LONDON — The business of war-fighting just got more difficult. These days, British troops — over-stretched, under-funded and ill-equipped — must contend not only with implacable enemies abroad, but also with a seemingly disinterested Defense Ministry and a sometimes hostile public at home. No surprise, then, that morale has plummeted. The low level of morale was highlighted in a survey — the first ever — that was conducted among more than 24,000 service personnel across the armed forces. It revealed that almost half are ready to quit. The reasons are not hard to find. During October alone, the British government […]

Ten years after al-Qaida declared war against the United States, andseven years after the U.S. followed suit, much of what we know aboutthe group is filtered through the lens of the Global War on Terror, aconcept that hides and distorts as much as it reveals. In reducingal-Qaida to a terrorist organization, we have ignored the broadersocio-cultural movement it represents. The result has been to overlookthe range of its activities on the one hand, while exaggerating itsprospects for success on the other. To formulate a soundstrategic response to al-Qaida, we must first have a clearunderstanding of just what kind of enemy […]

More Patriotism and the Press in Times of War

Regarding the Bing West column that I mentioned earlier, Andrew Exum and Spencer Ackerman push back very, very, veryhard against West’s criticisms of Nir Rosen. In rereading West’s piece,it strikes me as less thoughtful than it did earlier this morning, butstill thought-provoking, which is probably why I passed over his biases(the hostile tone towards the press and his criticisms of Bob Gates,for instance) and zeroed in on the ethical/legal questions he raised. When I first read Rosen’s article,I never considered Rosen a traitor, or worthy of being shot, asAckerman claim West suggests. But it does seem valid to point out […]

Patriotism and the Press in Times of War

Speaking of Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone article, Bing West discusses some of the ethical and legal issuesit raises over at Small Wars Journal. West manages to present some verythorny and potentially explosive issues passionately but not stridently(quite a feat these days), keeping the piece both thoughtful andthought-provoking. Mostly light, with just enough heat (and in theright places) to make it resonate. I’m not quite sure I agree with his answers, but he’s asking the right questions. West addresses two aspects of Rosen’s “embed” that had occurred to mewhen I read the piece. First, that he was basically agreeingto the possibility […]

Afghan Opinion Trends Downward but Isn’t Hopeless

The Asia Foundation just released its latest Afghanistan public opinion survey to general disinterest. You can find a summary of the key findings at the foundation’s In Asia blog, as well as past surveys here at the Asia Foundation’s site. The key indicators show a downward trend in terms of overall optimism. But as Josh Foust at Registannotes in his preliminary analysis, the report still seems lesspessimistic than a lot of recent Western commentary (my own included). The emerging disparities in terms of security between various regionsof the country reminded me of something that occurred to me whilereading Nir Rosen’s […]

WPR Feature: The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know

If any of you are in the habit of entering the site through the blog without taking a look at some of the frontpage content, I encourage to click through to our latest biweekly feature issue, “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Three articles (here, here and here) on the various ways in which, seven years into the “Global War on Terror,” we’ve yet to fully take the measure of just who our principal enemy is. Click through. You’ll be glad you did.

Fear and Loathing in Afghanistan

I just finished reading Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone piece on his gonzo “embed”with the Taliban, and to be honest, I find the reaction to the piece as revealingas the article itself: Does it take cojones to go where Rosen went?Yes. (Spencer Ackerman.) Does it blur some legaland ethical lines? Yes. (Dave Dilegge.) Does it blur some factual lines? Yes. (Joshua Foust.) Does itprovide valuable source material for students ofcounterinsurgency? Again, yes. (Andrew Exum.) But does it shed light on the subject? There I’m not so sure. Compared to Dexter Filkins’ NYT Sunday Magazine piece last month on the Pakistani tribal […]

Germany Raises Afghanistan Troop Levels

Worth noting, given my repeated warnings over fading European commitment to the NATO Afghanistan mission: the German parliament just formally approved the plan to add a thousand troops over the next fourteen months, bringing Germany’s total deployment to 4500, third behind the U.S. and Britain. Behind that silver lining, however, lurks a cloud: Merkel, supported by the Defense Ministry, did not want the mission tobe used by her political opponents during the federal election campaignnext year, particularly since there is growing public opposition tocontinuing German military involvement inAfghanistan. Apparently when we export democracy, it leaves less to go around back […]

