Friday, February 13, 2009

Why is America Losing in Afghanistan?

American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan has come under a lot of criticism recently as the resurgent Taliban have made significant gains. Not only are the Taliban controlling over 70% of the territory in Afghanistan, but they have also recently demonstrated their ability to strike at will in the heart of Kabul, the heavily fortified capital of the nation comparable to the Green Zone in Baghdad.

The latest reports indicate that there is a lot to worry about not just the failing strategy, but how badly the war is being executed on the ground. A lot of civilian casualties and lack of security have turned the population against the US forces. And now, according to the Batimore Sun, the Pentagon has reportedly lost track of some 87,000 weapons handed out without proper accounting to Afghan army and police units.

The weapons included rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, shotguns, mortars and other weapons, the Government Accountability Office said. The GAO is the investigations arm of Congress.

The weapons are among about 240,000 small arms and other sensitive items, including 2,410 highly prized night vision devices that were given to Afghan security forces being trained by the U.S. military. The shipments included about 79,000 AK-47 assault rifles, the standard weapon used by the Taliban and other insurgents.

The U.S. command also failed to keep serial numbers or other records on about 135,000 weapons donated by allies and handed over to Afghan security forces, the GAO said.

Some of the lost or stolen US military equipment is starting to turn up for sale in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, according to Shahan Mufti of GlobalPost. Mufti describes Peshawar as a Silk Road town near the Afghan border where the black market has thrived and the military spoils of empires hawked openly throughout history.

Mufti recently purchased a U.S. military laptop for $650 from a small shop, which is known as the “Sitara Market,” on the western edge of the sprawling open-air markets on the edge of Peshawar.

The laptop, which Mufti says has clear U.S. military markings and serial numbers, contained restricted U.S. military information, as well as software for military platforms, the identities of numerous military personnel and information about weaknesses and flaws in American military vehicles being employed in the war in Afghanistan.

The leaks of the U.S. military’s electronic information on hard disks has occurred in the past. In April, 2006, the Los Angeles Times uncovered the story of confidential military information being smuggled off Bagram air base in Afghanistan on miniature hard drives and sold in markets no more than two hundred yards away.

Instead of accepting responsibility for bad US strategy and continual bungling, the response by the American military in Afghanistan is to shift the entire blame for their failures on Afghan leaders or Pakistani military. President Obama has spoken with over a dozen world leaders since taking office, and he finally called and spoke with Pakistan's President Zardari yesterday. While he continues to say Afghanistan is his top priority, the new president has yet to speak directly with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has delegated that job to Richard Holbrooke, who is not even a member of his cabinet.

It is clear from the developments over the last several months that the US needs a complete overhaul of both its overall strategy and tactics. Just the planned troops surge alone will not suffice. There has to be a comprehensive new strategy for political dialog, reconstruction and smart counterinsurgency tactics in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Related Links:

WorldFocus on Afghanistan

Pakistan's Prospects

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Obama's South Asia Policy

Military Occupation of Kashmir

Bruce Riedel Interview

Clues to Obama's South Asia Policy


Anonymous said...

I do not believe that US strategy in Afghanistan is completely wrong, but yes, I do agree that there are some serios flaws in it. That is why a poor Afghan child does not have access to Education, medical help. But they do have access to AK-47. But whatever happens, complete annihilation of Taliban should always be part of policy. As long as Taliban is alive, the region is not going to be stable.

Let's see from Pakistan point of view. In my mind, main problem with Pakistani people is that they view US as their number 1 enemy (Excluding India, Kashmir issue). Taliban comes next in order. Some of the people even support Taliban. Considering this, there is considerable chance that Taliban will remain alive for many more years. And this is a significant threat to Pakistan.

Just a few hours ago, I saw an interview of Zardari. He acknowledged that Taliban is present in large parts of Pakistan. And Taliban want to take over Pakistan. But his most interesting comment was 'Pakistan is fighting the war for its survival'. I don't think any Pak leader has openly spoken in such terms. But he seems to have got it exactly right. Taliban is your number 1 enemy, which is threating your very existence. US, India should come later in the list. It remains to be seen, when your army & people accept the fact. Let's hope by that time, its not too late.

