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APRIL 29, 2010 2:37PM

Tall Tales and War Games

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President Obama’s official timeline for surging our military presence in Afghanistan still has fourteen months to run; in that timeframe, there is (in some quarters) an expectation that the US and NATO will manage to quell increasing insurgent attacks, convince Afghan government officials that corruption doesn’t pay, plant the framework of a 21st century democracy (i.e., “Government-in-a-box) — while simultaneously training tens of thousands of illiterate drug addicts to serve as guardians of the peace in the National Police Force – the “mission critical” key to success in Afghanistan, we are told.  So far, the insurgent’s “Shadow Government,” alive and well throughout Afghanistan, has “Government-in-a-box” beat all to hell according to this recent report:

“The Taliban-led insurgency’s “operational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding,” said the report, adding the “strength and ability of (insurgent-run) shadow governance to discredit the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan government is increasing.”

Complicating that already tall order for the next 14 months, is the apparent need for one last face-saving summer offensive on the Taliban’s “spiritual home” turf in Kandahar – the military equivalent of “territorial marking” — so that we can get the hell out of Afghanistan without being called “losers.”  General McChrystal has already telegraphed his impending assault and added that this will be “no D-Day or H-hour” –  believable enough if the muddled precursor Marjah “offensive” is any indication.  The Kandahar Offensive, of course is the public battle that provides distraction from the secret “special operations” program of targeted assassinations and “things that go bump in the night” that have the civilian population of Afghanistan quite effectively terrorized (and blaming the Coalition forces for their state of terror).

Surely, as far as President Karzai (and his brother Wali) are concerned, the offensive in Kandahar is unnecessary and politically unpopular.  No one in Kandahar is feeling particularly beset by the Taliban, whom they describe as their “Afghan brothers.”  Flying solo, Karzai has already launched a fairly sensible-sounding endgame of diplomatic meetings with Taliban leaders that has drawn in Afghanistan’s neighbors, in region – Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia — even Russia is said to have dropped in and out.  NATO is signaling its weariness with America’s version of the War on Terror; only the US seems out-of-the-loop on winding down, like staggering guests who don’t realize when “the party’s over.”

Who’s Zooming Who?

One of the persistent complaints about our strategy in Afghanistan has been that we don’t seem to have one.  No one is very clear on our mission or what victory might look like.  Others are getting ever clearer on the need to end it, whatever “it” is.  To that end, Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit the White House, next month and, as Ahmed Rashid has written in the Washington Post, it’s pretty much “crunch time” for our Nobel Laureate President to decide whether he’ll come down on the side of continued war or  a regionally-brokered peace in Afghanistan.  Here’s a snip from Rashid’s article:

“According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Karzai’s first question when he arrives will be whether Washington supports his efforts at reconciliation with the senior Taliban leadership. In January, the United States and NATO agreed to reintegration — bringing in Taliban foot soldiers and low-level commanders — but Washington balked at full reconciliation, saying it wants to see the Taliban weakened militarily over the next six to 12 months before considering talks with its leaders.”

“Karzai’s representatives, however, have spent the past 12 months holding talks about talks with senior Taliban representatives in several Arab Gulf states. Taliban leaders have made clear that they want to talk directly to the United States, and Karzai knows his discussions with the Taliban cannot go further without public U.S. support and a commitment to engage. The Afghans want a clear answer from Washington that they will lead any future negotiations.”

The position that “Washington balked at full reconciliation, saying it wants to see the Taliban weakened militarily over the next six to 12 months before considering talks with its leaders” smacks of a bout of magical thinking on the part of the Administration.  The US military has had close to ten years to a) find Osama bin Laden b) eliminate Al Qaeda and (c) break the back of the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden, is, of course, still at large; Al Qaeda has been routed in Afghanistan only to resurface in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc; and, as of, six months ago, in October, it was reported that the our nine years of efforts have only resulted in a resurgent Taliban that is growing exponentially and nearing military strength.  Here’s a bit from that report:

“WASHINGTON – A recent U.S. intelligence assessment has raised the estimated number of full-time Taliban-led insurgents fighting in Afghanistan to at least 25,000, underscoring how the crisis has worsened even as the U.S. and its allies have beefed up their military forces, a U.S. official said Thursday.”

