Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts

22 August 2017

Our generals reveal why we lost in Afghanistan, and will continue to lose

Summary: Afghanistan was invisible during the campaign, but has surfaced again in the news. This time, so rare in modern America, we hear some truth about the war from our generals. They reveal why we have lost so much for so little gain, and why we continue paying in blood and money to get nothing. All that remains is for us to listen — and act.

Trump is a clown president, but he fills one role of a court jester by saying truths that are unspeakable in the Capital. As he did on a July 19 meeting in the White House with his military advisers (per NBC News).

“We aren’t winning. We are losing.“

That is refreshing honesty after 15 years and ten months of happy talk from both civilian and government officials. Perhaps Trump has read the long dirge of news from Afghanistan, such as “The war America can’t win: how the Taliban are regaining control in Afghanistan” by Sune Engel Rasmussen in The Guardian — “The Taliban control places like Helmand, where the US and UK troops fought their hardest battles, pushing the drive toward peace and progress into reverse.” Our military leaders did not respond well to this obvious truth, as awareness of the failure of their past plans implies skepticism about their shiny new plans. Their response to Trump’s words reveals much about why the war in Afghanistan has run for so long, at such great cost, for no gain to America. It deserves your attention.

“Trump is the third president to grapple with the war in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, two American troops were killed in Afghanistan when a convoy they were in came under attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Will US Sanctions on Hizbul Mujahideen Make Pakistan Reconsider Its ‘Good Taliban’?

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The Pakistani Foreign Office condemned sanctions as being “detrimental to Kashmir’s freedom struggle.” 

The United States on Wednesday confirmed sanctions on Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) as a “foreign terrorist organization,” around three months after the Kashmir-based militant group’s leader Syed Salahuddin had been blacklisted by the State Department. And just like the decision in June, the Pakistani Foreign Office has condemned the U.S. action as being “detrimental to Kashmir’s freedom struggle.”

The U.S. upping the ante on Pakistan-based militant groups was expected following the election of President Donald Trump last year. And the United States’ tilt towards India has been increasingly visible since Trump’s address to the Riyadh Arab Islamic American summit in May, where he singled out India as a victim of terrorism in South Asia, despite the overwhelming Muslim presence at the summit, including Pakistan.

The Riyadh summit was immediately followed by the killing of HM commander Sabzar Bhatt, which resulted in a leadership crisis for the group that has culminated in Mohammed bin Qasim being ushered to the helm, after Yasin Yatoo’s death in an encounter and Zakir Musa’s defection into an al-Qaeda affiliated cell.

'Guardian angel' need for advisers in Afghanistan drives call for more troops

Josh Smith

KABUL (Reuters) - Navigating a chaotic maze of cars and people, the convoy of British army armoured vehicles weaves slowly through Kabul. The job of about a dozen soldiers is to protect just two international advisers on their way to meet Afghan soldiers.

While every mission varies, for every adviser deployed in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led multinational force, many more soldiers are tasked with providing security and support.

The minimum security requirements mean that providing even just a few thousand advisers for Afghan security forces is a monumental task that, if continued, will keep many thousands more international troops and contractors facing daily threats.

That calculus will factor into arguments put before U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday as he and advisers meet ahead of a long-awaited decision on strategy and troop levels for the United States' longest war.

Fewer than 25 percent of coalition troops in Afghanistan are dedicated advisers - with the rest either in a security, support or a combined role.

21 August 2017

** It's Time to Make Afghanistan Someone Else's Problem A full withdrawal will force Iran, Russia, and others, to step up.


The Trump administration, as well as its critics, are reportedly wrestling with the question of a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, where the government has shown no signs of being able to turn the tide in the 16-year war against the Taliban. General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan,with support from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, has asked for more troops, apparently in service of a strategy that, for the moment, seeks simply to “not lose.” President Trump has granted this request in principle, but these reinforcements have not yet been dispatched, because the president's advisors seem to believe that he is not committed to stay the course. Instead, a strategic review is underway. Meanwhile, Senator John McCain has offered his own strategy for Afghanistan, which appears to be the “old” strategy, with the admixture of a commitment to stay forever and provide the commanders with a blank check for forces and money to do so.

But these approaches, which will reportedly be discussed at a meeting at Camp David on Friday, misunderstand the dilemma. For America, the perhaps-counterintuitive answer in Afghanistan may be that only by reducing its presence, or withdrawing completely, can it advance the full range of its strategic interests.