Riaz Haq said...

As Obama ponders US policy and more US troops in Afghanistan, there are echoes of Soviet defeat, according to BBC:

By the late 1980s, Moscow's exit strategy was basically the same as Nato's today - to build up an allied government in Kabul with sufficient trained army and police forces to defend itself, thereby allowing foreign troops to leave.

But even with the backing of a 100,000-strong Soviet army and billions of rubles in aid, the Afghan government struggled to establish its legitimacy and authority much beyond the capital - much like President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed administration today.

This bleak assessment of the situation in late 1986 by the Soviet armed forces commander, Marshal Sergei Akhromeev, sounds eerily familiar.

"Military actions in Afghanistan will soon be seven years old," Mr Akhromeev told Mr Gorbachev at a November 1986 Politburo session.

"There is no single piece of land in this country which has not been occupied by a Soviet soldier. Nonetheless, the majority of the territory remains in the hands of rebels.

"The whole problem is that military results are not followed up by political actions. At the centre there is authority; in the provinces there is not.

"We control Kabul and the provincial centers, but on occupied territory we cannot establish authority. We have lost the battle for the Afghan people".

By that point, Soviet trainers had created an Afghan army 160,000-strong - double the size of the force Nato has trained so far - together with thousands of much-feared secret policemen.

Yet once Soviet forces had left, they could do little more than defend Kabul and a few other cities.

Only massive military aid, coupled with incompetence and in-fighting among the US-backed mujahideen opposition, allowed the Afghan government Moscow left behind to cling on in Kabul for a few more years before finally collapsing.

There were familiar problems too with the financial assistance Moscow gave.

It hoped the funds would bolster the capacity of the Afghan government and pay for projects that would benefit people, winning hearts and minds.

However corruption rendered much of its useless.

As the Politburo discussed a new aid request from Kabul in January 1987, Marshal Sergei Sokolov said: "In 1981, we gave them 100m roubles of free assistance. And all of that went to the elite. And there was nothing in the hamlets - no kerosene, no matches."

Anonymous said...

ALLAH O AKBAR ,America will have to flee like Swet Union and Allah will help us ,the Only Super Power is ALLLAH , not america ,America din't get any thing so far in spite of lot of weapons ,jets ,droon, b52 but nothing at last we will win the war inshallah,

Riaz Haq said...

Taliban see a "windfall" from opposition to mosque near ground zero in NY, according to the following story in Newsweek:

Taliban officials know it’s sacrilegious to hope a mosque will not be built, but that’s exactly what they’re wishing for: the success of the fiery campaign to block the proposed Islamic cultural center and prayer room near the site of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor,” Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) “It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.”

America’s enemies in Afghanistan are delighted by the vehement public opposition to the proposed “Ground Zero mosque.” The backlash against the project has drawn the heaviest e-mail response ever on jihadi Web sites, Zabihullah claims—far bigger even than France’s ban on burqas earlier this year. (That was big, he recalls: “We received many e-mails asking for advice on how Muslims should react to the hijab ban, and how they can punish France.”) This time the target is America itself. “We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage.”

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall—so tailor-made to show how “anti-Islamic” America is—that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. “We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantánamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks—and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York,” Zabihullah says. “Showing reality always makes the best propaganda.”.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a story "Klashnikov Central" by Nazia Parvez on Darra Adm Khel arms manufacturing cottage industry that makes a variety of arms including Klashnikov AK-47 assault rifles:

According to a popular tale, the origins of Darra's unusual industry date back to the days of the Raj, when the town's craftsmen replicated a rifle stolen from the British by a Punjabi fugitive. The skills were subsequently passed down from one generation to the next, and the manufacture of arms came to be considered an art form.

