Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan diplomatic failure’

McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The newspapers will be filled for days with information and views regarding Obama’s meeting with Stanley McChrystal and his Afghanistan team on Wednesday, June 23, in Washington.

McChrystal’s negative comments about his colleagues as reported in Rolling Stone magazine reflect very poor judgment, as McChrystal himself and also Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have admitted. There have been previous instances of very poor judgment by McChrystal since he assumed command in Afghanistan.

A number of questions arise.

One of the most important is the question of how McChrystal can be an effective team member on a team about whose members he or members of his entourage have spoken in such disparaging terms.

How can he lead the ISAF coalition, or keep France on board with the coalition? Does McChrystal bear any responsibility for the fact that some of our closest allies (e.g., Canada) are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan? Could our disregard for international law with our policy of targeted killings have had some negative impact in this regard?

Even more fundamental questions are raised, however.

Perhaps the most important is what the strategy of the United States and coalition forces is going to be going forward, after the abject failure of the current strategy led by McChrystal.

The official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is to secure and protect the population rather than focus on killing the enemy. The real policy as it is currently being implemented is one that focuses on killing leaders of the Taliban through predator drone strikes and assassination by special operations forces.

The lack of progress in Marja reveals that the much-touted concept of a “government in a box” to be installed following the military’s flushing out of the Taliban is a cruel illusion.

It is not going to happen, not under the government of Hamid Karzai.

The real policy is one of beating down the enemy through the use of the U.S. killing machine that couples real-time intelligence with the capabilities of drone aircraft and special operations forces on the ground.

The real policy, led by McChrystal, has not worked. The situation in Afghanistan has not improved since he assumed command. To the contrary, there are many indications that it has continued to deteriorate.

As for our counter-insurgency strategy, the strategy laid out by David Petraeus and his colleagues requires the presence of troops on the ground in numbers that far exceed the numbers now in Afghanistan, even after the so-called “surge”. Should the U.S. begin to withdraw troops in mid-2011, as promised, the idea that we are implementing Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy as enunciated in U.S. military doctrine would become even more delusional than it is today.

To be sure, the 2011 date for “the commencement” of a process of withdrawal, subject to conditions on the ground, was never more than a political fiction used to make the increase in American troops politically palatable back home in the U.S.

Now, things are going really badly in Afghanistan.

The principal men that permitted the U.S. to have some independence from Ahmed Karzai’s control of intelligence provided to the U.S. military in the South, Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, with longstanding and close ties to the CIA, and Hanif Atmar, Minister of the Interior, are gone. Saleh was fired by Karzai several weeks ago, when the Minister of the Interior in charge of the police was also sacked. These were two men viewed by U.S. officials as able counterparts.

The end result of their dismissal was that Ahmed Karzai has an even firmer grip on the flow of intelligence shared with the Americans and the allies in Kandahar and the South. Without that intelligence, U.S. forces would be operating largely in the dark.

The Karzai brothers have, in effect, “rolled” McChrystal, which may help to explain why Hanid Karzai has come out so strongly in support of McChrystal, the “best” U.S. commander Afghanistan has ever had, in his view. One need hardly ask who he thinks the worst has been, but I would wager he has a German name.

General McChrystal has earned a new assignment. The stress has obviously gotten to him, or he would not be making colossal errors in judgment. If he has made these poor judgments in speaking about his colleagues and allowing those around him to speak about his colleagues in a disparaging manner, what other errors of judgment may he have made?

His judgments affect the lives of thousands of U.S. and allied troops.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t last fall, that President Obama made a fatally flawed decision when he handed control over our policy in Afghanistan to the military in general and McChrystal and Petraeus in particular.

The much-touted policy review on Afghanistan represented no more than a delaying tactic designed to generate political support and gain time, for what in the end was an approval of McChrystal’s planned “surge” of 40,000 men. Obama authorized “30,000” which with logistical and other support became a much larger number, and with 10,000 additional promised allied troops, McChrystal’s demand was essentially satisfied.

