Archive for the ‘Taliban’ Category

Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws: Kunduz in the North falls to the Taliban

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015


In a very serious blow to Afghan security forces, the Taliban succeeded in the last two days in taking the major northern city of Kunduz, which sits at the crossroads of access to other cities and provinces in the North.

The fall of Konduz is emblematic of the situation in many parts of the country, where the Taliban continue to expand their control of the countryside.


Joseph Goldstein and Mijib Mashalsept, “Afghan Crisis Grows as Push to Retake Kunduz from Taliban Fails,” New York Times, September 29, 2015.

Gordon Lubold, Margherita Stancati, and Habib Khan Totakhil, “Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan Tests U.S.; Surge by militants adds fuel to arguments that Obama administration should rethink troop withdrawal,” Wall Street Journal, Updated September 29, 2015 (9:34 p.m. ET).

For earlier incidents and the questions they raised, see

“Afghanistan: Suicide Attack on Contractor DAI Compound in Kunduz / Selbstmord Anschlag auf US-Hilfsorganisation DAI,” The Trenchant Observer, July 3, 2010.

“Afghanistan–A Hint of Future Collapse? Hand-off to Afghan Forces, as Taliban Seize Control around Mazar-e-Sharif,” The Trenchant Observer, August 5, 2011.

The Trenchant Observer

Crumbling world order: Power politics and international law—the way forward

Thursday, September 10th, 2015


Stefan Kornelius, “Putins Machtspiele; Ruhe in der Ukraine, Druck in Syrien. Russlands Präsident sendet rätselhafte Signale. Sucht er einen Weg aus der Isolation? Oder einen neuen Schauplatz, um Stärke zu zeigen?” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 9. September 2015 (19:05 Uhr).

MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “U.S. Moves to Block Russian Military Buildup in Syria,” New York Times, September 8, 2015.

The post-World War II political and legal order appears to be crumbling.  At no other time since 1945 have the fundamental norms of the United Nations Charter and the prohibition of the threat or use of force been so widely violated with such an absence of invocation of international law by major countries in the world.

Russia has invaded and seized part of the Ukraine, the Crimea, and almost nowhere does one hear serious demands for Russian withdrawal and a return to the status quo ante, as required by international law. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled with a delegation to meet with Vladimir Putin and the Russians in Sochi, the issue was not even mentioned.

Russia continues its invasion of the eastern Ukraine, with thousands of Russian troops, tanks, artillery and other war equipment stationed in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces (Oblasts) of the Ukraine.

In Syria, the United States and other NATO countries, including Turkey, are engaged in military activities against the so-called Islamic State, the al-Nusra Front, and other jihadist groups. Ankara has been attacking the PKK in Kurdish parts of Syria, and recently has even launched attacks against claimed PKK targets in Iraqi Kurdestan. A number of countries are assisting Iraq and the U.S. in attacking IS positions within Iraq.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition is conducting air strikes against Houthi- held positions.

Within the last year Egypt conducted airstrikes against Libyan militia groups in retaliation for the murder of Egyptian workers.

Israel has conducted a number of air strikes within Syria aimed at preventing the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and also launched air strikes against targets in the Golan Heights.

Beyond these obvious uses of military force, the United States has launched drone attacks and special operations attacks against jihadist leaders and other militants. Sometimes they have been  “signature strikes” against victims whose names are not even known, and who are  executed because of a pattern of activities suggesting they are members of terrorist groups. The attacks and special forces operations are not limited to the Afghanistan and Pakistan war theater.

In Syria itself, the Bashar al-Assad regime has carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, resulting in the deaths of some 220,000 to 250,000 people, the displacement of millions of Syrians, and the current scramble by millions of refugees to find a safe haven in Europe, or other countries.

One of the greatest challenges to international law has become the failure of states to report the use of force to the Security Council as required by Article 51 of the Charter, or to even acknowledge that they are the authors of state actions.

This is a spillover from the use of covert actions to achieve military objectives. Yet without acknowledgement of state behavior, much less attempts to legally justify it, international law governing the use of force cannot really deter future violations.

Perhaps the greatest casualty from these events has been a loss of awareness of the relevance and critical importance of international law and institutions in controlling the international use of force, and demanding compliance with the terms of treaties related to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of different states or countries throughout the world.