For much of the 20th century, Darra's arms industry was modest. But when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the entire NWFP became the staging ground for the jihad, or holy war, and large quantifies of weapons were shipped across the border to Afghanistan to arm the Mujahideen resistance. Since then, indigenous manufacturers in the NWFP, and Darra in particular, have continued producing AK-47s--replicas of the fabled Russian assault rifle, the Kalashnikov--as well as an array of other weapons.

Today, there may be as many as 3,000 gun manufacturers in Darra, employing more than 20,000 people--about three quarters of the town's inhabitants. According to the Small Arms Survey, the town produced an incredible 20,000 small arms in 2003. Such is the scale of the industry now that Darra represents one of the largest private arms manufacturers in Asia.

As I walk through the town with my guide Saeed, I find myself getting used to the intermittent crackle of gunfire, and soon it becomes mere background noise.

Above the shops, hand-painted wooden signs depict caricatures of guns. Inside, the merchants sit around casually, waiting patiently for customers; some lounge on mats laid on the bare cement floors. They drink tea, read the newspaper and make idle conversation.

Their simple displays provide a showcase of the latest weaponry. In one shop, lines of AK-47s hang from nails. Rickety cabinets with dusty acrylic panels are crammed full of pistols. A wooden shelf is stacked with boxes of ammunition. These sit unassumingly next to a flute and a pewter vase that holds a knot of gaudy plastic flowers. Near the ceiling, a fading picture of the Kaaba in Mecca sits in a gold frame.

Stepping into the side streets reveals a surreal world in which each stage of production is laid bare. The initial phases take place on the fringes of town, where the raw materials are processed. In an archaic electric mill, a young man nonchalantly operates a saw behind a huge heap of rough-edged timber. And in a house converted into a metal-shop, an old man sits in front of a burning furnace hammering heated steel rods. The thick smoke that belches from the fire has turned his white beard the colour of charcoal and covered the walls with a thick layer of soot. Returning to the street to catch our breath, we pass a warehouse filled with steel rods, their ends conveniently coloured according to their size.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a BBC report today about the British Army Chief Gen Richards' pessimistic assessment of Afghanistan:

The West can only contain, not defeat, militant groups such as al-Qaeda, the head of the UK's armed forces has said.

General Sir David Richards, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, said Islamist militancy would pose a threat to the UK for at least 30 years.

But he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show a clear-cut victory over militants was not achievable.

The BBC's Frank Gardner said the comments reflect a "new realism" in UK and US counter-terrorism circles.

Our security correspondent said such an admission five years ago might have been considered outrageous and defeatist....
Britain has lost 343 soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001.

But Gen Richards told the BBC it was not possible to defeat the Taliban or al-Qaeda militarily.

"You can't. We've all said this. David Petraeus has said it, I've said it.

"The trick is the balance of things that you're doing and I say that the military are just about, you know, there.

"The biggest problem's been ensuring that the governance and all the development side can keep up with it within a time frame and these things take generations sometimes within a time frame that is acceptable to domestic, public and political opinion," he said.

He said extremist Islamism could not be eradicated as an idea.

"I don't think you can probably defeat an idea, it's something we need to battle back against as necessary, but in its milder forms why shouldn't they be allowed to have that sort of philosophy underpinning their lives.

"It's how it manifests itself that is the key and can we contain that manifestation - and quite clearly al-Qaeda is an unacceptable manifestation of it," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some impressions of the Waziri tribes described by retired Pakistani Brigadier Marghoob Qadir as published in Daily Times:

