The 17,500 NATO and Afghan Troops ringing the Helmand town of Marjah have begun the long planned offensive into the Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. While the unfolding battle is being covered reasonably well by Reuters, the WSJ, and Pakistan's Daily Times, please stay with us here at D&D for our analysis and reporting as well.
In my eyes, there are several important stories coming out of Operation Moshtarak that are secondary to the combat, but may have far reaching importance in the future of COIN. The first is the long planned instillation of the so-called "government in a box" for the post-conflict scenario in Marjah. Should the NATO/Afghan forces secure the city through traditional sweep, clear and hold tactics -- the second stage of the operation is the instantaneous insertion of pre-planned governance to fill the vacuum in Marjah. I think I can safely say the eyes of COIN theorists everywhere will be fixed on this phase of the operation -- which could become a centerpoint in the Obama Administration's Afghan strategy. It is true that while the NATO/Afghan forces are not outfought by the Taliban, they have most definitely been out governed, something that Operation Moshtarak may begin...
Amidst the flailing economy and the election of Cosmo centerfolds to Congress we have lost focus on Afghanistan. Ignored in the State of the Union, the campaign had a brief burst of news two weeks ago, but has again dipped below the horizon; outshined by domestic concerns.
However, two trends of note are emerging in Afghanistan. The first, which I will not address in this post, is the offensive in Marjah. The second is the plan to pay a Pashtun tribe, the Shinwari, to fight against the Taliban. This news broke at the end of January, but quickly faded, much to my surprise and dismay.
It makes no sense here to regurgitate the repeated failings of this policy in the past, especially when Max Fisher at the Atlantic does such a thorough job cataloging the tawdry disasters of yesteryear. His point, which I agree with, is that arming one faction to fight another is a risky gamble that often creates short-term gains that are paid for with long-term consequences. As Fisher notes, we don’t have to look far for a comparison -
This Week in Weird takes us to the sunny shores of the Persian Gulf -- where we will find two very unfortunate Ambassadors.
To begin, please take a look at the picture below. In it, we see Pakistani President Zardari meeting with members of his ambassadorial corps. Pay specific attention to the man immediately right of the President. His name is Mr. Miangul Akbar Zeb, and is a member of the Pakistani Embassy Mission to Canada. Officially, his title is "His Excellency" Akbar Zeb.
WRONG! While in his native Urdu, Akbar Zeb's name (which is Akbar Zeb) translates to "someone with good countenance", in Arabic, "akbar zeb" means "the biggest cock" (Akbar = The Greatest, Zeb = slang for the male genitalia).
Earlier this week, HuffPo reported that the unfortunate Excellency had been barred from becoming Pakistan's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia -- simply because of his NSFW name.
Now, in a delightful twist ...
UPDATE at 8:06PM EST --
Well, here it is, loyal readers -- our new look. We will be tweaking the site as we go, but please let us know what you think!
At some point later tonight, D&D will be updating ... and getting a much needed facelift! Stay tuned and keep checking back, and let us know what you think...
thanks to all you loyal readers who have stuck with us through our infancy as a blog -- tomorrow morning we will look all growed up. (we hope).
As someone who regularly carries around Arabic flashcards in his pocket (I can now count to 100…. wahed, ithnayn, thalatha….), I was quite alarmed to see this story about the apparent detention by TSA of a student for carrying flashcards in “the language Osama Bin Laden speaks.” Obviously, this is messed up (assuming that the student in question’s side of the story is somewhat accurate) – for a couple of reasons.
First of all, speaking Arabic and being a terrorist is not the same thing, and TSA of all agencies needs to understand this. Second, blatant disrespect for and marginalization of Arabic speakers contributes to the radicalization of these individuals. As Jeff points out, the trend of third generation self-radicalized terrorists is increasingly the major terrorist threat to the United States, and is often exacerbated by US policy actions. Lastly, I believe it is crucial that the US government encourage more individuals to learn Arabic, rather than tolerating a bureaucratic culture that believes Arabic is somehow antithetical to American society.
UPDATE at 10:08 EST, Feb 11, 2010
Here we go -- from the NYT:
As security forces clashed with his opponents, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was quoted on Thursday as saying his country had produced a first batch of uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent, taunting the West by declaring that if Tehran wanted to build a nuclear bomb, it would say so. Iran, he said, repeating an earlier assertion, was now “a nuclear state.”
Of course this is not unexpected -- and President Ahmadinejad continues to claim that Iran does not seek weaponization of their new stockpiles of HEU -- but what is clear is that both Ahmadeinejad and the Supreme Leader of Iran have placed joining the club of nuclear states at the center of their domestic and foreign policy agendas -- something that will make it near impossible to coerce or dissuade the Iranians from their current path.
