Posts Tagged ‘Islamabad’

Islamabad, Kabul, Moscow, Damascus and Washington: The cumulative impact of “rookie” errors—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #52 (June 16)

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

The lack of strategic thinking and stumbling execution of Obama’s foreign policy “juggernaut”–”the gang who couldn’t shoot strait” has led to a complicated, deteriorating and increasingly dangerous situation with respect to Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

President Obama and his foreign policy team have demonstrated two great weaknesses in his first 3 1/2 years in office. Both relate to the connectedness of things.

The first and most pervasive weakness has been Obama’s lack of appreciation of international law and and its impact on perceptions of legitimacy among foreign populations and governments, and the many ways in which it influences government behavior. As a result he has failed to use it effectively where it might support U.S. interests, and failed to understand that the reactions of other states to U.S. policies and actions may be strongly affected by international law.

Because of his willful ignorance of international law, Obama has blindly pursued his use of drones for targeted killings even when and where legal justification for their use is most dubious.  Moreover, Obama has made a number of rookie mistakes.

One need only think of the Abbottabad raid that killed Bin Laden, and U.S. officials boasting of the fact that it was undertaken without the Pakistani government’s knowledge or permission, to grasp the point.

See Gardiner Harris (New Delhi), “In New Delhi, Panetta Defends Drone Strikes in Pakistan, New York Times, June 6, 2012.

Harris reported the following remarks:

Leon E. Panetta, the United States defense secretary, brushed aside concerns on Wednesday that drone strikes against leaders of Al Qaeda in Pakistan violate that country’s sovereignty.

“We have made clear to the Pakistanis that the United States of America is going to defend ourselves against those who attack us,” Mr. Panetta said. “This is not just about protecting the United States. It’s also about protecting Pakistan. And we have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves.”

On Monday, a Central Intelligence Agency drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt killed Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, American officials said. Such strikes have infuriated Pakistani officials, who have demanded that they end. But the Obama administration considers them a highly effective tool in the battle against Al Qaeda.

Mr. Panetta’s remarks on Wednesday, delivered during a question-and-answer session following a speech he gave here at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, demonstrate yet again how strained the relationship between Islamabad and Washington has become.

He chuckled along with his audience about Pakistan’s lack of warning before the United States killed Osama bin Laden in a raid last year near a huge Pakistani Army base. “They didn’t know about our operation,” Mr. Panetta said to laughter. “That was the whole idea.”

Panetta, a staunch proponent of the drone strikes–many of which he personally authorized during his time as Director of the CIA, has become an increasingly outspoken member of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

The second weakness has been a pattern of reactive, ad hoc foreign policy decision making where the administration appears to see only the immediate crisis in front of it, and seeks solutions which fail to take into consideration their impact on other, related issues. It is almost as if, at the highest levels, they don’t see the connections.

Over time, these weaknesses have produced an accumulation of short-sighted and “rookie” decisions which have compounded the difficulties facing the president. As a result, Obama faces a series of problems where the options are now quite limited due to earlier mistakes.

For example, because of the sharp deterioration in U.S. relations with Pakistan, the United States is now dependent on Russia in significant measure for supply routes to Afghanistan. These will also be needed for the withdrawal of men and equipment in the next two years.

Sour relations with Pakistan limit America’s ability to influence developments in that country, which is of far greater strategic importance to the United States than Afghanistan. They also undermine a key requirement for a relatively secure withdrawal from Afghanistan by the U.S. and its allies, which is Pakistani cooperation in limiting cross-border actions by the Afghan Taliban and related groups, such as the Haqqani network.

There is also evidence of “rookie” pride inhibiting the improvement of relations with Pakistan. Reliable reports suggest that one reason the U.S. withdrew a negotiating team that had been in Pakistan trying to secure the reopening of supply routes to Afghanistan was that he U.S. refused to apologize for an incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by mistake. The U.S. is only willing to express “regret”.

See

Oliver Carmichal, “US tells Pakistan to ‘bite the bullet’ over Nato supply routes; A senior US government official has said that Pakistan’s government should “bite the bullet” and reopen supply routes to Nato forces in Afghanistan,” The Telegraph, June 12, 2012.

David S. Cloud and Alex Rodriguez, “Defense Secretary Panetta’s Pakistan comments complicate talks; After Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s harsh criticism of Pakistan over militant attacks, talks to reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan have stalled,” Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2012.

Eric Schmitt and Declan Walsh, “U.S. Takes Step Toward Exit in Pakistan Talks,: New York Times, June 11, 2012.

