In February HBO is re-broadcasting the documentary "Terror in Mumbai," which I discussed in the December 20, 2009 Alden Pyle in Pakistan, Part 2: Once upon a time in Saigon and Mumbai. See the HBO website for the airing dates. If you haven't seen the documentary yet please steel yourself to watch it; I don't think it's possible to fully understand this phase of the war on terror without seeing it. And don't be fooled by the captured terrorist's Abused Village Boy performance. From what was shown on camera it looked as if he fooled even the police interrogator -- at least until his life story became known.
Ever the optimist, on Monday I announced that between Mark Safranski's beauty and my brains we were gonna straighten out the Pentagon's thinking on Afghanistan. Alas, the cavalry arrived too late; the fort was holding a prayer breakfast with the barbarian hordes.....
January 25, 2009: Nato chief seeks political settlement with the Taliban:
As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting, and that what we need to do -- all of us -- is to do the fighting necessary to shape conditions where people can get on with their lives, and everybody can make a decision where fighting's not the direction that it needs to go in. I believe a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome -- and it's the right outcome."He was for victory in war before he was against it
-- General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force; Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan
It seems just a few months ago, in fact it was just this past September, that General Stanley McChrystal warned if President Obama didn't give him the troops he requested the ISAF mission in Afghanistan “will likely result in failure:"
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” General McChrystal writes. [... ] In his five-page commander’s summary, General McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”Ditching the Blacklist
Four months later, before the additional 30,000 troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December have been deployed, what is General McChrystal's idea of success?
This week we find him once again in London, from whence he launched a very public criticism last September of the delay in acting on his request for additional troops. Now Gen. McChrystal finds success not in military victory but in Hamid Karzai's government negotiating with the Taliban:
In an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, McChrystal said that political negotiations with leaders of the Taliban could help foster security and stability in conflict-plagued Afghanistan. [...] When asked if senior Taliban leaders might eventually become government leaders in Kabul, McChrystal said, "I think that anybody who dedicates themselves to the future and not the past, and anybody whose future is focused on the right kinds of things for Afghanistan might participate in government."Eide's comments raise the question of whether Karzai is bowing to UN pressure to accept Taliban into his government. Karzai, however, claims it's the other way around:
The remarks come as UN special envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide has also called on Afghan officials to seek the removal of at least some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations' list of terrorists, as a first step toward opening direct negotiations with the militant group.
"If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority," Eide said, adding that he believes the time has come to do it.
The United Nations' so-called black list contains the names of 144 Taliban leaders, including the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Under United Nations Resolution 1267, governments are obliged to freeze the bank accounts of those on the list and prevent them from traveling.
Some Taliban leaders say the black list has prevented them from entering into negotiations because they would be arrested if they showed their faces.
The move to reconcile with Taliban after eight years of a bitter US-led conflict in the war-ravaged nation has been described as a defeat for Washington and the Afghan government.[...]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is pressing for Taliban names to be removed from a United Nations blacklist imposing travel restrictions and asset freezes.The British Betrayal
He says his Western allies back his plans for reconciliation with those Taliban members who are not allied with Al Qaeda and who renounce violence.
"[They should be] welcome to come back to their country, lay down arms and resume life as citizens of Afghanistan, enjoying the privileges and the rights and the guarantees given by the Afghan constitution," Mr Karzai said.
He will attend a major conference in London on Thursday at which he hopes to win Western support for his plan to offer money and jobs to cajole Taliban fighters into laying down arms.
Mr Karzai's plan had previously met resistance but he says "there is more willingness that this can be reconsidered".
He wants to bring low- and mid-level fighters into mainstream society to end the gruelling insurgency.[...]
One can hardly blame Karzai for wanting to snatch peace from the ashes of defeat; he watched how the USAF prosecution of the war turned a nearly-decisive victory in 2001 for American and British forces into a victory for Pakistan and the Taliban -- and al Qaeda.
(I say "nearly" decisive because of Operation Evil Airlift, which saw Vice President Dick Cheney deciding to allow several key Pakistan fighters and their Taliban and al Qaeda stooges to escape Afghanistan ahead of U.S. capture.)
