28 February 2010
27 February 2010
So we have to build embassies that resemble fortresses, and that convey an image of America that is at odds with our interests and our own self-image, and especially with the image that we would like to convey to foreign peoples. We like to think of our country as friendly and welcoming, as open to new ideas, and as a strong, diverse and confident society built on a heritage of pluck and grit. You know, we're supposed to be a society built by generations of immigrants, pioneers, and other determined folk who faced adversity and risk with a smile and a bit of a swagger. Yet the "Fortress America" approach to embassy design presents a public face that is an odd combination of power and paranoia.
26 February 2010
25 February 2010
[The War] was short but intense, leaving the world shocked and enthralled by its drama. A large number of foreign military observers and journalists witnessed its conduct. Their findings were widely publicized in popular books and official studies. Pundits immediately acknowledged that the war offered important insights into the nature of future conflict at a time of seemingly revolutionary technological change and social upheaval, as well as a novel strategic geography...[Hybrid War, anyone?]...It is hard to identify any lesson of the war that was not appreciated or documented at the time. Inevitably, many of these lessons were contradictory, peculiar to the theatre, and more or less appropriate to different military cultures. Moreover, observers viewed those lessons through the distorting lenses of political intrigue, social attitude, military orthodoxy, and wishful thinking. The result was what historians at the beginning of the twenty-first century see now as having been clear auguries of the future of warfare generally went unheeded. The military organizations of the time often proved lethally wide of the mark. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the war was how human folly can arrive at lessons that in the end prove to be self-destructive and delusional to a gargantuan degree.
24 February 2010
All the existential questions that plagued Iraq before the surge remain unanswered. How will oil revenue be shared among the country’s major groups? What is to be the fundamental relationship between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds? Will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? And what will be the role of Iran (for my money, the biggest winner in the Iraq war thus far)?
Unfortunately, all of these questions have led to violence in the past, and could again just as the Obama administration’s timeline calls for troops to leave areas that are far from quiet. The plan this year is to pull out about 10,000 troops a month for five months, beginning in late spring. That will halve the American military presence, with the remainder (other than a “residual force” of unspecified size) scheduled to be withdrawn in 2011. The withdrawal plan was written on the assumption that the elections would be held late in 2009 or early in 2010. Under the plan, troop numbers would be kept level to ensure stability in a vulnerable period, especially if the Sunnis were to feel that the electoral process was unfair, or if they were not given a role in the new government commensurate with their success at the polls.
But given the changed timetable, just as Iraqi political leaders are struggling to form a new government, American military leaders will be distracted by the myriad tasks of supervising major troop movements. On top of that, the deeper the troop withdrawals go, the more potentially destabilizing they will be — because the first withdrawals will be made in areas that are considered more secure, or where Iraqi forces are deemed more reliable or evenhanded.
In addition, a continued American military presence could help Iraq move forward politically. No one there particularly likes having the Americans around, but many groups seem to trust the Americans as honest brokers. And there would be a moral, humanitarian and political benefit: Having American soldiers accompany Iraqi units may improve the behavior of Iraqi forces, discouraging relapses to Saddam Hussein-era abuses, or the use of force for private ends and feuds. Advisers not only instruct Iraqi commanders, they also monitor them.
23 February 2010
The committee’s investigation points to the contrary. Blackwater personnel appear to have gone to exceptional lengths to obtain weapons from U.S. military weapons storehouses intended for use by the Afghan police. According to the committee, at the behest of the company’s Afghanistan country manager, Ricky Chambers, Blackwater on at least two occasions acquired hundreds of rifles and pistols from a U.S. military facility near Kabul called 22 Bunkers by the military and Pol-e Charki by the Afghans. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, wrote to the committee to explain that “there is no current or past written policy, order, directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers.”
On one of those occasions, in September 2008, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Sailer, who worked at 22 Bunkers and is a friend of a Blackwater officer working in Afghanistan, signed over more than 200 AK-47s to an individual identified as “Eric Cartman” or possibly “Carjman” from Blackwater’s Counter Narcotics Training Unit. A Blackwater lawyer told committee staff that no one by those names has ever been employed by the company. Eric Cartman is the name of an obnoxious character from Comedy Central’s popular “South Park” cartoon.
22 February 2010
While the US Olympic hockey team's 5-3 victory over Canada was impressive, it pales in comparison to America's defeat of the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, which occurred 30 years ago today.
