Saturday, August 18, 2007

Plumbing boss charged Pentagon $1m for two washers

Plumbing boss charged Pentagon $1m for two washers | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited: "Plumbers are notorious for excessive bills. But none has come even remotely close to matching an extravagant claim by a South Carolina firm: almost $1m (£500,000) for two metal washers worth 19c each."

Charlene Corley, 47, co-owner of the plumbing and electrical firm C&D Distributors, who supplied parts to the military, is awaiting sentence after pleading guilty yesterday to defrauding the Pentagon. She faces 20 years in jail.

The most expensive washers in history were part of $20.5m the company stole from the Pentagon over the last 10 years. The company shipped plumbing and electrical parts to US bases round the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan

It took advantage of an automated system intended to cut out red tape by making speedy payments. The company repeatedly added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of shipping parts.
The company claimed $998,798 for sending the two washers, which could have been put in an envelope and posted through normal mail for a few dollars.

Corley used the money for luxury homes, cars, plastic surgery and jewellery.

She admitted her role in the fraud but lawyers placed most of the blame on her sister and co-owner, Darlene, who committed suicide in October after being approached by investigators.

Other bills included $445,640 for shipping one elbow pipe worth $8.75, $492,096 for a machine thread plug and $403,436 for six screws worth $59.94.

[bth: interesting that it is a british paper, the Guardian which carries this story.]

Colbert Report - Markos Moulitsas from the Daily Kos

The Left Coaster

Pentagon Seeks $750M to Fly MRAPs to Troops - 08/08/07 11:37 - Pentagon Seeks $750M to Fly MRAPs to Troops - 08/08/07 11:37: "The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $750 million to speed urgently needed armored vehicles to troops facing roadside bombs in Iraq, according to budget documents."

The emergency funding request would allow the military to fly many of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles directly to troops, rather than taking weeks transporting them by ship.

The transportation money is part of an emergency request for $5.3 billion for the Pentagon’s MRAP program for the fiscal year beginning in October. Congress must appropriate the money. All told, the military seeks about $12 billion through 2008 for about 8,000 vehicles, whose raised chassis and V-shaped hulls protect troops against roadside bombs.

John Young, who heads the Pentagon’s MRAP task force, has said as many as 3,500 MRAPs could be sent to Iraq by the end of 2007.

Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, blamed bad planning for the need to fly the vehicles to Iraq in the fifth year of the war. Pentagon leaders didn’t push for better-protected vehicles because they believed the war would be short, he said.
“It’s ridiculous that it took this long to send MRAPs,” O’Hanlon said. “It’s an example of wishfulness and politics getting in the way of protection for troops. It’s a bad mistake verging on the unconscionable.”

Pentagon officials, including Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, have said military leaders sent MRAP vehicles to Iraq as quickly as they could. Conway has said insurgent tactics changed in 2006 and made MRAPs a better choice than armored Humvees. USA Today has reported that the Pentagon knew of MRAPs effectiveness in the early years of the war but was slow to seek them.

It costs seven times more to fly MRAPs to the war zone rather than send them by sea, accounting for much of the spending request. The military’s Transportation Command estimates that it costs $135,000 to fly an MRAP compared with $18,000 by ship.

“The most expeditious manner is to use airlift,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said. “Eventually, that will change and more will transport by ship than by plane.”

Some MRAPs are already being airlifted to Iraq. The emergency request would fund the delivery of the vehicles as quickly as they are produced. They are flown from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., after being outfitted with electronics at a nearby Navy facility.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., said flying the vehicles is costly but justified. Shipping them can take weeks.

“The troops deserve it,” Spratt said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made the MRAP program the Defense Department’s top priority. He recently said the Pentagon would fly them to Iraq to get them to troops as quickly as possible.

President Bush singled out the MRAP program in a July 31 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging her to support $147 billion in war funding. In revising his defense budget request, Bush wrote that the $5.3 billion in emergency MRAP spending was “necessary to maximize the production of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and rapidly field this capability to our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The House of Representatives did not include war funding in the $459.6 billion defense budget bill approved Sunday morning. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the defense appropriations committee, has said the House will take up a separate war spending bill in September.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a member of the House Budget Committee, said he supported the Pentagon’s request for cash to rush MRAPs to Iraq.

“Whatever gets our guys into something safer faster is the right way to go,” Ryan said.

