The Paradox and Absurdities of Carbon-Fretting and Rewilding

Herschel Smith · 28 Jan 2024 · 4 Comments

The Bureau of Land Management is planning a truly boneheaded move, angering some conservationists over the affects to herd populations and migration routes.  From Field & Stream. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft plan outlining potential solar energy development in the West. The proposal is an update of the BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan. It adds five new states—Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming—to a list of 11 western states already earmarked…… [read more]

Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Taliban?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

In an interesting and rather strange Asia Times article on the intertwined relationship between Iran, the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan, pro-Iranian commentator Kaveh L Afrasiabi sees possible cooperation between Iran and the U.S. on logistical supply routes to Afghanistan and other things associated with Operation Enduring Freedom.  If one can get by the dreaming, he makes this interesting statement.

“The difference between then and now is that the US officials are now distinguishing between the ‘good Taliban’ versus the ‘bad Taliban’ and hoping to sow divisions between them and reach a compromise with the former, perhaps as part of an emerging post-Karzai scenario,” said a Tehran University political scientist. The scholar added that he believes Iran does not like this “new approach” and finds it “simplistic and defeatist”.

He adds that the existing Karzai regime is backed by Iran.  The Captain’s Journal is no fan of Karzai, and we have already mentioned that a break with his administration might be necessary.  But it’s unlikely that Iran and the U.S. have mutual interests in anything.  For every U.S. interest, there is a corollary counter-interest by Iran, with regional Persian hegemony being the ultimate aim.

But of interest is that it is now understood worldwide that the U.S. is trying to delineate between “good” and “bad” Taliban.  True enough, there will be some amount of adolescents, teenagers and ne’er-do-wells who got sucked into the Taliban and might be able to be separated from the pack.  But we believe that this fraction is somewhere between very small and vanishingly small.  Hear carefully the words of one Taliban.

Abdul Shafiq is around 30 years old and has sacrificed his family life for two things: reading the Koran and fighting.

After years in exile following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, this Taliban commander is back in the mountains of his birth, having left behind his old life with his family for one mission: chasing out the “infidel” Americans.

Abdul Shafiq — an assumed name — looks like any other Afghan, except that he has never been as unhappy as in times of peace.

In hiding in Kabul, he rarely spends two nights in the same place, taking a break before returning to the fight.

In the mountains, he heard of new US President Barack Obama “who will change nothing” and of Palestine “where something is happening”.

His future seems set: “As long as the Americans are here, we will fight them,” says the Taliban militant, whom AFP could only meet through local intermediaries …

It was in the northern mountains that he heard, over Taliban combat radio, on September 11, 2001 that planes sent by Al-Qaeda, had struck at the heart of the United States.

That was beautiful, delicious to hear, everyone was happy,” the warrior says with a smile.

But when the United States invaded Afghanistan the following month, Shafiq and his comrades soon realised they could not withstand the deluge of US bombs and fled. Some went to Pakistan. Others, like Shafiq, went west to Iran.

The Iranian government and the Taliban may have little in common, but they shared virulent opposition to the United States.

Iran took in Taliban in their thousands … In Kabul, the US army, sure of itself, branded the Taliban finished.

It was then that Shafiq slipped quietly home to Wardak. “They told us that the Americans were stopping the Taliban much less,” he says.

He took charge of a group of 30 men who lived on the move, going from one safehouse to another, he says.

Even before then, the Taliban started to regroup. “Everything is structured. The orders come from our leaders in Pakistan

So much for Iran’s suspicion of the Taliban as suggested by Kaveh L Afrasiabi.  There are many lessons wrapped up in this one interview, only parts of which are included above.  Iran supports the Taliban.  The hard core Taliban will fight until they die or we lose.  They get their orders from leaders Pakistan.  They believe that the U.S. has stood down in the effort to roust the Taliban.

As for the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, another Asia Times article gives us what The Captain’s Journal believes to be a correct snapshot of the evolution in their thinking.

In some places they aim to enforce strict sharia law. In others, the Taliban want to establish bases from which to work in support of the resistance against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

In yet other areas, the purpose is simply to create chaos and anarchy so that militants can engage the Pakistani armed forces and deter them from supporting the global “war on terror”.

However, the ultimate mission of the groups is steadily harmonizing, that is, to support the regional war and then the global war against Western hegemony; this is the concept driving the neo-Taliban.