21 February 2010
20 February 2010
19 February 2010
- Until recently, the Pakistani government has outright denied the existence of what we term the Quetta Shura--essentially a high council of leaders from the remnants of the ousted Taliban, believed to have been hiding in the Pashtun-dominated city of Quetta, in Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Now we see Mullah Baradar's arrest in the city of Karachi, a port city, and one of the largest cities in Pakistan. Was Mullah Baradar captured in the city? Are Taliban leaders currently hiding in one of the largest cities in Pakistan? Would al Qaeda leaders be moving with Taliban leaders, or do they remain in the border regions?
- Mullah Baradar had advocated a less brutal approach than Mullah Omar and many other Taliban leaders, and had also seemed to be spearheading an effort to reach some sort of settlement with the Afghan government. Are we witnessing an ideological shift and, maybe, a split away from the Taliban as a result of its tactics? Certainly, it wouldn't be without precedent. Al Qaeda in Iraq saw its ranks thin after their campaign of brutality--largely directed at their fellow Muslims--tarnished their image and led to the Awakening movements. Al Qaeda central is also finding it difficult to recruit. Could it be that the Taliban are also finding it difficult to hang on to their supporters as well?
18 February 2010
Some officers still imagine that engaging women is not worth the effort. “Pashtun women don’t have enough influence or knowledge to make valuable allies,” they argue. On the contrary, experience confirms that local women wield more influence in their homes—including over their husbands and their sons—than people uninitiated in Afghan family culture believe to be the case.Rural Pashtun women are responsible for raising children, collecting water, cooking, and helping farm and care for animals, among other jobs. Though rarely seen by outsiders, they are keen observers and opinion-makers about the goings-on in their villages. “The women pass all the news in the villages,” says an Afghan National Army colonel who cautions against ignoring half the country’s population. “They know who is doing what, who should and should not be in the area. They talk around the well or while they are collecting firewood about the news they have heard from their husbands [and their kids].”The tactical benefits of speaking with women have already been well established. Pashtun women have on numerous occasions given FETs important information about local personalities, economics, and grievances, as well as about the enemy. The longer-term benefits of earning the confidence and support of Afghan women are more difficult to quantify but, on balance, are likely to be even more profound.......Many Pashtun men, far from shunning American women, show a preference for interacting with them over U.S. men. Pashtun men tend to view foreign women troops as a kind of “third gender.” As a result, female servicewomen are accorded the advantages, rather than the disadvantages, of both genders: they are extended the respect shown to men, but are granted the access to home and family normally reserved to women. In many circumstances, this attitude opens opportunities to allied forces. Afghan culture turns out to be more flexible than many male officers have conditioned themselves to believe.
Certainly, it should not be too difficult to fully staff these teams. There are many females assigned logistical or administrative jobs on large forward operating bases who would love to get out from behind a desk and participate in FETs. In fact, on larger forward operating bases, it's easy to forget that you're in another country, as there's often little more than US service members and contractors running about. Surprisingly, female service members had a higher chance of becoming pregnant than they did of meeting an actual Afghan female "outside the wire"!
From US Army Supporter on Twitter and SoldierSystems.net:
According to numerous sources the Chief of Staff of the Army approved a plan today to field MultiCam to all Army forces in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) beginning as soon as possible. This is implementation of the decision brief’s Course of Action 1 which called for the fielding of MultiCam to all Army personnel engaged in OEF-A. Other options offered to GEN Casey included fielding a less robust MultiCam package focused on phased implementation with ground maneuver elements as well as a plan to maintain the status quo which is the use of the Universal Camouflage Pattern. It is important to note that the decision to field MultiCam uniforms and equipment currently only affects forces operating in OEF-A. Contracts could begin to be modified as early as this week and OEF-A bound Soldiers should begin to see clothing and equipment as early as July with in-theater fielding starting in August.
UPDATE: Apparently, congratulations are a bit premature. According to multiple sources, the information above is still valid but due to the level of visibility on this issue, the Secretary of the Army, the Honorable John McHugh still needs to consider the issue and make a final decision on the CSA’s recommendation. Although GEN Casey has approved the plan, this is not yet a done deal. We will keep you posted.
17 February 2010
16 February 2010
Since I have my instrument evaluation this week, I decided to pick up a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator X--after all, instruments are instruments regardless of whether you're in a Cessna, a Black Hawk, or an SR-71 jet.
15 February 2010
WASHINGTON — The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.
It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the group’s spiritual leader.
Disclosure of Mullah Baradar’s capture came as American and Afghan forces were in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.
His capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations, at least in the short term, said Bruce O. Riedel, a C.I.A. veteran who last spring led the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review.
Details of the raid remain murky, but officials said that it had been carried out by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and that C.I.A. operatives had accompanied the Pakistanis.
The New York Times learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.