Our nation’s strategy in Afghanistan is twisted and distorted beyond recognition. We say we are implementing Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine, when in point of fact half of the forces we are sending to the country are Special Ops and similar forces, to assist in the project of decapitating the Taliban while proving our killing machine is more effective than theirs.

We have abandoned the democratic project which the U.S., allied governments and the U.N. had as their stated objective for eight years, leaving Afghan police and military and ordinary Afghan citizens with no ideal to fight for.

The war has become about how to get the U.S. forces out, even if this means returning the people of Afghanistan to the power of the warlords, and the women of Afghanistan to the warlords and the repression and abuse of a very backward traditional and tribal society.

Instead of leading the people of Afghanistan into the 21st century, we have decided that it is sufficient for our exit purposes to allow them to return to the 19th (or 13th) century.

Nonetheless, Obama now has an opportunity to begin to correct the bad decisions he has made in the past on Afghanistan.

Regardless of when McChrystal leaves, Obama should immediately reconstitute his circle of advisers to ensure that his Afghanistan team includes civilians to counterbalance the strong concentration of military advisers in his inner circle. These should include the top U.S. diplomats working in the region. The first task of this reconstituted group should be to reread Karl Eikenberry’s cables from last November, and to devise a strategy for going forward.

That strategy must recognize that Hamid Karzai is not, and never will be, a reliable partner.

It must focus on ensuring to the maximum extent possible that the elections to the National Assembly to be held on September 18, 2010 are free and fair elections. We must reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan, so quickly abandoned by Obama, but which may alone contain the seeds of motivation that could one day lead to an effective national army and police force.

It must address the urgent need to prevent the further alienation of present and former members of the Northern Alliance, including Abdullah Abdullah, Amrullah Saleh, and others. Little will be gained if a reconciliation between Karzai and the Taliban in the South (should it ever occur) leads to renewed hostilities between the North and the South.

Should McChrystal go?

The question is not if, but when.

When will the United States reconcile the total contradiction between the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and our real strategy there, with the requirements of official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy as enunciated by David Petraeus and the U.S. military?

When will the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan shift from trying to out-kill the Taliban with our incredible killing machine to a more nuanced, informed and broad-gauged strategy?

When will the United States have a military and civilian team in place in and for Afghanistan that can work effectively with each other, and with our allies?

When will President Obama pay enough sustained attention to Afghanistan to get it right?

What is needed is not eight afternoons over a number of months, but two weeks at Camp David with a small group of advisers.

Obama could also spend a day a week working alone, without aides, on getting his own thinking straight on Afghanistan.

The United States and the world need his leadership, not his acquiescence in the failed policies of the past.

The Trenchant Observer
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Intelligence Matters: U.S. Dependence on Intelligence From Wali Karzai Shapes Kandahar Strategy

Thursday, May 27th, 2010


“La guerre, c’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.”

“War is too serious a matter to just be handed over to some military men.”

–Georges Clemenceau


U.S. and ISAF forces appear to be almost totally dependant on Afghan intelligence in Kandahar, and in particular on intelligence form Wali Karzai who reportedly controls the flow of intelligence information in the region to allied troops. This dependence, together with President Obama’s short and externally-imposed deadlines, has reportedly reshaped military strategy in the province. This represents a shift from the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy developed by David Petraeus and others.

See Gareth Porter, “McChrystal Strategy Shifts to Raids – and Wali Karzai” , IPS (Inter Press Service News Agency), May 24, 2010.

See also earlier articles by The Observer, including:

Intelligence Matters: CIA Capabilities in Afghanistan
March 21, 2010

Intelligence Matters: Khost, The Flynn Report, and a Few Hypotheses
March 17, 2010

Understanding Obama’s Dilemma: Key Articles on Taliban Advances, CIA Role, Karzai’s Brother, Magnitude of U.S. and U.N. Failures
November 13th, 2009

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited.

Intelligence Matters: CIA Capabilities in Afghanistan

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Robert Baer’s GQ article on the attack on the CIA base in Khost province and what it suggests about the capabilities of the CIA has drawn wide attention. At the same time, revelations about the CIA’s use of outside civilian contractors to collect information on individuals to be targeted for killing by predator attacks and other methods, has raised very serious questions.