Whether the Afghan Taliban who are committed to war against the U.S. in Afghanistan, or the TTP who are committed to war against the West from Afghanistan to New York and London, the goals and aims of the “Taliban” are gradually dovetailing.  There will be fewer and fewer “good” ones left, if there ever were any to begin with.

2/6 Marines Counterpiracy Mission

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

Battalion Landing Team 2/6, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, a unit with which The Captain’s Journal is intimately familiar, is now engaged in counterpiracy.

Members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, a spokesman for Marine Corps headquarters said Thursday.

Amphibious transport dock San Antonio, the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, is carrying a reinforced Marine platoon, said 2nd Lt. Josh Diddams. Officials will not say how many Marines are on the ship, which left Camp Lejeune, N.C., in late August with the Norfolk, Va.-based Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. A typical Marine infantry platoon consists of about 40 troops.

Task Force 151 is a multinational force recently organized to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases along Somalia’s coast, where last year more than 40 vessels were hijacked, including a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other weapons bound for Kenya. The task force is operating in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Sailors and Marines on the San Antonio spent weeks preparing the ship for its role as the command ship and afloat forward staging base for the task force, according to a Navy report. Marines on the ship include those with 3rd platoon, Golf Infantry Company, a military police detachment and intelligence personnel, according to the report.

The MEU, which recently left Kuwait after two weeks of training at Camp Buehring, did not respond to questions about the anti-piracy mission.

The Marines are currently (or were) on board the amphibious dock USS San Antonio.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio transits the Gulf of Aden to serve as command ship for Combined Task Force 151. The task force conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.

The folks at Information Dissemination are engaged in some hand wringing over comments made by Tom Ricks.

I was disappointed when I read Thomas Ricks strategic assessment regarding the Navy’s approach to piracy.

Tom Ricks is an astute observer of military strategy, and if he sees the pirate situation off Somalia as simply a way to take a cheap shot at the disaster called naval shipbuilding strategy, then I’m afraid nobody in the media may understand what is and has happened. I’d like to welcome Thomas Ricks to the blogosphere by suggesting that when it comes to maritime strategy as it relates to the issue of Somali piracy, he doesn’t appear to know what he is talking about. Thomas Ricks writes:

Better late that never to be going after the Somalia pirates. To me, this is a strategic issue. Keeping the sea lanes open, especially for oil, should be a top priority for the U.S. military. Instead we seemed to defer to the Indians, Chinese and others, letting them take the lead. The Navy may feel that all its special operators — the guys trained to board and take over ships — are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, admiral, does that tell you that you probably need more ship boarders, and maybe fewer aircraft carriers or anti-missile systems? You think maybe?

I noted that Yankee Sailor left a comment on the thread. I’m betting Thomas Ricks has no idea who Yankee Sailor is, nor why Yankee Sailor’s opinion is more informed. We know better. I have a lot of problems with the assessment Tom is making here, starting with what the top priority for the US military should be. If the top priority of the US military, including the Navy, isn’t winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, then something is wrong. There is a reason why there are more sailors deployed on land in the CENTCOM area of operations than at sea, and that reason is absolutely valid.

This is a strategic issue as Tom contends, but with the assertion of “better late than never” and the suggestion that “Indians, Chinese and others” taking leadership roles is somehow representative of a failure of maritime strategy, Tom Ricks is essentially admitting to me that he has never actually read the US Navy’s maritime strategy.

They go on to fret over comprehensive modifications of strategy and the question whether the Navy has the “right equipment” to address piracy.  This is a boring and wasteful discussion, and Ricks’ counsel is just fine.  The Navy has the right equipment in theater right now to address piracy.  An Amphibious Landing Dock, Amphibious Assault Ships, and Marines with guns who want to kill people.  Nothing else is necessary.

There have been other articles here and there questioning the need for the U.S. to address piracy in the Gulf of Aden.  Again, boring discussions, one and all.  Ships with weapons, ships with oil, and ships with other strategically important materiel were and are being taken hostage for huge sums of money, making Somalia a haven not only for pirates, but a wealthier place to boot, this largesse perhaps falling into hands that may later provide safe haven for Islamic militants.

Even if the pirates and militants do not currently get along, largesse flowing into a country without a government and under the control of warring factions cannot possibly be good for U.S. interests in the region.  If the Marines, as soldiers of the sea, cannot tackle the issue of piracy, then we are surely lost in a strategic malaise with too many pedantic people saying too many wasteful words.