While Ahmadinejad spoke, large protests surrounded the event, where police fired tear gas and arrested many -- among them the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomenei -- the father of the Iranian Revolution.
More Soon. Here are the new videos...
This last week’s news has got me thinking about the particularities of the formulation of US foreign policy – and how it is important that our friends, allies, and even rivals understand why we do the things we do.
An extremely important part of understanding other countries’ foreign policies is to understand how their political systems work. You would be hard-pressed to grasp the comings and goings in Germany, Lebanon, and China if you didn’t understand German coalition politics, Lebanese confessionalism, and modern Chinese communism. By the same token, US allies and rivals, many of whom use simple majority parliamentary systems, can’t possibly understand American foreign policy unless they are proficient in our political system, namely the enormous influence that individual legislators, even in the minority party, exercise over foreign policy decisions.
The filibuster, seemingly the most ridiculous...
Today, against my better judgements, I clicked on a banner ad on Politico -- and boy howdy it lead to some interesting finds! A spashy, expensive, flash banner on Iran and Ras Al Khaimah (an Emirate of the UAE) drew my attention -- mostly due to its "feary-ness". The result was my discovery of this "blog".
Run on the behalf of "Sheikh" Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi for $900,000 USD by California Strategies (a lobbying firm), the webpage RAKforthepeople.com is a very interesting example of the hilarity that can ensue from the kind of royal family spats that only the Gulf Oil States can provide. The website (readable in english or arabic) is a swift-boatish hatchet job on the little Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). The "research" on the site claims that RAK is a breeding ground for Al Qaeda, a proxy of Iran, and all around danger to freedom loving people everywhere. The site suggests that today RAK is actively seeking to help Iran get nuclear weapons, all the while aiding global terrorists everywhere...
As Iran rolls on into its "ten days of dawn" celebration -- during which it has promised to "punch" the West/peeps they don't like -- several important stories have come out of the Islamic Republic the past few days. Here are the few we are following here at D&D -- check back soon for updates on these and more!
In the past 2 days Iran has announced new production of multiple high tech military technologies. Among these are new 120, 130mm mortar shells, laser guided anti-armor and anti-helicopter missiles, but perhaps more notable is Iran's opening of a new UAV/Drone factory. Coupled with the announced Iranian s-300 air defense knock-off (the subject of my previous Iran Thread Post), Iran has begun building military hardware at home that targeted sanctions have sought to deny them. Along with these announcements, Iran began enriching Uranium to 20% TODAY -- and has signalled its intent to build 10 new nuclear sites...
Yes, I know this is an international affairs blog, but sometimes you just have to talk about more important things - in this case, football. So here are a few quick slants about the big game last night.
- As a Pats fan, I enjoyed seeing Peyton Manning blow the game. Over the years I've grudgingly come to respect him, drawn by his undeniably brilliant play and his shockingly funny commercials. Despite that, it was a nice dose of schadenfreude to see him choke when it mattered most.
- As a football fan, I enjoyed seeing Phil Simms blow the most crucial moment of the game. As the Colts were driving, he cautioned New Orleans about their defense, advising them not to blitz lest they give Peyton an opportunity. No sooner had he finished speaking than the Saints blitzed and Manning threw the pick-6 that iced the game. Now I have nothing against Phil Simms personally, but the lack of quality NFL commentators is a neglected problem. Every broadcast team (with the exception of Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, and Jon Gruden) this season has been atrocious. When a grad student with only intramural flag football experience (Flipmode Squad - '05 CHAMPS) offers more insight than the guy in the booth, something is wrong...
A while back my politically minded sister asked me if I had checked out this news and opinion website called the Daily Beast. I informed her that I had and despite its popularity amongst some quite intelligent friends of mine, I for one refuse to give that site a single hit. For any news outlet that wishes to be taken seriously simply cannot be proud of the fact that one of its most notable commentators is Meghan McCain, daughter of two time Presidential loser Senator John McCain.
UPDATE at 2:00 PM EST
Iran has informed the IAEA that they will begin enriching uranium to 20% starting tomorrow.
UPDATE at 1:24 PM EST
Iran's supreme leader has threatened violence if planned opposition marches lead by Mir Houssein Musavi are carried out this week. Iranians will "punch [them] in the mouth to shock them" Ayatollah Khamenei promised -- though he demurred over who "them" is -- the protesters, their leadership, or the "western puppet-masters" he claims are instigating their "counter-revolutionary" behavior.
News on Iran's next move continues below.
From Reuters India:
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will soon unveil a domestically-made air defence system with at least the same capability as Russia's S-300 anti-aircraft hardware, an Iranian air force commander was quoted as saying on Monday.For months, Iran has been attempting to...
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