[bth: this is just such stupidity. We are over 4 years into a conflict, we have known the need for v-shaped hull vehicles for years. A factory produced armored humvee goes for $225K and we are spending $130K to airship MRAPs? Last year about 800 armored humvees sat in parking lots in Kuwait unissued to marines and 3rd ID while they waited months for the 4th ID to arrive. Now we suddenly find a need to airfreight vehicles that were not designed to be air freighted. We could buy a small merchant marine fleet for $750 million. We could hire the merchant fleet we subsidize to move these by the boat load. We could have made 8000 per year had we gotten the purchase orders out earlier this year but no, we will get at most 3500 because of slow and slopping procurement contracting. Absolutely criminal, gross mismanagement of this war.]
In a time of universal deceipt telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

- George Orwell

Army to Outsource 'Wounded Soldier' Call-Center Ops

THE PEACOCK REPORT (TPR): Army to Outsource 'Wounded Soldier' Call-Center Ops: "The U.S. Army Contracting Agency intends to partially outsource call-center operations for its Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline project, an initiative that it launched earlier this year in the aftermath of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal. "

It should be noted that the Army officially unveiled the call center initiative in March -- around the same time the Pentagon hired a Beltway public relations firm following revelations of substandard health care provided to soldiers returning home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan (see TPR, March 24, Pentagon Hires P.R. Firm to Put Spin on Soldier Healthcare Debacle).

According to a presolicitation notice dated Aug. 10, the goal of creating the call center was to:

[P]rovide a toll free call line for Army families, Soldiers, Retirees, Veterans, and Disabled Soldiers (beneficiaries) who are seeking information, submitting suggestions, registering complaints, or raising issues about their outpatient medical care. The Call Center is aimed at instilling confidence in our Army and the American people that the Army Medical Department delivers exceptional service and care.

The extent of the outsourcing has not been disclosed; the notice only says that this latest contracting action is being undertaken "in support" of the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline endeavor. Eligibility to compete for the new contract will be"limited to Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) Concerns only," the document emphasizes. Further details will become available when the Army releases a formal Request for Proposals "on or around Aug. 24."

[bth: note that the stated purpose of "the call center is aimed at instilling confidence in our Army and the American people that Army Medical Department delivers exceptional service and care". Note that it is about perception and not actual care.]
We do not defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home
--Edward R. Murrow
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

--Julius Caesar, Shakespeare

Cheney '94: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire C-SPAN

YouTube - Cheney '94: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire C-SPAN:

Exit Strategies

Exit Strategies - "If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations."

That was the conclusion reached in recent "war games" exercises conducted for the U.S. military by retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson. "I honestly don't think it will be apocalyptic," said Anderson, who has served in Iraq and now works for a major defense contractor. But "it will be ugly

In making the case for a continued U.S. troop presence, President Bush has offered far more dire forecasts, arguing that al-Qaeda or Iran -- or both -- would take over Iraq after a "precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. forces. Al-Qaeda, he said recently, would "be able to recruit better and raise more money from which to launch their objectives" of attacking the U.S. homeland. War opponents in Congress counter that Bush's talk about al-Qaeda is overblown fear-mongering and that nothing could be worse than the present situation.

Increasingly, the Washington debate over when U.S. forces should leave is centering on what would happen once they do. The U.S. military, aware of this political battlefield, has been quietly exploring scenarios of a reduced troop presence, performing role-playing exercises and studying historical parallels. Would the Iraqi government find its way, or would the country divide along sectarian lines?
Would al-Qaeda take over? Would Iran? Would U.S. security improve or deteriorate? Does the answer depend on when, how and how many U.S. troops depart?

Some military officers contend that, regardless of whether Iraq breaks apart or outside actors seek to take over after a U.S. pullout, ever greater carnage is inevitable. "The water-cooler chat I hear most often . . . is that there is going to be an outbreak of violence when we leave that makes the [current] instability look like a church picnic," said an officer who has served in Iraq.

However, just as few envisioned the long Iraq war, now in its fifth year, or the many setbacks along the way, there are no firm conclusions regarding the consequences of a reduction in U.S. troops. A senior administration official closely involved in Iraq policy imagines a vast internecine slaughter as Iraq descends into chaos but cautions that it is impossible to know the outcome. "We've got to be very modest about our predictive capabilities," the official said.

Mistakes of the Past

In April of last year, the Army and Joint Forces Command sponsored a war game called Unified Quest 2007 at the Army War College in Pennsylvania. It assumed the partition of an "Iraq-like" country, said one player, retired Army Col. Richard Sinnreich, with U.S. troops moving quickly out of the capital to redeploy in the far north and south. "We have obligations to the Kurds and the Kuwaitis, and they also offer the most stable and secure locations from which to continue," he said.