Karzai also knows what the British, or at least the Labor government, are like. U.K. Independent; February 4, 2008:
Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.Karzai also accused the British ISAF of losing Helmund province to the Taliban. In short he learned the hard way what the U.S. command in Iraq learned about the mixed blessing of coordinating with the British in regions they still consider to be in their sphere of influence.
The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: "Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."
The computer stick contained a three-stage plan, called the European Union Peace Building Programme. The third stage covered military training.
Curiously, the European Union says the programme did not exist and there were no EU funds to run it.
Afghan government officials insist it was bankrolled by the British. UK diplomats, the UN, Western officials and senior Afghan officials have all confirmed the outline of the plan, which they agree is entirely British-led, but all refused to talk about it on the record. [...]
Last week, British Foreign Minister David Miliband told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan strategy that he hoped this Thursday's conference in London would provide "a boost for an Afghan plan to lure Taliban militants away from violence." Translation: Brown wants Karzai to negotiate a truce with the Taliban.
What's McChrystal's Game?
On Monday's John Batchelor Show Simon Constable summed the latest turn of events by noting the terrible human rights record of the Taliban and saying the offer to negotiate with them "was like the Allies offering to negotiate with the Nazis in 1944."
Why, yes. So why would McChrystal voice enthusiasm for the negotiation plan, and so soon after opining that additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan could bring victory? What's his game? Aside from angling to become United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom after he retires from military duty? (Just joking.)
Simon also asked Bill Roggio, one of the war's most reliable chroniclers, whether he thought McChrystal was simply voicing commands from above him. Bill replied that he didn't think so, that McChrystal seemed to like the role of the gentleman diplomat soldier. That would be a rather odd temperament for someone who commanded the JSOC for five years and excelled at black ops.
But whether McChrystal is speaking from his own brief or the Pentagon's his remarks comport with the history of ISAF 'negotiations' with Taliban. So the question is whether McChrystal is any good at herding cats, which is what commanding NATO troops amounts to.
The Italian Job
The scandal about the British plan to train Taliban fighters was followed by the Italian scandal, which possibly has an American component. The First Post; October 2009:
[...] The story involves 10 French troops who died at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2008 because the Italians, who had been on duty in the region before them, failed to pass on vital information. Namely, that they had been bribing the insurgents not to cause trouble and the region's reputation for being relatively safe was therefore false.It was not only the Taliban but also the Hezb-i-Islami faction which claimed responsibility for the attack -- meaning they also claimed responsibility for the murder and mutilation of the 10 French troops.
As a result, when the French moved into the Sarobi area near Kabul and the protection payments stopped, the Taliban struck.
As readers of The First Post may remember, the horrible ordeal of the French soldiers was fully exposed with the publication in Paris Match of a series of photos showing jubilant Taliban wearing the clothes and other trophies taken from the dead French soldiers.
The insurgents were pictured with men's weaponry, walkie-talkies and even personal effects like a wrist watch. The publication of the photos provoked outrage in France, which was only increased with the news that many of the dead soldiers had been mutilated.
Now, the actions of the Italian forces in the region have been revealed by the Times in a report today. The paper says the clandestine payments to local militia were not disclosed to the incoming French forces, but they have now been revealed by Western military officials.
The Times says that because they did not know of the payments the incoming French troops made "a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment".
The paper alleges that US intelligence officials found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had been buying off militants and in June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome even made a diplomatic protest to the Berlusconi Government over the tactic.
A fresh round of grieving has now begun in France in reaction to the news that their troops died needlessly.
The Italian government hotly denied the charge, but the bribery was acknowledged by other officials. A question is why the U.S. government didn't directly inform the French about the phone intercepts -- or if it did, whether France's government passed along the warning to their ISAF command.
Taliban are not Viet Cong
The Italian bribery scandal folds into the story of widescale bribery payments to the Taliban so they won't attack ISAF supply routes. Shortly after The Nation published a jaw-dropping investigative piece on the bribery, Rufus Phillips told John Batchelor that the same thing happened during the Vietnam War, that U.S. troops paid Viet Cong not to attack U.S. supply convoys so "those people down in Washington" shouldn't work themselves into a lather about similar arrangements with the Taliban.
Beginning in 1954 Mr Phillips, who's a frequent guest on John's nightly Afghanistan War panel, "spent almost 10 years doing undercover and pacification work for the CIA and the U.S. Agency for International Development in South Vietnam," according to the publisher's review of his book about Vietnam, and he remained plugged into the Vietnam War throughout.(1) So I have no reason to dispute his contention.