Given common news management practices in Washington, it would not be surprising if CIA Director Leon Panetta’s granting of an interview on March 17, 2010, in which he praised the successes of the CIA in attacking Al Quaeda and the Taliban, was a response by individuals and/or an organization who felt under attack, and very much wanted to distract attention from consideration of the very serious criticisms contained in the articles cited, and others.

Be that as it may, it is essential that the substantive criticisms that are contained in or flow from Baer’s article and others remain clearly in view, and receive sustained and critical attention from the press, policymakers including civilian and mlitary leaders responsible for our actions in Afghanistan, and citizens of the U.S. and other countries contributing to the effort in Aghanistan.

To recapitulate but a few of the criticims, it has been reported that

1. The CIA has been stretched too thin and lacks the trained and experienced operatives it needs to operate effectively in Afghanistan;

2. The Agency’s intelligence on Afghanistan has become subordinated to that of military intelligence as a result of several factors, including:

a) the fact that the number of military intelligence officials vastly exceeds the number of CIA officials in Afghanistan;

b) the frequent and short rotations of CIA officials (of e.g., three months in the field at a time) do not permit the development of the local knowledge and expertise that is required to provide valuable human intelligence on the situation throughout the country;

c) General McChrystal’s having secured the appointment of a friend as CIA station chief in Kabul, after the Agency’s own choice (an individual who had worked with Richard Holbrooke in the Balkans) was blocked by Holbrooke;

Regarding the appointment of the CIA Kabul Station chief and the nature and quality of CIA intelligence in Afghanistan, Matthew Cole of ABC News reports:

The current and former intelligence officials say that putting a paramilitary officer in charge on the Afghan base highlights the CIA’s evolving role. The CIA’s historic wartime role was collecting information in order to shape overall strategy. Now the agency has been relegated to a supporting role, supplying tactical intelligence to help the military. The military determines the strategy.

“The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.”

The problem with this shift, the officials say, is that both the military and the CIA are focusing on short-term, tactical intelligence, and ignoring the long view. The shortfall in intelligence collection was highlighted last month in a public report by the military’s top intelligence officer that was prepared for a thinktank. In the report, Major General Michael T. Flynn concluded that intelligence collection in Afghanistan was “only marginally relevant to the overall strategy.”

Flynn’s report was as critical of the CIA as of military intelligence. But it is the military that is now shaping intelligence collection in Afghanistan, in part through sheer numeric dominance. Military forces far outnumber the CIA, and the disproportion is growing. According to a current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan scattered among 14 bases. By next summer, the military expects that it will have nearly 100,000 troops, roughly double its strength in early 2009.

Flynn concluded that the “vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which the US and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.”
–Matthew Cole, “CIA’S Influence Wanes in Afghanistan War, Say Intelligence Officials,” ABC News/ The Blotter from Brian Ross, March 19, 2010

3) The CIA is extremely dependent on Afghan intelligence services in order to navigate the physical and social spaces within Afghanistan. Such dependance represents a particularly difficult obstacle to be overcome if the U.S. objective of securing Kandahar is to succeed.

TIME magazine reports, for example,

International observers and diplomats in Kabul say Wali Karzai retains close ties with units of the U.S. special forces and the CIA in Kandahar. Last October, the New York Times alleged that Wali Karzai had been on the CIA payroll for the past eight years, a charge he denied when speaking to TIME. “I see these people, I talk to them in security meetings, but I have no control,” he said. But TIME’s sources insist that Wali Karzai in the past has threatened to call down NATO air strikes or arrange night raids by U.S. special forces on tribal elders who defied him. Says a former NATO official: “Most of our intelligence comes directly or indirectly from him. We really didn’t see this dynamic because we were so focused on the enemy.”

Perhps the deeper question is whether the CIA, blinded by its brilliant successes in 2001, has pursued the wrong mission in Afghanistan, becoming an integral part of the killing machine that joins real-time tactical intelligence with the capabilities of predator drones and special operations forces, while neglecting its core mission of providing independent strategic intelligence to the nation’s top decision-makers on what is going on in the country as a whole.