"Even then, the end-of-game assessment wasn't very favorable" to the United States, he said.

Anderson, the retired Marine, has conducted nearly a dozen Iraq-related war games for the military over the past two years, many premised on a U.S. combat pullout by a set date -- leaving only advisers and support units -- and concluded that partition would result. The games also predicted that Iran would intervene on one side of a Shiite civil war and would become bogged down in southern Iraq.

T.X. Hammes, another retired Marine colonel, said that an extended Iranian presence in Iraq could lead to increased intervention by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states on the other side. "If that happens," Hammes said, "I worry that the Iranians come to the conclusion they have to do something to undercut . . . the Saudis." Their best strategy, he said, "would be to stimulate insurgency among the Shiites in Saudi Arabia."

In a secret war game conducted in December at an office building near the Pentagon, more than 20 participants from the military, the CIA, the State Department and the private sector spent three days examining what might unfold if the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group were implemented.

One question involved how Syria and Iran might respond to the U.S. diplomatic outreach proposed by the bipartisan group, headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). The gamers concluded that Iran would be difficult to engage because its divided government is incapable of delivering on its promises. Role-players representing Syria did engage with the U.S. diplomats, but linked helping out in Baghdad to a lessening of U.S. pressure in Lebanon.

The bottom line, one participant said, was "pretty much what we are seeing" since the Bush administration began intermittent talks with Damascus and Tehran: not much progress or tangible results.

Amid political arguments in Washington over troop departures, U.S. military commanders on the ground stress the importance of developing a careful and thorough withdrawal plan. Whatever the politicians decide, "it needs to be well-thought-out and it cannot be a strategy that is based on 'Well, we need to leave,' " Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Friday from his base near Tikrit......

'House Bombs' a Growing Risk for U.S. Troops

'House Bombs' a Growing Risk for U.S. Troops - "BAGHDAD -- When the sniper's bullet hit Billy Edwards, his Army brothers did not hesitate."

The 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division calls itself the "Send Me" brigade, and on Saturday, its soldiers were quick to send themselves to find the man who shot Pfc. William L. Edwards, a wide-eyed 23-year-old from Houston. They quickly identified the house where they believed the assailant was hiding and moved in, just as the sniper knew they would.

Inside the house, one soldier stepped on a pressure plate, detonating an estimated 30 pounds of explosives hidden under a stairwell. In an instant, four troops were killed; four others were injured. Edwards died later in the hospital. The sniper escaped.

The attack in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad, was particularly savage, predicated on knowledge of the soldiers' sense of duty to a fallen comrade. Military commanders say the number of similar incidents -- those in which soldiers are lured into a house rigged to explode -- has risen dramatically across Iraq in recent months.

"The enemy is continually evolving tactics," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the U.S. offensive south of Baghdad, who described Saturday's events in an interview. "In this case, our guys followed their instincts to chase this guy down and got trapped."

Saturday's attack marked the first time that troops under Lynch's command have been killed by a house-borne improvised explosive device, the official term for a house bomb. The tactic appears to have spread south from Diyala province, northeast of the capital, where three house bombs have killed several American troops in the past two months. The U.S. military typically classifies house bombs with other IED attacks, so the exact number of Americans killed by the devices is difficult to determine.

On Monday, troops in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala, held a memorial service for four soldiers killed there by a house bomb Aug. 6. Twelve other troops were killed in that attack.

In Diyala, as in Arab Jabour, the stratagem is considered a hallmark of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has not asserted responsibility for Saturday's attack but wrote on an insurgent Web site that it was a cause for celebration. Though the U.S. military says the group's operations have been severely weakened across Iraq, the increased number of house bomb attacks suggest that a significant number of al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters are adapting to U.S. strategies and developing more advanced tactics of their own.

The growing use of house bombs is part of a larger pattern of more complex and coordinated attacks against U.S. forces by al-Qaeda in Iraq...

[bth: this explains the increase in enlisted casualties since the surge began which is not tracked by a similar increase in officers casualties. The dismounted tactics, house bombs and more elaborate ambushes are resulting in more US casualties. The surge has been going on for about 6 months and probably peaked about 3 months ago. The insurgents change in tactics, the use of house bombs and neighborhood wide ambushes, seems to have changed within a few months as well. This is indicative of other shifts in equipment and tactics - side vehicular armor caused a shift to mines, which were countered by undercarriage protection which was countered by double stacking mines which was countered by jammers which was countered by pressure plates and trip wires, which was countered by MRAPs which is countered by EFPs, which is countered by dismounted infantry which is countered by house bombs.]

