Dancing with the Stars: India-Pakistan Edition

I highly recommend this account by Bruce Tolentino at In Asia about the flag-lowering ceremony that is performed each day before packed ampitheatres on both sides of the only India-Pakistan border crossing: Then, simultaneously, the guards from each side launch repeatedfusillades of choreographed marching and gestures. Aggressively, theyrush the border, furiously stamping their feet, glaring and snorting attheir foes. They stop – inches from one another, never crossing theborder – raise their arms to shoulder height and display thumbs pointeddownward, dismissing the other. Excitement and tension among the crowdsrepeatedly builds and swells, erupting in applause for their respectivenational warriors. This […]

During the Cold War, U.S. military forces operated in big, firepower-heavy formations, designed to fight equally big and powerful Soviet formations — or what the Pentagon calls “peer” opponents. Times have changed, but the military hadn’t — until now. In recent months, reformers have successfully fought for sweeping changes to military force structure. The changes are meant to boost the Pentagon’s ability to fight in low-intensity, “persistent” conflicts, as opposed to the short, high-intensity major conflicts expected in the recent past. In addition to the structural changes, persistent conflicts demand new ways of thinking about — and training for — […]

Iran’s Block Association Meeting

I’m not sure I’d characterize the summit between the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran as “the latest sign of Iran’s emergence as the regional power,” as does the NY Times. I might think otherwise if Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had joined them. But he didn’t, meaning this is basically the diplomatic equivalent of a block association meeting. It certainly can’t do any harm, could even do some good, and far from being an example of our inability to isolate Iran, is exactly the sort of thing that we should be — and increasingly have been — encouraging. But […]

Behind the Karzai-Khalilzad Alliance Rumors

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported this week that a political deal was under discussion between Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad — the former U.S. ambassador successively to Kabul, Baghdad, and the United Nations, and until recently a possible, if undeclared, contender for the Afghan presidency. The talks centered on Khalilzad, an Afghan by birth, being appointed to a non-elected post described as chief executive officer, to put sinew into Karzai’s weak, inefficient, and — from Washington’s point of view — unreliable government. Both Karzai’s office in Kabul and Khalilzad himself at once denied […]

Pakistan’s Submarine War Against the Taliban

Just when Pakistan was beginning to get serious about its counterinsurgency efforts against the domestic Taliban in Swat and FATA, the German national security council put the kibosh on a previously approved Pakistani purchase of three German submarines. The Germans cited concerns about the stability of the Pakistani government, while ignoring the submarines’ central role in fighting off the Taliban threat. . . . Oh, wait. Maybe the subs weren’t meant for the Taliban, after all. Hmmm. I wonder who they were meant for? Seriously, Pakistani strategic calculations have not changed, and quite frankly, it’s hard to argue with them. […]

300 Guys. In Pakistan

Rob over at Arabic Media Shack has made this point a few times recently, and it’s one worth repeating. When people — like me — say, “Al-Qaida is in Pakistan,” just what do we mean? We need numbers. Like how many people? After all,wouldn’tknowing the exact number offighters tell us something about thestrategic significance of the threat? 50 would obviouslybe lesssignificant than 400; 2,000 would definitely be moreworryingthan500. But how come we never hear this question being asked?There is one exception that I noticed recently. John Mueller, writing in this month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, putsthe number of people in […]

War is Boring: In Afghanistan, U.S. Experiments Again with Local Militias

U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan have established an experimental security force drawn from local Afghan fighters, in a bid to better provide the street-level security that has proved instrumental to defeating entrenched insurgencies. Despite tens of thousands of incoming American reinforcements, most Afghan districts still do not have a permanent troop presence to defend against Taliban incursions. The new Afghan Public Protection Force “enables respected young men of local communities to become public protectors,” said U.S. Army training officer Capt. Marco Lyons. But the force, currently operating only in Wardak province, just south of the capital of Kabul, risks […]

COIN of the Realm

Time constraints this week force me to actually blog, instead of posting my usual long-form essays to the blog page. So quickly, a few thoughts on the Celeste Ward op-ed in the WaPo over the weekend, which Andrew Exum flagged. The question of the Surge narrative is central to Ward’s piece, which amounts to a critical corrective to the COIN “fad.” But I found this the more interesting thread: It still isn’t clear to me that what we faced in Iraq was aninsurgency. There were many different conflicts raging simultaneously:anti-occupation movements, struggles among and between ethno-sectariangroups, the presence of foreign […]