On another front, Washington’s paralysis in the face of the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria has not only allowed that crisis to erupt into flames in a civil war, but has also weakened the credibility of the United States in the region generally, and in Iran in particular.

Obama’s foreign policy regarding Syria has been vacillating, and in the end pusillanimous, as Washington has caved in to each and every Russian threat. The latest threat, hardly subtle, was Dimitri Medvedev’s reference to the risk of nuclear war in the region if a state’s sovereignty was not respected.

The United States has not responded to that threat, pretending that it did not occur. Such a failure to react is downright dangerous, and it may further feed perceptions in Moscow that Obama is a pushover.

Obama’s meeting with Putin at the upcoming G-20 conference is particularly portentous.  After Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser, flew to Moscow and met with Putin, the latter canceled his appearance at the G-8 summit held at Camp David on May 18-19.  Judging from his behavior on Syria, Putin does not seem to have a lot of respect for Obama and his foreign policy team.

This should not be too surprising, as Russia has outmaneuvered the United States at every turn of the Syria crisis. Most notable, perhaps, was the Russian surprise appearance at a meeting of the Arab League at which they secured Arab League approval (or acquiescence) in a five-point peace plan which included a ban on outside intervention. The U.S. seems to have been taken by surprise, though it is always possible that they were aware and supported the initiative–which, if true, would reveal an even higher level of incompetence.

One can only be somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of the Obama and Putin meeting next week.  Obama needs to be wise, and lay the basis for a full U.S.-Russian bilateral meeting in the near future.  Above all, he now needs to give unfledging support to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul, who he undercut by sending Donilon to meet with Putin.

See Miriam Elder (Modcow), “Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Moscow, victim of Kremlin ‘Twitter war’; Russian state launches volley of tweets criticising ambassador’s ‘unprofessional’ speech to students on US-Russia relations,” The Guardian, May 29, 2012.

The issue of Iran’s enrichment program, which continues despite setbacks caused in part by acts of cyber-warfare causing centrifuges to explode and other computer problems, has not been resolved, and much time has been lost. The United States will need the firm support of Russia in the ongoing multilateral talks with Iran. This means Russia has further leverage over the United States on the Syrian issue.

The fact that Russia, China and Iran are on the same side of the Syrian question should be a major cause of concern to Obama, but there is little or no evidence that the administration understands the risks involved here. “Driving from the back seat,” Syria is allowed to drift into more and more intense fighting and destruction, with a sharpening of the conflict between the U.S. and Russia which points toward an inevitable collision. This is a matter of grave concern because we are talking about the two most heavily armed nuclear weapons states on the planet.

Russia is now sending weapons and equipment to Syria to enable the Syrians to strengthen their air defense systems, apparently in a bid to forestall any foreign military intervention.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s sending missiles to Cuba in 1962, to forestall any U.S. invasion. Were the Russians to introduce medium-range nuclear weapons into Syria, the West would be faced with an acute crisis–without John F. Kennedy, the Captain of PT-109, and the Ex-Com led by Bobby Kennedy to assist in navigating the perilous waters.

The Obama administration is, in the end, embarked on a foreign policy which is reactive, inattentive to realities on the ground, and seemingly oblivious to the moves of other players in these various games, such as Putin and Lavrov. U.S. support for Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, which was fatally flawed and played into the hands of the Syrians and the Russians from day one, provides cogent evidence of this proposition.

Indeed, jettisoning democratic values and the outrage and action called for by al-Assad’s atrocities, Obama’s foreign-policy juggernaut has given us a peculiar kind of “Realism”, one which ignores the realities on the ground.  This Realism has led to interminably weighing theoretical risks of this or that course of action, particularly of action that might actually halt the killing, while completely ignoring the risks of drift and paralysis and the likely consequences of failing to act decisvely in pursuit of a stategy which advances American national interests.  These include, incidentally, projecting and defending America’s deepest values.

Agonizing over the risks of collateral damage if military intervention were employed, these “Obama realists” ignored or greatly undervalued the risk that over 10,000 people would be killed while they temporized. The risk turned into reality, with estimates now reaching 14,000 dead.

Syria demands the full attention of the president and his foreign policy team. We are navigating perilous waters.

President Obama would be well-advised to revamp his national security team on an urgent basis, bringing back into service seasoned professionals with years of experience in the field, in order to temper the intellectual formulations and lack of strategic focus of his current advisers.

The president needs to greatly strenghten his foreign policy team, now.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

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

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Quotation

“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

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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
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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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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
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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

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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