These and other questions about the CIA’s capabilities and management are the critical ones to keep in mind.

The Trenchant Observer

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Intelligence Matters: Khost, The Flynn Report, and a Few Hypotheses

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Our intelligence in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be very good.

Publication of the Flynn report in January, 2010 revealed very serious shortcomings in U.S. military intelligence in the country.

The CIA intelligence on what is going on in Afghanistan–as opposed to real-time intelligence about the whereabouts of individuals to be targeted for predator drone attacks–may in fact be just as weak. 

It is hard to know for sure. 

But certain events provide suggestive clues as to the capabilities of the CIA in the country. The suicide bombing of a CIA forward operating station in Khost province on December 30, 2010 has highlighted serious weaknesses in the field, including a CIA chief who lacked critical experience on the operations side, and the fact that there was no one at the base who spoke the local language, Pashto.

The CIA’s earlier successes in 2001 in coordinating the successful campaign to topple the Taliban regime has left the agency deeply involved in the conduct of military operations, including the selection of targets and coordination of attacks by predator drone aircraft in Afghanistan and apparently Pakistan.

In the meantime, the agency seems to have neglected its core function of collecting intelligence on what is going on in Afghanistan, leaving U.S. decisionmakers highly reliant on Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

A strong hypothesis is that the lack of independent intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan has left the United States extremely dependent on the Afghan intelligence agency to navigate through a physical and social space characterized by murky power relationships and changing personalities, in a country whose languages and cultures are poorly understood by U.S. intelligence operatives and analysts.

The extremely close cooperation between the top CIA and Afghan intelligence officials in 2001, which appears to have continued, tends to support this hypothesis. See Henry Crompton interview and Amrullah Saleh interview with Laura Logan on 60 minutes, December 27, 2009.

If this hypothesis is true, it would help to explain why the Obama administration could not bring itself to support free presidential elections in a second round of voting following the August 20 first-round elections in 2009.

At the same time, the concentration of both CIA and military intelligence capabilities in and on areas of the country where fighting with the Taliban is intense may have skewed overall U.S. intelligence on what is going on in the country as a whole.  This may be particularly true in the major cities and towns where, over the medium and longer term, the allegiances of the citizens could have a decisive impact.

Khost: An Instructive Case

On December 30, 2009, a Jordanian double agent entered a CIA field station in Khost province, and detonated his suicide vest killing 7 CIA employees and his handler, a Jordanian intelligence official. Robert Baer, a former CIA agent and operative in the field, has described what occurred.  The following excerpts are indicative of the Agency’s weakened capabilities, as described more fully in the complete article:

The base chief is a covert employee of the CIA; her identity is protected by law. I’ll call her Kathy. She was 45 years old and a divorced mother of three. She’d spent the vast majority of her career at a desk in Northern Virginia, where she studied Al Qaeda for more than a decade…(An) officer who knew her told me that despite her training at the Farm, she was always slotted to be a reports officer, someone who edits reports coming in from the field. She was never intended to meet and debrief informants.

Kathy knew that there was a time when only seasoned field operatives were put in charge of places like Khost. Not only would an operative need to have distinguished himself at the Farm; he would’ve run informants in the field for five years or more before earning such a post. He probably would have done at least one previous tour in a war zone, too. And he would have known the local language, in this case Pashto. Kathy skipped all of this. Imagine a Marine going straight from Parris Island to taking command of a combat battalion in the middle of a war.

On January 10, 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he disputed that poor tradecraft was a factor in the Khost tragedy. Panetta is wrong.

As the wars dragged on, the CIA’s problems cascaded, leaving an agency with almost no officers with real field experience. Personnel were shifted in and out of assignments for three-month stints, too brief a period to really know a place or do any meaningful work. Over time, these patterns completely undid the old standard that you needed experience to lead. After a year’s tour in a post like Baghdad, an officer could pretty much count on landing a managerial position. Never mind that he’d spent his time locked down in the Green Zone, never getting out or meeting an informant….

Robert Baer, “A Dagger to the CIA,” GQ (Magazine), April 2010

See also Neal Conan’s interview with Baer on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, March 16, 2010.

