omar).  I have pointed out the vulnerabilities of the lines of transport through Pakistan relied upon by NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the Pakistan / Afghanistan theater remains symbiotically and physically connected to the point that it is the same counterinsurgency and anti-terrorist campaign.  NATO efforts in Afghanistan will not succeed without clearing the tribal regions of Pakistan as safe havens.

Prior:

Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan

U.S. Intelligence Failues: Dual Taliban Campaigns

Taliban Continue Fronts in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Planning for the Spring Offensive in Afghanistan

Al Qaeda Diary Catalogs Organization’s Decline

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Washington Post is reporting about a recent significant intelligence coup in an article entitled Diary of an Insurgent in Retreat.

On Nov. 3, U.S. soldiers raided a safe house of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq near the northern city of Balad. Not a single combatant was captured, but inside the house they found something valuable: a diary and will written in neat Arabic script.

“I am Abu Tariq, Emir of al-Layin and al-Mashadah Sector,” it began.

Over 16 pages, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader detailed the organization’s demise in his sector. He once had 600 men, but now his force was down to 20 or fewer, he wrote. They had lost weapons and allies. Abu Tariq focused his anger in particular on the Sunni fighters and tribesmen who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and joined the U.S.-backed Sunni Sahwa, or “Awakening,” forces.

This is a stark and telling admission of the demise of the al Qaeda organization in Iraq, and quite obviously was never intended to be studied by U.S. intelligence.  What was once a little less than Battalion strength in this emir’s area of operation is down to less than two squads.  In one sense, this demise was destiny for al Qaeda given the assumption that the U.S. wouldn’t lost hope or sight of the desired end.  Today I had the opportunity to debrief a Marine who has done two combat tours of Iraq, one in the Ramadi area of operations performing mounted patrols and transport interdiction.  One important fact involved knowledge of the typical behavior of the foreign terrorist coming from the Syrian border.

Indigenous Iraqis – insurgent or not – know their way around.  Like any typical citizen of a country, long pauses at intersections and wrong turns are not typical behavior.  One way used to ascertain probable cause for concern was wrong turns off of major thoroughfares.  Whether for directions, shelter, food, money and medical care, perhaps the most significant downfall of al Qaeda has been the utter dependence on indigenous Iraqis, and the violence and extremism of al Qaeda worked to their own disadvantage regarding their relations with the Sunnis in Anbar.  The very nature of the movement sealed its demise.

Even when the concerned local citizens didn’t perform kinetic operations against al Qaeda (but rather, left it to U.S. forces as in Operation Alljah in Fallujah), they turned al Qaeda over to U.S. forces.  When the Iraqis turned on al Qaeda, their fate was ensured even though time and persistence was required to effect this fate.  In this way, the Washington Post title is somewhat misleading, as have been some of my own articles and many others among military blogs.  Al Qaeda in Iraq cannot be characterized as insurgents per se.  They were always and are now foreign terrorists.

The al Qaeda emir also stated that:

“The Islamic State of Iraq [al-Qaeda] is faced with an extraordinary crisis, especially in al-Anbar province. Al-Qaeda’s expulsion from Anbar created weakness and psychological defeat. This also created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight.

“The morale of the fighters went down and they wanted to be transferred to administrative positions rather than be fighters. There was a total collapse in the security structure of the organization.”

There is debate over whether the Multinational Force is doing enough to publicize the imminent defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq.  The Captain’s Journal has always been able to find the reports and weave together narratives that told the story as it occurred.  We discussed al Qaeda’s demise in Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire, and in Al Qaeda’s War on Iraq we discussed the death of another emir, Abu Osama al-Tunisi, and the subsequent capture of another internal al Qaeda memorandum, in which he stated that “he’s surrounded, communications have been cut, and he is desperate for help.”

The narrative is clear and available for the self-initiated analyst.  It isn’t clear what more the Multinational Force can do to communicate the facts.  While the fight is not finished, al Qaeda made Iraq the point of departure for their global plans, and their demise is on display for all to see.

Lingering Arguments for the Small Footprint Model of Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Small Wars Journal editors discuss the views of Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations / low intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, concerning the campaign in Afghanistan.

The senior civilian adviser to the defense secretary on special operations says the key to success in Iraq and Afghanistan is through “the indirect approach” — working “by, with and through” host-nation forces — rather than “surges” of U.S. troops.

“Insurgencies have to be won by local capacity,” Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, told a group of defense reporters in Washington on Feb. 6.