Friday, August 17, 2007

Analysis: Oil flows in Basra power vacuum

United Press International - International Security - Energy - Analysis: "WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Political parties and their militias are fighting for power over the Basra government, the oil sector it controls, and the oil and fuels smuggling that bring in extra funds."

The southern area, where much of Iraq’s oil wealth is located and nearly all its oil exports are sent to market, has been under the purview of British troops, who have allowed various factions to become the power base and their armed outfits to flourish.

Now the British are leaving, and the intra-Shiite fighting that bloodied the streets and complicated provincial politics will explode. Even if U.S. troops, already stretched thin, are sent to mediate, the situation will likely not be calmed -- it will likely be inflamed.

“It’s fundamentally related to the battle over oil,” said Reidar Visser, editor of the Iraq Web site and an Iraq expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. “It’s understandable, of course, given the size of the Basra reserves.”

Nearly 80 percent of Iraq’s 115 billion barrels of proven reserves -- the third largest in the world -- are buried in or around Basra.

With the northern pipeline shut by attacks, most of the 1.6 million barrels of oil per day exported last year went through the port in Basra, bringing enough money to Baghdad -- more than $31 billion -- to fund 93 percent of the federal budget.

That makes control over Basra key. Whoever controls the provincial government -- and/or has strong enough militias -- has charge over the oil industry there and holds sway in the unknown amounts of oil and fuel sidetracked to the smuggling racket.

“The way things work in Iraq is if you have even a simple majority on the governing council, you get to elect the governor, the police chief, you get to put your militiamen into the police,” said University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole, “and the provincial government becomes a source of patronage for your party.”

In Basra, three Shiite parties, powerful in their varied own right, swap allegiances and gunfire and jockey for position: the Fadhila Party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), and the Sadr Movement, led by cleric Moqtada Sadr.

The Fadhila Party gained control of the province in the 2005 elections, but only with 21 of 41 seats, and with a coalition of other parties and independents.

SCIRI took the rest. Sadr has no official seats but loyalists. All three began their power play, infiltrating the police and the bureaucracy.

The Fadhila Party grabbed control of the oil facilities protection service, which put it “in a position to really control how much is or is not smuggled,” said Ken Katzman, Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service. “You can do whatever you want … it’s control over the proceeds of the smuggling.”

Exact figures are not known, but various estimates put smuggling of both oil and fuel past the billions of dollars mark, annually. “That’s money that the factions are going to control directly,” he said.

When SCIRI and Sadr realized Fadhila was bringing in smuggling money, they wanted in. Smuggling isn’t a new phenomenon; it was standard under Saddam Hussein’s rule, usually with his approval.

Nor is it relegated to just political parties. Other militias and gangs are in it as well.

But the political parties have the most power. Fadhila cut a deal with its rivals.“Their militias -- the Mahdi Army (Sadr), the Badr Corp (SIIC) and the Fadhila militia -- operate as paramilitaries in the city,” Cole said. “They patrol neighborhoods, they fight turf wars for control of neighborhoods, they attack each other’s party headquarters, and they are in particular competition for gasoline smuggling.”

But politics in Baghdad have a direct relationship to the country’s oil capital.Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, struggling to stay in power, began unraveling when it replaced a Fadhila-supported oil minister with one the Supreme Council backed. Maliki is from the Dawa Party, closely aligned with the Supreme Council, now SIIC.

Its United Iraqi Alliance government also included, among others, Sadr and Fadhila. Earlier this year Fadhila quit the UIA, in large part over losing the Oil Ministry, and Sadr left over disputes with Maliki. SIIC became more powerful and looked to Basra as Fadhila and Sadr militias (and the militia-heavy police) fought turf wars.

It orchestrated a vote of no confidence in the Fadhila Party governor of Basra. A handover of power hasn’t occurred yet. “Apparently, they’d have to actually fight militarily for control of the bureaucracy,” Cole said.

The intra-Shiite fighting is something of a quiet storm, even class warfare, as politics in Baghdad tumbles on Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions’ demands and U.S. forces focus on violence from, and often between, Sunnis and Shiites.SIIC has the overt backing of Washington and, ironically, having grown up in Iran for more than two decades before the 2003 war, has the closest ties to Iran. It's the upper class of the Shiite party power structure.

The Fadhila and Sadr parties share a larger local power base, and although they are believed to have some tie to Iran, are very pro-Iraqi nationalist. Fadhila has a stronger share of the upper working class, giving it a power base that got it elected in 2005. The Sadr Party strength comes from “some really poor slums in Basra,” said Cole.