One more point is in order.  The constant worry and hand-wringing over the legalities of counterpiracy operations and rules of engagement makes the Navy – and the law of the sea lawyers – and Information Dissemination – look weak and fragile.  Is this a nice way of saying it?

The problem is easy to tackle, and Ralph Peters, Lt. Col. P and TCJ have weighed in before concerning the methodology.  It involves killing pirates, dumping bodies overboard, and destroying their domiciles and enablers.  The prose is not for shock effect.  It’s serious, with recommendations that, if followed, would save lives and be a catalyst for safe seas.  This is the best strategy of all.  No need to retool ships, worry over strategic vision or call the lawyers.  It’s best when problems driven to the simplest solutions.

Miliband Encourages Terrorism

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

Sanjeev Miglani with Reuters gives us the news about the visit of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to India.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai – which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.

Miliband’s visit was a “jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy,” writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan …

But this may well be a pointer to a stiffening mood in India as it heads into an election that could bring the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into power. And then all bets would be off as to what would be India’s policy towards Pakistan.

Over the weekend, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani gathered a bunch of military chiefs, security analysts and party bosses, and the verdict from that meeting was India had been too soft on Pakistan.

“After Mumbai, any self-respecting government would have adopted a much more robust response which alone could compel Pakistan to not only bring to book those behind the incident but also to wind down the infrastructure of terror,” the BJP said in a statement. “Instead India adopted the mildest of response, not like an emerging global player.”

Thanks to Miglani for a good report.  So that the import of what Miliband has done in India doesn’t escape, let’s rehearse a bit.

Miliband has taken the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, recently conducted out of Karachi, Pakistan, and connected them to the solution to Kashmir.  This is simply breathtaking.  In order to placate Pakastan and ensure regional stability, Miliband counsels coming to an understanding over Kashmir.

But the fact that such a tactic would encourage exactly the opposite escapes Miliband.  We have discussed the Pakistani duplicity before, where the ISI and Pakistan Army has used and is currently using the Taliban as a buffer for what it sees as its real enemies, Afghanistan and especially India.  Coming to a “mutual understanding” over Kashmir, especially as it relates to the connection of Mumbai with Kashmir, would only encourage the strategy of use of the Taliban and the terror tactics they promulgate.  When success is achieved, the action is confirmed.

Regardless of whether a mutual understanding is achieved over Kashmir, the connection of it to the Mumbai attacks is the worst possible foreign policy imaginable for Britain or any Western country.  And what Miliband accomplished was not the connection of Kashmir to Mumbai, but rather, the hardening of India and its worldview.

Nice job.  The law of unintended consequences.  Learn it.  As for Miliband, the Brits have an administration that perfectly follows in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain didn’t think about unintended consequences either.

Afghanistan: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

Even when significant U.S. casualties have been sustained as in the Battle of Wanat, the anti-Afghan forces have suffered greater losses.  In fact, in one recent engagement with the Marines, the Taliban suffered 50 losses as compared to none by the U.S. Marines.  This lends prima facie credibility to the notion that the Taliban are reverting to standoff tactics such as IEDs.  DoD data indicates that roadside bomb attacks are up sharply.

Afghan militants directed 3,276 roadside bomb attacks at Western troops last year, a 45 percent increase from 2007, U.S. Defense Department figures indicate.

The jump in the use of the bombs, or improvised explosive devices, highlights the more aggressive tactics being employed by militants against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, USA Today reported Monday.

Some 161 troops from U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan were killed by IEDs last year, more than doubling in 2007 death toll of 75, Pentagon data show.

In Afghanistan, “an emboldened, increasingly aggressive enemy has increased the use of IEDs,” Defense Department spokeswoman Irene Smith told the newspaper.

But it was Mark Twain who popularized the phrase that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.  It isn’t just roadside bomb attacks that are up sharply.

Taliban fighters are increasingly hitting their targets directly instead of relying on bombs, according to a year-end statistical review that contradicts a key NATO message about the war in Afghanistan.

Public statements from Canadian and other foreign troops have repeatedly emphasized the idea that the insurgents are losing momentum because they can only detonate explosives, failing to confront their opponents in combat.

But an analysis of almost 13,000 violent incidents in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, prepared by security consultant Sami Kovanen and provided to The Globe and Mail, shows a clear trend toward open warfare.