The people belonging to the tribal belt that girdles Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the west live with an inexplicable mix of chivalry, banditry, personal liberty and tribal customs. It was 1985, I was commanding a unit in Kohat and we were travelling from Thal to Miranshah. I had ordered the regulation armed escort to stay put in Thal Fort. I knew it was irregular and quite risky also, but I had always regarded that such escorts, being cumbersome, normally impede speed and are at risk themselves. We were travelling through wild Waziristan practically bare handed. However, I had quietly slipped a service revolver into the jeep’s dashboard just in case. A few miles out of Thal, we saw a man sitting under a distant tree pointing his Kalashnikov at something directly above. As we got closer, he fired and whatever was left of a poor sparrow floated lifelessly to the ground below. Satisfied with his marksmanship he rolled his sheet, placed it under his head and lay down for a leisurely catnap.
We were negotiating a narrow and hilly tract of road short of Miranshah, when a rifle shot rang out from very close range. Then the second shot and a piece of rock scattered into bits as the bullet hit the rock face inches above the jeep bonnet. I told the driver to stop, climbed out of the jeep and looked straight into the barrel of a rifle pointed at me by a young Waziri a few yards up the opposite slope. There was a short verbal exchange in Pashto between the two of us and then we resumed our journey to Miranshah. It transpired that by firing those ‘near miss’ shots, the Wiziri youngster wanted to find out if we were afraid or not. Admittedly, I countered him by saying that he would also be scared if the same weapon were aimed at him without a fair chance. The boy understood and gave up further confirmation of my valour or fear.

En route, we had stopped for a cup of tea in a sprawling fort manned by scouts. It was a treat in old style hospitality and was altogether overwhelming. The scouts in that fort observed a strange water collection ritual every day at a given time. They had shared the only water spring some distance outside the fort with a neighbouring Waziri village ever since the fort was built in British times. The water filled up in a large but open ground level cemented water tank. Under a treaty concluded between the Waziri villagers and the British, the Waziris were conceded the right to collect water in the early part of the day. The scouts would do so in the afternoon. Fearing treachery, the British thought of a brilliantly inexpensive and simple test. A pair of white swans is officially kept and trained by the fort scouts. As the fort door opens for the water collection party, this pair of swans marches out towards the water tank, leading. Dipping their beaks in the water tank they drink till their pouches fill. The scouts’ party commander would observe them keenly for a few minutes for any signs of poisoning. If found in good health, the party would collect water in their containers and march back into the fort with the swans leading. Proper funds were allocated for the maintenance of this pair of swans, we were told.
They hold their privacy, which has to be understood in the broadest possible terms as being very dear to them. An actual or perceived trespass can have grave consequences. Their concept of privacy roughly corresponds to the modern day notion of sovereignty. For example, to pass through a Waziri village in a high-strung military truck is to trespass. To chance upon a female water-filling point is a serious infringement and so on. It may be understood that the Waziri concept of privacy is actually a function of perception more than the action.

Mayraj said...
US-funded Afghan militias 'beat, rob and kill with impunity'
American-funded Afghan militias raised to protect villages from the Taliban have begun to prey on residents and in some cases are beating, robbing and even killing with impunity it is claimed.

Many Afghans view the forces as a throwback to the civil war when warlords maintained their own marauding private armies. They are also a reminder of Russian-backed militias which operated around Kandahar in the late 1980s.

Gul Mohammad, a 47-year-old farmer from Lako Kheyl in western Zhari district, said a trader in livestock had been arrested nearby by the force a month ago.

"They put him in their custody. They killed him and his body was found in a stream. He was going to Helmand to buy sheep. He had $10,000 dollars (£6,250) on him and they took it.

"If there were no Americans in the area, these people would steal our turbans."

Both the United Nations and Oxfam have expressed concern about the ALP.

Haji Mohammad Ehsan, deputy leader of Kandahar's provincial council, said: "Yes, these things are happening. We hope we can improve this and stop these abuses as we continue. For the past 30 years we Afghan people have suffered from this."

Engineer Abdul Qadr, director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar, said the freedom of the ALP was attracting the less disciplined members of the more formal Afghan National Police.

He said: "The Arbakai are also a good source of corruption. The money is being divided up and used by strongmen."

Meanwhile Robert Gates, US defence secretary, confirmed America had been in contact with the Taliban in recent weeks, but warned peace discussions were "very preliminary at this point".

"My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make any substantive headway until at least this winter," he said.

