Tag Archives: pakistan

Today’s news about the Ak-Pak War, about al Qaeda’s strength

Summary:  Our descendents will read about the Af-Pak War and conclude that early 21st century Americans were either fools or insane.  As seen in these two stories from today’s news.

(1)  Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that the government estimates that there are somewhat “more than 300” al Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas (“New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered“, New York Times, 1 July 2010).  How nice of them to tell us.  How long have they known this?   In addition AQ has another 50 – 100 in Afghanistan (per CIA Director Panetta). 

(2)  Now read “We must crush the Taliban and Al Qaeda in a ‘long war’ in Afghanistan“, John R. Bolton (former U.S. ambassador to the UN), op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2010:

“U.S. objectives in Afghanistan are straightforward: first, defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda efforts to reconquer Afghanistan and make it a base for international terrorism , and second, ensure that Afghan turmoil does not weaken or endanger Pakistan, permitting its nuclear weapons arsenal to fall into the hands of radical Islamists”. 

Bolton gives no evidence that either of those things is likely.   Esp that the few hundreds of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose any substantial threat to us.   His assertions are variants of the two most common  justifications for the war:

  1. to prevent another 9-11, and
  2. to build a stable and “good” Afghanistan.  Good defined in many ways, and steadily down as the war winds on (see here for the “protect women” version)

The second reason is so absurd that it needs no rebuttal, as most Americans reject it as either impossible or not worth the cost in blood and money.  The first of these is the big lie of the war (see Wikipedia).  Afghanistan had little or no role in 9-11.  Whatever we do in Afghanistan does not prevent another 9-11.

  •  The 9-11 attack was planned in Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, and Hamburg.
  •  The most important and relevant training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in the US.
  •  The Afghanistan camps primarily trained fighters against the Northern Alliance.  The training they provided for 9-11 could easily have been done elsewhere.  For more on this see “The ‘safe haven’ myth“, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 18 August 2009, or “Who’s Afraid of A Terrorist Haven?, Paul R. Pillar, op-ed in the Washington Post, 16 September 2009.

The 9/11 Commission’s investigation:  what role did Afghanistan play?

The most complete public collection of information about 9/11 is The 9-11 Commission’s Report.  For details about the role of the training in Afghanistan, see page 156, Chapter 5, Al Qaeda Aims at the American Homeland.  Pretty weak basis for a long war, as the important planning and training was done in Europe and the US:

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Exum looks at Af-Pak campaign of the Long War, revealing more about ourselves than the foe

Summary:  Andew Exum’s new report reveals more about America’s defective OODA loop than about the Af-Pak War, esp our myopia (Observation) and insularity (Orientation).  As other posts on the FM website have shown, this is characteristic of our geopolitical experts.  The causes remain obscure.  Perhaps institutional factors, esp the Pentagon dominating the discussion and funding.  Perhaps cultural factors, such as success having made us stupid.

This post examines a new report by Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama):  “Leverage: Designing a Political Campaign for Afghanistan“, Center for a New American Security, May 2010.   Exum provides an excellent example of  our smart, knowledgeable, and experienced geopolitical experts writing about what are in-effect theoretical worlds.  Oz, rather than Earth.  Social scientists make unrealistic assumptions (e.g, the rational investor) as intermediate steps, providing analytical rigor to the process of developing accurate theories.  In geopolitics, the author’s political intent encourages unrealistic descriptions and theories — to obscure, to deceive.

For example, note how Exum never describes Afghanistan as a client or puppet regime.  Careful writing and euphemism disguise this important truth.  On page 7 he observes “some Afghans consider Hamid Karzai to be a puppet of the United States and its allies” — but never asks if they are correct.  This myopia is not just Exum’s; it’s ours.  Geopolitical experts, journalists, layfolks blogging about our wars — all tend to write with similar blinders.


Above all, the United States and its allies need a functioning relationship with the elected Afghan government.  {page 5}

On the first page of his analysis Exum goes to the heart of the issue.  It’s never followed up, beyond implying the correct relationship is we command, they obey.

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Pratap Chatterjee asks “are we destabilizing Pakistan?”

The parallels are so close to our 1960’s Souteast Asian adventures that perhaps the question should be “can we learn from our mistakes?  So far the answer appears to be “no.”

Operation Breakfast Redux – Could Pakistan 2010 Go the Way of Cambodia 1969? 
By Pratap Chatterjee, TomDispatch, 7 February 2010 — Reposted with permission.

Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — that is, pilot-less drones — shoot missiles (18 of themin a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants”have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report — and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program — reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese — became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war — that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it. It’s this that makes the analogy drawn by TomDispatch regular and author of Halliburton’s Army, Pratap Chatterjee, so unnerving. It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves.

Today’s Feature by Pratap Chatterjee

Sitting in air-conditioned comfort, cans of Coke and 7-Up within reach as they watched their screens, the ground controllers gave the order to strike under the cover of darkness. There had been no declaration of war.  No advance warning, nothing, in fact, that would have alerted the “enemy” to the sudden, unprecedented bombing raids. The secret computer-guided strikes were authorized by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just weeks after a new American president entered the Oval Office.  They represented an effort to wipe out the enemy’s central headquarters whose location intelligence experts claimed to have pinpointed just across the border from the war-torn land where tens of thousands of American troops were fighting daily.

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Don’t read this about Blackwater! Why ruin your illusions, so carefully manufactured by our government’s info ops.

I strongly recommend reading this in full.  It’s a long and well-documented (as such things go) article.  Why should foreigners be the only ones to know the truth about America’s wars?

Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan“, Jeremy Scahill, The Nation, 23 November 2009 — Excerpt:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found.

… Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

We don’t know because we cover our eyes.