By far the most common type of incident, in Mr. Kovanen’s analysis, is the so-called “complex attack,” meaning ambushes or other kinds of battle using more than one type of weapon. The analyst counted 2,555 such attacks in 2008, up 117 per cent from the previous year.

Bombings also increased, but only by 63 per cent year-on-year for a total of 2,384 successful and attempted strikes in 2008.

Mr. Kovanen has spent years tracking the conflict in Afghanistan, first as a NATO officer and most recently at the newly established Kabul-based consultancy Tundra Strategic Security Solutions. The latest trends are disturbing, he says, because the Taliban need more manpower to launch complex ambushes.

“Clearly they are not as weak as the military claims,” Mr. Kovanen said.

The Globe and Mail then provides the following metrics.

IED attack
2007, 779
2008, 1,266

IED attempt/discovery
2007, 681
2008, 1,118

Complex attack
2007, 1,180
2008, 2,555

Total 2007, 5,113
Total 2008, 7,791

This data indicates what The Captain’s Journal has claimed for one one year now.  The security situation is degrading in Afghanistan.  There are fairly routine reports of how bad it is for the Taliban, usually from sources such as the Strategy Page with this report.  But the Strategy Page gets some of its information and analysis from official intelligence sources, the same ones which allow the damned lies to cloud the lies.  In the case of the Globe and Mail report, precise and comprehensive statistics cleared up the mess for us.

The U.S. Marines gave us a picture of what counterinsurgency can look like during their operations in the Helmand Province, and the statistics showed what the population knew about the campaign.  The security improved with the Marines in place.  The ISAF is yet to take up the challenge.

John Nagl on Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

At a New York Times blog John Nagl weighs in on Afghanistan.

In 2007, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, was very blunt before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He admitted, “In Iraq, we do what we must.” Of America’s other war, he said, “In Afghanistan, we do what we can.”

Doing what we can has been insufficient in Afghanistan. Fortunately, an improving security situation and an increasingly capable Iraqi government now allow the United States to shift the balance of effort east, to America’s forgotten war.

This shift comes in the nick of time. The Taliban has been growing stronger in the poorly administered Pashtun tribal areas on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Last year was the bloodiest year on record for the international coalition, and service in Afghanistan is far more dangerous on a per-soldier basis than is service in Iraq. It is clearly time for a change in strategy.

The essence of success is counterinsurgency, which requires boots on the ground, and plenty of them — 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 people, or some 600,000 for all of Afghanistan, a country larger and more populous than Iraq. The additional 30,000 American forces on tap for deployment to Afghanistan over the next year are sorely needed, but obviously insufficient to protect all 30 million people in the country.

However, insurgencies are not defeated by foreign forces. They are defeated by the security services of the afflicted nation. Thus the long-term answer to the Taliban’s insurgency has to be a much expanded Afghan National Army. Currently 70,000 and projected to grow to 135,000, the Afghan army is the most respected institution in that troubled country. It may need to reach 250,000, and be supported by a similarly sized police force, to provide the security that will cause the Taliban to wither. Building such an Afghan Army will be a long-term effort that will require American equipment and advisers for many years, but since the Afghans can field about 70 troops for the cost of one deployed American soldier, there is no faster, cheaper or better way to win.

Would it hurt Nagl’s reputation for The Captain’s Journal to agree?  We might quibble slightly over the number of troops (Nagl hits the high side), and Afghanistan is a campaign that will evolve in the coming months.  We’ll see if it really takes that many.  But we have argued for more troops for over a year, along with the jettisoning of the notion that we can engineer a cheap “awakening” to prevent the necessity of actually conducting COIN.

As for the idea of reliance on the Afghan Army, recall what we said in The Likely Failure of Tribal Miltias in Afghanistan, where we point out the population had the highest confidence in the Afghan Army and lowest in tribal fighters.  Nagl is right.  The Army (and to a lesser degree the Afghan National Police) are our best bet for pacification of the countryside.

There is another entry in this same post that deserves a few words, that being from Parag Khanna.