An Explanation of Failures?

The analysis offered above is preliminary, but offers some explanation of why our policies in Afghanistan–particularly with respect to governance, legitimacy, and the allegiance of the people–have failed so disastrously to date.

General McChrystal’s application of General Petraeus’ and the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan is severely handicapped by a lack of sufficient troops for a country the size of Texas with a population of 28 million people, and a short time-line for the withdrawal of American forces to begin.

Moreover, hopes that a solution might consist in the reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan society under a government led by Karzai seem premature. It is still too early to predict success for the apparent wager that predator attacks against Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and pressure from the Pakistani military, will bend the insurgents’ will to the point of wanting to negotiate a settlement on terms favorable to Kabul, Islamabad and Washington.

One should hope for the best, but have a clear-eyed view of the other possibilities.

The rapid development and deployment of independent U.S. intelligence capabilities focused on what is going on throughout Afghanistan, and not merely in the South and remote areas of the country where fighting is concentrated, will be critical to whatever success can be achieved in the country.

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.

MUST-READ ANALYSIS: Juan Cole on “Serial Catastrophes in Afghanistan”

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

See Juan Cole, “Serial Catastrophes in Afghanistan threaten Obama Policy,” Informed Comment, January 4, 2010

Understanding Obama’s Dilemma: Key Articles on Taliban Advances, CIA Role, Karzai’s Brother, Magnitude of U.S. and U.N. Failures

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The situation in Afghanistan is desperate. (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, September 14, 2009).

The U.S. tilt toward Karzai during the electoral process may be related to CIA ties to his brother and operations in Kandahar and the South. (See Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, New York Times, October 27, 2009)

Reports of a U.S. deal with the Pakistani military to withdraw from negotiations with Karzai and Abdullah in exchange for Pakistan military mediation with the Taliban remain unrebutted, and should be fully investigated by U.S. and Western media. (Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief, Asia Times Online, November 6, 2009)

A sharply critical analysis of U.S. policy, by a leading regional expert, details the catastrophic nature of U.S. and U.N. diplomatic failures in Afghanistan to date. (Chibli Mallat, Law Page Editor, The Daily Star, November 12, 2009)


Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


–Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?
–The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as
does Abdullah
–Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections
–Final Thoughts
–ANNEX–Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai refusing to replace members of the Independent Electoral Commission which certified the fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, prospects for a fair runoff election appear greatly diminished. Moreover, recent attacks on UN facilities in Kabul on October 28 and deteriorating security conditions elsewhere will now make it even more difficult for U.N. electoral officials and foreign observers to monitor the voting process. Seeing the U.S., NATO countries, and even the U.N. failing to take vigorous action to stop preparations for another fraud, some voters may conclude there is not much point in voting since the outcome is already clear. Against this background, it is quite possible that Abdullah will boycott the elections.

In any event, a second round election run by the same people who openly sanctioned the massive fraud in the first round cannot, and will not, produce credible results. A Karzai regime that is the product of fraudulent elections will not restore legitimacy to the government of Afghanistan.

But without a government seen as legitimate and offering real hope for meaningful change in the way the government operates, the advances of the Taliban are not likely to be halted.

What can be done, at this late hour?

The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as does Abdullah

1) The U.S., NATO and the U.N. can proceed in supporting a runoff election which appears to be headed again for massive fraud, and which will have no credibility. Karzai may indeed emerge as the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan, with the most powerful allies (the U.S., NATO, and the U.N.).

Western countries may well believe that the “legitimacy” questions will fade away, or can be overcome by building up a stronger government under Karzai’s direction and control. Detailed knowledge of the last five years of experience with Karzai and how numerous similar hopeful expectations have been dashed might temper such a view, but curiously resurgent optimism–or willful forgetfulness–obscures these facts from public debate.

On the other hand, maybe Karzai will build a new kind of government with the capabilities the U.S. and NATO view as so essential. All one can say, as Afghanistan slips increasingly under the sway of the Taliban, is that the evidence supporting this proposition is slim.