However, I don't recall ever hearing that the Viet Cong shared proceeds from their moonlighting with people who plotted and carried off catastrophic attacks on the U.S. homeland. One problem with ISAF forces and their contractors bribing the Taliban to guard supply routes is that they never know whether they're inadvertently donating to Pakistan's military and al Qaeda. Yet evidentially the tack will be on the table during Thursday's summit in London. From yesterday's Q&A in the Financial Times about McChrystal's openness to negotiating with the Taliban:
Q: Can Taliban fighters simply be bribed?Even assuming that the Taliban could be bribed, and that they'd stick to their agreement, this does not address the biggest issues. The overriding issue is how to prevent the Taliban from using force of arms to take over Kabul and launch a massacre of non-Taliban Afghanis if U.S. forces decamp. The world's most hunted man warns America
A: Maybe. Western countries gathering in London for a conference on Thursday will pledge funds for a scheme outlined by Hamid Karzai, the president, to try to lure Taliban foot soldiers with job offers. Details remain sketchy. Insurgents may simply accept the incentives then return to the fight. The central problem remains: the Taliban may simply believe it can outlast the west.
During a 60 Minutes episode, which unfortunately got a small audience because it aired over the Christmas holiday weekend (December 27, 2009), Lara Logan got a rare chance to interview Afghan Intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh. From a partial transcript of the interview in the comment section of Small Wars Journal:
Asked what he thinks would happen in Afghanistan if the U.S. decided to withdraw, Saleh told Logan, "I am very clear on what will happen. First, a massacre campaign will start. The human cost in this country will easily be up to two million people killed, at least. It will not be a big news for Afghanistan. We are used to tragedies, throughout our history. But the cost for you will be bigger."Although Pakistan's government would deny it, it is Saleh, not Osama bin Laden, who tops their 'Most Wanted' list. To listen to Amrullah Saleh and study his young face (in 2004, at the age of 32, he became what is surely the world's youngest intelligence chief) and thousand-year old eyes, is to understand why.
Since Saleh is the man responsible for Afghanistan's security, he has a more immediate concern: what's happening across the border in Pakistan.
"Al Qaeda and Taliban are now headquartered in Pakistan. The bulk of people we kill, neutralize or capture in Afghanistan are the expendable part of the terror network. The leadership is there, and they are not feeling the heat, apart from these occasional drone attacks," Saleh explained.
You've heard the expression, "A shadow passed over my grave?" That is what it's like to hear Saleh talk about the Taliban and Islamism, which he refers to as "the forces of darkness," in the interview. He has escaped death at the hands of those forces so many times there's a dryness in his voice when he estimates the number of Afghanis who will be murdered if the Taliban return to power. Yet Saleh is under no illusions that the majority of Taliban are anything more than puppets.
From an August 12, 2008 interview he gave Susanne Koelbl for Germany's Spiegel Online:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Saleh, is it possible the Taliban could win with its insurgency in Afghanistan?I think Saleh got a voice in a German publication at that time because of the July 7, 2008 Taliban bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, which Indian and U.S. investigators traced to Pakistan's military. From The New York Times, August 1, 2008:
Saleh: We have a lot of security problems, there is a lot of violence. But this is a violence unleashed with the help of Pakistan. They want to pull the brakes on us in order to hinder the coming elections. Afghanistan itself is not the source of the problem.
SPIEGEL: Who are these fighters who are not only killing Afghan and Western security forces, but also predominantly innocent civilians? And who is deploying them?
Saleh: The tribal agencies of Pakistan, like Bajaur and North and South Waziristan, are kept by the government as a strategic pool of fighters. From there, fundamentalist warriors are sent to fight in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
SPIEGEL: So you're saying the government in Islamabad has absolutely no intention of putting a stop to this militant movement?
Saleh: The international community has often asked them to stop allowing fighters to infiltrate into (Afghanistan) from the tribal areas. The answer from Pakistan is that they do not control the situation. When the Americans offered to fight the fighters themselves, the Pakistanis rejected them, saying you can’t go in, we are a sovereign state. The true reason behind this is that Islamabad is providing the militant groups with ammunition and training.
SPIEGEL: What is Pakistan seeking to achieve?