The president of the United States, Barack Obama, has virtually eliminated the use of the term and concept of international law from his discourse, going back as far as his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo in December, 2009.

Moreover, we should not forget that the entire edifice of international human rights is based on international law treaties and the development of customary international law norms in the human rights area.

Human rights are a creation of international law. We should not be too surprised, therefore, to find that the human rights policies of a president who holds little regard for international law have themselves been quite disappointing.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, have invoked international law from time to time, they can hardly be taken seriously so long as Russia stands atop its military conquest in the Crimea, and continues its invasion of the eastern Ukraine.

With these developments, and Obama’s obvious lack of regard for international law, the risk is great that the West, including the U.S., NATO, and the EU, will try to solve the great problems it faces by reverting to the use of “great power politics”— without regard for the development of international law and institutions, and state practice, that have occurred in the last 100 years.

Using this aproach, deals could be struck with Russia to recognize the conquest and annexation of the Crimea, with the lifting or easing of sanctions, in exchange for Russian “cooperation” in solving the Syrian problem.

In this way, the Russians who are themselves complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity within Syria, might secure permanent bases and recognition of al-Assad’s continuing hold on power, at least  in a rump state in the North and along the Mediterranean where a high percentage of the Alawite population is found.

So, are we to simply give up on the concept and accumulated state practice of international law governing the use of force?

Or is there some way of dealing with the power politics dimension of international affairs without giving up on international law?

These are the questions for current leaders in the world, from Washington, Brussels and Berlin, to Taipei, Manila and Hanoi, and even Argentina.

What would the world look like without international law governing the use of force, or the protection of human rights?

These are not idle or theoretical questions. For the answers we come up with will determine the future kind of world we live in.

Nor are these new questions. They were fully considered by the Drafters of the U.N. Charter, and by generations of leaders who sought to uphold its provisions.

Moreover, not only leaders need to consider and answer these questions, but also political elites, media, and the populations of different countries.

For their continuing and incessant demand for legal justifications of state actions under international law may be the best and perhaps the only way to ensure that the gains achieved over the last 100 years will not be lost.

No one can take the international law governing the use of force for granted. Only persistent demands for legal justification can guarantee its continuing relevance and deterrent power in a world that threatens to sink increasingly into armed conflict and chaos.

In a nuclear age—and we need always to remember that we still live in one— “power politics” without international law is a formula for disaster, and for the eventual annihilation of the human race through nuclear war, or newer and even more efficient means of mass destruction.

The Trenchant Observer

The missing elements in the war against ISIS — Taking down their websites and engaging in robust public diplomacy

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

Europe is setting up a special police unit to monitor jihadist sites and content, andd to remove it.


Richard Spencer, “Europe-wide police unit to monitor Islamic State social media; Europol to set up specialist unit in response to concerns not enough is being done to prevent Isil propaganda,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2015 (12:15 p.m. BST).

This is the kind of action that is needed, on a very large scale, not only in Europe but in many other countries.


See Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “ISIS Is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes,” New York Times, June 12, 2015.

In a converstaion recently, a friend asked what The Observer would do to counter ISIS (or the self-denominated “Islamic State”).

From that conversation emerged crystalized thoughts from months of reflection.  In brief, I would suggest, at least for purposes of debate, that we consider the following:

The Enormity of the Threat

First of all, we must recognize the enormity of the threat to civilized nations represented by ISIS, and the huge progress they have made in waging a war for young Muslim minds. The existence and growth of a barbarian political and military power, in the heart of the Middle East, constitutes an existential threat to societies from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

The most daunting aspect of the threat is the rejection by ISIS and other jihadists of the fundamental moral and legal values undegirding European civilization for the last 400 years. These values have developed since the Peace of Westphalia and the birth of the modern nation state system and international law, following the ThIrty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution (including the revolutions in America and France).

These values spread through the rest of the world following World War II, with decolonization, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the universal recognition of governments’ legal obligations to protect fundmental human rights. They are now under attack.

International law obligations to protect fundamental human rights, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, and to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the United Nations Charter itself, are all challenged by the growth of ISIS and other jihadists. The latter reject the values upon which the former are founded, retreating to the use of barbarism in fighting all who do not submit to their twisted and extreme vision of Islamic rule.

To date, the West and other civilized countries have not recognized the larger threat posed by ISIS and other jihadists, or at least not reacted in a manner commensurate with the nature and dimensions of the threat.

