Thursday, February 18, 2010

From the DoD: Operation Iraqi Freedom is over... Operation New Dawn begins?

So -- what's in a name? While the Obama Administration clearly hopes that with a new name, a new sense of mission and understanding of US priorities will follow in Iraq, perhaps choosing a term so similar to the arabic Al Fajr, as in "Operation Al Fajr" -- perhaps better known as the second battle of Falluhah (2004), was a miss-step.

Most interesting in the memo is not a redefinition of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but a renaming of the mission. As such, what will truly be changing? Operation New Dawn will not be a new mission, but rather a renaming of a previously extant one. Time will tell what this change in semantics will mean for Coalition Operations in the Iraqi Battle-Space -- but clearly detectable here is a similar thinking to the naming of the Joint NATO - Afghan "Operation Moshtarak" (dari for "togetherness" in Marjah. The Obama Administration is seeking to redefine the military operations abroad as inclusively novel -- and aimed at a discernible end.

Fascinating new story from the New York Times about the capture of Mullah Baradar earlier this week.  According to this story, it was an accident!  The Pakistanis had no idea that Baradar was at the meeting they raided, and only realized later that he was in custody.

The story briefly mentions the potential ramifications; most notably that Pakistan has NOT reoriented its strategic preferences and has NOT decided to crack down on the Afghan Taliban, which has been the meme in most analysis of the story.  Instead, perhaps this was a rather embarrassing mistake - an attempt to arrest a low-level suspect to appease the U.S. accidentally net the big fish that was supposed to be protected.  Or perhaps the Pakistanis who conducted the raid - noted only as "Pakistani counterterrorist officers" in the NYT - were not in contact with the ISI and therefore unaware that Baradar was receiving covert support.

This is all idle speculation, of course, but it warrants mention.  The biggest benefit from the Baradar capture was the perceived shift in Pakistani strategy and cooperation, but identifying it as a mistake means that the presumptive strategic breakthrough could be completely bunk.  And the fact that the CIA was not permitted access for two full weeks should certainly cast doubts on any claim of increased cooperation.

Today, an insane man flew an airplane into a building in Austin, TX. He intended to destroy the local offices of the IRS. He intended the crash to be bloody, terrifying, and attention getting. He intended his act to be "propaganda of the deed". He left us his words, which clearly state that his attack was both the result of his own failures in life and his deep seated desire to alter the American political system -- or American society as a whole. These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

Yet, according to the AP, the White House (via Robert Gibbs) feels that this "doesn't appear" to be terrorism, while an FAA spokesman labeled it a "criminal act". My question -- can't it be both, or has terrorism been decriminalized? Before we go further -- I have read the alleged suicide note of Joe Stack, the Austin Suicide Pilot, and here is the most relevant section:

The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government. Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough). In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First: A Meta Moment --
Sometimes we here at D&D are blessed with too many things to write about. Today is one of those days. My colleague Dave has done a great job making me
bummed out about Operation Moshtarak and the United Nations, and while we all wait to see what Mullah Baradar has to share, I have been caught in the epic debate of what to cover next. The LeCarre-esq story unfolding around the alleged Mossad assassination team in Dubai, while incredibly interesting and wildly mysterious, has held my focus of late -- but the likelihood of us ever knowing anything more than the BBC on it is slim.

A story has been pinging around the major news networks the past few days that has gotten far less attention than it deserves.

Today, the Thai Government announced the results of a recent double-blind test of their bomb detection equipment -- specifically the GT200 produced by the British firm Global Technical (pictured left). The findings? Abysmal.

from CNN:

The Thai government announced Tuesday that the GT200 failed rigorous tests carried out by scientists and the army in Thailand, after concerns were raised that the device was an elaborate hoax.

"We've done a double-blind test where the equipment was only successful in discovering in 20 percent of the cases, when just a random choice would give you 25 percent -- so there's no statistical significance to having the equipment," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told CNN.

In fact, it appears that the equipment is actually less effective than simple guesswork. (update: The Bangkok Post is now reporting that soldiers are opting to use CHOPSTICKS instead of the GT200). While incredibly relevant to Thailand, who have deployed around 700 of the devices for the past six years on their southern border -- where there have been weekly bomb attacks. They have spent over $20 million on the project. But this disaster reaches...

I hate to be a cynic. I really do. I want Operation Mushtarak in Marjah to succeed, and for the stable and accountable local government that follows to be replicated across Afghanistan, marginalizing the Taliban and bringing peace. Unfortunately, I just can’t see it working.

To begin with, Marjah is a fairly small and insignificant area. The population is, at most, 100,000, which in a country of 28 million is not an impressive total. While it has been a safe area for the Taliban, it is not of major strategic importance – as Steve Coll notes,

The axis of Taliban power, guerrilla infiltration, and money flows in southern Afghanistan lies somewhat to the East, along the routes between Kandahar and the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi, which serve as sanctuaries for senior Taliban leadership. 
Secondly, the operation is predicated on an initial military success. This means defeating the Taliban in pitched battles, or chasing them so far out of the area that they lose influence. Standing and fighting a conventional battle is a poor option for the Taliban, as they are vastly outgunned and out-classed, so they have not dug in and waited to lose. Nor have they simply fled to the hills and across into Pakistan. Instead, they are using IEDs, snipers, and hit-and-run attacks to slow U.S. progress while avoiding significant casualties. They are maximizing their kinetic ability while baiting the U.S. into counter-productive strikes that kill civilians, and will presumably then melt into the local population or flee. The result is that the Taliban is not broken and can reconstitute in another safe haven, chosen at random from the many ungoverned border areas.

