Posts Tagged ‘2010’

Wikileaks’ Leaked Documents on Afghanistan: Massive U.S. Intelligence System Failure

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Much of the attention in the press following the release by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified documents from U.S. military operations and intelligence in Afghanistan has been off the mark.

The big issue here is not how the disclosures are going to affect the debate in Washington and the U.S. over the future course of the war, but rather which institutions and individuals in the U.S. military and above are going to be held accountable for what may be one of the greatest leaks of classified operational intelligence in U.S. history.

The leaks reveal a pervasive failure in intelligence methods and document handling.

On the nature of this intelligence fiasco, see

Jill R. Aitoro, Security Controls at Their Worst? Cyber-Secuirty Report,, July 27, 2010

“WikiLeaks Files’ ‘Potential Threat’ Continues to Rattle Washington,” PBS New Hour, July 27, 2010

Why was nothing done by the U.S. or the U.K. to prevent the publication of these detailed documents revealing U.S. intellignce sources and methods?

What is going to be done, and how soon, to fix the systems and procedures that made these leaks possible?

Who is going to be held accountable?

These are the key questions that need to be immediately addressed.

Of course, now that the documents are public, much will be learned from detailed analyses of their content over the coming months, and years. That is all highly interesting, but should not distract us from the nature of the intelligence failure that has occurred, and the urgent need to fix at once the defects in the system that allowed these massive leaks to happen.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited. Please add to the discussion and tell the Observer why he is wrong. Or right. Or some of one and some of the other.

“The Magician” enthralls donors once again, in Kabul

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Once again the Magician has waived his green cape and dazzled the international donors who are paying for the war they are waging in Afghanistan to keep him in power. A donors conference was held in Kabul on July 20, 2010, launching “the Kabul process”.

See Nipa Banerjee, “Too many conferences, too few results in Afghanistan,” The Ottowa Citizen, July 22, 2010; and
Editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 22, 2010

The last time the donors met was at the London conference in January, where after committing massive corruption in the first round presidential elections in August 2009, and refusing to replace the members of the Independent Electoral Commission who were directly responsible for certifying that fraud, the Magician dazzled the internationals with his talk of re-integration of the Taliban.

Exactly nothing, or at least nothing desirable, has come of that talk of re-integration. But because the U.S. and its allies can see no way out of Afghanistan, they long for a magical ending.

In London, the Magician succeeded in changing the subject, with the question of free and fair elections receding to something like the 25th goal in the final communiqué of the conference.

One has to marvel at such legerdemain, even if the objects of manipulation are incredibly easy targets. Among them all there does not seem to be more than six months of collective memory. None of them seem to recall the nine years of empty promises the Magician has plied them with, telling each of them exactly what they wanted to hear at exactly the right moment.

While the Magician promised to clean up the corruption in his government, the level of corruption doubled between 2007 and 2010.

While the Magician promised to build up good governance and the national police, he recently replaced Hamid Atmar, the Minister of the Interior in charge of the national police, one of a handful of Afghan ministers the U.S. and its allies believed to be highly competent. Another, Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghan intelligence, was fired at the same time. Both were former officials of the Northern Alliance, and were apparently fired to satisfy Pakistani demands.

Nonetheless, year in, year out, the internationals are enthralled by the latest spell cast upon them by the Magician, for it contains exactly what they want to hear.

The magic is powerful. Its spell enables the internationals to believe that they can negotiate a victory with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, precisely when the latter have the momentum, and believe they must only wait for the Americans and their allies to withdraw to claim victory.

The Magician’s powers of persuasion are so great that he even convinced the donors to channel 50% of their financial support directly to him and the central government. Given his government’s record of corruption, that was a magical achievement in and of itself, of stupendous proportions.

Let us hope there is a magical ending in Afghanistan that allows NATO troops to withdraw. For otherwise, with more waves of the Magician’s green cape and whatever promises the allies may wish or need to hear, it looks like a long, hard slog, with neither good governance nor victory in sight.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited. Please add to the discussion and tell the Observer why he is wrong. Or right. Or some of one and some of the other.

General Petraeus, the Haqqani network, and moral clarity in Afghanistan

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010


To find our way in Afghanistan, we need to find our compass.