20 August 2017

A new strategy for Afghanistan: change course, quit the fight

It has been reported in recent days that President Trump has angrily rejected the latest recommendation from his national security staff for a new Afghan war strategy. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in other venues, has claimed the reason for the delay is that forming strategy is “hard work.” Carrying out any plan involving the use of lethal military power is unquestionably hard to carry out, but despite the secretary’s protestations to the contrary, forming a strategy on the long-running, failing war is not as challenging as claimed. There is, however, a solid option for the commander in chief, which apparently no general has offered: military withdrawal.

During a Pentagon press conference, Mr. Mattis responded to questions on the delay of the Afghan war strategy by stating, “Seriously, this is hard and anyone who says otherwise is someone who has not had to deal with it.” The argument was a straw man. No one would ever suggest it was easy.

Mr. Trump has said he intends to pursue “a foreign policy based on American interests, [and] will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies.” That is the approach American voters chose last November, and it’s the right course of action. If Mr. Mattis wants Mr. Trump to approve his plan, it must embody the spirit of the president’s declared foreign policy.

How Jinnah's ideology shapes Pakistan's identity

By Secunder Kermani

In 1940 in Lahore Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man who founded Pakistan, gave a seminal speech setting out the need for a separate state for Muslims on the subcontinent.

Prior to the division of India in 1947, Hindus and Muslims had lived together across the country. But Jinnah described them as two separate nations.

"It is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality," he said.

"Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor eat together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions."

This "Two Nation Theory", as it came to be known, has become the official Pakistani narrative for the creation of the state and key to how Pakistan defines itself.

Pakistan was perhaps the first country to be formed on the basis not of a common ethnicity or language, but religion. Yet at the same time it is not, and never has been, a theocracy.

19 August 2017

Analysis: Taliban propagandists release ‘open letter’ to President Trump

The Taliban has published an “open letter” to President Donald Trump, urging him to “adopt the strategy of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan instead of a troops increase.” The letter was clearly penned with the Trump administration’s ongoing debate over the war in Afghanistan in mind.

Senior administration officials have reportedly prepared several plans, ranging from a complete withdrawal to a small increase of several thousand American troops. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, favors the latter while alternative scenarios have also been presented to the president.

President Trump has been reticent to commit additional forces, as he would then take ownership of the longest war in America’s history. The Taliban obviously knows this and is trying to influence the debate inside the US.

But readers should keep in mind that the new letter is propaganda and should be read as such. The letter is laced with erroneous and self-serving statements. And some of its key points, crafted for Western readers, are contradicted by the facts.

Allied with al Qaeda, which exports terrorism around the globe

The Taliban describes itself as a “mercy for Afghanistan, [the] region and the world because the Islamic Emirate does not have any intention or policy of causing harm to anyone and neither will it allow others to use the Afghan soil against anyone.”

Lashkar-e-Taiba Wreaks Havoc in South Asia, Threatens the U.S.


While much of the United States’ attention in South Asia has centered on battling al Qaeda, ISIS, the Haqqani network, and the Afghan Taliban, several other militant organizations, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), consistently wreak havoc in the region and directly threaten U.S. interests and security. Although LeT does not have the notoriety of ISIS and al Qaeda, it has previously attempted to strike the U.S. homeland and continues to keep America squarely in sights.

“LeT is arguably the most capable South Asia-based group when it comes to international terrorism,” Stephen Tankel, assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University, told The Cipher Brief. “Its ability to threaten the U.S. homeland directly, i.e. to execute its own terrorist attack, is probably higher than any other group in South Asia.”

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which literally translates to “army of the pure,” was formed in the early 1990s as the militant wing of the prominent Pakistani Islamist organization Markaz al-Dawa-Wal-Irshad – a group that was established in 1986 – and later sent fighters to aid the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Under the guidance of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, known as the ISI, LeT shifted its focus to attacking Indian targets both in the disputed Kashmir region and in India itself. In essence, LeT operates as an extension of the ISI and has evolved into Pakistan’s proxy in Kashmir, similar to the role that the Haqqani network has assumed in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, Vulnerability Is the Price of Independence

By Kamran Bokhari

There has been one geopolitical constant in South Asia since British colonial rule ended there in 1947: the bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan. On Aug. 14, Pakistan celebrated its 70th year as an independent nation state. India marked its own independence one day later. Both countries indulged in the usual festivities: parades, flags, fireworks and other expressions of patriotism. But when it comes to one another, patriotism bleeds into nationalism and suspicion of the other.