Running Out of Fingers

Richard Haass on his policy differences within the Bush administration: I argued for a new Iran policy and lost. I argued for a diplomaticapproach to North Korea and lost. I argued for a serious approach tothe Palestinian issue and lost. I wanted to deal with Syria, and I loston that. I also didn’t understand the allergy to internationalinstitutions. At some point, you run out of fingers to add up yourdisagreements. From an interview on wars of necessity vs. wars of choice over at Real Clear World. Interestingly, Haass obliquely underlines the disconnect between strategic objectives and resources that has plagued […]

Not McChrystal Clear

By all accounts, the Obama administration’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, and the troop increase to implement it, is a counterinsurgency approach to counterterrorism. In other words, the primary objective is no longer to build a stable Afghan state, and the primary enemy is no longer the Taliban per se. Instead, the tactics of population-centered warfare learned in Iraq will be applied to Afghanistan and the Taliban insurgency, but only in order to target al-Qaida more effectively. The appointment of Gen. Stanley McChrystal — a dyed-in-the-wool COIN man — as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is seen as cementing this approach […]

Who Fired McKiernan?

A few thoughts on the announcement that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will replace Gen. David McKiernan as commander of American forces in Afghanistan. First, most of the news reports and blog commentary I’ve read so far trace the decision directly back to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, with some noting the role played by Joint Chiefs head Adm. Michael Mullen. Indeed, a few of the ledes I’ve seen have formulated it as Gates, or alternatively “the Pentagon,” calling for McKiernan’s resignation. That stands in stark contrast to the last two headline-making cases of a commander relieved […]

COIN, Colonialism and Credibility

A big part of the American exit strategy from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed a big part of U.S. COIN doctrine more generally, is the de-Americanization of the conflicts through the progressive replacement of U.S. forces by indigenous security forces. The same thing can essentially be said about efforts to get Pakistan to address the Taliban insurgency in FATA and the NWFP more aggressively as well. Those efforts will obviously hit snags, as this NY Times article about the lapses in Iraqi security forces’ preparedness illustrates. There’s also something predictably counterproductive about having the Pakistani military commit the same […]

India Crashes the Party

Although the subject of India was barely mentioned in public, it was central to the private discussions between U.S. and Pakistani officials in Washington yesterday. Here’s Helene Cooper writing in the NY Times: [T]he one thing that no one seemed to be talking about publicly is theone thing that, privately, Obama officials acknowledge is the mostimportant: how to get the Pakistani government and army to move thecountry’s troops from the east, where they are preoccupied with a warwith India that most American officials do not think they will have tofight, to the west, where the Islamist insurgents are taking over […]

Opinion Shaping and the Pakistan Threat

I’ve been taking my time to fully digest the wildly fluctuating press reports coming out of Pakistan and Washington over the past few weeks. But I tend towards a bit of skepticism towards both. There seems to be a lot of “not seeing the forest for the trees” on both sides. In Pakistan, that means an almost casual, business-as-usual approach to a residual problem that totally misses the increasingly urgent cues coming from the Obama administration. In Washington, that means a heightened alarmism that is better adapted to shaping American opinion than it is to addressing what amounts to a […]

The Gospel According to COIN

At my own risk and peril, I’ve got to take issue with Joshua Foust on this one (third bullet point down in his post). The problem here isn’t that Al Jazeera “cannot tell the difference between standard issue evangelical boilerplate and a command to go destroy Islam in the name of Jesus.” It’s that a population that already suspects it’s being targeted as part of a religious crusade against Islam might not be able to. Given some of the quotes in the article, I wonder whether the evangelicals at issue might not be able to either. Clearly the U.S. Army […]

Strange Bedfellows in Kabul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have a lot of explaining to do concerning his choice of running mate for the upcoming Afghan elections when he meets with President Barack Obama today. Considering the growing popular skepticism (.pdf) in America about the Afghanistan War, one would think that Karzai would have made things easier for his Washington supporters with a more attractive choice. Instead he’s picked Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former warlord and protégé of murdered Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud, who has also been accused of drug smuggling, gun running and kidnapping. Kai Eide, the senior U.N. envoy in Kabul, […]

Half Measures for Afghanistan

President Obama’s plan to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan — in addition to 17,000 previously announced — was apparently a compromise between his political advisors and his military ones. Described as a “down-payment” option on future commitments once the Iraq draw-down is completed, this measure seems designed to buy time in the hope that Afghan President Karzai, who is meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, will get his army and his government in good enough shape to effectively engage with the Taliban and their allies. The Washington consensus seems once again to be that the U.S. is not engaged […]

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