Even if an additional 30,000 American and NATO troops were deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban problem would not be reduced. It would merely be pushed back over the Pakistan border, destabilizing Pakistan’s already volatile North-West Frontier Province, which itself is more populous than Iraq. This amounts to squeezing a balloon on one end to inflate it on the other.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and this argument amounts to nothing more than the idea that we cannot militarily defeat the Taliban because they cannot be cordoned.  While the SOF high value target campaign with small footprint and low force projection cannot stop the ingress and egress of fighters, an adequate increase in the number of troops can indeed be successful, at least in terms of a deliberate, methodical approach to counterinsurgency.  The Afghan Taliban and the TTP both clearly believe that the first fight is their jihad is the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The refusal to engage Syria and Iran concerning the influx of fighters into Iraq was problematic, and it is true enough that Pakistan must be engaged sooner or later, whether by soft power, additional resources, political and diplomatic pressure, targeted raids and UAV strikes, and even eventually military operations if necessary.  But the first step is to increase troop presence in Afghanistan.  There is no need to engage in endless debates over Pakistan when the first steps haven’t even been taken for Afghanistan.

This is not a call to neglect regional strategy.  But it is a call to prevent the desire for perfection from being the enemy of progress.  We endorse Nagl’s counsel concerning Afghanistan, and he will just have to live down the connection with us.

Exum on Soft Power

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

I rarely interact with other bloggers, preferring to spend time in analysis.  But occasionally it’s best to spend a few minutes and join in the fray.  Andrew Exum of the blog Abu Muqawama gives us his raw feelings on soft power.  It’s is quoted in full.

Dear World:

We, the United States of America, a top quality supplier of the ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption in service. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and a decision was taken in early November to completely replace the software responsible. The new software became fully functional on January 20, 2009. Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are again operating correctly. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to continue improvements in the years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding.


Well, the comments section gets pretty hard hitting, but it’s best to stick with the facts and analyze what Andrew says.

Given the billions upon billions of dollars spent by the U.S. on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (in aid to fight the Taliban), AIDS in Africa and other such programs, it isn’t clear what might be Andrew’s objection.  Perhaps along with Secretary Gates he doesn’t like the fact that the application of reconstruction and soft power has been the U.S. military.  I don’t think the U.S. military likes it either, but if Andrew believes that this has been the choice of the Bush administration he is of course mistaken.  Does he not recall the near riotous behavior at the State Department when Condi Rice threatened mandatory overseas deployments of State employees?  Does he really believe that it will be any different under the new administration?  At least the Army and Marines had training and weapons.  Does Andrew have a plan for force protection of State employees when their heads turn up decapitated while deployed?  Does anyone really know how this is going to work?

Perhaps Andrew is talking about the use of diplomatic and political pressure.  True enough, both I and Michael Ledeen have both been strong proponents of political pressure on Iran in order to prevent war.  We have both lamented the sure-to-be heavy cost of war with Iran and advocated democracy programs (I and Michael), fomenting of an insurgency (I and Michael) and even targeted assassinations of select high ranking individuals (only me to the best of my knowledge).  We have said that Iranian General Qassem Suleimani (the very same one to whom Petraeus appealed to stop the shelling inside the Green zone) should know that he is a marked man.

But notwithstanding the brutish and heavy-handed tactics tactics I recommend, the State Department cannot even find it in themselves to continue with pressure on Iran during the Bush administration.  They gave up the only remaining democracy program in favor of – you guessed it, or maybe you didn’t because you couldn’t conceive of a program like this – student exchange.  Does Andrew believe that talks by the State Department which cannot even continue a democracy program for Iran will pressure them to relinquish their enrichment program?  This new State Department will clearly align with the new administration which believes in the eternal power of talk.  Will student exchange programs change the radical Mullahs?  Will we ultimately convince ourselves that we can live with a nuclear Iran, or will the new administration save the day with talks?

Perhaps Andrew has a thing for largesse.  Perhaps he believes that the U.S. is obligated to make payments across the globe in order to further democracy.  But if the global insurgency in which we are currently engaged was a function of poverty, then Bangladesh, which is not only one of the poorest countries on the face of the earth but Muslim as well, would be a well-spring of Islamic extremism.  But it’s not, because the notion that poverty causes extremism is a myth.  So that argument for international socialism borne on the shoulders of the American taxpayer rather falls apart at the hands of cold, hard logic.

Perhaps Andrew believes that more money should have been forthcoming from the government for the conduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  Okay.  His gripe should have been with the Congress, but it doesn’t seem to be.  Besides, given the funding of construction, arms, training for the Army and police, reconstruction of infrastructure such as the electrical grid and other gigantic programs such as payment to the Sons of Iraq, surely Andrew is aware of the massive amount of money we have spent on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps Andrew believes that the U.S. hasn’t worked for democracy throughout the world.  But I (and others) have strongly argued that it was precisely our irrational commitment to Maliki because of his having been democratically elected that caused such lethargy in the progress of pacification.