Responses have been limited in the main to defending against potential terrorist threats to the homeland, and to killing as many jihadists as possible in order to limit their territorial gains.

This approach, however necessary, has essentially failed to stem the growth of ISIS and others. It fails to adequately address the essential nature of the problem, which is that it involves a war for young Muslim minds, not only in Syria, Iraq, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Europe, America and in many other countries throughout the world.

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

First, we should consider whether to attack the capabilities of ISIS and other jihadists to spread their views and to use slick propaganda to gather new recruits.

We could take down their websites as fast as they pop up, and ensure that videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarism cannot be viewed, or viewed for long, on the Internet or social media. We could, perhaps in concert with other countries, prohibit their reproduction on television, in newspapers, or on social media. Italy successfully followed a similar policy in dealing with terrorists in the 1970’s.

We could use all of our military and intelligence capabilities to take down these sites. Freedom of speech is critically important, but it does not include the right to shout fire in a theater, or to incite others to join groups which commit horrendous acts of violence.

To be sure, there will be a need for judicial supervision and review, in some form, of such activities.

One suspects that the intelligence agencies, which probably glean important information about visitors to such websites, will strongly oppose taking them down. Yet a larger view is needed to inform decisions.

Does the intelligence gathered outweigh the benefit of crippling the recruitment and propaganda activities of the jihadists? Who will decide?

We should consider and debate these questions.

Proposition for Debate #2: Creating a much more robust public diplomacy

Second, we could mount a much larger and more effective public diplomacy structure and campaign, something on the scale of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously, a large effort would need to be made on the Internet and social media.

But we could also rebuild and build out our shortwave and medium wave broadcast capabilities, fund them, and greatly expand the schedule of broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, for example.

Before this idea is dismissed as obsolete, we should bear in mind that Internet sites can be blocked by those with territorial power such as the “Islamic State” or governments. Users and listeners can be tracked, as they were in Iran in 2009. One of the great advantages of older technologies like radio is that listeners cannot be tracked, and jamming is not always effective. Television can also be beamed by satellites or high-altitude balloons. In an authoritarian country in Africa or the Middle East, radio and broadcast television may still work as ways of getting through. One need only to have listened to a VOA broadcast in a country with no freedom of expression to appreciate this point.

What is clear is that the USIA, since it has been dismantled as an independent agency and wrapped into the Department od State, has lost much of its effectiveness. About all that remains are the VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts, on reduced schedules and to a much more limited number of countries.

Other partners in the battle against ISIS and other jihadists could be encouraged to bolster their own activities. Some form of coordination might be undertaken.

The separation between independent news, on the one hand, and opinion representing the views of the U.S. government, on the other, which flourished when the Agency was led by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s, should be strengthened.

Similarly, the laws prohibiting the U.S. government from directing its information activities at domestic audiences should be upheld.

There could be an issue here to the extent such a limitation limits the ways in which public diplomacy efforts can be directed at young Muslims in the United States. Other means of rebutting the jihadists will probably need to be found.

What is critical is that the intelligence agencies, or public diplomacy efforts, not be used to sell government policies to citizens in the U.S. This line has been crossed repeatedly since 9/11, but its strict observance going forward is absolutely critical.

Other Steps

Many defeats in the war for young Muslim minds may be attributed to the loss of respect the U.S. has suffered as a result of its use of torture at Abu Gharib and elsewhere, the conditions in which prisoners were held for years without trial or even military commission review at Guantanamo, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in clear violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, the use of drones outside war theaters in apparent violation of international law, and in general actions that do not sit well with America’s preferred view of itself as a city on a hill, where dedication to the pursuit of freedom and the rule of law, both at home and abroad, are the hallmarks of a democratic society and its government.

Improvement in these areas would in the long term help in the struggle for young Muslim minds, and also help reformers within Muslim societies win their struggle for the rule of law in their own countries.

But for now, two issues which urgently merit full discussion are those outlined above.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Veterans’ Day, 2011: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?”

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

First published, November 11, 2011

My uncle died in a field in northern France with a German bullet in his head. To him, and all the other veterans of America’s wars, I am immensely grateful for his, and their, sacrifice.

