Which Afghanistan War Are We Fighting?

One thing that’s clear, reading through the press briefings and interviews given by returning members of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day strategic review, is that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is depressingly alarming or alarmingly depressing, take your pick. Both Andrew Exum and Stephen Biddle are in the “hard but not hopeless” camp, but came back with more of the former than the latter to report. And Anthony Cordesman, whose real-time thinking comes out in paragraph form, was downright brutal in his assessment of where things stand. Cordesman thinks the war is winnable, but that we must come to […]

Afghanistan Thought Experiment

I raised this question in relation to Iraq and the Surge in January 2007. Sam Roggeveen applies it to Afghanistan, with perhaps even better effect: I wonder how convincing such arguments would beif we weren’t inAfghanistan already. Would we now advocate an invasion and long-termoccupation of Afghanistan to stabilise the Indian Ocean region, reducethe chances of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, disruptdrug supplies, protect energy sources, substitute for the lack of aregional security framework anddiscourage Pakistani cooperation withthe Taliban? More to the point, have any of these problems been reducedor made more manageable by the Western presence in Afghanistan? […]

U.S.-India on the Down Low

For various reasons, the truth of the military relationship between the U.S. and India is inconvenient for both countries. Considerable anti-Americanism and national pride makes the Indian side prickly regarding any perceived infringement on Indian sovereignty and autonomy. Meanwhile, recognition of India’s strategic significance combined with the need for discretion in terms of regional perceptions makes the subject a delicate one for the U.S. The End User Monitoring agreement recently agreed to by the two sides during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit is a good illustration of the dynamics involved, and gives me the opportunity to call your attention […]

WPR Interview with Andrew Exum

I just wanted to call your attention to the interview I conducted with Andrew Exum, a.k.a. Abu Muqawama. Andrew just got back from a month in Afghanistan, where he took part in Gen. stanlye McChrystal’s 60-day strategic review. He took some time out of a busy morning to talk freely and openly about his impressions on the war, including some fo the hard challenges and difficult decisions facing the U.S. military and policymakers. Here’s what he had to say when asked what one thing Americans need to know about the war in Afghanistan: The thing that I would say is […]

Andrew Exum is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and author of the influential counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama. He just returned from a month in Afghanistan, where he took part in recently appointed U.S. and Coalition commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day review of strategy and operations. He graciously agreed to talk with WPR Managing Editor Judah Grunstein about his impressions from his trip. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect any U.S. government or military position, nor the views of the CNAS. The following is an edited and abridged transcript of the […]

India’s Dongria Kodh Tribe Resists British Mining Concern

Shareholders at the annual meeting of British mining company Vedanta Resources found themselves thrust into an ongoing debate between the corporation and human rights activists on Monday, when supporters of India’s Dongria Kodh tribe made an impassioned appeal to halt plans for a bauxite mine they believe could end the tribe’s way of life. Vedanta plans an open-pit bauxite mine to tap the resources in Orissa’s Nyamgiri Mountain. The Dogria Kodh people, who number only about 8,000, depend on the mountain and surrounding ecosystem for their way of life, and hold the land to be the sacred home of their […]

The 10th Mountain Division has recently deployed to Afghanistan’s Wardak province in an effort to apply U.S. counterinsurgency tactics to the region 30 miles west of Kabul. Although security has improved since they arrived, American and Coalition efforts still face significant challenges. Insurgent attacks, mainly mortar and roadside explosive devices, remain a threat. The performance of Afghan police and army units — a central component of U.S. and Coalition strategy — is markedly improved but still leaves much to be desired. And winning the trust and allegiance of Afghan villagers, in particular among the Pashtun, is a daily struggle, often […]

Editor’s note: Balint Szlanko’s WPR Photo Feature that accompanies today’s reporter’s notebook can be found here. WARDAK, Afghanistan — It was always going to be hard to get the Afghans — and especially the Pashtuns, the ethnic base of the Taliban — to cooperate with the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government in Kabul. One of the biggest tests, perhaps, is the effort to get people to join the recently established Afghan Police Protection Force (APPF), an armed neighborhood watch that is being piloted in Wardak province, before it is extended to other parts of the country. Setting up and arming […]