It’s “closest to the masses,” said Rochdi Younsi, Middle East analyst at the business risk firm Eurasia Group, and its leader, “the Shiite Che Guevara,” is rallying poor Shiites against Shiite, Sunni and U.S. adversaries throughout Iraq.

All three are to be watched as the British move their last troops. “Then we’ll really be able to see … how did the politics play out on the ground, without the presence of a referee,” Younsi said.

[bth: they key is the cash flow - the oil - which means Basra. Screw Anbar province. We need to control Basra because all else - funding for the government, for armies, for militias, schools, hospitals - every thing in Iraq depends on the outcome of Basra. Find the friendliest group that has a prayer and back them.]

White House to Offer Gradual Cuts as Iraq Plan - New York Times

White House to Offer Gradual Cuts as Iraq Plan - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 — The White House plans to use a report next month assessing progress in Iraq to outline a plan for gradual troop reductions beginning next year that would fall far short of the drawdown demanded by Congressional opponents of the war, according to administration and military officials."

One administration official made it clear that the goal of the planned announcement was to counter public pressure for a more rapid reduction and to try to win support for a plan that could keep American involvement in Iraq on “a sustainable footing” at least through the end of the Bush presidency.

The officials said the White House would portray its approach as a new strategy for Iraq, a message aimed primarily at the growing numbers of Congressional Republicans who have criticized President Bush’s handling of the war. Many Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to unveil a new strategy, and even to propose a gradual reduction of American troops to the levels before this year’s troop increase — about 130,000 — or even lower to head off Democratic-led efforts to force the withdrawal of all combat forces by early next year.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of their reluctance to discuss internal White House deliberations publicly.

Administration officials involved in drafting the new strategy said the White House intended to argue that the troop increase ordered by Mr. Bush had succeeded on several levels in providing more security, with fewer sectarian killings and suicide attacks, and had established the conditions for a new approach that would begin troop cuts in the first half of next year.

At the same time, the administration will use the occasion to argue that vital American interests in Iraq and across the Middle East require a sustained commitment of American forces and that any rapid withdrawal would be catastrophic for the United States and its regional allies.

It remains unclear how deeply the Bush administration would be willing to reduce troop levels beyond the current level in Iraq; officials said Mr. Bush would not decide until the American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, completed an assessment and presented a range of options on the size of the force and the risks associated with lower levels.

But senior officials have said that unless the president chooses to break a promise to limit deployments to 15 months and guarantee 12 months at home, or to send larger numbers of reservists to Iraq, the troop increase must end next spring.

The surge, we all know, will end sometime in 2008, in the beginning of 2008, and we will begin probably a withdrawal of forces based on the surge,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 officer in Iraq, said Friday. “We must consider the complexity of the threat and deliberately reduce our forces based on the situation on the ground as well as the capability of the Iraqi security forces.”...

[bth; The surge will back down in April 2008 for the simple reason that we do not have enough troops and nor the political will for a draft.]

IraqSlogger: Battling the Scourge of IEDs

IraqSlogger: Battling the Scourge of IEDs: " IEDs have become a scourge for the US military in Iraq, accounting for an estimated 4 out of 5 combat deaths."

Last year, the Pentagon launched a major initiative to combat IEDs, and their more deadly innovation EFPs, by creating the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), tasking retired Gen. Montgomery Meigs to head the outfit. With 400 employees and a 2007 budget of $4.5 billion, it would be newsworthy to report on what JIEDDO is accomplishing.

The latest issue of Newsweek has a good backgrounder on the perplexing problem of fighting the low-tech weapons, but precious little information on what JIEDDO is doing.

About two-thirds of the way into the piece, Newsweek finally cites Gen. Meigs, who says that the recent focus on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles is only a defensive measure, when going on the offense would be more effective.

Unfortunately, Newsweek doesn't push the issue to explain what exactly Meigs means by that. The article does, however, immediately transition into comments by "a retired general who declined to be quoted by name criticizing his former military colleagues," who is also described as a veteran of the Balkans.

While there are a number of retired generals who served in the Balkans, this also could refer to Gen. Meigs, who commanded NATO's Multi-National Division (North) in Bosnia in 1996, and assumed leadership of the NATO Stabilization Force in 1998-99.

The anonymous general doesn't discuss JIEDDO's work, but tells Newsweek that in order to reduce the threat of IEDs:

One step is to get soldiers out of the vehicles that have too often become their fiery coffins. "What does barreling down a highway at 45mph, peering through a dust-covered windshield, actually accomplish?"

asked a retired general who declined to be quoted by name criticizing his former military colleagues. A veteran of the Balkans, this general recalled that his troops had a term for routine, pointless patrols.