So then what is his gripe about soft power?  Who exactly has failed in this regard, and given his giddiness over the new administration, what does he know about their ability to exercise soft power that we don’t?  Does he know where the money is coming from, and how we would do this new and improved thing without bankrupting the country?

There are many unanswered questions from Andrew.  He has clearly told us all that he knows more than we do about soft power, to the point that he knows what this administration is going to do and how successful they are going to be.

More, Andrew?  Would you like to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with your deep, Gnostic learning?  Specifics please, rather than venom and invective!  We got the executive summary.  You forgot to give us the balance of the report.

UPDATE: TCJ thanks Abu for the link.

Has Swat Fallen to the Taliban?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has kept close watch over the Talibanization of the FATA.  Amir Mir gives us reason to believe that Taliban control over the FATA and NWFP is almost complete.

Fifteen months after the launching of a military operation in the lush-green picturesque valley of Swat by the Pakistan army to dismantle the militant network of Maulana Fazalullah, a major part of the mountainous region seems to have fallen to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Swat apparently lives under the Sharia of Fazalullah.

Not too long ago, the idyll Swat valley, with its rolling hills, gushing streams and scenic vistas, was described as Pakistan’s Switzerland. However, ever since the beginning of the military operation in 2007 the law and order situation in Swat has gone from bad to worse, converting this paradise on earth into a valley of death and destruction. Around 10,000 militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban have been pitted against 15,000 Pakistan army troops since October 22, 2007 when the operation was officially launched. Leading the charge against the Pakistan army is Maulana Fazalullah, who is also known as Mullah Radio for the illegal FM radio channel he operates. Through his FM broadcast that is still operational despite being banned by the NWFP government, Fazalullah keeps inspiring his followers to implement Islamic Shariat, fight the Pakistan army, and establish his authority in the area …

While following in the footsteps of the former Taliban regime of Afghanistan, the militants of Fazalullah are also pursuing a rigid agenda of religious beliefs which is based on a violent jehadi doctrine. Barbers in Swat and its adjoining districts under have been ordered not to shave beards and shops selling CDs and music cassettes ordered to close down. In some places, just a handful of the militants control a village since they rule by fear – beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and asking women to wear all-encompassing burqas. Similarly, the army is manning several police stations in Swat because the police force there had been decimated by desertions and militant killings. The gravity of the law and order situation can be gauged from the fact that one of the busiest squares in Mingora has been renamed by the shopkeepers as ’Khooni Chowk’ because every morning, as they come to their shops, they would find four or five dead bodies hung over the poles or the trees.

Mir also points to the larger organization to which Fazlullah belongs – the Tehrik-i-Taliban, which he decided to join in 2007.

Soon after the Lal Masjid operation, Fazalullah decided to join hands with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Commander Baitullah Mehsud, in a bid to provide an umbrella to all insurgent movements operating in several tribal agencies and settled areas of the NWFP. Since then, Fazalullah and his followers are toeing Baitullah’s line, whether they are issuing a decree, signing a peace deal with the government or scrapping the same. Therefore, it appears by all accounts that the small coterie of Fazalullah-led militants is working in the same mould as the fanatic clerics of the Lal Masjid did, to make the Swat district hostage to its rigid vision of militant Islam. And remember, the valley is hardly 160 kilometers from Islamabad.

Mir inexplicably calls Fazlulah’s followers a “small coterie” of militants.  If this was true, the Pakistan Army would have been successful in its operations in the FATA and NWFP.  In fact, there is reason to believe that the Tehrik-i-Taliban has as many as a division of fighters in Swat.

The governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province has been quoted as saying that there are 15,000 militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The fighters, who would very nearly constitute a small army division, “have no dearth of rations, ammunition, equipment, even anti-tank mines,”  Owais Ahmad Ghani told a team from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan led by Asma Jahangir, according to newspaper reports. A militant or a foot soldier earned between  6,000 ($75) to 8000 rupees a month while commanders took home 20,000 rupees to 30,000 rupees, the governor said.

The TTP is apparently so confident in its power and de facto authority in Swat that they have summoned Swat valley political leaders and dignitaries before Sharia courts.

A radical Pakistani Taliban cleric is demanding that a group of more than 50 Swat Valley dignitaries appear in his Islamic “court,” local media says.