Additionally, the U.S. is intent on incorporating and featuring Afghan police and soldiers in the operation to prove their mettle. However, Juan Cole highlighted some of the problems with the ongoing training of Afghan police, and The Economist reported last week that the Afghan National Army is unable to meet expansion targets due to high attrition rates and an inability to recruit Pushtuns.

The UN announced today it would not participate in reconstruction efforts in Marjah and directly criticized NATO strategy. This is an unusually blunt assertion from the UN and a significant development by itself, but the New York Times buries the lede by putting this passage towards the bottom:

“Clear, hold and build, it’s short-sighted for two reasons,” the United Nations official said. “Territory changes hands in a conflict, and if the services are associated with a particular group, it will be destroyed.” That has happened often with projects like schools and clinics around the country. 
Not only is the UN withdrawing support for the Marjah Offensive, it is condemning the U.S. military and their embrace of COIN. Their basic rationale is that by making aid a clear military initiative the aid itself becomes a legitimate target for the insurgents. I’m not sure I buy that reasoning. The Taliban has long targeted foreign aid projects, such as schools and roads, so making it a military strategy doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

However, it is not their criticism of COIN doctrine that is the story here, it is their willingness to openly buck U.S. and NATO strategy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The Afghanistan Taliban's chief military commander was captured in a joint
operation between Pakistani and American spy agencies near Karachi. Agents from
the two countries nabbed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Pakistani commercial
capital of Karachi 10 days ago. News of his arrest broke Monday night. Mr.
Baradar is said to be the Taliban's No. 2, working underneath Mullah Omar as the
organization's top military commander for southern Afghanistan.

This may be the biggest story coming out of the Af/Pak region since the battle of Tora Bora. The capture of Mullah Baradar may have far reaching consequences, and may provide an intelligence coup for both Pakistan and ISAF forces. As the head of the Quetta shura, Military Commander for Southern Afghanistan, and generally bad guy, taking Baradar out of play (especially during the Marjah offensive) will lead to confusion and disorder among the Afghani Taliban -- as well as possibly exposing actionable intelligence on the Afghani Taliban network.

At worst, his aprehension will force top AQ agents (including OBL), and Taliban leadership like Mullah Omar and his lieutenants to take to ground and go black -- at best, it may lead to their capture as well. Either way, the arrest of Baradar will have far reaching consequences. It also marks a change in Pakistan's approach to the Afghani Taliban -- a group they have largely ignored, instead using their ISI to target Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) within their own borders. Should the ISI cooperate with US Intelligence, we may see quite a few major arrests in the next few months.

For the moment, it appears that the ISI has taken the lead on the inprisonment and interrogation of Abdul Ghani Baradar, with US Intelligence taking a more observatory role. More analysis to come soon!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A bomb in Pune at the German Bakery killed 9 people and injured 57 more on Sunday. India is sadly no stranger to terrorism, but this attack, which is thus far unclaimed, proves that terrorist groups still have the capacity to initiate attacks inside India and brings troubling ramifications for India and the West.

The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 also explicitly targeted foreigners, most notably well-heeled business travelers at the Taj and Oberoi Hotels, but also common tourists at the popular Leopold's Cafe, featured in Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram, and foreign Jews at the Orthodox Nariman House.

At first blush, last weekend's attack on the German Bakery in Pune seems similar - attacking a spot always flush with foreigners. However, the demographics of the German Bakery set it apart from the Mumbai attacks. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

By Anonymous

"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
–President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 27, 2010.

President Obama’s recent pledge to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy is an overdue promise to address the egalitarian prerogatives he supported as a candidate. But repealing DADT should not be just another item in a list of priorities; this Administration has a moral mandate, as ascribed by the Declaration of Independence, to right this wrong.

The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” That Jefferson and the rest of the 2nd Continental Congress found this truth to be “self-evident” implies that certain truths supersede our societal constructions. The laws of the United States slowly creep closer toward an accurate portrayal this notion of equality. Despite the 14th, 19th, and 24th Amendments to the Constitution, more additional reform is required.

Repealing DADT won’t correct the entirety of wrongs that the U.S. Government actively engages in against homosexuals, but this particular measure is achievable, despite the intractability of the Senate. Representatives of both the military and civilian wings of the Department of Defense support the repeal. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen testified to this effect before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. Subsequently, the political calculus in the Senate indicates a successful repeal is possible within the year. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), though hypocritical of late, previously indicated that he would support a DADT policy endorsed by military leadership. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) indicated that he supports the underlying moral issue of the repeal last week, and newly-elected Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) stated during his campaign that he would consider a repeal endorsed by soldiers “in the field.”

In our never-ending quest to bring you the very best content, we have decided to publish an occasional guest post from an esteemed colleague.  Some of our colleagues will remain anonymous, due to their job or other concerns, while others will identify themselves.  Regardless, we hope you will enjoy our expanded coverage.

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