"Dabbing," they called it, from the caustic acronym for "driving around Bosnia." "'Dabbing' now means 'driving around Baghdad'," says the general. Before he became head of Coalition forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus wrote the Army's new manual on counterinsurgency. For his forces in Iraq, he boiled it down to a series of instructions. Instruction No. 4: "Get out and walk."

Everyone—from the Americans to the British to the Israelis, with their long experience in Lebanon—seems to agree that better intelligence is essential to reducing the IED problem to a mere "nuisance" (Meigs's goal). But good intelligence is hard to come by. Instead, the Americans have resorted to operations like sending out convoys as bait—while drone aircraft loiter overhead to track the bombers, and signals-intelligence teams listen for their communications—followed by a larger force to spring a trap on the attackers. If that tactic sounds a little desperate, a senior military official, speaking anonymously about a sensitive subject, assured NEWSWEEK that such convoys use volunteer crews and very-well-armored vehicles.

[bth: this article explains a lot about why enlisted casualties are up since the surge was announced but officers casualty levels are not. .... Further one wonders what the military mission is that sends them driving down the streets when they might be better deployed out of range of say Anbar province and concentrated in the few areas that are friendly and in need of additional help. ... That they are better deployed walking down a very hostile street without adequate translators getting blown up by planted devices in doorways instead of roads does little to reduce casualties but it does improve the appearance at JIEDDO that they are doing something about IEDs. What bullshit this is.]

Army Reports Brass, Not Bloggers, Breach Security

Army Reports Brass, Not Bloggers, Breach Security: "For years, the military has been warning that soldiers' blogs could pose a security threat by leaking sensitive wartime information. But a series of online audits, conducted by the Army, suggests that official Defense Department websites post material far more potentially harmful than anything found on a individual's blog."...

[bth: the military gagged its best source of public information and trust - the average soldier. The public no longer trusts the military leadership, but they have enormous respect and trust in their neighbor's kid that went to fight. We need to trust our troops, get this ridiculous attempt to control the news out of the way and let people talk. The military is afraid of what its troops will say. It is afraid of getting truth to the American public unless it is spun. They don't trust a free thinking and informed democracy which is ironically what they are or used to be fighting for.Why should the military leadership be trusted now? They spin news like a record.... They just don't get it.]

Poll: Majority mistrustful of upcoming Iraq report

Poll: Majority mistrustful of upcoming Iraq report - "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A majority of Americans don't trust the upcoming report by the Army's top commander in Iraq on the progress of the war and even if they did, it wouldn't change their mind, according to a new poll."

President Bush frequently has asked Congress -- and the American people -- to withhold judgment on his so-called troop surge in Iraq until Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, issue their progress report in September.

But according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Thursday, 53 percent of people polled said they suspect that the military assessment of the situation will try to make it sound better than it actually is. Forty-three percent said they do trust the report.

CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said he doesn't think the mistrust is directed at Petreaus as much as it is what he represents.

Holland said, "I suspect most people are hearing the words 'general' and 'Iraq' and that's what they're basing their opinion on."

He added, "It does seem to indicate that anyone associated with the Bush administration may be a less than credible messenger for the message that there is progress being made in Iraq."

Another interesting thing about the poll, Holland said, is that it indicates that about half of those surveyed -- 47 percent -- feel that the military is making progress in Iraq, although slightly more -- 49 percent -- do not.

White House press secretary Tony Snow reacted to the poll, saying that he hoped that "people do not try to engage in personal attacks on Gen. Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker."

"David Patraeus is basically the guy who's written the manual on counterinsurgency, and the one thing that you see with returning Democratic and Republican congressman is that something very significant has taken place," Snow said.

How the report is phrased also might determine how it is received, Holland said. If the report details military progress, that might be better received than what political progress the Iraqi government is making.

Twenty-six percent of those polled feel that the Iraqi government is making progress, while 69 percent said that it wasn't.

"We haven't done a lot of polling about the Iraqi government," Holland said, "but the numbers we have seem to indicate that people are pretty skeptical of any government official in Iraq."

The poll indicates that most of America's mind is made up about the war -- 72 percent said the report will have no effect on their view of the war.

Of those opposed to the war, 47 percent said Petreaus' report could not change their mind while 17 percent said it could....

[bth: the core problem is that the military and the administration has lost the public trust. No PR campaign or spin will resolve this problem.]

CIA, FBI computers used for Wikipedia edits

CIA, FBI computers used for Wikipedia edits Technology Reuters: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People using CIA and FBI computers have edited entries in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia on topics including the Iraq war and the Guantanamo prison, according to a new tracing program."

