Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Ten years on, still trying to frame the Afghan War

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U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of a wrenching decision on whether to quickly bring home the 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan or stay the course in the hope that the situation will stabilise in the country.

The problem is it is still not clear what the huge operation estimated to cost $100 billion a year is intended to do.  Here is what Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said last week when asked what would constitute success : “I think we’ll have a much better fix in terms of clarity towards the end of this year in terms of longer-term … potential outcomes — and when those might occur — than we do right now.”  The military were in the middle of the fighting season and once that ends when winter arrives, they would be in a better position to make a call. But how many fighting seasons has the military gone through already in Afghanistan ? Their logic is that the 30,000 additional troops that Obama sent in December 2009 have started to turn things around in the southern bastions of the Taliban, and more time is needed to extend the gains in the east where the insurgency is just as stubborn.

But isn’t that the way this war has been fought all these years, and indeed even before during the Russian occupation ? You muscle into one part of the forbidding country with men and armour, the insurgents melt away and launch attacks in another part.   You are then left with the option of diverting resources to fight them in a new battlefield, or risk stretching yourself thin holding on to  gains while trying to secure new ground.

One U.S. official, the Financial Times reports, (behind a paywall)   likened  it to an arcade game where the player uses a mallet  to bash a random and increasingly frantic series of moles back into their holes. Or as Senator Richard Lugar, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week : “Despite ten years of investment … we remain in a cycle that produces relative progress but fails to deliver a secure political or military resolution.”

Pakistan’s journalists won’t be silenced

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The killing of an Islamabad-based Pakistani journalist  ,who went missing a few days ago, has triggered an outpouring of grief and anger.   Pakistani journalists and activists are demanding answers for the murder of Saleem Shahzad, who Human Rights Watch said, told them before he was abducted that he was under threat from the Inter-Services Intelligence, the powerful spy agency.

Shahzad, a reporter for the Asia Times and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International, wrote on security/intelligence issues,  often delving deep into the dangerous world of Islamist militancy . The last story he wrote for the Asia Times  two days before  he was abducted, suggested that a militant attack on the navy’s main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force. 

from India Insight:

LIVE BLOG: Osama bin Laden killed

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan, ending a hunt for the mastermind of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. Share your views.

from Photographers' Blog:

Osama Bin Laden is dead – prove it

When news broke that Osama Bin Laden was dead, the Reuters Global Pictures Desk in Singapore could think of only one thing: We have to see the picture of the dead body. The world needed a genuine photo to confirm that the elusive Islamic militant leader was dead. We also knew that the first news agency to publish a picture of his dead body would lead the way on this historic story. Sending out a fake picture could be very embarrassing.

A few hours later a picture was circulating on the Internet. It appeared to be Osama Bin Laden's bloodied face in a video transmitted by a TV station in Pakistan. But was it really Bin Laden?

from Russell Boyce:

Osama Bin Laden is dead – prove it

When the news broke that Osama Bin Laden was dead, at the Reuters Global Pictures Desk in Singapore all we could think was one thing: We have to see the picture of the dead body. The world needed the tangible proof of a genuine photo before we could really absorb the idea that the world's most sought and also most elusive Islamic extremist was dead. We also knew that the news agency that was first in sending a picture of his dead body to the world would go a long way to winning this historic story. Sending out a fake picture could be very embarrassing to say the least - a tough balancing act when under such pressure.

A few hours later there it was circulating on the internet: Osama Bin Laden's bloodied face in a video transmitted by a TV station in Pakistan. Under tremendous pressure we could get the picture and fed it into our picture editing system in preparation for transmission around the globe.

India, Pakistan and their growing nuclear arsenal

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nuke

India and Pakistan exchanged a list of each other’s nuclear installations on Saturday like they have done at the start of each year under a 1988 pact in which the two sides agreed not to attack these facilities. That is the main confidence building measure in the area of nuclear security between the two countries, even though their nuclear weapons  programmes  have expanded significantly since then.   Indeed for some years now there is a  growing body of international opinion that holds that Pakistan has stepped up production of fissile material, and may just possibly hold more nuclear weapons than its much larger rival, India.  

Which is remarkable given that the Indian nuclear programme is driven by the need for deterrence against much bigger armed-China, the third element in the South Asian nuclear tangle. The Indians who conducted a nuclear test as early as 1974, thus,may be behind not just the Chinese, but also Pakistan in terms of the number of warheads, fissile material and delivery systems.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Al Qaeda, its branches and Afghanistan

osamaSo little is known about al Qaeda that it is can be tempting to see patterns when none exist, or conversely to see only madness when there is method at work.

But with that health warning, it's interesting to see Afghanistan cropping up in recent comments from both al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks: “an iffy, high-level treaty”

arghandab3In Obama's Wars, Rob Woodward attributes the following thoughts to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the prospects for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war:

"He saw reconciliation and reintegration as distinct.  Reconciliation was esoteric, an iffy high-level treaty with Taliban leaders. Reintegration occurred down at the local level in villages and towns..."

How many al Qaeda can you live with ?

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(A box of  'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

(A box of 'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

A furious debate has raged for several months now whether it makes sense for the United States to throw tens of thousands of  soldiers at a handful of al Qaeda that remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, nine years after launching the global war on terrorism.

CIA director Leon Panetta  told ABC News in June thatal-Qaeda’s presencein Afghanistan was now “relatively small … I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100.” And in nextdoor Pakistan, arguably the more  dangerous long-term threat, there were about 300  al Qaeda leaders and fighters, officials separately estimated.

The Taliban, an enigma wrapped in a riddle ?

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(Taliban in Kunduz- REUTERS/Wahdat )

(Taliban in Kunduz- REUTERS/Wahdat )

Anne  Stenersen  of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world.  Its interesting  because even after all these years  they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

As Stenersen notes,  a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as “al Qaeda and the Talban” , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar,  or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a  proper name  diminishes them.

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