Maulana Fazullah (sic), commander of the local Taliban militia in the northwestern Pakistan region, wants its provincial and federal lawmakers, dignitaries, elders and their families to present themselves in his sharia court within a week or be hunted down, the Press Trust of India, quoting local media, reported Sunday.

There are too many media reports to mention that indicate that the organization of al Qaeda is staggering under the heavy load of targeted UAV strikes against its leadership in the tribal areas of Pakistan.  True or not, it should be remembered about the TTP that while they were spawned by the Taliban of Afghanistan and aid them in the struggle against U.S. forces there, 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.  As for their global vision, Baitullah Mehsud has said “We want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

The celebration of the demise of al Qaeda should be a short one, with full knowledge that something just as bad, bigger and more powerful is replacing it in the FATA and NWFP region of Pakistan.  Our attention should return to the global counterinsurgency in which we are engaged, with full commitment to the defeat of militant jihad wherever it becomes manifest.

British Hated Because of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 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.


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

A Blunder of Colossal Proportions in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

One error made in the phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom following the invasion was the foisting of a democratic form of government on the country, and even more specifically, a parliamentary form of government.  It led to the ineptitude and intransigence of the government for a protracted period of time.  The position of Prime Minister, held now by Maliki, was used as much to prevent U.S. operations against rogue Shi’a elements as it was to serve the country.  Indeed, while performing a defensive political operation for Moqtada al Sadr, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the SIIC and others, he had no problem allowing the U.S. to go after Sunni insurgents in Anbar and in and around Baghdad.  Even recently Marine Maj. Gen John Kelly has complained about the lack of funding flowing from Baghdad to Anbar.  Having a political authority and structure to which the U.S. was reportable hindered the progress of counterinsurgency, even if in the end a political authority was necessary for turnover of control.

Hamid Karzai wants the U.S. to make the same mistake in Afghanistan.  Even worse, he wants operational and strategic control over U.S. forces.

The Afghan government has sent NATO headquarters a draft agreement that would give Afghanistan more control over future NATO deployments in the country — including the positioning of some U.S. troops, officials said Tuesday.

The draft technical agreement would put into place rules of conduct for NATO-led troops in Afghanistan and the number of additional NATO troops and their location would have to be approved by the Afghan government.

The agreement — an attempt by Afghanistan to gain more control over international military operations — would also prohibit NATO troops from conducting any searches of Afghan homes, according to a copy of the draft obtained by The Associated Press.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who met with Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday and discussed how to prevent civilian deaths and the role of Afghan forces in U.S. missions, told legislators that his government sent the draft agreement to NATO about two weeks ago. As the head of U.S. Central Command, Petraeus oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Addressing parliament at its opening session, a frustrated Karzai said the U.S. and other Western military allies have not heeded his calls to stop airstrikes in civilian areas in Afghanistan. He warned that the fight against militants cannot be won without popular support from Afghans.

The Afghan president urged the U.S. and NATO to follow a new military strategy in Afghanistan that would increase cooperation with Afghan forces and officials to prevent the killing and maiming of civilians.

“We will not accept civilian casualties on our soil during the fight against terrorism and we cannot tolerate it,” Karzai told parliament.

In addition to strategic control, he wants tactical control over the actions of U.S. troops.

“The president has said there is a need to review our relationship and the way we move forward and we need to make sure that Afghans, particularly on the issue of searches and arrest, are in the forefront,” Hamidzada told The Associated Press during an interview at the heavily fortified presidential palace.

“We have to make sure that in the villages we don’t burst into people’s houses, we don’t arrest people arbitrarily and we don’t act on intelligence that is not verifiable,” he said.

He blames many of the problems on air power, and while it’s true that The Captain’s Journal has advocated increased troop presence with the population in Afghanistan (which should lead to more accuracy in the application of air power), this would most certainly mean an increase in intelligence-driven raids.  U.S. troops don’t need the hindrance of the ineptitude of the Afghan Army during such raids.  More correctly, the Afghan troops are still learning and being mentored.  In the battle of Wanat, of the nine dead and twenty seven wounded, all casualties were U.S. Army.  None were Afghan troops.

This is all from one Karzai who prostrated himself before Mullah Omar, beseeching him to return to the fold. On the first day of Id al-Fitr, President Hamid Karzai had a great treat in store for his people. In a speech he said: “A few days ago I pleaded with the leader of the Taliban, telling him ‘My brother, my dear, come back to your homeland. Come back and work for peace, for the good of the Afghan people. Stop this business of brothers killing brothers’.”