Our moral compass.

General David Petraeus, according to reports, is pushing for the Obama administration to add the Haqqani network to the terrorist organizations list.  They are one of the principal groups who are blowing up everyone in suicide attacks in Afghanistan. Senator Carl Levin (D.-Michigan) made a similar suggestion upon returning to Washington from a trip to Afghanistan last week.

See Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, “U.S. May Label Pakistan Militants as Terrorists,” New York Times, July 13, 2010 (July 14 print edition).

Petraeus’ inclination, as reported, provides a ray of light, a ray of hope.  A hint of moral clarity.

With that clarity, perhaps there is another road in Afghanistan other than turning its people over to warlords and terrorists like the Haqqani network. Perhaps there is another path other than striking deals with Pakistani generals and shady Pakistani intelligence elements who have been backing the Taliban. Perhaps we can find another way to leave the country without abandoning its women, or surrendering hegemony over the South to Pakistan acting through its ties to Afghan insurgent groups, planting the seeds for future civil war between the North and the South.

The huge question is, of course, “Why wasn’t the Haqqani network already on the terrorist organizations list?

Not only was it not on the list, but we have gone aong with Karzai’s efforts to remove a large number of names of Taliban leaders from the U.N. sanctions list.

What are the reasons for omitting the Haqqani network from the terrorist organizations list, for seeking removal of Taliban leaders from the U.N. sanctions list, and for negotiating with Pakistan to get them to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table?

The administration needs to be candid with the American people about the kind of Afghanistan it is prepared to negotiate with Karzai, the Haqqani network, and the Taliban.

What we get out of Washington are platitudes about these groups accepting the Afghan constitution, and laying down their arms. What does this mean, what does this look like when you flesh it out?

The reasons we have heard so far to justify these actions, which appear to be based both on dubious assumptions and on dubious moral propositions, need to be subjected to intense and continuing scrutiny–in the full light of day.

What President Obama has apparently failed to grasp is that without a moral compass, the U.S. and NATO can neither achieve their essential goals in Afghanistan nor exit on terms short of catastrophic defeat.

Viewed from afar, at the present the White House’s only goal seems to be to help Karzai solidify his grip on power so we can beat a hasty retreat.  This is a harsh judgment but one, it is submitted, that is supported by the facts.

It is a view, moreover, that is shared by many in the region, who look more to American actions than to the finely-tuned policy pronouncements that emanate from Washington.

Hopefully, Petraeus can bring moral clarity to his job and to the president’s thinking about Afghanistan.

The moral compass Obama must find and use is an American one. The American people will not support a war without moral purpose for an indefinite period of time.

A democratic path?

It is time for President Obama, with Petraeus’ assistance and experience building the institutions of democracy in Iraq, to reconsider the now-jettisoned democratic project in Afghanistan.

That project foundered on the rock of U.S. passivity in the face of Karzai’s massive fraud in the presidential elections last August, and its unwillingness to open up the political process by forcing Karzai to fix the electoral machinery so a fair second round election for president could be held.

Karzai may be the obstacle on the democratic path.

See Chibli Mallat, “Law, war and the Petraeus doctrine: How to take democracy seriously in Iraq and the AfPak theater,” The Daily Star (Beirut), June 24, 2010. Interestingly, Mallat suggests Karzai be persuaded to leave or removed from office, with arresting him for the election fraud being one option.

Yet the democratic path may be the only alternative that gives Afghan soldiers and police a vision of the future that is worth fighting for.

As President Obama noted at his West Point commencement speech on May 22, 2010,

(P)reparing for today, I turned to…the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. And reflecting on his Civil War experience, he said, and I quote, “To fight out a war you must believe in something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching.” Holmes went on, “More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out.”

Our challenge in Afghanistan, also in a civil war setting, is quite similar. We must help the Afghan soldier and policeman find and have something to believe in and something to want with all of his or her might. Only then will an Afghan army and an Afghan police force be able to take over from the ISAF forces and defend their country against the Taliban.

The Taliban have such a belief, anchored in part in their religious faith.

What can the United States and NATO offer an Afghan soldier or policeman that can counter that?

This is perhaps the most critical question in Afghanistan, and one whose answer will largely determine the success of our counterinsurgency strategy there.