Saleh: It has always tried to make sure that Afghanistan remains on the level of a backward country, as well as to isolate us and hinder any kind of contact with the West. In the 1980s, when the mujahedeen were fighting against the Soviet occupiers, Pakistan had considerable influence over large parts of Afghan politics and Islamic Pakistan sought to establish its hegemony in the region. But now we are back, we are building up our country, we are unified and we are working to strengthen our sense of national pride. That makes our neighbors nervous.
SPIEGEL: Pakistan has feared its ability to hold itself together as a nation since its very founding. And even today, Afghanistan refuses to recognize the disputed border, the Durand Line. Wouldn’t that step move Afghanistan closer to peace with Pakistan?
Saleh: We have never crossed that line.
SPIEGEL: What proof do you have that the government in Pakistan is behind the attacks in Afghanistan?
Saleh: In 2008 alone, according to our very conservative estimate, the Taliban have probably fired 30 million rounds from their Kalashnikovs. Where did they get their weapons and munitions? Can you go to Russia or China today and say, "Hey, I'm a member of the Taliban, please send hundreds of AK-47s and weapons to my village." Is that possible? No. It's the Pakistani army that is providing them.
SPIEGEL: Those are serious accusations.
Saleh: It is a fact. The Pakistani army is a very disciplined force, and I respect that. And there are no rogue elements in the army as is often claimed.
SPIEGEL: Who are the masterminds behind the scenes?
Saleh: How much patience do you have? The army leadership and the Pakistani establishment. We have piles and piles of evidence to support this.
SPIEGEL: Do you have details?
Saleh: For years we discreetly passed intelligence information about training camps, addresses, telephone numbers and names of terrorists groups on to Pakistan. But they didn’t act. There was no meaningful response. We have arrested many suicide bombers shortly before they could kill themselves and others. They frankly told us how they have been trained in Pakistan and by whom.
SPIEGEL: Can you cite some examples?
Saleh: In Khost we arrested a man just a few minutes before he was able complete his mission. He was trained by a commander named Nazir in Wana in the tribal areas. Just before, the Pakistani government had signed peace deal with the same commander and only short time later he sent a truckload of suicide bombers to kill international forces. The Pakistanis have always claimed they couldn't find Commander Nazir. But how did he sign the peace deal then? Did they e-mail him?
SPIEGEL: But that’s not proof that Islamabad is commanding the insurgency. Is it possible that Pakistan perhaps long ago lost control over the border areas?
Saleh: Nobody lost control. Pakistan is staging controlled chaos in order to undermine Afghanistan's development. The Pakistani army is very strong and when the government has achieved its aim, it will immediately take control again of the tribal areas.
SPIEGEL: In northern Afghanistan German soldiers are getting attacked increasingly often. Last week a suicide bomber blew himself up in an attack that took place between Kunduz and Pul-i-Khumri. How are these attacks that are taking place far from the border to Pakistan organized?
Saleh: Terrorist elements are ordering Afghans to attack our army units and ISAF convoys or to burn schools. The perpetrators make videos to prove what they have done and once they provide this proof, they are rewarded with money from Pakistan. In the Kunduz area, the plotters of these acts are the Taliban commanders Mullah Rustam and Mullah Salam. Both are Afghans, but they live with their families in Pakistan. If the two would be permanently in Afghanistan, we would have caught or killed them or brought them to justice. Here’s another example: Why is the Taliban commander of Ghormach --
SPIEGEL: A hard-fought district on the edge of the area under German command in the north --
Saleh: -- whose name is Abdul Rahman Haqqani, currently being given medical treatment at a hospital in Peshawar after he was heavily wounded in recent fighting? Why? It's because Pakistan is his base. [...]
WASHINGTON — American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.And how has this stunning revelation been processed in the United States? Well, there have been leaks to the press about secret meetings in which U.S. officials tell Pakistan's government to cut it out, and this zinger from Robert D. Kaplan in response to news that the ISI was behind the bombing of the Indian embassy:
The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.
The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Concerns about the role played by Pakistani intelligence not only has strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, a longtime ally, but also has fanned tensions between Pakistan and its archrival, India. Within days of the bombings, Indian officials accused the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of helping to orchestrate the attack in Kabul, which killed 54, including an Indian defense attaché.[...]
