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Karzai Takes The High Ground. Not.

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I know he’s preaching to his own rabble, but there’s something utterly outrageous about Karzai’s “end of his rope” response to the mass-killing of Afghan citizens by a soldier who – it now seems – was himself at the “end of his rope”. That is not to excuse the soldier’s actions, but they were not those of a sane man. US and NATO soldiers have been bleeding to keep Karzai in the power-game business and keep the Taliban at bay for over a decade. In my humble view, if he wants to score political points at our expense, we should leave him to his fate – which would probably not be dissimilar to that experienced by another blow-hard in North Africa.

Written by coolrebel

March 15, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Obama’s Decision On Afghanistan – Bold Solutions Required

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Obama’s Afghan Dilemma is only vexing because it pits one conventional approach against another, when neither holds much hope for success.

Both the COIN + CT approaches are what I call “perfect world” approaches. They rely on countless variables going right, and if history in Afghanistan has taught us anything, it’s that banking on anything there is a bad idea.

So what to do. First, we need to establish the prism we’re seeing the problem through. Is it humanitarian prism? Or a principled ideological prism? Or through the prism of securing the strategic interests of the United States via realpolitik. Ideology, in the form of neo-conservative export of American Democracy was tried, and failed. After eight years, we’re dealing with a deeply corrupt prime-minister in Kabul with zero credibility at home and in Washington. As for humanitarianism, we have to examine what it is we want to achieve. There is tremendous hardship in Afghanistan, but it’s been there for millenia. The place is now and always has been essentially Medieval. A true humanitarian mission would be massive, would require a stable government in Kabul with reach across the country, and a commitment to accelerate the course of Afghan history at great cost to the United States, and with no real guarantee of success. All that would beg the question. The third world is full of desperation. Why should Afghanistan be singled out for saving, at the expense of so many other countries that need our help.

Finally, there is the prism of realpolitik. Some might call realpolitik amoral, but there is a view – and one that I subscribe to – that only America has the power and reach to keep the world stable and relatively peaceful, and this new realpolitik is built around the understanding that America’s interests are served by serving the interests of the world at large.

Sadly, America is not omnipotent. Its resources are limited. It must decide where it can best advance the cause of world stability.

So does adding to our troop levels in Afghanistan represent the best use of American resources. The answer to that is clearly no. The major threat to world stability in the Central Asian region is not in Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan to the east and Iran to Afghanistan’s west. With Al Qaeda a shadow of its former self, and the Taliban more interested in internal control than reestablishing the Caliphate, we can safely divert resources to Pakistan and Iranian wings of the theatre.

But does that mean we abandon Afghanistan? Not at all. We need to maintain Baghram AFB as a strategic garrison with at least 2 strike brigades to deal with hotspots as they emerge, and as HQ for a large Special Forces array which will be the main strike-force of our continued Afghan policy.

And what should that policy be? In a word, bribery. The key to weakening the Taliban is to hit them where it hurts. In the wallet. Without money, they’re an overstretched rump that can’t afford recruits to expand their reach. The more overstretched they become, the less able they’ll be to enforce their brutality.

The Taliban get their money from two major sources. Opium and foreign donations, mainly via Saudi Arabia ( the world’s foremost exporter of terrorist financing ). Dealing with the cash flow from Opium will require us to pay the farmers handsomely well over market price for their opium crop in order to stop them from growing, and to keep paying them so that they resist the Taliban when they come after these – wealthier – farmers. We would also throw money around to the communities that support these farmers. Those special forces units would be the bagmen – delivering the money, and would lie in wait – when intelligence presents itself – to deal with any Taliban that come after the farmers. The good news is that we’ll be waiting for them, reversing the usual search and destroy formula in our favor. And if the farmers renege, or betray us. No more cash. The Taliban return and the farmers pay tribute in lives and treasure once more. If they like it, fine. If they don’t they can make a phone call.

At the very least, we keep the Taliban occupied while we concentrate on our strategic interests in Pakistan and Iran. And the policy would have another plus. The price of opium would rise dramatically, hitting the drug traffickers hard.

As to choking off donations to the Taliban, that will be harder, but it does not involve committing troops. It involves giving our diplomats teeth in their dealings with Saudi Arabia. A recalibration of America’s relations with Saudi Arabia is critical to our Afghan and Mid-East policies as a whole, and will be impacted by countless other elements, particularly in the energy sector of policy making. But that’s for another time.

Let’s leave this discussion by saying this. Achieving success in foreign policy comes from embracing bold solutions. There is no better cauldron for testing them than Afghanistan.

Written by coolrebel

November 11, 2009 at 3:06 am

Talk To the Taliban – Obama’s Divide and Rule Strategy

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time to talk to the taliban. (eye patches are optional)
Talk To Taliban. Eye patch optional.

Talking to moderate elements of the Taliban in order to undermine its unity is a great second prong of attack – to be combined with a more money-driven attack on Taliban control of Afghan opium. Obama was wise to caution that the complexities of Afghan tribal culture made the mapping of such talks much harder than even in Iraq. There are a number of interesting points embedded in the concept and Obama’s response.