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Are we defending the Pakistan of our dreams, or the real thing?

We’re told that we fight to protect Pakistan – but how many of its people want US help, or even share our views about the threat?

  1. Analysis: Pakistan not apt to cooperate“, AP, 25 September 2009 — A confused mish-mash of views and information, although the headline is probably correct.
  2. Anti-U.S. Wave Imperiling Efforts in Pakistan, Officials Say“, Washington Post, 25 September 2009
  3. Pakistan Public Opinion Survey, International Republican Institute (IRI), March 2009

For more about how the people of Pakistan view the USA, see The love of an ally is sweet to behold (21 August 2009).


(1)  Analysis: Pakistan not apt to cooperate“, AP, 25 September 2009 — A confused mish-mash of American agitprop and actual information about Pakistan, although the headline is probably correct.  Excerpt:

Pakistan has been ambivalent about the militants, sometimes trying to enlist them as potential allies in case they take control again in neighboring Afghanistan — a prospect many here believe is getting closer.

(2)  Anti-U.S. Wave Imperiling Efforts in Pakistan, Officials Say“, Washington Post, 25 September 2009 — Excerpt:

A new wave of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan has slowed the arrival of hundreds of U.S. civilian and military officials charged with implementing assistance programs, undermined cooperation in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and put American lives at risk, according to officials from both countries.

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Juan Cole describes A Century of Frenzy over the North-West Frontier

One great oddity of our wars is their architects lack of knowledge.  Not about war, or COIN.  But in the specifics of the conflict — the people and area, their history and beliefs.  Joshua Foust (writing at Registan) has often remarked about this, as have some posts on this website.  This gives a fantasy or game-like aspect to its planning and execution.  And diminishes our odds of success.  In this article Juan Cole provides some valuable background information.  It’s a must-read for anyone interested in our wars.

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

These days, it seems as though the United States is conducting its wars in places remarkably unfamiliar to most Americans. Its CIA-operated drone aircraft, for instance, have been regularly firing missiles into Waziristan, where, in one strike in June, an estimated 80 tribespeople were killed while at a funeral procession for the dead from a previous drone strike.

Waziristan? If you asked most Americans whether their safety depended on killing people in Waziristan, they might wonder what you were talking about. But not in Washington, where Waziristan, the Swat Valley, the Lower Dir district, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, also known as FATA, and the North-West Frontier Province, among other places you’d previously never heard of, are not only on the collective mind but evidently considered crucial to the well-being, and even existence, of the United States. Perhaps that’s simply the new norm. After all, we now live in a thoroughly ramped-up atmosphere in which “American national security” — defined to include just about anything unsettling that occurs anywhere on Earth — is the eternal preoccupation of a vast national security bureaucracy whose bread and butter increasingly seems to be worst-case scenarios.

The ongoing hysteria about lightly settled, mountainous Pashtun tribal lands in Pakistan on or near the ill-defined Afghan border might seem unique to our imperial moment. So imagine my surprise when Juan Cole told me it actually has a history more than a century old. And there’s nothing like a little history lesson, is there, to put the strange hysterias of our moment into perspective?

Cole has just written a whole book about America’s “Islam Anxiety,” Engaging the Muslim World, and his invaluable website Informed Comment is one of my first daily on-line stops — so who better to offer a little history lesson in imperial delusions of grandeur and peril? If you feel like a more extensive lesson in what to make of the gamut of issues where the U.S. and the Muslim world meet, or rather collide, don’t miss his book. It’s a continual eye-opener.

Armageddon at the Top of the World: Not!   A Century of Frenzy over the North-West Frontier“, Juan Cole, posted at TomDispatch, 27 July 2009 — Posted in full with permission.

WHAT, what, what,
What’s the news from Swat?
Sad news,
Bad news,
Comes by the cable led
Through the Indian Ocean’s bed,
Through the Persian Gulf, the Red
Sea and the Med-
Iterranean — he ‘s dead;
The Ahkoond is dead!
— opening stanza of “A Threnody“, by George Thomas Lanigan

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A new reason to kill thousands of people? Stay tuned for the answer!

Every day the attempts to justify the Af-Pak war reach new heights of creativity.  Today we have an essay in The New Yorker by Steve Coll, the first in a series explaining that we must  do something or other (he never explains what) for the sake of civilization.

Also, Coll never describes the consequences of our withdrawal from the Af-Pak fighting, but hints at it in apocalyptic tones.

Let’s have a contest!  In the comments please give your guess as to what Coll will recommend. 

  1. An intense program of civilian aid — a super-Peace Corps program for Afghanistan?
  2. Doubling down on the war?
  3. Like Joshua Foust’s, essays that never come to a conclusion?

I guess #2.  Furthermore, I suspect he will provide much uplifting rhetoric, but no mention of the messy details of war.  How many people we must kill — and how many Americans must die — for the march of civilization?  Who will lend us the money for this crusade?  How we will repay the war debts?  Will the people of the world will pay us to wage this crusade? 

More on this following Cull’s next chapter.

Thinking About Afghanistan“, Steve Coll, The New Yorker, 23 September 2009 — Hat tip on this to Jari Lindholm.  Red emphasis added.   Much of the text omitted is about the march of civilization.  Excerpt:

At the risk of trying the patience of those who seek from Afghan wonks a short yes-or-no opinion about General McChrystal’s assessment of the war and his argument for more U.S. troops pronto, I thought I would try a series of posts this week that seek some distance from the political heat surrounding President Obama’s first (but presumably not his only) excruciating decision as commander-in-chief. I’ll circle around to the yes-or-no, but gradually.

… The United States has a deep interest in the emergence of a stable, modernizing, economically integrated, peaceful South Asia — by which I mean the region that is centered on India, but which also encompasses Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan.

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