Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Tales from the Trail:

McChrystal gets to keep his 4 stars

mcchrystalGeneral Stanley McChrystal will go out with all the benefits of a four-star general, even though he hasn't been in the position long enough to retire with that rank.

McChrystal was fired last week as the top U.S. commander  in Afghanistan. President Obama relieved McChrystal of his command after the general and his aides were quoted in a "Rolling Stone" article disparaging the president, vice president and top White House advisers involved in the war effort.

On Monday, McChrystal informed his bosses at the Pentagon that he is retiring from active duty. But whether he'd get to keep his 4 stars -- and get the retirement benefits that come with them -- was an open question. McChrystal has been a four-star general for only about a year -- half the time normally necessary to qualify for a four-star general's retirement income.

As commander in chief, it's Obama call.

"The president believes -- and has talked with Secretary Gates about this -- and we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that he, somebody who has served the country as ably as he has, can retire at a four-star level," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

from The Great Debate:

In Afghanistan, history rhymes

The faltering war in Afghanistan brings to mind a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain and a less famous one by Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Twain: "History does not repeat itself but it rhymes." Gates: "Tough decisions: … how to get out, when, and without losing face."

The Gates quote, in his 1996 memoir (From the Shadows), refers to the Soviet leadership which by the mid-1980s had decided to end its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan but had not figured out exactly how to do that.

A view from the machine gun

- (2nd Lt Matthew Bennet with U.S. C Troop 1-71 CAV chats with villagers during a night patrol in the village of Gorgan on June 25, 2010. Pic by Denis Sinyakov, Reuters)

(2nd Lt Matthew Bennet with U.S. C Troop 1-71 CAV chats with villagers during a night patrol in Gorgan on June 25, 2010. Pic by Denis Sinyakov, Reuters)

By Michael Georgy

An American Lieutenant was doing his best to reassure villagers in the Afghan heartland Taliban Province that U.S. soldiers would protect them from the Taliban, after a roadside bomb killed a father and son who were driving home on a motorcycle. On patrol he asked several people whether they felt safe, and said they should not hesitate to contact the Americans, located a few hundred metres away in their camp.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan: finding the devil in the detail

petraeus kayaniIn the increasingly frenetic debate about what to do about Afghanistan, Antonio Giustozzi has a must-read report on prospects for negotiating with the Taliban. In particular, he offers a rare window into Pakistan's often opaque policy towards Afghanistan by providing the context within which Pakistan might be able to bring the Taliban into a political settlement .

Giustozzi presents a far more nuanced picture than the one commonly assumed, describing significant overlaps between various militant groups - the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP),  the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Muhammad Omar,  the Haqqani network and the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with only the latter seen as an independent entity.  (These overlaps are crucial to establishing whether Afghan insurgents could be weakened through a policy of "divide and rule" or whether any negotiations on a settlement would need to involve the Taliban movement, and its leadership, as a whole.) 

Afghanistan’s $2 bln gravy train

- File picture of fuel tanker that exploded following an attack in Jalalabad)

File picture of fuel tanker that exploded following an attack in Jalalabad)

The United States cannot win a fight for hearts and minds if it outsources critical missions to unaccountable contractors, U.S. President Barack Obama said during a speech he made as a senator back in 2007.  It hasn’t changed much in Afghanistan since then as a U.S. Congressional investigation into a $2.16 billion supply chain that provides  soldiers everything from muffins to mine-resistant vehicles shows.

Security for the supply chain running through remote and hostile terrain has been outsourced to contractors, “an arrangement that has fuelled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of  warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others,” according to John F.Tierney, chairman of the
subcommittee on National Security And Foreign Affairs.

Afghan mining roadshow opens; temptation, trepidation for India, China



Afghan authorities have organised a roadshow in London that opens on Friday aimed at drumming up interest in the country’s mineral wealth variously estimated at anything from $1 trillion to $3 trillion.

India and China, the regional heavyweights, are the top candidates to fight for a piece of the action in their immediate neighbourhood. If there are such large reserves of copper, iron ore and key industrial metals such as lithium lying untapped in their neighbourhood you would expect them to invest heavily in Afghanistan to feed their supercharged economies.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama delivers checkmate by moving generals

President Barack Obama managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In a surprise move, he chose superstar General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal, whose team had badmouthed just about every top civilian adviser to Obama on Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone magazine article. AFGHANISTAN/

And with that one decision he managed to wipe away any impression that as commander-in-chief he would allow insubordination, and he preempted any criticism that he would allow the war in Afghanistan to be without competent leadership for reasons of politics and vanity.

from Tales from the Trail:

General headed to the woodshed, will he get the axe?

The sound of palms slapping foreheads could be heard all over Washington, the physical exclamation of "what were they thinking?"

The spectacularly frank quotes from General Stanley McChrystal and his aides mocking Vice President Joe Biden and other top advisers to the president and commander-in-chief were jaw-dropping, not because that's what they really thought, but because the views were uttered to a reporter working on a profile for Rolling Stone magazine. USA/AFGHANISTAN

The changing face of war in Afghanistan



I was embedded with Western troops a few days ago. Beforehand I was warned of austere living conditions at the combat outpost. I thought about the agony — since I suffer from technophobia — of filing stories through a satellite phone in the scorching heat.

As I rolled out my sleeping bag I noticed all the soldiers had mosquito nets over theirs. Actually, they were there to keep camel spiders and scorpions away. It was remote as can be. Grape fields, mountains and villages with mud brick huts with, probably, no electricity.

It’s all mine, says Afghan media

- Quick, find some lithium before the batteries run out...

(Quick, find some lithium before the batteries run out... pic by author)

A colleague blogged earlier this week about the report that says Afghanistan is sitting on a veritable fortune in mineral resources – between $1-3 trillion, depending on how optimistic you are.

Although another colleague analysed more critically what enormous difficulties need to be overcome to see even a fraction of that sum, it hasn’t stopped the Afghan media from getting excited.