Free and fair elections and representative government, however crude? The rule of law, at least as a roadmap to be followed? Some form of democracy?

This was the path we followed in Iraq. It is time to reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan. With all options open for consideration.

The democratic road may be the only one by which we can get to where we want to go, period. Moreover, it may be the only road that can maintain the support of the American people, and the support of the peoples of the other democracies with whom we are allied, for a war that will surely continue for quite some time.

Let us consider a central fact. America’s greatest weapon in the world is not its drone aircraft or its special operations forces, however useful these may be at the right moment and in the right place.

America’s greatest weapon is its story and the vision it has pursued for over two centuries. This vision is a vision of democracy, of respect for law and individual rights, and of the security and prosperity that are possible in a democratic society governed by law.

It is parochial to assume that our vision and our values have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, or that our vision and values are weaker than and cannot triumph over the those of the Taliban.

To ask America to fight in Afghanistan without this vision and without these values, is to ask the country to fight with one arm tied behind its back, in a long and grinding struggle which ultimately it cannot win.

To engage the people of Afghanistan in a common struggle, not for warlordism or a coalition with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, but for the achievement of commonly shared values, and for the security that can be achieved through a government based on the consent of the governed and the rule of law, would be to commit to the democratic road.

As suggested above, the democratic road in Afghanistan may be the only one that gets us where we want to go. Petraeus, with his intellectual grasp of the critical importance of governance in counterinsurgency doctrine and his direct experience in Iraq, must already sense this.

Where would Iraq be today if it were not for steadfast U.S. support for the development of democratic institutions, and for adherence to the rule of law? It’s worth thinking about.

It’s worth thinking about now. The September 18 National Assembly elections are barely two months away. Yet instead of focusing on building a democratic process starting with those elections, Secretary of State Clinton is off to Pakistan to see what kind of a deal we can make with the Pakistanis on Afghanistan.

It was on just such a trip in November, it will be recalled, that we reportedly struck a deal with the Pakistanis the outlines of which we seem to be following. It resulted in our abandoning negotiations in Kabul to form a national unity government with Abdullah and Karzai, or to proceed to replace those in the electoral commission behind Karzai’s fraud so that a fair second round election could be held.

Why we are playing Karzai’s game, instead of the democratic game in Kabul, is a question which calls out for a full and complete answer to the American people from the President of the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited. Please add to the discussion and tell the Observer why he is wrong. Or right. Or some of one and some of the other.

Afghanistan: Suicide Attack on Contractor DAI Compound in Kunduz / Selbstmord Anschlag auf US-Hilfsorganisation DAI in Kunduz

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

The Taliban is now targeting USAID civilian contractors in Afghanistan, confirming a shift in strategy suggested by earlier attacks.

For details of the attack, see the following articles:

Al Jazeera, “Taliban’s ‘welcome message’ to new US commander in Afghanistan,” Video, July 2, 2010

“Taliban stürmen Büro von US-Hilfsorganisation,” SPEGEL ONLINE,
3 juli 2010

Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Margaret Warner interviewed Hamid Karzai’s opponent in the August 20, 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, on the Newshour on Friday, May 21. See “Karzai Opponent Abdullah Seeks to Bolster Afghan Opposition Movement,” Newshour Newsmaker Interview (video and transcript), aired May 21, 2010.

One of the more startling pieces of information to come from the interview was that Presdient Barack Obama and his administration have been snubbing Dr. Abdullah during his present week-long visit to Washington. The following exchange occurred:

MARGARET WARNER: You’re here for more than a week. You’re meeting with members of Congress. You’re leading an opposition bloc, a movement. Yet, you’re not meeting with anyone in the Obama administration. Why not?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: I had put a request for meetings. And the meetings with the Congress and Senate and all the speaking events are scheduled. The administration has not come back with an answer. Perhaps they are busy. I’m OK.

It is difficult to understand why President Obama’s embrace of Hamid Karzai, who committed massive fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, and whose failure to take steps to ensure that the fraud would not be repeated in the second round led Dr. Abdullah to withdraw from the race, precludes meetings by the president himself and other high U.S. officials with the second most popular politician in Afghanistan.