A Post-Afghanistan Germany

We tend to think of the war in Afghanistan in terms of its impact on American power, and even for the implications it will have for NATO as an out-of-theater alliance. But here’s a thought: What if the most significant impact of the Afghanistan War is to soothe Germany’s fraught relationship with the use of “hard power”? If so, then a major joint operation launched this week — in which 300 German troops supported 1,200 Afghan soldiers with heavy arms and mortar, light-armored vehicles and air support — marked a turning point. The operation is Germany’s first offensive military campaign […]

The Pakistan Disconnect

The NY Times reports that Pakistan is less than keen about the latest Marine offensive in southern Afghanistan, and I think Rob over at Arabic Media Shack has a pretty useful takeaway: Manyin America, especially inside the COIN community, have becomefrustrated with Pakistan lately, wondering why they “don’t get it,” andwon’t develop their own Counter-Insurgency to take out pro-Talibanelements inside Pakistan. It’s quite simple actually: Pakistan and theU.S. do not have mutual interests in this case.Can we just admit this? I’d add that Pakistan and the U.S. do not share a common perception of Pakistan’s interests in this case. And […]

NEW DELHI — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s five-day trip to India marked the formal launch of a full-fledged bilateral exchange between Washington and New Delhi, one that will set the tone for the trajectory of India’s future engagement with the Obama administration. As expected, Clinton’s agenda covered the five pillars of the Indo-U.S. relationship: defense cooperation, science and technology, energy and climate change, education and trade. But the visit left the impression that it was crafted to be more symbolic than substantial, leading many to believe that Clinton was working according to a script, rather than as a much-vaunted […]

Has Washington forgotten about India? After increased engagement and improved bilateral ties under two successive American presidents, several commentators have wondered if President Barack Obama is undervaluing relations with New Delhi. With the new administration’s attention centered on developing a partnership with China, stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan, re-engaging Russia, and containing Iran and North Korea, it’s unclear whether India will be a strategic priority for the United States. That Washington has been primarily focused on the U.S.-China relationship is understandable. Leadership from today’s superpower and tomorrow’s great power are seen as essential for addressing transnational threats. U.S. Secretary of State […]

The cliché that you must “protect the population” in order to win a counterinsurgency has now become entrenched in conventional wisdom. This is especially so of the war in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties have become a deeply polarizing issue. It has become so important that, during a recent trip to Helmand Province, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, declared that Coalition forces must make a “cultural shift” in Afghanistan, away from their normal combat orientation and toward protecting civilians. But protecting the population requires knowing where it lives. Here, the Army’s conventional wisdom […]

Afghanistan: The Case for a Happy Ending

Given all my griping about the war in Afghanistan, I thought I’d pass along two recent articles that offer a more positive outlook on the chances for a successful outcome there. The first is by Peter Bergen in the Washington Monthly (via Matthew Yglesias), the second by Fotini Christia and Michael Semple in Foreign Affairs (via Thomas P.M. Barnett). Bergen attacks what he calls the twin myths that Afghanistan is unconquerable and ungovernable. He argues that both can be accomplished with the current military footprint (augmented by increased Afghan security forces), combined with an expanded and internationalized civilian footprint. Essentially, […]

KARACHI, Pakistan — There has been a perceptible shift in the battle against militancy in Pakistan. The massive army operations that recently concluded in the Swat valley, the largest ever conducted by Pakistan against the Taliban, are but one facet of it. For the first time, the government is also winning the propaganda war. Ordinary citizens and political parties from across the spectrum — including religious ones — have rallied around the army. At a series of government-organized religious conferences in May, scholars denounced the Taliban as a perversion of Islamic teachings. While stopping short of apologizing for their role […]

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The new Afghanistan strategy is supposed to be all about winning hearts and minds. But this small combat outpost high in the Hindu Kush mountains seems to be mostly about fighting. The outpost, manned by Delta Rifle Company* of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, has been mortared or rocketed seven times in the last two days. They also got involved in a major firefight between the Taliban, Afghan security forces and private security contractors protecting the supply trucks heading up the main road towards Kabul. To be fair, overall violence levels in Wardak province have dropped […]

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The most surprising thing, initially, is how difficult and time-consuming even the most basic tasks are — like getting around between coalition camps, for instance. I had left Forward Operating Base Airborne — where I am based with U.S. Army units from the 10th Mountain Division and a French army training team — for a short trip to a nearby combat outpost, only a few miles away. The objective had been to take water, food, and building materials to the new outpost. The trip, which had promised to be relatively easy and painless, ended up consuming the […]

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