Because “it typically takes a decade or more” to achieve victory in a counterinsurgency, Vickers said, “a key measure of success” for the “supporting country” — in this case, the U.S. — is whether domestic political support for the mission can be sustained for such an extended period.

This view runs parallel to the special forces command views and talking points for Pakistan’s problems (see The Special Forces Plan for Pakistan: Mistaking the Anbar Narrative), and is exactly what I would expect a champion of special forces operations to advocate.  But it is difficult to fathom that there are any advocates of the small footprint model remaining, especially after witnessing the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past half decade.  The worn out talking point about COIN taking ten years also ignores the rapidity of change in U.S. politics, something we have discussed before.  It might be the case that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq through another ten years and that Iraq will remain a protectorate of the U.S. for some time into the future.  But this presence will not include constant constabulary operations – or else the force presence will lose popular support.  The notion that any COIN campaign which includes losses from active kinetic operations can maintain popular support over two and a half Presidential administrations simply ignores the realities of American politics.

Further, the small footprint model of COIN (a) is the reason the Afghanistan campaign is languishing to begin with, and (b) almost lost Operation Iraqi Freedom prior to the surge.  Rather than see the surge as a subset of ideas that can work only under certain circumstances, it should be seen as a subset of the larger doctrine of force projection that won the Anbar campaign almost prior to the surge.

Counterinsurgency will never be the same as it was even twenty years ago.  The advent of religious motivation, standoff weapons (such as IEDs), transnational cultural movements, and instantaneous communications and intelligence-gathering through technology, has forever changed the face of low intensity warfare and terrorism.  Even Vickers mentions the situation in Pakistan in troubled language, saying:

“The situation in Pakistan is very worrisome,” he said. “It’s getting worse in Pakistan.”

The Pashtun tribal belt along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has become a safe haven for al-Qaida’s senior leadership, according to Vickers.

“Al-Qaida’s goals remain to catalyze a global Islamic insurgency against the West and to carry out spectacular attacks against the West and the United States in particular,” he said. “And there really has been no diminishment in those goals … But in the past year-and-a-half or so, there has been an improvement in their capacity to do so as they’ve enjoyed greater sanctuary in western Pakistan.”

Vickers has neatly separated the two problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mistake of huge proportions (I have elsewhere argued that the fates of these two countries are inextricably tied together).  Vickers should be as concerned about Afghanistan as he is about Pakistan.  They are the same campaign.

The focus on personalities and high value targets, special forces operations, and overly heavy reliance on indigenous forces is the Rumsfeld model of COIN.  It is a proven loser.  Standing up the Iraqi and Afghan armies will take time, as will reconstruction and building of infrastructure.  Security is the pretext for the success of either, and this security can only be provided with force projection.  Hope married to bad doctrine is not a plan.

Planning for the Spring Offensive in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The News in Pakistan is reporting some interesting developments in the recent engagement of some high value targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

PESHAWAR: Following unconfirmed reports of killing of a high-profile al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi, there are now rumours that an American al-Qaeda militant Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, had been killed in the alleged Predator attack by the US on a house in Mirali, North Waziristan, a few days back.

32-year-old Adam Gadahn, who is American citizen belonging to southern California, has been accused by the US of praising the perpetrators of September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and attending al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas.

According to sources, American officials who are yet to publicly confirm the killing of Abu Laith al-Libi, had reportedly sharing information with western media that most likely another most wanted figure, Adam Gadahn, has also been killed in the air strike by the CIA-operated unmanned drone on a house in Khushali Torikhel village near Mirali town.

According to sources, the American al-Qaeda militant, who has been reportedly spending much of his time in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, had reached Mirali for an important meeting with other senior al-Qaeda commanders for planning the so-called spring offensive against US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

However, there were no details whether he arrived in the town when a house reportedly housing some senior al-Qaeda operatives including Abu Laith al-Libi, was blitzed. US military officials based in Afghanistan are reportedly collecting details about those killed in the attack on the house and in this regard two of their spy planes continued flying over the same area even after the tragic incident.

Local tribesmen, who were kept at bay by hundreds of armed militants from visiting the house until all the bodies, mostly dismembered, were retrieved, said that US spy planes might have taken pictures of the entire rescue operation as well as of the funeral ceremony.

Like US officials, Pakistani authorities have been constantly keeping silence over what had happened in their jurisdictions. It may be recalled that the US State Department had offered US$ one million reward for capture of Adam Gadahn.

However, some military officials felt that declaring Gadahn as dead in the Mirali incident, the US wanted him to speak for his defence or make some telephone calls so that they target him like rest of al-Qaeda operatives.