In fact, the United States tilted hard in favor of Karzai, and against Abdullah, long before the results of the first-round election were announced–over two monts after they were held.

The United States has never publicly explained why it is against Dr. Abdullah, who in in his public statements appears to be moderate, pro-U.S., measured in his assessments of developments in the country, and on the whole eminently reasonable.

The Obama administration owes us such an explanation.

Given Karzai’s manipulation of the electoral law in February, seizing the power to appoint a majority of Afghans to the Electoral Complaints Commission–which will have a decisive voice in the National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010–Abdullah may be seen as the leading democratic politician in Afghanistan.

He is, at the very least, an important player in the developing democractic process in Afghanistan. Obama and his administration should be embracing the opportunity to meet with a leading figure in that process, the leader of the principal opposition coalition contesting the congressional elections on September 18.

Instead, they have snubbed and are snubbing Abdullah.

While Abdullah is not meeting with U.S. officials while in Washington, he is meeting with a number of other people.

See, for example, the following:

Interview with Steve Coll, “Afghanistan’s Might-Have Been,” Foreign Policy, May 22, 2010

Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Rolls Up Red Carpet for Karzai Rival,” New York Times, May 20,2010

On electoral corruption in the 2009 presidential elections and the forthcoming September, 2010 congressional elections, see Peter W. Galbraith, “U.S. lost in Afghan vote” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2010.

Glabraith writes:

Will we ever learn? In 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who will meet with President Obama in Washington this week, ripped off American taxpayers for about $200 million. This is what the United States contributed to support presidential elections that Karzai himself admits were massively fraudulent. Now, the United Nations and the Obama administration propose to fund Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in September, even though new rules pushed through by Karzai — over the opposition of parliament — make fraud even more likely this time.

Obama has, fatefully, cast his lot with Karzai. But the United States cannot prevail in Afghanistan without a good governance partner.

It is time for Obama to develop a Plan B. Abdullah could be an important part of that Plan B, should Plan A with Karzai fail to work.

Plan B would also involve returning to the democratic goals for which coalition soldiers fought, and international development agencies worked, for eight years.

It is worth thinking about.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation if possible. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Afghanistan: U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

February 11–The 20th Anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s Release from Prison; South Africa’s Support for Zimbabwe, Iran

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

February 11 is a big day for human rights advocates in South Africa, and around the world.

It is the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, on February 11, 1990. The Hindu (Cape Town), February 10, 2010

Meanwhile, the opposition is criticizing South Africa’s lack of support for human rights abroad.

Ian Davidson of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance has charged that South Africa’s failure to criticize human rights violations in Zimbabwe, and poorly timed efforts to improve relations with Iran, undercut that country’s claim to be a leader in the field of human rights. From Johannesburg, Christian Ncube reports:

Ian Davidson, chief whip of the opposition Democratic Alliance has slammed the ruling African National Congress for putting the country’s historic liberation ties ahead of human rights.

Citing Zimbabwe as an example, Davidson was raising concern at Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu’s visit to Iran last week, despite the country being one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. The visit coincided with Iran’s execution of two opposition activists, convicted of “trying to topple the Islamic establishment” after they were linked to protests that took place last June…

“The question is: why is the Speaker of South Africa’s Parliament visiting a country with such an appalling human rights record and, instead of speaking out against the obvious abuses, using it as a platform to attack the West? The answer is: because the ANC, from Zimbabwe through to Iran, has always placed a country’s historic ties with its liberation cause above any other consideration; and so principle has been subverted by political solidarity and our international reputation on human rights, reduced to nothing more than empty rhetoric and meaningless gestures,” Davidson told The Zimbabwean.

Christian Ncube, “Human Rightrs Overshadow,” The Zimbabwean, February 10, 2010

Ian Davidson’s full statement was issued on February 6, 2010.

Regarding Mr. Sisulu’s visit, The Tehran Times reported,

Max Sisulu, for his part, said that South Africa has always looked up to Islamic Revolution of Iran as a model and added that Iran proved that one should fight against arrogant powers to win independence.

He also stated that every nation has the right to peaceful nuclear technology and added that South Africa will continue to support Iran on the issue.

Tehran Times, January 26, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

Comments and debate are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation into English will be sufficient.