The changes may violate Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest guidelines, a spokeswoman for the site said on Thursday.

The program, WikiScanner, was developed by Virgil Griffith of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and posted this month on a Web site that was quickly overwhelmed with searches.

The program allows users to track the source of computers used to make changes to the popular Internet encyclopedia where anyone can submit and edit entries.

WikiScanner revealed that CIA computers were used to edit an entry on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. A graphic on casualties was edited to add that many figures were estimated and were not broken down by class.

Another entry on former CIA chief William Colby was edited by CIA computers to expand his career history and discuss the merits of a Vietnam War rural pacification program that he headed.

Aerial and satellite images of the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were removed using a computer traced to the FBI, WikiScanner showed....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How the ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad

How the ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad - New York Times: "Two years after the Taliban fell to an American-led coalition, a group of NATO ambassadors landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, to survey what appeared to be a triumph — a fresh start for a country ripped apart by years of war with the Soviets and brutal repression by religious extremists.

With a senior American diplomat, R. Nicholas Burns, leading the way, they thundered around the country in Black Hawk helicopters, with little fear for their safety. They strolled quiet streets in Kandahar and sipped tea with tribal leaders. At a briefing from the United States Central Command, they were told that the Taliban were now a “spent force.”

“Some of us were saying, ‘Not so fast,’ ” Mr. Burns, now the under secretary of state for political affairs, recalled. “While not a strategic threat, a number of us assumed that the Taliban was too enmeshed in Afghan society to just disappear.”

But that skepticism had never taken hold in Washington. Since the 2001 war, American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat, according to two senior intelligence officials who reviewed the reports.

The American sense of victory had been so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq.
Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.

Like Osama bin Laden and his deputies, the Taliban had found refuge in Pakistan and regrouped as the American focus wavered. Taliban fighters seeped back over the border, driving up the suicide attacks and roadside bombings by as much as 25 percent this spring, and forcing NATO and American troops into battles to retake previously liberated villages in southern Afghanistan.

They have scored some successes recently, and since the 2001 invasion, there have been improvements in health care, education and the economy, as well as the quality of life in the cities. But Afghanistan’s embattled president, Hamid Karzai, said in Washington last week that security in his country had “definitely deteriorated.” One former national security official called that “a very diplomatic understatement.”

President Bush’s critics have long contended that the Iraq war has diminished America’s effort in Afghanistan, which the administration has denied, but an examination of how the policy unfolded within the administration reveals a deep divide over how to proceed in Afghanistan and a series of decisions that at times seemed to relegate it to an afterthought as Iraq unraveled.

Statements from the White House, including from the president, in support of Afghanistan were resolute, but behind them was a halting, sometimes reluctant commitment to solving Afghanistan’s myriad problems, according to dozens of interviews in the United States, at NATO headquarters in Brussels and in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

At critical moments in the fight for Afghanistan, the Bush administration diverted scarce intelligence and reconstruction resources to Iraq, including elite C.I.A. teams and Special Forces units involved in the search for terrorists. As sophisticated Predator spy planes rolled off assembly lines in the United States, they were shipped to Iraq, undercutting the search for Taliban and terrorist leaders, according to senior military and intelligence officials.

As defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed credit for toppling the Taliban with light, fast forces.

But in a move that foreshadowed America’s trouble in Iraq, he failed to anticipate the need for more forces after the old government was gone, and blocked an early proposal from Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, and Mr. Karzai, the administration’s handpicked president, for a large international force. As the situation deteriorated, Mr. Rumsfeld and other administration officials reversed course and cajoled European allies into sending troops.

When it came to reconstruction, big goals were announced, big projects identified. Yet in the year Mr. Bush promised a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, the country received less assistance per capita than did postconflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even desperately poor Haiti, according to a RAND Corporation study. Washington has spent an average of $3.4 billion a year reconstructing Afghanistan, less than half of what it has spent in Iraq, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The White House contends that the troop level in Afghanistan was increased when needed and that it now stands at 23,500. But a senior American commander said that even as the military force grew last year, he was surprised to discover that “I could count on the fingers of one or two hands the number of U.S. government agricultural experts” in Afghanistan, where 80 percent of the economy is agricultural. A $300 million project authorized by Congress for small businesses was never financed.