The Vision of Peace After World War II

At the end of World War II, the leaders of the world had a clear vision of the horrors of war, and acted with resolution to bring wars to a halt through the creation of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, and by codifying the international law governing the use of force in Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Article 2 paragraph 4 prohibited the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of members of the organization, a prohibition later extended to include all states. Article 51 provided for an exception in the case of an “armed attack”. These provisions have become customary international law and, importantly, also aquired the status of jus cogens or peremptory law from which there can be no exception or derogation by agreement.

A Vision of Perpetual War

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama and the United States are currently embarked on a policy based on the assumption of perpetual war. The implementation of this policy includes targeted assassinations through drone strikes and other means, the establishment of new drone bases throughout the northern part of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and the development of new generations of drones some of which are as small as insects.

This policy has been implemented with little regard for the international law governing the use of force, and even less regard for the duty of the United States to contribute to the development of international law and institutions that can help ensure the security of the United States and other countries in the future.

These actions indicate that the United States has no current vision of peace as an overriding goal to be achieved, and no coherent strategy for actually achieving this objective.

Without the goal of peace, we are not likely to take the actions necessary to achieve peace, or to give those actions the urgent priority they should receive.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

In these circumstances, one is reminded of Pete Seeger’s famous song entitled “Where have all the flowers gone?” For the lyrics, click here.

Pete Seeger’s performance of this song is available on YouTube here.

See also,, “Grandpa’s War – A Veteran’s Day Post,” November 11, 2011, which contains recollections of America’s recent wars, and a link to a clip of Pete Seeger singing ” Where have all the flowers gone” with a moving montage of photographs evoking American experiences of war, created by the TheSpadecaller in 2008.

Joan Baez, in a more recent performance of the song, can be found on YouTube here.

Marlene Dietrich’s recording of this song in English is also found on YouTube here.

For Dietrich’s performance of the song in French, see “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” here.

For her performance of the German version of this song, see “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind”, here.

Marlene Dietrich, in a version of perhaps her most famous song, “Lili Marleen”, written in 1915 and later a hit among troops on both sides during World War II, takes us back to November 11, 1918 and the terrible war that preceded the armistice on that day. Her recording of the song, in English, is found on YouTube here. The original German version of the song is found here.

Obama’s Vision of Perpetual War and International Law

In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo, on December 10, 2009, President Obama said:

In the wake of such destruction (World War II), and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations – an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize – America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.

Closely parsed, these statements are full of contradictions, as when President Obama affirms:

(1) “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
(2) “To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force.”
(3) “I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation”; and
(4) “Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”

Affirmation (1) accepts violent conflict as inevitable. (2) states that all nations must adhere to the norms that govern the use of force. (3) states that he, the president, “like any head of state”, reserves the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend his nation. And (4) states he is convinced adhering to “international standards” strengthens those who do.

These contradictions in Obama’s thinking, it is submitted, have contributed to the incoherence of U.S. foreign policy, particularly when measured against the requirements of international law, and the historical burden of strengthening international law and building better international institutions, which is no less important today than it was in 1945.

Reading these excerpts and the whole speech reveals that the president does not have a clear vision of peace as the goal, or a strategy on how to achieve that goal. While he pays lip service to observing international law, he insists that he has the paradoxical right–“like any head of state”–to violate it if necessary, in his view. So much for the concept of international law governing the use of force.

Without the clear and overriding goal of peace or a strategy for achieving peace, it is hard to see how we and other nations can view as the highest priority taking the steps necessary to achieve peace.

President Obama and the United States currently seem to have no overarching vision of peace, or strategy for achieving peace. As a result, their policies and actions are not guided by the pursuance of this goal in a strategic sense, but rather only by the demands of meeting with expediency the challenges of the moment.

By way of contrast, consider, if you will, the vision of the founders of the United Nations in 1945, particularly as set forth in the Preamble and Articles 1, 2, and 51 of the Charter.

We in the United States, like citizens in other countries, need a strong vision of peace and a coherent strategy for achieving it. Consequently, we need a president who has such a vision, and is guided by it.

The Trenchant Observer

Abdullah and Ghani reach agreement on power-sharing, national unity government in Afghanistan

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

In what constitutes a big foreign policy success for President Barack Obama and the United States, Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have reached agreement on a power-sharing arrangement.