In some ways, this is the natural outcome of the cataclysm that was the partition of India. When the British Raj was split into the states that became India and Pakistan, it triggered a massive migration; 12 million people traversed the newly drawn border, in both directions, to reach their new country. Nearly a million didn’t survive, many falling victim to a terrible episode of communal violence.

Seventy years later, there are few people alive in either country who witnessed these events, but that hasn’t stopped the partition from shaping the national identities of both countries. Competing recollections of partition inform the national psyche and narratives that are taught to children on both sides of the border. Why partition happened is itself the subject of great debate.

18 August 2017

A Joint India-Pakistan Initiative on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

By Arka Biswas

Efforts under the international initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW) led to adoption of Resolution L.41 by the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on October 27, 2016 and Resolution 71/258 by the UNGA on December 23, 2016. This Resolution calls for a UN Conference to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”[i]These negotiations have begun. The first substantive session was held from March 27 to 31, 2017; the second is scheduled for June 15 to July 7, 2017 at the UN headquarters in New York.[ii] While India and Pakistan attended all three international conferences on the HINW that preceded this negotiation, neither endorsed the UN Resolution nor are they taking part in the parlays.

India abstained from voting on the Resolution by noting that the Conference on Disarmament, an established UN body, should have the mandate to negotiate a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament. New Delhi also observed that the proposed negotiations for a Treaty banning nuclear weapons would not meet the longstanding expectation of the international community for a comprehensive instrument of nuclear disarmament, especially in the absence of endorsement by nuclear-weapon states. Adding that verification would be a key component of a comprehensive instrument of global nuclear disarmament, New Delhi argued that a Treaty banning nuclear weapons would not address such challenges to nuclear disarmament.[iii]

Plan to Privatize U.S. War in Afghanistan Gets Icy Reception

Blackwater founder Erik Prince's controversial proposal to privatize a large portion of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is being met with growing opposition in Kabul and Washington.

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering the proposal as part of his monthslong review of the war in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is locked in a stalemate with the Taliban after 16 years of fighting.

Prince touts the plan as a cost-effective way to turn the war around. Under the proposal, about 5,000 contractors would replace U.S. troops currently advising Afghan forces. They'd be backed by a 90-plane private air force. The contractors would operate under Afghan control, Prince said.

"This is very much under the authority of the central government and the control of the chief of staff of the Afghan armed forces. This is not a local militia that's going to be raised," Prince said in an interview with VOA's Afghan service.


But a growing number of prominent Afghans fear that Prince's for-profit, private military would be unaccountable and say the move risks a repeat of the atrocities carried out by Blackwater guards in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2000s.

Dereliction of Duty II: The Afghanistan Years – The Cipher Brief

There has been a lot of writing lately on Afghanistan as the new administration struggles with what do to there, just as the previous administration struggled mightily to define both the mission and the end game. In the absence of any good ideas, or any solutions, the last administration tragically kicked the can down the road for eight years, pursuing the status quo of a policy pretty much everyone knows has failed.

Obama’s advisors told him he faced two broad choices: 1) stay the course, which would cost $50 billion a year and probably continue to go sideways, or 2) pull out of Afghanistan and see it almost immediately dissolve into a problematic festering petri dish of terrorists, like the disaster which is Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, many of President Trump’s current advisors are the same unimaginative military guys who have been suggesting the status quo for 16 years.

The bottom line is that there are no easy choices in Afghanistan.

There are no silver bullets but to keep kicking the can down the road, spending about $50 billion a year on the effort and accomplishing little to nothing, cannot be high on President Trump’s list of things he wants to do. The President is desperately looking for some alternatives and his military-centric cabinet seems incapable of coming up with anything other than to keep doing the same thing and to maybe surge another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan. Really? 4,000 more troops are going to turn this around? The “troop surge” is a common military strategy when things are going bad, but it’s not too creative.

Is the Afghanistan Debate the Beginning of the End for U.S. Counterinsurgency?

Washington remains consumed by America’s long military involvement in Afghanistan. Many policy experts, members of Congress and government officials favor continuing the existing approach, while others—including President Donald Trump himself—are unconvinced. Whichever side prevails this time, one thing is certain: This is not an isolated debate. Rather, it is the beginning of a deeper reconsideration of the role that counterinsurgency should play in U.S. security strategy.

