Posts Tagged ‘U.S. military in Afghanistan’

After McChrystal: Obama, Petraeus, 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 June 23 firing of General Stanley McChrystal and his replacement by General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

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

A number of questions arose which Obama may have taken into account in reaching his decision to replace McChrystal.

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

How could he lead the ISAF coalition, or keep France on board with the coalition? Did McChrystal bear any responsibility for the fact that some of our closest allies (e.g., Canada) are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan?

Even more fundamental questions were raised, however, which now will have to be considered anew and with fresh eyes by Petraeus, Obama, and the new team.

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. Reports that half the U.S. forces being deployed to Afghanistan are special ops and similar troops underlines this point.

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 in the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual in December 2006, it is submitted, requires the presence of troops on the ground in numbers that far exceed the number of troops 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 divorced from reality 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 Wali Karzai, President Karzai’s half-brother, 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, it is likely that U.S. forces would be operating largely in the dark, at least in strategic terms.

The Karzai brothers had, in effect, “rolled” McChrystal, which may help to explain why Hamid Karzai came 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 (hint: he has a German name).

General McChrystal had earned a new assignment. The stress had obviously gotten to him, or he would not have been making colossal errors in judgment. If he 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 might he have made?

His judgments affected 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 deeply flawed decision when he handed control over our policy in Afghanistan to the military in general and McChrystal 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 has become 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.

He should immediately reconstitute his circle of advisers to ensure that his Afghanistan team includes sufficient civilians of sufficient experience and stature to counterbalance the strong concentration of military advisers in his inner circle. These should include top U.S. diplomats with experience 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 Afghan 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.

Presumably, Petraeus and Obama, with input from Eikenberry, Holbrooke, and others, can take steps to improve the types of and deployment of troops going to Afghanistan, in view of the limited force levels available from the U.S. and other allies.

It will be important for Obama, Gates and Petraeus to lead a process of reshaping our strategy in Afghanistan that reflects Petraeus’ own, fresh understanding and vision, and that of other key team members including in particular Karl Eikenberry, instead of simply trying to continue to implement the current strategy.

This reexamination should be done as soon as possible. In particular, McChrystal’s accommodations with the Karzai brothers with respect to the Kandahar campaign should be revisited.

The decisions faced by Obama are much bigger than the decision of whether or not to fire McChrystal. The deeper questions include the following:

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 now 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

observer@trenchantobserver.com
Follow “trenchantobserv” on Twitter.com

Comments are invited.

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

observer@trenchantobserver.com
Follow “trenchantobserv” on Twitter.com

Comments are invited.

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

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

Comments are invited.

News to Note: Lower House of Afghan National Assembly Rejects Karzai’s Electoral Coup

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Heartening News, if Not an April Fool’s Joke

Jonathan Partow of the Washington Post reports from Kabul that the lower house of Aghanistan’s National Assembly has rejected Hamid Karzai’s attempt to seize control of the Electoral Complaints Commission. Partow reports:

“This is a very important day for Afghanistan’s democratic institutions,” said Peter D. Lepsch, a senior legal adviser for Democracy International in Kabul. “The legislative branch has used its constitutional authority to stem presidential power. That’s a big deal.”

The most contentious proposed change in the elections law would allow Karzai to appoint three of five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission…

This appointment proposal was a driving force for many lawmakers to vote against it by waving red cards in the air, according to Mirwais Yasini, the deputy speaker of the lower house.

“We had a very bad experience in the presidential election; it cannot be considered legal. The credibility of the current president is under question. Looking ahead, we have to have good transparency. We had to reject this law,” he said.

The members present in the lower house — about half the total — overwhelmingly voted against the proposal.

–Jonathan Partow, “Afghan parliament’s lower house rejects Karzai election proposals,” The Washington Post, April 1, 2010.

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.

Thomas L. Friedman on Karzai; Hard Options

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Thomas L. Friedman, in an op-ed article published on the New York Times website on March 30 and in the print edition on March 31, 2010, has provided an important analysis which complements our article, “Afghanistan: Obama Begins to Grasp the Reality of Karzai,” also published on March 30. The Observer had not seen Friedman’s piece before writing his own.

Friedman argues that the U.S. has violated three cardinal principles of conducting foreign policy in the Middle East:

Rule No. 1: When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year’s presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he’s the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.

When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?

One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you’ve already violated Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.”

Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language.