Karzai is facing an election soon, and some of this may be posturing in front of the Afghan people.  Regardless of his motivation, he essentially wants the equivalent of the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement in Afghanistan, while he is begging Mullah Omar to return to Afghanistan and promising him protection.  The campaign is nowhere near this phase.

Given the state of affairs in Afghanistan, to give operational, strategic and tactical control of U.S. troops over to a foreign president would not only work contrary to the unity of command sought by placing U.S. troops back under CENTCOM with Petraeus in charge.  More to the point, it would have disastrous consequences for the campaign.

We haven’t yet made this colossal blunder in the campaign, but Karzai has made it clear that he wishes us to.  If Karzai presses this issue, he could become not just a hindrance to the campaign as he is now with his corrupt government.  Rather, he could become a very real enemy of the peace and stability of Afghanistan.  The U.S. might have to cut its ties with and support of Karzai.

The al Qaeda World View

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

Global Politician has an interesting article up entitled Analysis of al-Qaeda’s World View.  It’s a slow-moving article, and seems to go a little soft on al Qaeda at a few points (seeming to acquiesce to the notion of validity to AQ complaints), but returns to a sensible enumeration of the AQ world view by the end of the article (and even a forceful confrontation of the idea that we can co-exist with jihadists).  There are several key money quotes provided below that show the universal and eternal nature of the jihad they are to wage.

All of the above clearly demonstrates that, for al-Qa’ida, the war with the West is not finite but eternal. The current battles may ostensibly revolve around U.S. presence in Islamic lands, or support for Israel, or support for secular though dictatorial regimes, or even oil. Even so, the ultimate war does not end with a cessation of these real or perceived injustices, but rather with the West’s–indeed, the rest of the non-Islamic world’s–submission to Islam. As the words of Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri–all grounded in the traditional sources of Islam–make clear, the war with the West revolves around something more transcendent than temporal grievances. It revolves around “eternal truths” …

Jihad in the path of Allah is greater than any individual or organization. It is a struggle between Truth and Falsehood, until Allah Almighty inherits the earth and those who live in it. Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Ladin–may Allah protect them from all evil–are merely two soldiers of Islam in the journey of jihad, while the struggle between Truth and Falsehood transcends time. [p. 182]

The bottom line is, perceived Western injustices–as propagated by bin Ladin’s mantras–have nothing to do with the ultimate source of hostilities between Islam and the West (Infidelity). The doctrine of Offensive Jihad, spreading the laws of Allah to every corner of the world by the sword and enforcing the practice of dhimmitude (that is, discriminating and humiliating those who, having been conquered and living under Islamic suzerainty, still do not embrace Islam officially), was and remains a basic tenant of Islam–well before it ever encountered the West.

Fight those amongst the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden [i.e. enforce Shari’a law], and who do not embrace the religion of truth [Islam], until they pay the Jizya with willing submissiveness and feel themselves utterly subdued. [Koran 9:29]

The word “until” (hata) highlights the perpetual nature of this command. Enmity for non-Muslims, irrespective of whether or not they harm the Muslim is also a basic tenant of the faith, established before Islam and the West met:

“O you who have believed! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are but friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them [i.e., he apostasies from Islam].” [Koran 5:51] …

At this point many will proclaim that al-Qa’ida is misusing, misinterpreting, or taking these otherwise straightforward verses out of context. That is hardly the point here: Even if this were true, that does not change the fact that many men before al-Qa’ida, going back to the first jihads of the seventh century, have also “misused” them, or that many today who have nothing to do with al-Qa’ida, “misinterpret them,” or ultimately that many after al-Qa’ida will also be taking them “out of context.” In other words, even if those verses really do not mean what they seem to be saying, they certainly led themselves to the sort of hostile interpretation that al-Qa’ida and other Islamists, past, present and future, give to them. This is all the more troubling since it took only 19 men who follow such “interpretations” to cause September 11.

This is a very sophisticated understanding of hermeneutics, one I have addressed before with Professor Steve Metz of the U.S. Army War College.  There are competing hermeneutics within Islam that live side by side every day, and it doesn’t matter which one is right (since Islam is fundamentally not a creedal religion, and even if the majority in Islam do not believe in violent jihad).  What matters is which one is held, and in the case of jihadists, the hermeneutic held is one that places it at eternal war with the West.  This isn’t our decision – it’s a function of things far beyond our control.

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