The Captain’s Journal is going on record declaring Adam Gadahn to be completely irrelevant to the global war on terror.  The normally clear-headed Threats Watch is focusing on the person of Gadahn, as is the Jawa Report.  We have also focused on individuals, as in Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan, but only to the extent that it bears on political and cultural movements and broad strategic analysis that points directly to necessary countermeasures by the U.S.  This silly focus on so-called “high value targets” and special operations to capture or kill them is a waste of resources and energies.  The issue in counterinsurgency is not the personalities, but the people.  This is why special operations cannot win counterinsurgencies.  The recruitment pool never dries up unless force projection provides the security for cultural amelioration and reconstruction to become effective.

Let’s provide a case in point.  The BBC is providing us with an account of why funds for reconstruction isn’t working in Afghanistan, once again giving an example of the need for force projection in counterinsurgency.

Journalist Zaki Shahamat believes Nato should put more money into provinces which have stability.

I have seen dramatic changes in my country since Nato arrived but the changes haven’t been balanced or spread equally throughout the provinces in this country.

It is those provinces where forces are stationed and where there is great turmoil which seem to get more money and reconstruction. Provinces which have seen less turmoil have also seen less funding.

The policy has been to reconstruct unstable areas to provide security. I think this has failed.

There are many reports that the Taleban are approaching Kabul. Another neighbouring province, Wardak, also has a strong Taleban presence.

My family live in Ghazni province and it experienced increased lawlessness. Last year South Korean aid workers were abducted in Ghazni. The Taleban are present but they operate as criminals. The real problems are in the outlying districts.

People who travel from the centre of the province to the districts have to pay – sometimes with their money, their cars, their property and sometimes with their lives.

Nato forces operate mainly in the centre of the province. They can’t and don’t do much for the people outside.

Monies to provinces and areas that are lawless and have no security (due to lack of force projection) go to waste, as does the expensive and time consuming targeting of personalities in the Jihad.  Counterinsurgency is not as simple as throwing money around and sending a JDAM into an enemy home.

But there is something divulged in the press release (other than the useless and boring report about Adam Gadahn) that makes it entirely worthwhile.  It is that the alleged meeting took place to plan the Taliban spring offensive against NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, once again underlining our own analysis of dual Taliban fronts- one in Afghanistan and the other in Pakistan.  This is important intelligence analysis, and again runs directly contrary to the position of Major General Rodriguez and his intelligence apparatus who claim otherwise.  Listening to the details irrespective of the emotional hype has its rewards.

Disagreement Between Mullen and McNeill

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns, I reported on the disparity between Major General Rodriguez and open source information concerning the split in the Taliban, and the resultant focus on two fronts this spring – one in Afghanistan and the other in Pakistan.  The poor intelligence analysis didn’t stop here.  In The Afghanistan Narrative I reported on the disparate views within not only NATO, but also the Pentagon, as to the state of the insurgency and counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan.  I followed this up with World in Disarray – Lack of Strategies in which I pointed out more public and vocal disagreements (up to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) concerning the state of the campaign in Afghanistan.  Finally, the main stream media picks up on the lack of coordination and coherent analysis for Afghanistan.  The Air Force Times reports on the split views between Mullen and McNeill.

The Taliban is not “resurgent” in Afghanistan, said the U.S. general who commands the 42,000-member NATO force there, contradicting the Defense Department view, expressed most recently before Congress during two hearings Wednesday by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen.

In his written statements submitted for the record to the House and Senate armed services committees, Mullen said, “In Afghanistan, we are seeing a growing insurgency, increasing violence, and a burgeoning drug trade fueled by widespread poppy cultivation.”

At a Wednesday morning press conference at the Pentagon, Army Gen. Dan McNeill agreed with the second two points but took exception to Mullen’s claim of the insurgency’s growth.

“Admiral Mullen has his view,” said McNeill, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force for the past year. “I’ve got mine, too.”

First, this is a sad state of affairs – not the disagreement between senior officials (which can he healthy in cases), but rather, the lack of intelligence analysis and doctrinal coherence in the campaign in Afghanistan.  This – in itself – is a pointer to issues with leadership.  Second, it should be noted that a blogger is again at the forefront of the analysis, preceeding the main stream media by days in this case (and months in others).

Looming Battle for Mosul

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In Last Stand in Mosul (more than two months ago) we discussed the relocation of remaining elements of al Qaeda to Mosul along with hard core Ba’athist, Republican Guard and Sadaam Fedayeed insurgents for the last ditch effort to forestall complete loss and eradication from Iraq.  The battle now looms large for Mosul, with the Iraqi Security Forces apparently preparing to take the lead in the fight.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called another meeting of his war council Thursday to discuss plans for a “decisive battle” against Al-Qaeda in the northern city of Mosul, his office said.