Zeroing in on the central dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan, Friedman concludes:

As Filkins and Landler noted, “During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows.” And if Karzai behaves like this when he needs us, when we’re there fighting for him, how is he going to treat our interests when we’re gone?

We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we’re now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.

–Thomas L. Friedman, “This Time We Really Mean It,” New York Times, March 30, 2010.

Hard Options

It is time to consider hard options.

One option would be to block the funding by the United Nations of any electoral support for the National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010. Such funding should be restored only if and when Karzai withdraws his decree seizing control of the Electoral Complaints Commission, restores the language of the electoral law to its text before his decree, and takes other measures to guarantee free and fair elections in September.

No U.N. funding should occur until these actions have actually been taken, not just promised. Any restoration of funding should contain clear conditions safeguarding the freedom of the elections which, if violated, would result in an immediate cessation of funding and U.N. support operations.

Other “tough” options should also be explored. These include resolving the contradictions inherent in the alleged ties of Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, to the CIA and U.S. dependence on him for intelligence and other matters in Kandahar and the South.

An even harder question lurks just behind the question of what to do about Wali Karzai, and that is the question of what Hamid Karzai’s involvement with the CIA may have been in the past.

These issues, and what to do about Wali Karzai as the U.S. prepares to launch an intensive compaign to secure Kandahar, require concentrated attention and decisive action at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

For, as we wrote on October 6, 2009,

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.

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.

Afghanistan: Obama Begins to Grasp the Reality of Karzai

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

On March 30, 2010, Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler of the New York Times reported that earlier this month the White House had canceled a visit by Hamid Karzai to Washington, following his electoral coup and blatant takeover of the Electoral Complaints Commission. They describe his reaction as follows:

Incensed, Mr. Karzai extended an invitation of his own — to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, who flew to Kabul and delivered a fiery anti-American speech inside Afghanistan’s presidential palace.

“Karzai was enraged,” said an Afghan with knowledge of the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “He invited Ahmadinejad to spite the Americans.”

The dispute was smoothed over only this week, when Mr. Obama flew to Kabul for a surprise dinner with Mr. Karzai….

But the red carpet treatment of Mr. Ahmadinejad is just one example of how Mr. Karzai is putting distance between himself and his American sponsors, prominent Afghans and American officials here said. Even as Mr. Obama pours tens of thousands of additional American troops into the country to help defend Mr. Karzai’s government, Mr. Karzai now often voices the view that his interests and the United States’ no longer coincide.

Indeed, the recent behavior by Mr. Karzai offers the latest illustration of the central dilemma that faces the Obama administration in Afghanistan: how to influence the actions of an ally who they increasingly regard as unreliable, without undermining America’s ultimate goals here.

At a lunch in January with Afghan leaders, Karzai reportedly described himself as holding the line in Afghanistan against the Americans:

In January, Mr. Karzai invited about two dozen prominent Afghan media and business figures to a lunch at the palace. At the lunch, he expressed a deep cynicism about America’s motives, and of the burden he bears in trying to keep the United States at bay.

“He has developed a complete theory of American power,” said an Afghan who attended the lunch and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.”

Mr. Karzai said that, left alone, he could strike a deal with the Taliban, but that the United States refuses to allow him. The American goal, he said, was to keep the Afghan conflict going, and thereby allow American troops to stay in the country.

–Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler, “Afghan Leader Is Seen to Flout Influence of U.S.,” New York Times, March 30, 2010.

As the authors note, the Ahmadinijad invitation is not the only evidence of the disloyalty of the Afghan president to the American and NATO forces who keep him in power.

U.S. officials need to carefully review the history of their interaction with Karzai over the last eight years, and reread what Ambassador Karl Eikenberry had to say about him and his government in his cables of November 6 and November 9, 2009.

For only when the Americans and their allies have disabused themselves of their last illusions about Karzai, and stifled their last unjustified hopes that he might reform, will they begin to have the clarity of vision that they will need to extricate themselves from their present predicament.

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.

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

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.

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.

Update: Colbert Weighs In on Patrick Kennedy’s Charge Afghanistan Vote News Coverage “despicable”

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Update, March 17, 2010

Stephen Colbert has now weighed in on the issue of news coverage of Afghanistan, in his televised program on March 15, 2010. For the video, click here.

***
Original Post, March 13, 2010

Congressmen Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) Decries News Coverage of Afghanistan Vote

In a rare comment on the quality of news coverage of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, outgoing Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) has decried media coverage of a House vote to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as “despicable”. (See C-Span video)

Such criticism is rare.

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.