2) Abdullah withdraws, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will have an important role in the next (Karzai) administration

Abdullah could withdraw from the second round, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will be brought into the Karzai government with important posts. The key fact here is that Karzai will be calling the shots, for the next five years, and if he finds reason to revise any such understandings, there is nothing the Americans, NATO or the U.N. will be able to do about it. He will remain in control. They will remain dependent on him.

3) Abdullah withdraws or boycotts the runoff on the ground that the election is already tainted by fraud, because officials responsible for the fraud in the first round have not been replaced.

Abdullah would have strong arguments to support such a withdrawal, as the Independent Electoral Commission members who certified the first round fraud have not been replaced, and indeed appear to be preparing another massive fraud (e.g., by increasing the number of polling stations in the South). Under this scenario, a period of prolonged political uncertainty would be likely to ensue, further weakening the authority of the government in Kabul.

4) The United Nations could assume immediate control over the elections in Afghanistan, and postpone the second round if necessary.

A fourth option would be for the United Nations to intervene, acting under the authority of a Security Council resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter. Such resolutions have binding effect. This option would depend on gaining the affirmative vote or abstention of the five permanent members of the Security Council. They have worked in harmony on issues relating to Afghanistan in the past.

Given the utter disarray following the attacks on the U.N. guest houses in Kabul on October 28, and the practical impossibility of putting adequate security measures into place before November 7 that would allow U.N. personnel and European observers to actively deploy to assist in and observe the elections, the U.N. could well decide to postpone the second round until the spring.

Such an option would reassert the authority of the U.N. precisely at the moment when many expect it to withdraw or greatly curtail its activities in Afghanistan. In 2003, when the U.N. headquarters in Bagdad were blown up, killing a potential future Secretary General, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the world organization withdrew from the country. Assertion of a more vigorous U.N. role now would serve to counter that unfortunate precedent.

Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections

A number of advantages would flow from pursuing the fourth option.

First, the decision on U.S. strategy and the deployment of some 40,000-45,000 additional U.S. troops could be decoupled from the second round election results. Deployments could begin as quickly as feasible, without the delay that review of alleged fraud and decisions on complaints might entail. In the first round, this process took two months, and the ECC’s decision was accepted by Karzai only under extraordinary pressures from the U.S., NATO and the U.N.

Second, Karzai would be given a chance to demonstrate that he actually could strengthen his government, and both attack corruption and end any complicity in the drug trade. He might be persuaded to bring Abdullah into a “transitional ” national unity government. His own legal mandate, which expired in August, could be extended until the final results of the second round were in and a new government, based on those results, was formed.

Third, Abdullah would have an opportunity to make his case to the Afghan people that he should be elected President in a free and fair election. He would have time to do this, as would Karzai, in a more stable atmosphere and under electoral arrangements established by the U.N. that are transparent and fair. Indeed, elections run by the U.N. for president n 2004 and for the National Assembly in 2005 were widely viewed as fair.

Fourth, the United Nations could recover from the terrible attacks that cost the lives of five U.N. staff on October 28, and have time to fully develop and deploy the appropriate security arrangements in light of the fact U.N. staff are now being targeted by the Taliban. Many move about in unarmored vehicles and are soft and easy targets. The U.N. would have time to protect its staff more effectively, and avoid asking idealistic young workers–who did not volunteer to be soldiers–to risk their lives to carry out their tasks during the next few weeks.

Fifth, the U.S. and NATO could proceed with plans to increase the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan, not only to avoid the collapse of major cities to the Taliban but also to protect the Afghan population going to the polls in the runoff election, as well as the international observers that need to be deployed throughout the country to ensure that a fair vote is held.

Sixth, while there would be many challenges in pursuing such an option, the payoff would be big–a government viewed by the population as the product of a fair electoral process, and therefore a government that represents them.

Final Thoughts

Many officials and observers assume that Afghanistan’s future will inevitably be like its past, with power controlled by warlords and tribes on a local basis. However, the world has changed and is changing, and the rate of change is accelerating. 44.5% of the population of Afghanistan is 14 years old or younger. They hold the key to the country’s future.