Rod Nordland, “Afghan Presidential Rivals Finally Agree on Power-Sharing Deal,” New York Times, September 20, 2014.

Under the agreement, Ghani will assume the position of President, while Abdullah will assume the new position of Chief Executive Officer, with primary responsibility for the execution of government policies. Top posts will be shared equally among the followers of the two candidates.

Nordland reports,

The draft agreement obtained by The Times has changed slightly since it was written, according to diplomats and campaign officials, but the key points are unaltered in the latest version initialed Saturday night. The agreement gives substantial powers to the newly created position of chief executive officer, defining it as having “the functions of an executive prime minister.”

The agreement also creates a council of ministers, headed by the chief executive and including two deputies and all cabinet ministers. “The Council of Ministers will implement the executive affairs of the Government,” the agreement states. In addition, while the president would head his cabinet, which also includes the ministers, “The CEO will be responsible for managing the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the President directly and in the Cabinet.”

Another clause calls for “parity in the selection of personnel between the President and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions, and independent directorates.”

Significantly, the U.S.-brokered agreement was achieved in large part as a result of the leadership and efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry.

The deal opens the way to the inauguration of President Ghani in the next few days, the signing of the Status of Forces agreement with the U.S. which will allow the continuation of military assistance beyond 2014, and the financial and military support accompanis it.

A strong U.S. presence and active role in brokering differences between the two candidates and their followers will be required if the agreement is to take hold, and the great distrust between the opposing camps is to be overcome.

The agreement marks a great success, if not of the democratic electoral process in Afghanistan, at least in terms of avoiding the great disaster that would have occurred had it not been reached.

The inauguration og Ghani will also mark the first peaceful transition of power in as long as anyone can remember, with President Hamid Karzai giving up the formal reigns of power which he has held for the last 12 years.

The Trenchant Observer

Karzai reportedly involved in massive fraud favoring Ghani in Afghan presidential run-off

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Stunning details of the massive fraud in the Afghan presidental run-off election have been published in the New York Times, in an article by veteran Afghan correspondent Carlotta Gall.

It appears that President Hamid Karzai was deeply involved in the fraud, which greatly and implausibly favored Ashraf Ghani, as his opponent Abdullah Abdullah has charged since shortly after the second-round election was held.


(1) “Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul,” The Trenchant Observer, June 6, 2014.

(2) “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission,” The Trenchant Observer, dJune 18, 2014.

(3) “Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington,” The Trenchant Observer, May 22, 2010.

(4) “NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?” The Trenchant Observer, November 11, 2009.


See also other articles listed on the Afghanistan page, in the upper right-hand corner of the home page, which can be reached by clicking on the banner above.

The Trenchant Observer

Battle over electoral fraud in Afghanistan (updated July 7, 2014)

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

This is probably the last chance for the United States, NATO, and other ISAF countries to avoid losing the Afghan war.

To succeed in averting a collapse in legitimacy, they must fully and with great candor discuss openly the alleged fraud at each voting table, and absolutely insist on a full recount of all votes in dispute–voting station by voting station, with full representation of all parties concerned.

Hamid Karzai was “awarded” the presidency of Afghanistan in 2009 as the result of 1) massive fraud in the first-round election, reportedly organized by him and his supporters; 2) enormous international pressures which led to a very partial and skewed recount which, though it did not reveal the full extent of the fraud, reduced Karzai’s “official” vote count sufficiently to require a second-round runoff with Abdullah Abdullah; and 3) Abdullah’s withdrawal from the run-off, when his demands for reform of the electoral bodies were not met, and also apparently after having been subjected to great pressure from the United States.

In the first-round elections held in April of this year, Abdullah emerged with 45% of the votes as opposed to his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, who received just under 32% of the vote.

In the second-round election held recently, as the vote count proceeded, Abdullah denounced what he alleged was a massive fraud then underway being orchestrated by Ghani and Karzai acting in collusion with electoral officials. The chief electoral official, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, was forced to resign after Abdullah released tapes allegedly showing him and other officials issuing instructions for ballot stuffing.

Much is at stake in whether Abdullah succeeds in gaining a full elimination of fraudulent votes before results are announced. It is no exaggeration to say that the legitimacy and cohesion of the government which emerges from the vote count may determine the chances for the United States’ and ISAF nations’ project in Afghanistan to avoid either a Taliban takeover or a civil war, or a combination of the two.