In the midst of two wars and with an “era of persistent conflict” foreseen ahead, America and its military are confronting battlefield urgencies and operational complexities that challenge the very way in which we conceive of warfare. Whether on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, or on the waters off of Somalia, the reality of today’s conflicts have exposed gaps in our tactical thinking and operational approach to waging war. The responses have combined doctrinal evolutions and operational innovations, demonstrating once again the strategic asset represented by American ingenuity and creative thinking. But they have also generated a passionate and […]

CONFRONTING THE CRISIS — An EU financial doctrine and a new set of EU regulations for executive compensation in the banking and financial sector have emerged out of the financial chaos of the last week, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said in Washington on Friday. The new doctrine says EU governments will protect their financial institutions, safeguard the taxpayers’ interests, put in motion a reform of the financial sector, guarantee bank deposits, and take a short term stake in financial institutions to help their recovery. The European Union’s 27 member states will apply the financial doctrine according to their needs […]

COIN as Transfer of Wealth

I’ve mentioned the impact the financial crisis is likely to have on European resolve with regards to the Afghanistan mission. Here’s Charlie from Abu Muqawama on the potential impact Stateside: But if you think the American public is fickle and short-sighted in the best of times, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s going to be increasingly hard to justifying long-term occupations overseas…not to mention Army and Marine plus-ups (that budget money is going to go to big ticket hardware items like ships and planes, the kinds of things that create jobs in congressional districts). That touches on something that’s been […]

Pakistan’s Domestic Terror Response

The terrorist attacks in Pakistan are striking closer and closer to home, this time the highly secure police headquarters in Islamabad. There’s lots of speculation about what impact the domestic attacks will have on the Pakistani leadership’s approach to the extremist elements they’ve been otherwise cultivating for many years. My hunch is that it will be a lot like the American approach in Iraq, and what’s increasingly being proposed for Afghanistan and the FATA: buy out the ones who have a price, and fight the ones who don’t. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to figure out who’s who and what that […]

French Desertion Rumors Unfounded

To follow up on an earlier post on rumors of desertion among French troops deploying to Afghanistan, Jean-Dominique Merchet at Secret Défense has done some digging and decided that the evidence doesn’t back them up. Going through the numbers for the 8th RPIMa, he found only two cases of confirmed AWOL: The 8th is an elite regiment with highly motivated personnel, so it’s likely those numbers are higher in other units. But for now, it would not be honest to talk of a troubling phenomenon. (Translated from the French.) There are still a lot of troubling phenomena about the NATO […]

Kaplan on Afghanistan

When Robert Kaplan speaks, I listen. His NY Times op-ed (via Small Wars Journal) makes the case for taking Afghanistan seriously as a strategic priority, and committing the resources necessary for rebuilding it as a functioning state instead of just treating it as a manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Kaplan makes the good point that notwithstanding the shortsightenedness that the Indian-Pakistani rivalry often provokes, a stable Afghanistan is in everyone’s longterm interests. . . .Even under a weak central government, Afghanistan could finally achieve economic salvation: the construction of a web of energy pipelines that have been envisioned for years […]

The NATO Afghanistan Unraveling Begins?

Following up on the “Coalition of the Bankrupt” post from last week, Jean-Dominique Merchet at Secret Défense has a series of posts (here and here, both in French) discussing whether or not French army units scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan are experiencing higher rates of absenteeism (read: desertion). The thread was begun when Merchet reported that a unit that had been training for its deployment for the past six months was “frustrated” and “disappointed” to learn that it had been replaced by another and would, in fact, be staying put as an operational reserve. Merchet noted that the unit’s reaction […]

Coalition of the Bankrupt?

So here’s a question. How long before the growing European outrage over the American financial crisis plays a role in the debate over European troop presence in Afghanistan? I’ve already written about the French army’s barely concealed resentment over the lack of equipment and preparation for their recently deployed reinforcements. Now comes news that a Dutch platoon serving in Afghanistan has been suspended for directly refusing an order, with the Dutch Defense Minsitry confirming the incident took place but withholding further comment. Now, this kind of incident might just be the result of internal tensions between a unit and its […]