The future of younger Afghans, with cell phones and internet access, will not be like that of the past. The number of internet users in the country, 500,000 in 2008, is growing rapidly, as is that of cell phones. In 2008, there were 460,000 main line telephones and 8.45 million cell phones, in a country of 28.4 million inhabitants. The number of television satellite dishes is growing. Afghanistan is getting connected, and Afghans are becoming increasingly aware of what is going on in the world. Surely they observed the three million people who clogged Tehran’s streets following the June 12 elections in Iran, which were also characterized by massive fraud. Afghans and Iranians speak the same language, and share the same cultural heritage. Educated Pashtuns speak Dari as a second language, and Dari is the first language of 50% of the country. Dari is a dialect of Farsi, and educated speakers understand each other easily. Afghans know what is going on in Iran, and vice versa.

We should not be so condescending or naive as to believe that international human rights have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, including the leading elites. The United States insists on absolute fidelity to democratic forms in Honduras, fosters the new democracies of West Africa, supports the democratic government of Pakistan, and proclaims its democratic ideals in President Obama’s speech to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo. Still, American decision makers should never forget that people in the region and around the world are not only listening to what they say, but also watching what they do.

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Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

The United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, should adopt at the earliest opportunity a binding resolution which provides, inter alia, the following:

1. The United Nations, acting through the Security Council, shall immediately assume direction and control of the timing and conduct of the second round in the Presidential elections in Afghanistan, which are currently scheduled for November 7, 2009.

2. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, shall replace the current Afghan members of the Independent Electoral Commission with international elections experts of outstanding and unquestionable qualifications, impartiality and integrity.

3. The reconstituted IEC shall conduct the elections under procedures established by Secretary General to ensure transparency and fairness in the conduct of the elections, the collection of the ballots, and the tabulation of votes cast for each candidate.

4. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, may determine that it is not feasible to hold a free and fair second round of elections on November 7, and may postpone the second round to a date by which it expects such free and fair elections can be held. Such date may be postponed until the spring of 2010 or such other date as the Secretary General may decide.

5. The mandate of the current President of Afghanistan, which under the terms of the March decision of the Afghan Supreme Court expired in August, is extended until such time as the second round elections are held, complaints are heard and decided by the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the corrected results are announced by the ECC. The decision of the ECC shall be final, immediately binding, and not subject to judicial review.

6. The Security Council may encourage both parties to participate in the transitional government until the elections are held, and the final corrected results are announced by the ECC.

7. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) forces and other international forces should be augmented by further contributions from the respective members states and NATO countries, in order to ensure, inter alia, that the second round in the Presidential elections are held in a transparent, free and fair manner, resulting in the transfer of power to a new government that expresses the will of the people of Afghanistan.

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Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The situation in Afghanistan is desperate.

As President Obama and his advisors debate how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan–at this time–it seems, once again, that the most important questions are not being asked or receiving the attention they deserve. The debate, framed in the media at a high level of abstraction as a question of whether or not to send more troops, does not address the diplomatic and political failures which have led to our current predicament. These failures bear directly on the choice of any future strategy we might pursue. If their critical nature and root causes are not grasped and addressed, the dispatch of additional troops to Afghanistan will not reverse a deteriorating situation, just as the dispatch of additional troops in 2008 and earlier this year failed to halt the advances of the Taliban.

Diplomatic and Political Failures

We have eight years of experience with President Karzai, and it is absolutely clear that he cannot or will not establish a government that elicits the support of the people, as the August elections confirm. Our real policy now appears to be to allow the massive fraud in the August elections to stand, as the Administration’s response to Amb. Peter Galbraith’s battles with United Nations Special Representative Kai Eide and Galbraith’s dismissal reveal.

Note, however, that accepting this fraud is equivalent to accepting Ahmadinijad’s fraud in Iran. Are our diplomats connecting the dots? Do they understand the impact such a policy is likely to have on the opposition in Iran?

How did we get here?