President Obama seems totally removed from this process, recalling his tightly-managed Afghanistan policy review in 2009, when the ongoing fraud in that year’s election was apparently not even discussed by those involved in the policy review.

This is probably the last chance for the United States, NATO, and other ISAF countries to avoid losing the Afghan war.

To succeed in averting a collapse in legitimacy, they must fully and with great candor discuss openly the alleged fraud at each voting table, and absolutely insist on a full recount of all votes in dispute–voting station by voting station, with full representation of all parties concerned.

In 2009 the United States and its allies took the easier path, accepting Karzai’s refusal to reform the electoral commission and the electoral complaints commission before a second-round run-off, and pressuring Abdullah to withdraw.

This looks like another massively fraudulent election, with the U.S., its allies and the U.N. Mission in Afganistan looking the other way.

Ghani’s numbers do not pass the smell test.

See Margherita Stancati (Kabul), “Afghan Candidate Boycotts Count of Votes; Abdullah, a Karzai Rival, Alleges Fraud in Presidential Runoff, Citing Outsize Turnout in Opponent’s Areas of Support,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014 (Updated 7:40 p.m. ET). Stancati reported,

“Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the IEC , which organized the election and is counting the votes, said Saturday’s turnout was up from 6.6 million in the first round. While turnout was largely the same or lower in much of the country, the IEC’s initial tallies indicated a dramatic surge —in the areas of eastern Afghanistan that are Mr. Ghani’s base.

“In the eastern province of Khost, for example, initial IEC tallies showed that more than 400,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, up from 113,000 in the first round.

“According to the 2012-13 data compiled by Afghanistan’s central statistics office, Khost’s entire population is 549,000—and, given Afghanistan’s demographic structure, at least one-third of them are children.

“In the nearby province of Paktika, 390,000 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, up from 180,000. The province’s population is 414,000.”

See also, “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission,” The Trenchant Observer, June 18, 2014.

Without the acceptance by Abdullah’s supporters of the election results, any future Ghani-Karzai government will have the same weaknesses as the current government of Karzai. Karzai will continue to manipulate the tribal and warlord alliances to keep Ghani and the current political elite in power in Kabul. Ghani will owe his survival to Karzai. But without the continuing presence of the U.S. military in significant numbers to hold things together, such a Karzai-Ghani strategy is not likely to succeed.

Whatever illusions the Americans may have about getting rid of Karzai, while keeping the present political elite of “Corrupt-istan” in power as Karzai pulls the strings from behind the scenes, are likely to evaporate as the new government loses the support of Abdullah’s voters and the Northern Alliance.

Without their support, it is difficult to see how a new government might hold together and succeed in maintaining the allegiance of its soldiers.

See “U.S. National Intelligence Estimate points to dire future in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, January 8, 2014.

Obama may walk away from Afghanistan the same way he walked away from Iraq in 2011.

Yet it is hard to see how the Democrats, after losing the two wars that have been the focus of Americans’ attention since 2001 and 2003, respectively, could hold back the tide of a Republican sweep of Congress and the presidency in 2016, with Republicans running on a strong national security platform.

To repeat: What Obama and the U.S. do in the next several weeks to ensure a full and accurate vote count in Afghanistan, and what they have to say about it publicly, are likely to have a decisive impact on the success or lack thereof of the Afghanistan project that has been underway since 2001.


(1) Adam Ahmed, “Afghanistan Election Dispute Draws More Calls for Vote Audit,” New York Times, July 6, 2014.

(2) “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission, The Trenchant Observer, June 18, 2014.

(3) “Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul,” The Trenchant Observer, June 6, 2014.


For deeper insights into the present crisis, consider the following articles and their implications:

(5) “Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington,” The Trenchant Observer, May 22, 2010.

(6) “The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA,” The Trenchant Observer, November 26, 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul

Friday, June 6th, 2014

The leading candidate in Afghanistan’s presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escaped assassination today in Kabul. Abdullah led the first round of the election with some 45% of the votes. The second round or run-off election will be held on June 14.

The assassination attempt underscores how critical the security situation remains in Afghanistan, even in Kabul.

See Yaroslav Trofmov and Ehsanullah Amiri, “Afghan Presidential Front-Runner Escapes Assassination Attempt; Two Explosions Targeted Abdullah Abdullah as He Left Campaign Event in Kabul,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2014 (6:54 a.m.).