The meeting in Baghdad was attended by Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the interior and defence ministers, the governor of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, and “some military leaders,” a statement said.

On January 25, Maliki promised a “decisive battle” against Al-Qaeda in Iraq after dozens of people including a police chief were killed in Mosul bombings.

Last Saturday he called a meeting in Mosul of his crisis cell, which was also attended by the commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petreaus, and warned afterwards of an imminent assault on the jihadists in Nineveh.

Thursday’s meeting, the statement said, was part of preparations “for a decisive battle against terrorism in Nineveh.”

On Saturday, Nineveh Governor Duraid Kashmoula told reporters in Mosul, the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, that the assault would start “in a few days.”

Residents of the city, 370 kilometres (225 miles) north of Baghdad, have for the past two weeks been stocking up with supplies in anticipation of the battle, traders say.

The ethnically diverse city has been rocked by violence in recent weeks, including a powerful blast that killed up to 60 people when a cache of munitions stored by insurgents blew up in a building in the Zanjili suburb.

A suicide bomber killed provincial police chief Brigadier General Salah al-Juburi and two other officers the next day when they went to inspect the carnage.

Mosul is being called the “worst place in Iraq” at the moment.  This will be a test of the ISF, and the battle would fare better if al Qaeda and the remaining Ba’athists are rendered unable to flee and relocate prior to this battle, as happened at the onset of the “surge” and security plan for Baghdad when the U.S. announced the plan.  Checkpoints should already be operational, and the ISF should make significant use of barricades, roadblocks, gated communities and other elements of counterinsurgency that have proven valuable in the battles for Fallujah and Baghdad.

World in Disarray – Lack of Strategies

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In The Afghanistan Narrative we covered the disparate views of the Afghanistan campaign among the top military leaders in the U.S.  Contrary to reports of a split Taliban and dual insurgency front in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Major General David Rodriguez believes that the Taliban will focus only on Pakistan.  NATO leadership says that the insurgency is not growing and not expanding.  Admiral Mullen, on the other hand, says that we are facing a classic growing insurgency.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees with NATO.  General Dan McNeill, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, weighed in defending Gates’ position.  Then about the same time McNeill was speaking, the Afghan Defense Minister weighed in saying that the Taliban threat was worse than expected.

Afghanistan needs more foreign troops as the threat from the Taliban is greater than anticipated, Afghanistan’s defense minister said on Wednesday.

Abdul Rahim Wardak’s comments came as Britain and the United States urged other NATO members to share more of the burden of the fight in Afghanistan, particularly in the south, where the Islamist Taliban insurgency is strongest.

“For the transitional period there is a requirement for more troops. That is why the U.S. committed about 2,200 marines recently,” Wardak told a news conference after meeting Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo.

Wardak added: “The cause was that the threat is much higher than anticipated in 2001″.

These issues should figure prominently in the upcoming Munich Security Conference on February 8, 2008.

The debate in NATO about troop commitments to Afghanistan is expected to figure prominently in the annual Munich Security Conference that opens in the Bavarian capital on Friday, Feb. 8.

The demand by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates for more troops has placed Washington’s European partners in the alliance on the defensive, conference organizer Horst Teltschik said Sunday.

Some 350 high-caliber politicians and military leaders are due to take part in the three-day gathering, which will be opened with a speech by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Gates, US Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov will be there along with the presidents of Georgia, Macedonia and Moldova.

More than 40 foreign and defense ministers have pledged to attend the conference, the slogan of which is “a world in disarray — shifting powers — lack of strategies.”

The conference is aptly named.

Force Size Projections in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Pentagon is split on troop drawdown in Iraq, but the split has nothing whatsoever to do with politics or non-military stateside considerations.

Discussions about a possible pause in troop cuts in Iraq underscore what is shaping up as a sharp debate between the U.S. commanders running the war and those who have to provide the forces for the fight.

Military leaders, including Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed Friday that it is too soon to tell if troop withdrawals should slow or stop. But they acknowledged that it is becoming more and more difficult to find the Army soldiers and Marines to send to battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The question becomes not so much a pause,” said Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway Friday, “but how much risk is a commander willing to accept” when weighing the conflicting needs of providing troops for war while still giving some relief to the over-stressed force.