“The U.S. official, who requested anonymity because the assessment is classified, said the estimate represented an increase of at least 5,000 fighters, or 25 percent, over what an estimate found last year.”

“’The rise can be attributed to, among other things, a sense that the central government in Kabul isn’t delivering (on services), increased local support for insurgent groups, and the perception that the Taliban and others are gaining a firmer foothold and expanding their capabilities,’ the U.S. official said.”  

And then there’s this article from March, 2010 handily blaming NATO for the Taliban resurgence:

“‘The Taliban has reaped a recruiting bonanza the past two years, capitalizing on NATO’s stagnant posture in southern Afghanistan by increasing fighter ranks by 35 percent,’ U.S. officials say.”

“The increase is one reason NATO forces, in an ongoing offensive, are meeting strong resistance as they fight town by town to gain control of the Taliban stronghold in the city of Kandahar and in Marjah in neighboring Helmand province.”

“It also shows the enemy’s resilience in an eight-year insurgency. In the face of air strikes and NATO raids that kill scores of Taliban at a time, the former rulers of Afghanistan still have been able to pad their ranks.”

And, finally, we have this “straight from the horse’s mouth”:

“The Taliban commander, who uses the pseudonym Mubeen, told the Associated Press that if military pressure on the insurgents becomes too great, ‘we will just leave and come back after’ the foreign forces leave.’”

“Despite nightly raids by NATO and Afghan troops, Mubeen said his movements have not been restricted.  He was interviewed last week in the center of Kandahar, seated with his legs crossed on a cushion in a room. His only concession to security was to lock the door.”

“He made no attempt to hide his face and said he felt comfortable because of widespread support among Kandahar’s 500,000 residents, who, like the Taliban, are mostly Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic community.”

“’Because of the American attitude to the people, they are sympathetic to us,’ Mubeen said.  ‘Every day we are getting more support. We are not strangers…’”

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, all of this suggests to me that, perhaps, we have been dead wrong about everything Afghan and should reconsider our approach; and I’m not talking about switching from traditional combat to Gen. McChrystal’s odd concoction of public and clandestine “black ops” warfare tricked out as “counterinsurgency.”  These Middle East adventures have been propaganda campaigns and it’s pretty much time to send a message to Congress and the Pentagon that the American people are not as stupid, naïve and gullible as they are banking on.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It . . .

Our military is currently engaged in two separate endeavors in the Middle East that they are ill-equipped to take on as part of their mission – one is PR and the other is nation-building.  Bungling these aspects of the conflict do us no good at all; in fact, it’s likely that they do permanent damage to America’s diplomatic stature in the world.  Our military is nothing if not persistent, however, so the nonsense goes on until someone has the presence of mind to order them to stop.

Consider some of the more recent SNAFUs and ask yourself if these nonsensical events wouldn’t get you quickly fired if you tried to pull them in your “real-world” job:

The Marjah Offensive – by now many of us (who care to know) discovered that the much-touted Marjah Offensive was a world class Snow Job, not to mention an embarrassing non-event that made Coalition forces look ridiculous.  Much is made of the illiteracy of the Afghan population but those illiterates saw through the Marjah Offensive and had a good laugh at the Coalition’s expense.  From the distortion of the unincorporated villages of the Marjah district into a bustling city of 80,000 and a hub of Taliban support to the appointment of the ex-con, expatriate governor who hasn’t set foot in Afghanistan for 15 years and who’s afraid to leave home unless he’s in an Osprey, Marjah was an unmitigated pack of lame lies aimed at whipping up some enthusiasm for the War in Afghanistan in a world grown weary of it. 

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald did a great job of summing up the Marjah propaganda strategy and telling us what to expect ahead of the Kandahar Offensive:

“The Independent declared on February 9, 2010, that General McChrystal wants the Marjah offensive to “be one of the most significant in the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001″ and, of Obama’s war strategy, said that “Marjah looks like being its first major — and possibly decisive — test.”  The BBC quoted a NATO official who proclaimed that Marjah “was ‘probably the definitive operation’ of the counter-insurgency strategy” and “this operation could potentially define the tipping point, the crucial momentum aspect in the counter-insurgency.”  Time helpfully informed us that “U.S. officials believe it will mark a turning point in the war.”