"I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure, and begin to believe that they can't win before they're willing to have a serious conversation."

Mayraj said...

"In case you haven’t been following the news: last year’s parliamentary election was so chaotic and flawed that it resulted in the near-total disenfranchisement of Afghanistan’s Pashtun ethnic minority, which makes up a healthy 40 percent of the population. Many Pashtuns either didn’t vote, because of sympathy or support for the Taliban and dislike of the Afghan government, or couldn’t vote, because of Taliban threats and violence. As a result, in some provinces in the south and east where Pashtuns dominate, not a single Pashtun was elected to parliament. For Karzai, that was a disaster, especially since he’s trying to reach out to his Pashtun base as part of his search for a deal with the Taliban and its allies. Earlier this year, a special court appointed by Karzai ruled that sixty-two members of parliament, mostly non-Pashtuns, were elected fraudulently, a step toward installing Pashtun members in their place. Not surprisingly, Karzai’s opponents in parliament, especially Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who oppose Karzai’s outreach to the Taliban, cried foul, challenged the constitutionality of the court, and demanded the impeachment of Karzai.
If the war in Afghanistan ever made any sense at all, this stuff makes it clear that it's close to hopeless."

Government in Afghanistan Nears Collapse

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a CBS interview with Pak UN ambassador Haroon:

U.S.-Pakistan relations are at an all-time low. Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Hussein Haroon, speaking to CBS News about the allegations of Pakistani-ISI links to insurgents, said that Pakistan wants to end terrorism in his country and that Washington and Afghanistan are blaming Pakistan, making it the scapegoat for a conflict which victimizes Pakistan more than it hurts the U.S. or Afghanistan.

"For the past few months it's been the U.S. who keeps trying to put pressure by saying Pakistan this or Pakistan that," Haroon said. "That policy needs reappraisal. You need to talk as allies, don't talk down to us. This is not going to succeed. Politics should be transactional, not coercive. We want success. We don't want this mess on our doorstep for the next 100 years. It's not of our making, not of our choosing, not of our doing. We've paid the highest price for this war."

As the U.S. assesses the projected dates for the drawdown of U.S. troops and the recent spike in some types of violent incidents, a CBS News poll found that, although most Americans support the military, the American public thinks the United States should not be fighting in Afghanistan and the war has not been worth it.

Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador, who has been in his country's foreign service all his adult life, said bluntly that the U.S. had ignored the lessons of history in deciding to, and how to, invade Afghanistan.

"The Soviets lost Afghanistan by not learning the lessons of history... History is again repeating itself because the Americans have repeated the mistakes made by the Soviets and everyone else."

Haroon said U.S. leaders "overestimated their own capabilities and underestimated those of the Afghan guerillas."

The ambassador accuses the U.S. of underestimating the Taliban.

"I believe this needs to be reassessed because misappreciation of the enemy has always led to military setbacks."

Adding to his list of alleged U.S. failures, Haroon said American military commanders failed to assess the physical terrain on which they were planning to fight.

All the errors, he said, "contributed to the impasse which has resulted in Afghanistan."

As U.S.-Pakistan relations sour and anti-U.S. troop sentiment in Pakistan rises, Haroon offered some advice: "You cannot solve Afghanistan without Pakistan and Pakistan cannot be free of its own troubles without Afghanistan first being free of all its troubles. That is the conundrum."

"Whenever anyone has set a date for withdrawal in Afghanistan, before the army has effectively left their borders, their imposed government falls and runs with them towards the border. You have undermined yourselves completely... by setting an exit date."
"We're getting treated like we're a pariah," complained Haroon. "Very, very sad shape, and it is not what we expect of a great country like America."

"Do you know why in New York, why nothing happened (this year) on September 11? You gave us a list of three people, 'help us find them,' you said. We went out of our way and did find them. The White House said fantastic, we have the people that could have harmed us and, by God's grace, nothing happened. Three key people were handed over on the 5th of September. Were people told in America that the reason that New York is safe is because Pakistan helped us capture these people?"