The United States first took on counterinsurgency, known by its military acronym COIN, in the 1960s out of fear that the Soviet Union was exploiting nationalist and leftist insurgencies to weaken the West. The U.S. military, along with other agencies, eventually developed elaborate counterinsurgency doctrine. After Vietnam, though, this hard-won knowledge was largely forgotten, only to be rediscovered in the 1980s as insurgencies threatened pro-U.S. governments in places like El Salvador. But after the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the U.S. military and the rest of the government lost all interest in counterinsurgency.

After the 9/11 attacks made Americans aware of the threat from al-Qaida and the transnational Islamist extremist network it led, counterinsurgency once again assumed a central role in American security strategy. As the United States became involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military and other government agencies developed new counterinsurgency doctrine and policies. But their thinking never strayed far from Cold War ideas. The process was more about refining old concepts than creating new ones. There was never a broad assessment of whether the precepts of counterinsurgency created to fight 20th-century rural insurgents remained valid in the very different security environment of the 21st century, or whether counterinsurgency should even be a component of American strategy. This oversight, as is now becoming clear, was a problem…

17 August 2017

While Americans Fight the Taliban, Putin Is Making Headway in Afghanistan

When the Soviet Union withdrew its army from Afghanistan in 1989, its defeat seemed complete and irreversible. Most Afghans bitterly repudiated the attempt to impose communist rule by force.

An Afghan communist officer who fought with the Russians told me that his side lost because they could not overcome their image as atheist infidels.

Today, however, Russia is seeking to remake its image by exploiting Afghan disappointment with the dismal results of the post-9/11 intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

This Russian deployment of so-called “soft power” appears to be paying dividends in ways that could hardly have been predicted when the Soviet Army left Afghanistan after nine years of war.

The Russians are ramping up political, economic and propaganda activities to improve their image and reestablish their influence amid pervasive corruption that is impeding progress in Afghanistan.

Regardless of the gains that have been made in some areas, masses of unemployed Afghans have lost hope and are emigrating in unprecedented numbers. Afghan soldiers are fighting valiantly, but terrorist attacks are on the rise and the U.S.-backed Afghan government appears incapable of establishing security across the country. The bulk of U.S. and NATO military forces have departed, aggravating Afghan fears of being abandoned again by the West…Read on.

Sandhurst chief says army needs character not university degrees

Camilla Turner

The British Army is filled with graduates, the Sandhurst chief has said, as he reveals plans to entice school-leavers by offering them a university degree alongside their officer training. 

General Paul Nanson, Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said that 18-year-old feel that they should go to university because it is the “done” thing, and often have not considered alternative options. 

He said that when he was at Sandhurst, it was evenly split between university graduates and school-leavers, but now the vast majority - around four fifths - of Officer Cadets arrive with a degree. 

“You want to try and get youngsters in early and develop them yourself rather than [choosing from] an ever increasing pond of graduates,” said General Nanson, who was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for distinguished services in Afghanistan.

16 August 2017

In bid to beat back the Taliban, Afghanistan starts expanding its commando units

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

CAMP MOREHEAD, Afghanistan — The Afghan military will begin expanding its elite commando units in the coming weeks, Afghan officials and military officers said, in a bid to capitalize on a force that has been one of the few success stories in the nearly 16-year-old war.

Starting in September, the training academy here — an old Russian paratrooper base tucked into a valley south of Kabul — will add an 800-man, 14-week-long commando course atop its current curriculum. Afghan officials are optimistic that in the coming years the 12,000-strong force will be able to almost double, to 22,000 troops.

As the number of commandos grows, the Ministry of Interior’s elite police unit and the Afghan Air Force’s Special Mission Wing will also expand, to 9,000 and 1,000 troops, respectively.

The Afghan military’s decision to invest in its commando forces comes with strong U.S. backing and is a key component of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent military reform plan.

The commandos, with their track record of reliability, have become a favorite of U.S. military officials. They see the elite force as key to pushing back the Taliban militants who have taken over broad swaths of the country since NATO forces ended their combat mission in 2014. A recent report from the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan said the commandos and other special units were responsible for 80 percent of all Afghan offensive operations as of early 2017, but warned that they have been overused.

Will Pakistan Find Stability Following Its Latest Political Shake-up?

Marvin G. Weinbaum, Touqir Hussain
A decision by Pakistan's justices to leave Nawaz Sharif in office could have set the stage for widespread violent agitation.