“Now that that ‘make-or-break decisive test’ has failed (or, at best, has produced very muddled outcomes), did the Government and media follow through and declare the war effort broken and the strategy a failure?  No; they just pretend it never happened and declare the next, latest, glorious Battle the real ‘make-or-break decisive test’ – until that one fails and the next one is portrayed that way, in an endless tidal wave of war propaganda intended to justify our staying for as long as we want, no matter how pointless and counter-productive it is.”

Sure enough, The New York Times rolled out the “trailer” for the Kandahar Offensive this week, breathlessly pronouncing it:

“The looming battle for the spiritual home of the Taliban . . .  shaping up as the pivotal test of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, including how much the United States can count on the country’s leaders and military for support, and whether a possible increase in civilian casualties from heavy fighting will compromise a strategy that depends on winning over the Afghan people.”

Notice that the Times is already anticipating an “increase in civilian casualties from heavy fighting” that could complicate “winning over the Afghan people.”  Of course, those who care to dig out details on where we are in our battle “to win over the Afghan people” will know that the Kandahari’s have already spoken and the only possible way for us to “win over” the 90% of Kandahari’s who despise us is to stay away from their city.

Another fact that could easily slip past us is the mention of Gen. McChrystal’s strategy of keeping American troops outside of Kandahar and send the Afghan Army in to do the fighting as a test of their ability to be effective counterinsurgents.  That should yield interesting results . . .

The Morning After

OK, so we declare a “decisive, pivotal, turning point of a win” in Kandahar – and then what?  According to Jason Ditz at AntiWar.com the Pentagon just released an ominous report to Congress explaining how it might be disastrous to turn over a “liberated” Afghanistan to the hand-picked, but nonetheless, evil and corrupt (if not drug-addled and downright crazy) Hamid Karzai.  Here’s that:

“The Pentagon has issued a new report to Congress about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, warning that the Taliban is increasing the size of their insurgency even as support for President Hamid Karzai remains sparse in the most important regions.”

“In fact of the 121 districts cited as ‘key’ to winning the war in the report, only 29 of those districts had populations seen as even sympathizing with the Karzai government.”

“The report pointed to the enormous levels of corruption in the Karzai government as a major problem fueling this lack of credibility, and warned further that the political will to reform was ‘doubtful.’”

Funny how the same problems are cropping up in Iraq, too?  War is over, democratic government has been installed and yet . . . insurgent attacks are on the rise, and the government can’t get out of it’s own way.  Could it be that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan actually want the US (or at least their treasury) to leave before they’ve sucked a lot more US dollars out of them.  And could it be that the Pentagon is only too happy to report that the State Department picked a bad “puppet” to install as head of state in Afghanistan and now the military will have to hang around to ensure peace for the couple of years it’ll take to effect regime change?

Along those lines, The Washington Post published an interesting report, this morning, on recent US manipulations of the political scene in Kandahar.  Having failed to budge Wali Karzai out of his position of control in Kandahar, the US has decided to try an end-run around him by supporting the prodigiously unimportant Governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, another expatriate “outsider” like the newly installed Governor of Marjah. The Post describes Wesa as “a mild-mannered academic who spent more than a decade in Canada and is considered by many Afghans to be ineffectual.”

The American thinking behind the sudden infatuation with Wesa is described this way:

“In the hope of pushing power brokers such as Karzai to the sidelines, American officials are trying to infuse Wesa and his government with more clout and credibility. They see better governance as a central part of a U.S.-led effort that has brought thousands of troops to the region for a summer offensive against the Taliban.”

“But the government headed by Wesa has severe problems of its own. It remains understaffed, is viewed by many as corrupt and does not reflect the province’s tribal mix. Karzai and other allegedly corrupt political bosses who dominate Kandahar show no sign of giving way.”

“’Wesa is a weak governor,’ said Rahmatullah Raufi, a former general and Kandahar governor.