Firstly, the Taliban rose to prominence precisely because they were able to bridge tribal divisions. Clearly they are suscepible to a divide and rule strategy, but we have to get a far better of idea of how to create it. Asking Americans on the ground to accurately understand and act on the landscape of highly complex tribal rivalries might be asking a little too much. And then there’s the question of the time it will take to build this system, and whether picking off local Taliban leaders piecemeal approach is the best way (after all, from then on they will have to be protected).  The best means may be to short-circuit that with standard procedure bribery. After all, the Sons of Iraq turned on the more extreme (Al Qaeda) elements of the Sunni insurgency because they were paid to do so.

Secondly, assuming we’re successful, and we are able to fragment the Taliban, we face the same quandary we’re looking at in Iraq. What will happen when we leave? Afghan tribal relationships are extremely fluid. Alliances change all the time, so without the focus that US ability to influence events with money and troops will bring, things might simply revert to where they are now once we’re gone.

Third, if the Taliban is stymied, reconstruction has to begin.  The only solution to the quandary above may be to make a major (and private) multi-year commitment to continue our intervention in Afghanistan, because a drastic reduction of Taliban power can only be sustained if there’s such a noticeable improvement in Afghan economic and social fortunes that going back to Taliban rule would be seen as bad news to most Aghans. Afghanistan has been a basket case for centuries, so bringing discernible improvement to its people – outside Kabul is likely to take many years.

Fourthly, none of the above means anything without tackling the opium problem in a non-violent way. Only by paying opium farmers to verifiably switch to other crops and protect them from Taliban retaliation (our only serious military role apart from stopping remain opium smuggling) can we reduce Taliban payroll – which is, for the most part, what earns the loyalty of their dirt-poor recruits.

Finally, Pakistan’s recent deal with the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley is a problem for our dealings with the Afghan Taliban. We need to recalibrate our policy in Pakistan to develop stronger ties with the Pakistani Army, to build support for the civilian government, and to isolate the ISI in an effort to get that and other of Islamabad’s militant friendly decsions reversed.

We can make progress in Afghanistan. The issue is whether it can be sustained.

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Written by coolrebel

March 7, 2009 at 7:29 am

Nobody Fights in Afghanistan and Wins.

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From a superficial perspective, the idea of diverting US forces to Afghanistan as we draw down troops in Iraq seems like a good idea. But Afghanistan is a deeply inhospitable, corrupt, backward, and highly unstable failed state with an almost feudal social structure. It’s been resisting modernity and foreign control for millenia.

Before we do anything we need to make a strategic decision about our goals. It’s clear that the Taliban must go, but forget democracy, stability is just fine. It’s equally clear that increasing US ground forces by a few combat brigades will not do the job. The war would slog on for many years at great cost in lives and treasure. The Kush would be a graveyard for our grunts. There has to be another way. And there is.

There are two connected ways to beat the Taliban. We need both to win.

The first lies in economics of the Taliban.

The Taliban are really drug traffickers with a mission from God. They rely on weapons and recruits paid for by opium money. No opium. No money. No money. No recruits. No recruits. No power. All we have to do is to bribe the opium farmers not to plant the poppies. Over time we have to make the farmers very, very rich (in Afghan terms).  Of course we’d need to make sure we weren’t being played, but if there’s enough cash in it for the farmers, and we’re able to keep them honest, they’ll become a force we can rely on – just like the Sunni Awakening in Iraq. Afghans are fierce fighters and when there’s money at stake – watch out. Supporting this with a US or WFP strategy to improve agriculture will be very useful. We’ll need Special Forces teams on the ground doling out the money, and ground troops to verify, patrol and protect the farms, but the total investment will be a fraction of the costs planned.

The second part of the solution lies in cutting the Taliban off from their outside suppliers.

These are primarily Iran, Pakistan’s ISI, and other sources of Finance from the underbelly of the Saudi establishment for example. In the case of Iran, weakening their ties to the Taliban will be a part of a US diplomatic offensive to build a new rapprochement with Iran. We won’t have to ask them to choke off Taliban support. If Iran and the US get along (which they should) it will happen automatically. As for Pakistan, we have to help the Civilian government get out from under the heel of the Pakistani Army and ISI. The best way is to support the army not castigate it. After all it’s the first line of defense in Pakistan. There’s nothing a third world army likes more than US training and support. It will buy their loyalty and give the civilian government the breathing rooom it needs to make inroads against the Pakistani Taliban. Finally, Saudi we should put pressure on our Saudi “friends” to stop exporting Wahabbiism. And now we’re planning to go it alone on energy, we have some leverage to get them to do our bidding.

The end result could be that Afghanistant goes back to being a distant and dusty backwater with no strategic role to play. The world would be an awful lot safer.

Written by coolrebel

January 27, 2009 at 6:14 am