Pakistan’s supreme court’s unanimous—if disputably reasoned—decision to remove Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, together with the Pakistan Muslim League’s easy management of leadership transition, has likely averted months of political turmoil. A decision by the justices to leave Nawaz in office could have evoked bitter condemnation by a united front of opposition parties and set the stage for widespread, possibly violent agitation spearheaded by Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf movement. If sustained, the military would probably have felt compelled to intervene.

An abrupt end to the Sharif dynasty and possible fracturing of the league over leadership succession, once thought possible by his opponents, was avoided with the designation of party loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister. Possessing an overwhelming majority in the national assembly, he should be able to serve through to the scheduled national and provincial elections next summer. The dynasty that has lasted nearly thirty years seems firm for the time being. Nawaz’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, remains in command of the party’s election machinery in its heartland, Punjab Province, and Nawaz has a strong presence behind the scenes.



Southern Asia’s evolving geopolitics are leading to the intensification of the China-Pakistan nexus, a development that has been greeted in Pakistan with exuberance. Although the China-Pakistan “all-weather” friendship goes back decades, there appears to be in recent years a greater willingness in Islamabad to air frustrations with the United States while embracing China as the “cornerstone” of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Much of this is in response to the deeply entrenched perception in Islamabad that Washington is tilting inexorably toward New Delhi. The Trump administration’s recent condemnation of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and its potential designation of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism are lending credence to the notion that Washington is once again on the verge of abandoning a longtime partner. The shifting allegiances on the subcontinent have pushed Pakistan into the arms of China, even as it questions the value of its relationship with the United States.

Since India and the United States signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2005, Pakistan’s response to perceived American slights has been to cry foul. While there may be some merits to Pakistan’s position, its responses to these exogenous shocks have been dictated by emotion and incredulity. If Pakistan is to navigate the evolving strategic environment in South Asia and compete for its interests effectively, it must adopt a more calculated, clear-eyed approach. This process must start with honest assessments of Pakistan’s strategic environment, what it might stand to gain or lose from spurning other powers (including the United States), and how to avoid provoking its neighbors into aligning with India. Pakistan needs to re-evaluate its tendency to antagonize the United States, avoid reflexive escalation vis-à-vis India, and be more honest with itself about the limitations of its Chinese partnership.

To ‘Win’ in Afghanistan, Devise a Strategy and Do Not Quit

By Robert Cassidy

Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban is the main reason for the continued stalemate in Afghanistan after almost 16 years. To be sure, there are other ancillary factors that help explain the instability, but Pakistan is the key reason. 

The war in Afghanistan will not end, or it will end badly unless the U.S.-led Coalition and its Afghan partners compel Pakistan to cease its malign conduct. 

What a win looks like.

A ‘win’ in Afghanistan would not resemble the win in World War II where the Allies thoroughly defeated and then received the unconditional surrenders of Germany and Japan. The end will be negotiated and conditional.

A ‘win’ would see the Afghan government and its security forces have sufficient capacity to secure Afghanistan’s future.

A ‘win’ would see a durable Afghan state, with the government, the security forces and the population aligned against a marginalized Taliban.

A ‘win’ is an Afghanistan that does not fragment and endures as a state that is inhospitable to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) and other Islamists groups.

The bar is not high, and the aim is not to remake Afghanistan into Arizona. There will still be violence, poverty, and underdevelopment, but relative stability, absent an existential threat, is a win.

15 August 2017

Taliban retakes eastern Afghan district from Afghan forces

The Taliban retook control of the contested district of Jani Khel in Paktia from Afghan forces last night. The district has changed hands three times over the past two weeks. The repeated loss of Jani Khel to the Taliban demonstrates the difficulties Afghan forces face in holding onto remote contested districts.

Afghan officials and the Taliban both confirmed that Jani Khel fell to the Taliban. An Afghan official told TOLONews that security forces retreated from the district center after Taliban fighters launched their assault.

“The security forces asked for air support during the clashes, but did not receive a response and retreated from the district as a result,” an official told the Afghan news agency.

Paktia province is a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network – the powerful Taliban subgroup based in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Sirrajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, serves as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs.

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda outlet, the group claimed that “over 12 puppets were killed and at least 17 others suffered injuries” after Taliban fighters took control of the police headquarters, the district administrative center and surrounding security outposts. The Taliban claimed two of its fighters were killed and three more were wounded.