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. National Intelligence Estimate points to dire future in Afghanistan

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014


The prospects for the government of Afghanistan following the U.S. pull-out by the end of 2014 are grim, regardless of whether the Status of Forces Agreement is signed by Hamid Karzai and a residual international (or just U.S.) force remains, focusing on training activities and strikes against terrorist targets.

President Obama’s entire foreign policy of the last five years in Afghanistan and the Middle East appears to be in a shambles. The reality that Benghazi was emblematic of is now apparent for all to see: Al Queda and other terrorist organizations have not been controlled, and are now wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, while disaster in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of international and U.S. troops seems increasingly probable.

Obama did not keep his eyes on the ball in a fast-moving game. Resolutely refusing to take any effective measures in Syria to halt al-Assad’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, which are continuing, the president failed to understand that Al Qaeda-linked organizations in Syria–and now Iraq–could pose a much more serious and direct threat against the United States and its NATO and Gulf allies than the Taliban ever could.

While he was focused on winding down the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, while bungling the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by failing to secure a status of forces agreement (and accepting that failure), Syria was exploding and in the process becoming the new battleground for jihadists–much as Afghanistan had been in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It is all collapsing now. The president’s response to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan has been basically to ignore it while he is on vacation. Even if the U.S. succeeds in hanging on with a residual force in Afghanistan, allowing for a new, more capable and less corrupt leadership to emerge following the April, 2014 presidential election (a possiblle but hardly a likely scenario), the unraveling in Syria and Iraq will continue.

The Geneva II peace conference for Syria, scheduled to begin on January 22, holds very little if any promise for leading to an improvement in the civil war there. The hope and illusion of U.S. and other diplomats has been if that if you could somehow just get the parties to sit down at a table in Geneva, that would by itself lead to progress in resolving the issues of the civil war. This is a chimera, as were all of Kofi Annan’s peace plans which turned out to be but beautiful “castles in the sky”.

The result of the peace conference, like that of all of Kofi Annan’s palaces in the sky, will simply be that al-Assad’s grip on power will remain solidified, with the chemical weapons removal proceeding and with Russian and Iranian and Hesbollah support and even participation, while his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity continues unabated, as he drives to extirpate all of his opponents, both armed and civilian.

But, for the moment, it is worth just focusing on the National Intelligence Estimate or NIE on Afghanistan.

Obama reacts to challenges with torrents of well-tailored words, but no amount of wordsmithing can obscure the dark realities of Afghanistan and the unraveling of the government toward which the country is heading as the U.S. withdraws. This should come as no surprise, as indeed the previous National Intelligence Estimate in 2012 made clear.

See David S. Cloud, “Insurgents could quickly bounce back in Afghanistan, analysis warns; If U.S. troops fully withdraw next year, a resurgent Taliban could launch serious strikes within months, say officials familiar with a classified assessment,”Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2013 (6:38 p.m.).

Curiously, Ken Dilanian’s and David S. Cloud’s story on the previous National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan is no longer to be found on the Los Angeles  Times web site. For excerpts, see The Trenchant Observer, “New National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan not optimistic,” January 12, 2012. The original article is cited as follows:

Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, “U.S. intelligence report on Afghanistan sees stalemate: The sobering judgments in a classified National Intelligence Estimate appear at odds with recent optimistic statements about the war by Pentagon officials,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2012.

The original link was,0,3639052.story#axzz2prjVyFldote>

On the 2012 NIE, see also Opinion L.A.: Observations and provocations from The Times’ Opinion staff, “Assessing the Afghan war: Guess what? We aren’t winning,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2012.

On the 2010 NIE, see Elisabeth Bumiller, “Intelligence Reports Offer Dim View of Afghan War,” New York Times, December 14, 2010

On the most recent NIE, see also Ernesto Londoño, Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller, “Afghanistan gains will be lost quickly after drawdown, U.S. intelligence estimate warns, Washington Post, December 28, 2013.

The New York Times, the publisher of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, appears to have not published a report on the latest Afghanistan NIE.

The Trenchant Observer

The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It is sometimes stunning to observe how journalists at leading U.S. newspapers can write about some recent action Hamid Karzai has taken against U.S. interests in Afghanistan, without at the same time recalling for the reader Karzai’s near-certain deep ties to the CIA and the latter’s funding the corruption of his government.