Nevertheless, the US knows best and is busily indoctrinating Governor Wesa in anticipation of turning Kandahar over to him after our “pivotal” win there this summer.

“To bolster Wesa’s beleaguered office, U.S. officials plan to hire about two dozen Afghan staff members, to be split with the mayor. American helicopters ferry Wesa to meetings, where U.S. officials take notes on his progress. They hope that Wesa’s attempts at grass-roots organizing, combined with an infusion of funds into the province, can earn some support from a skeptical public.”

My money says Wesa will be dead sooner rather than later.  As Rahmatullah Raufi, former general and Kandahar governor put it: “If Ahmed Wali Karzai wants him to die, he will die. If he says, ‘Live,’ he’ll live.”

The Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Most of this public relations carnival can at least be quasi-rationalised, but some just gets recycled until it’s totally meaningless.  Like the saga of Hakimullah Mehsud, current leader of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who has been “assassinated” and confirmed dead seven times – since last August.

“According to a senior member of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency Hakimullah, who was “confirmed” killed in January and then assumed to be gravely wounded, and who was “confirmed” to have died of his injuries in February, is alive and “basically ok.’”

And of course there was the recent high-fiving in Baghdad over the alleged assassination of two legendary leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq by a joint US – Iraqi force.  That news might have been more earthshaking if it had not included the name of “Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the group’s umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq.

Here’s al-Baghdadi’s resume:

March 9, 2007 — the Interior Ministry of Iraq claimed that al-Baghdadi was captured in Baghdad on, which claim was later recanted

May 3, 2007 — the Iraqi Interior Ministry said that al-Baghdadi was killed by American and Iraqi forces north of Baghdad

July, 2007 —  the U.S. military reported that al-Baghdadi never actually existed. A detainee identified as Khaled al-Mashhadani, a self-proclaimed intermediary to Osama bin Laden, claimed that al-Baghdadi was a fictional character created to give an Iraqi face to a foreign-run terror group, and that statements attributed to al-Baghdadi were actually read by an Iraqi actor.

Autumn, 2008 – US military officials reported that although the previous al-Baghdadi was fictional, Al Qaeda had filled the “Baghdadi vacancy” with an actual Al Qaeda leader.

April 23, 2009, Agence France-Presse reported that al-Baghdadi was arrested by the Iraqi military, and on April 28 the Iraqi government produced photos to prove it to skeptics. The claim was denied by the Islamic State in Iraq which according to SITE Institute released an apparently genuine recording of al-Baghdadi denying the government’s recent claims. However, the Iraqi government refuted this claim and insisted that the man captured was indeed Baghdadi.

Which brings us to April, 2010 in which the previously killed/captured al-Baghdadi somehow got away from his Iraqi captors, last year, and wound up in a safe-house in Tikrit where he was, once again, apprehended and killed.

Pardon my skepticism but I think that there is more truth in this statement from The Washington Post account than in any of the foregoing:

“The two top leaders of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq were slain in a U.S. airstrike over the weekend, a decisive tactical victory for American and Iraqi forces and one that provides Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with additional political leverage at a crucial time.”

“Maliki stands to gain from the slaying of the men — Masri was perhaps the most wanted person in Iraq — at a time that is critical to his political future. He has made restoring security and weaning Iraq from dependence on the U.S. military centerpieces of his bid to keep his job once a new parliament is seated. Maliki’s bloc, which came in second in the elections, securing 89 seats, must woo other coalitions in order to secure the 163 votes needed to appoint a new prime minister.”

How timely.  Of course the announcement was met with skepticism in Iraq — Maliki’s government has in the past falsely reported the death and the capture of Baghdadi, most recently last spring. It never retracted the claim back then, making the most recent announcement a sort of back-handed admission that the previous story was total bunk.  Oh well . . .

Now, however, enjoying the last word, the US has confirmed via DNA analysis (please, gimme a break) that the story is true and Gen. Ray Odierno and Vice-President Biden quickly did a little victory dance in the end zone.

I really only have one question remaining and that is “Do our leaders really believe that the American people are stupid enough to be taken in by all of this inane and inexpert propaganda?”  But, come to think of it, they probably care less if we “buy” it, as long as we’re willing to keep paying for it . . .

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