Summary of force size in Iraq since the inception of Operation Iraqi Freedom – 2003: U.S. forces were at 143,000 when Baghdad fell in April and ranged from a high of 148,900 in June to a low of 121,100 in December.  2004: Ranged from low of 108,900 in January to high of 150,200 in December.  2005: Started in January at peak of 159,000 and ranged from low of 138,000 from June through August, then back up to 157,000 in October.  2006: Ranged from 137,000 in January to low of 125,000 in June to high of 147,700 in October.  The graph depicts force size in Iraq from January of 2007 through January of 2208, with the data from January 2008 to July 2008 being interpolated based on an unofficial goal expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates of 100 000 by December of 2008.

The split in thinking is not general, but very targeted and pertinent to specific units and lengths of deployment.

The debate in the Pentagon is over what to do when those five brigades are brought home in coming months. It is complicated by the mixed picture in Iraq, where violence levels are far lower than a year ago but have shown signs of worsening in recent days, especially in volatile areas north of Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he hopes conditions in Iraq allow a cutback to 10 brigades by year’s end. That would make it possible for the Army to reduce combat tours from 15 months to 12 months.

I feel that there are two aspects of this analysis, one flawed and the other “spot on.”  First, the lengths of deployment are terribly long and wear thin for both the warriors and their families.  The size of the Army and Marines should have been grown with haste four years ago.  The force size in Iraq during calendar years 2003 – 2006 reflects the Rumsfeld – Wolfowitz model, which, although obviously wrongheaded, was in part based on the size of the Army and Marines at the time (along with a naive belief in the healing powers of democracy).  The size of the armed forces has not grown substantially since then, and so the only way to accomplish the “surge” was to lengthen deployments.  The Pentagon is right to worry about an Army and Marines that are stretched too thin to continue constant and lengthy deployments.

However, the draw-down of troops will not be highly dependent on individual and specific acts of terrorism, but rather, sweeping strategic assessments of regions and factions.  For instance, al Qaeda is essentially defeated in Iraq (with some operations still ongoing in the North), and is redeploying to other areas of the globe (as we predicted in November of 2007).  However, there is pressure from within the Mahdi army for Moqtada al Sadr not to renew his commitment to a truce when it expires this month (note that a failure to renew the truce would likely affect Shi’a on Shi’a violence more than Shi’a on Sunni violence).  There are important developments that must be monitored before final decisions can be made to draw down to a mission of national security and ensuring sovereignty versus regular constabulary operations.

The Afghanistan Narrative

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

As we discussed in U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns, Major General David Rodriguez stated that he believed that the Taliban focus on Pakistan would prevent their operation inside of Afghanistan in 2008 – what he called a “spring offensive” (this phrase is well worn, characteristic of conventional operations, and no longer represents the insurgency and terrorist operations developing in Afghanistan).  Using recent open sources, the Captain’s Journal clearly stated that a recent split in the Taliban would cause two “fronts” in the insurgency, one in Pakistan and the other in Afghanistan.

The analysis by General Rodriguez falls in line with NATO’s position regarding Taliban capabilities inside Afghanistan (notwithstanding the issue of a Pakistan front).

NATO says the Taliban insurgency is not spreading in Afghanistan and that 70 percent of the violence last year occurred in only 10 percent of the country, in contrast to more pessimistic pessimistic assessments.

Lt. Col. Claudia Foss, a spokeswoman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said three-quarters of Afghanistan suffered one violent incident per week.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the insurgent movement is being contained,” Foss said Sunday at a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

Her comments followed a series of darker assessments that said a resurgent Taliban was challenging the U.S. and its allies.

But the analyses by Rodriguez and NATO run contrary to Adm. Mullen’s position (see also PressTV).

Islamic insurgents are expanding their numbers and reach in Afghanistan and Pakistan, spreading violence and disarray over a vast cross-border zone where al-Qaida has rebuilt the sanctuary it lost when the United States invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

There is little in the short term that the Bush administration or its allies can do to halt the bloodshed, which is spreading toward Pakistan’s heartland and threatening to destabilize the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces are facing “a classic growing insurgency,” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.

Gates has recently said that NATO had a very successful year in 2007, and that the increase in suicide bombings was the “manifestations of a group that has lost in regular military terms.”  Yet Gates has also recently approved the deployment of 3200 Marines to Afghanistan.  Whether it is General Rodriguez who disputes the press reports coming from Pakistan concerning the Taliban organization, or Adm. Mullen who sees a classic insurgency growing in contrast to Gates and NATO who believe that the Taliban are losing, the narrative is confused.  There can be no cure prescribed if the ailment is undiagnosed.



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