"You would think that the Bush administration would be coaching the Karzai government not to antagonize Pakistan unnecessarily by cozying up to India."Bad Karzai! Bad Dubya! Scaring Pakistan into naughty behavior!
The Bridge on the River Kwai, updated
David Lean's film is the tale of Colonel Nicholson, a British POW, who keeps his fellow prisoners' morale up by getting them to fully commit their energy and ingenuity to building a sturdy bridge for their Japanese captors, then gets so carried away with the project he warns the Japanese commander when he discovers the bridge has been wired with dynamite.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of the U.S. government's involvement with Pakistan. If thousands of Americans hadn't been killed and maimed because of this nuttiness it would be funny, if your taste in humor runs to black comedy.
At least Nicholson comes to his senses in the final moment of his life, crying, "What have I done?"
No such cry rises from the Pentagon, the White House, or Congress. Instead:
(The last item explains the timing of the 'leaked' publication on Monday of the entire contents of the two cables sent by the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W. Eikenberry, last November, which were also leaked. The abbreviated versions of the cables expressed serious concerns about Karzai's leadership. The decision to allow The New York Times to publish the complete cables, just a few days ahead of the London summit, is a preemptive strike -- in case Karzai says the same things at the summit that he did to al Jazeera several days ago. See the above link.)
Here I find myself recalling Major Clipton, the British medical officer POW who in the final scene of Lean's film comes upon the bodies of Nicholson, the Japanese POW camp commander, the American soldier killed trying to dynamite the bridge, the wreckage of the Japanese train and the matchsticks left from the dynamited bridge that Nicholson died trying to defend. All Clipton can say is, "Madness. Madness."
He can ruin a fine military career and risk facing courts martial by ordering his troops to stand down until Washington does something about Pakistan. Or he can muddle through in the face of madness: continue to send his troops to be slaughtered by Taliban under the direction of Pakistani intelligence officers who know the ISAF's every move in advance.
There is a third choice, provided McChrystal realizes he's not Sophie and SecDef Robert Gates remembers General Curtis LeMay's dictum that you shouldn't go to war unless you're prepared to use every means to win.
McChrystal could recommend to General David Petraeus and Gates that they supplement their COIN-centric approach to Afghanistan with one he's had tremendous experience with, and tremendous success. That would be the black ops approach former CIA officer Henry Crumpton suggested in his interview with Lara Logan for 60 Minutes, which took up the other part of the December 29 segment I mentioned above.
In 2001 Crumpton, along with other CIA operatives and a handful of Special Forces, led a rag-tag army of Afghan warriors to victory against al Qaeda and the Pak-military backed Taliban. If not for Operation Evil Airlift, just eight American men would have masterminded the decapitation of a monster.
And so I return to the beginning -- to Mark Safranski's discussion of the limits of counterinsurgency tactics. A close reading of his essay makes it clear that while counterinsurgency can include covert operations, black ops are not COIN -- and that COIN is not predicated on troop size. To say otherwise would be an attempt to portray the OSS as a COIN operation.
If the Pentagon can untangle their thinking about COIN, even at the Eleventh Hour it would be possible for the U.S. to turn around the military situation in Afghanistan and in spite of NATO.
The catch is that going through Door Number Three might mean that McChrystal would need to hand off much of the responsibility of his command to his deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez (Deputy Commander, ISAF and U.S. forces in Afghanistan).
Or Bob Gates could bite the bullet and replace the top U.S. command in Afghanistan so that McChrystal would be completely free to do what he does best. McChrystal probably wouldn't get any credit until many years after his death when documents were declassified. But he'd go to his maker secure in the knowledge he'd done everything in his power to honor the sacrifices of Americans who fought and died in Afghanistan.
See also Alden Pyle in Pakistan, Part 1, in which I address how the U.S. made Pakistan into a client state, and the horrific consequences across decades.
1) The publisher's review also notes:
Phillips details how the legendary Edward G. Lansdale helped the South Vietnamese gain and consolidate their independence between 1954 and 1956, and how this later changed to a reliance on American conventional warfare with its highly destructive firepower:Ah, but it's the adventures of the CIA in Indochina prior to 1954 that are of riveting interest, as I mentioned in Part 2 of Alden Pyle in Pakistan ....
This entry is crossposted at RBO with some very evocative illustrations. Thank you, Brenda.