To an unusual degree, key players in the decision making process on Afghanistan have been military men. National Security Council Advisor Gen. James Jones worked on Afghanistan previously as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2003-2006, while the present U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, was the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2005-2007. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after outstanding successes in Iraq, is now in charge of our forces in Afghanistan. Gen. David Petreus, following a brilliant tour and reversal of strategy in Iraq, is now McChrystal’s superior as head of CENTCOM. These are four extraordinarily talented generals, but their professional experience has been largely confined to the military. We should not be surprised if, as military men, they tend to see the military elements and dimensions of the situation in Afghanistan in sharper relief and as more important than would, let us say, professional diplomats with 20 or 30 years of experience negotiating with different political factions and government officials in the region.

At the same time, the appointment of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard Holbrooke, another superstar, seems to have distorted the normal flow of information, coordination and decisions in the State Department, as well as the accountability of officials before Congress. With this outstanding cast, one is left with the impression that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has been far removed from day-to-day decision making on Afghanistan.

While Gen. Eikenberry is a distinguished military leader, his lack of previous diplomatic experience is a serious handicap in Kabul, where the ambassador both leads reporting to Washington and must persuade and lead the Afghans, NATO and the UN, and all of the various U.S. agencies with their conflicting perspectives and agendas. Moreover, experience may be a two-edged sword in Kabul, where everyone seems to have become quite accustomed to doing business with the incumbents. Indeed, many U.S. and international officials and contractors may come to be dependent or co-dependent on their Afghan counterparts, with even the “metrics” they report tending to support both their own and their counterparts’ programs.

In addition, the UN and a number of our NATO allies tend to view their tasks as peacekeeping and development work, as if they were in Kosovo or Bosnia, whereas the U.S. military is engaged in a very “hot” war. These competing perspectives generate bureaucratic and organizational behavior that results in dysfunctional decisions and outcomes. Such behavior is not surprising, but should be recognized as contributing mightily to the situation we now face.

Catastrophic Failure

One overriding fact remains. Our diplomacy in Afghanistan has not been successful. It has failed. It has failed in a catastrophic way.

The bad decisions are becoming evident, with no sign they will not be followed by even more bad decisions. They include:

1) Failure to understand that the NATO and UN templates from Bosnia and Kosovo were utterly unsuited to the realities of Afghanistan, where fresh analysis and program development was required.

2) Failure to change an electoral law that makes the development of national political parties almost impossible.

3) Agreeing to Afghan elections conducted by a Karzai-appointed commission, instead of sticking with the UN-conducted elections that worked so well in 2004 and 2005.

4) Not insisting, as Galbraith wanted, that the fraud being prepared by the Karzai government be stopped.

5) Acquiescing in the election fraud, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) looking the other way while the fraud occurred.

6) Failing to insist on a correct vote tally and a second round of voting, as required by Afghan law, thus showing Afghans what we, NATO and the UN really believe about democracy in their country.

7) More broadly, throwing out the whole democratic rationale for being in Afghanistan by going along with the election fraud.

Legitimacy–First Things First

The failure in Afghanistan has been a diplomatic and political failure, not just a military failure. Military strategy will falter if diplomatic and political strategy does not keep pace. We cannot succeed in Afghanistan by proceeding on the naive belief that we can “stand up” a legitimate government born of fraud, or that we can “stand up” an Afghan army both capable of defeating the Taliban and loyal to a government lacking in legitimacy and losing public support. Legitimacy is the key to developing both a more effective government and a more capable army and police. Without legitimacy, both possibilities appear to be but chimeras in the desert sand.

As we commit additional troops, we need to investigate and understand the specific causes of our diplomatic and political failures, first, to develop a viable government in Kabul and the provinces, and, second, to organize and hold elections recognized as fair, thus conferring legitimacy on the government.

Following catastrophic diplomatic and political failures, we may need a new diplomatic team in Kabul, better decision-making structures and personnel at State, more vigorous Congressional oversight, and a whole rethink of whether the “aid and development” element of our strategy in Afghanistan, as currently implemented, makes any sense given our experience on the ground. Certainly we need to bear in mind that our counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, to the extent it has been successful, has depended in critical part on free elections and the development of a legitimate government that could gain the support of the population. Finally, we should never lose sight of the fact that what we do about the election fraud in Afghanistan will have profound repercussions in Iran, and beyond.

The Trenchant Observer
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