Karzai’s latest outrage is his attempt to introduce new conditions for his signing of the status of foces agreement with the United States that Secretary John Kerry and everyone else thought had just been agreed to last week.

But Karzai decided to raise the ante in his perennial game of high-stakes poker with U.S. military and civilian leaders–saying he wouldn’t sign the (agreed-upon) agreement until after the April 5 elections, which incidentally would give him enormous leverage over the U.S. and other Western countries to ensure that they do not push too hard for really democratic presidential elections in April, or denounce the electoral fraud that will surely take place again, as it did in 2009 when Karzai through the most curious of circumstances was “elected” to be president of Afghanistan.

Without U.S. support, Karzai’s fate might very well be sealed in short order, with the collapse of his government.

We have to ask, “What gives Karzai such brazen assurance that he can defy the U.S. with impunity, without consequences?

For one thing, he has done it for many years and always gotten away with it.

The reason for his impunity from any consequences from the U.S. for repeatedly outrageous and perfidious behavior results, in all likelihood, from the close ties he and his deceased brother have had with the CIA over the years.


Matthew Rosenberg, “With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan.” New York Times, April 28, 2013.

Rosenberg reported,

KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

See also

Alissa J. Rubin, “Departing French Envoy Has Frank Words on Afghanistan,” New York Times, April 27, 2013.

Michael Kelly, “The CIA Has Paid Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The Afghan President’s Office Over The Last Decade,” Business INsider, April 29, 2013 (12:34 AM).

Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.,”New York Times, October 27, 2009.

On CIA payments to other high Afghan government officials, see

“CIA Payments Undercut U.S. Efforts to Strengthen Governance in Afghanistan, The Trenchant Observer, September 2, 2010.

Karzai’s most recent act of perfidy is one he could only be emboldened to undertake as a result of the close relationship he and his family have had with the CIA, and his unbroken string of successes in forcing the U.S. to back down or to accept his outrageous comments and behavior.

Instead of a democratic project in Afghanistan, what we have seen at least since 2004 or 2005 is a cynical policy in which the CIA paid high government officials, even if corrupt or involved in the drug trade, in a policy based on the assumption that good governance would somehow just automatically spring into existence as U.S. and ISAF forces fulfilled their missions and trained the Afghan army and security forces.

We saw how that works with the abject failure of the “government in a box” concept in the Marja campaign in 2010.

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan, June 23, 2010; and

“REPRISE: Reasoning from Conclusions in Afghanistan,” August 19, 2012.

What we are seeing now with Karzai is only the logical consequence of that cynical policy, where U.S. money was used to block the development of truly democratic forces and institutions in Afghanistan, through bags of money delivered to President Karzai and other government officials, off the books, and by other means.

The last exit ramp from the Karzai carrousel was in 2009 when a second round of presidential elections was called, and the U.S. had the power to ensure that it actually be held. But they couldn’t break with Karzai, who undoubtedly has a lot of dirty linen on the CIA, and without whose help and that of Ahmed Wali Karzai, his brother in Kandahar (until his death in 2011), the CIA and the U.S. military probably couldn’t even have operated effectively in the south.

So the endgame is in McLean, and not in Kabul. For the United States to ever have a stable status of forces agreement upon which it can rely, and a chance to ever build a state in Afghanistan that can stand on its own, it will have to be prepared to cut the cord with Hamid Karzai, and to support genuinely free presidential elections in Afghanistan in April, 2014.

Karzai is now acting to forestall that possibility. But the U.S. urgently needs to push back, to change its strategy, and to stop relying on Karzai, if there is to be any point to keeping a residual force in Afghanistan after 2014. To achieve that, Obama will have to negotiate with John Brennan at the CIA in McLean, not with Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The great risk here is that Karzai is overplaying his hand, and domestic politics in the United States may produce a result which leads to a complete withdrawal of U.S. and international forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if not before, and a withdrawal of the financial assistance which keeps the Afghan state afloat.

In sum, any of a number of events, such as a miscalculation, events on the ground, or political reactions in the United States, could lead to an abrupt American withdrawal, resulting in the same kind of fiasco as has occurred in Iraq, with one difference: the Afghan state would be likely to collapse.

The Trenchant Observer