Underlying many of the decisions, officials say, was a misapprehension about what Americans would find on the ground in Afghanistan. “The perception was that Afghans hated foreigners and that the Iraqis would welcome us,” said James Dobbins, the administration’s former special envoy for Afghanistan. “The reverse turned out to be the case.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the administration’s policy, saying, “I don’t buy the argument that Afghanistan was starved of resources.” Yet she said: “I don’t think the U.S. government had what it needed for reconstructing a country. We did it ad hoc in the Balkans, and then in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq.”

In interviews, three former American ambassadors to Afghanistan were more critical of Washington’s record.

“I said from the get-go that we didn’t have enough money and we didn’t have enough soldiers,” said Robert P. Finn, who was the ambassador in 2002 and 2003. “I’m saying the same thing six years later.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, who was the next ambassador and is now the American ambassador to the United Nations, said, “I do think that state-building and nation-building, we came to that reluctantly,” adding that “I think more could have been done earlier on these issues.”

And Ronald E. Neumann, who replaced Mr. Khalilzad in Kabul, said, “The idea that we could just hunt terrorists and we didn’t have to do nation-building, and we could just leave it alone, that was a large mistake.”

A Big Promise, Unfulfilled

After months of arguing unsuccessfully for a far larger effort in Afghanistan, Mr. Dobbins received an unexpected call in April 2002. Mr. Bush, he was told, was planning to proclaim America’s commitment to rebuild Afghanistan.

“I got a call from the White House speech writers saying they were writing a speech and did I see any reason not to cite the Marshall Plan,” Mr. Dobbins recalled, referring to the American rebuilding of postwar Europe. “I said, ‘No, I saw no objections’, so they put it in the speech.”

On April 17, Mr. Bush traveled to the Virginia Military Institute, where Gen. George C. Marshall trained a century ago. “Marshall knew that our military victory against enemies in World War II had to be followed by a moral victory that resulted in better lives for individual human beings,” Mr. Bush said, calling Marshall’s work “a beacon to light the path that we, too, must follow.”

Mr. Bush had belittled “nation building” while campaigning for president 18 months earlier. But aware that Afghans had felt abandoned before, including by his father’s administration after the Soviets left in 1989, he vowed to avoid the syndrome of “initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure.

“We’re not going to repeat that mistake,” he said. “We’re tough, we’re determined, we’re relentless. We will stay until the mission is done.”

The speech, which received faint notice in the United States, fueled expectations in Afghanistan and bolstered Mr. Karzai’s stature before an Afghan grand council meeting in June 2002 at which Mr. Karzai was formally chosen to lead the government.

Yet privately, some senior officials, including Mr. Rumsfeld, were concerned that Afghanistan was a morass where the United States could achieve little, according to administration officials involved in the debate.

Within hours of the president’s speech, Mr. Rumsfeld announced his own approach at a Pentagon news conference.

“The last thing you’re going to hear from this podium is someone thinking they know how Afghanistan ought to organize itself,” he said. “They’re going to have to figure it out. They’re going to have to grab ahold of that thing and do something. And we’re there to help.”

But the help was slow in coming. Despite Mr. Bush’s promise in Virginia, in the months that followed his April speech, no detailed reconstruction plan emerged from the administration. Some senior administration officials lay the blame on the National Security Council, which is charged with making sure the president’s foreign policy is carried out.

The stagnation reflected tension within the administration over how large a role the United States should play in stabilizing a country after toppling its government, former officials say.

After the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, Mr. Powell and Ms. Rice, then the national security adviser, argued in confidential sessions that if the United States now lost Afghanistan, America’s image would be damaged, officials said. In a February 2002 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Mr. Powell proposed that American troops join the small international peacekeeping force patrolling Kabul and help Mr. Karzai extend his influence beyond the capital.

Mr. Powell said in an interview that his model was the 1989 invasion of Panama, where American troops spread out across the country after ousting the Noriega government. “The strategy has to be to take charge of the whole country by military force, police or other means,” he said.

Richard N. Haass, a former director of policy planning at the State Department, said informal talks with European officials had led him to believe that a force of 20,000 to 40,000 peacekeepers could be recruited, half from Europe, half from the United States.

But Mr. Rumsfeld contended that European countries were unwilling to contribute more troops, said Douglas J. Feith, then the Pentagon’s under secretary for policy. He said Mr. Rumsfeld felt that sending American troops would reduce pressure on Europeans to contribute, and could provoke Afghans’ historic resistance to invaders and divert American forces from hunting terrorists. Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment.

Some officials said they also feared confusion if European forces viewed the task as peacekeeping while the American military saw its job as fighting terrorists. Ms. Rice, despite having argued for fully backing the new Karzai government, took a middle position, leaving the issue unresolved. “I felt that we needed more forces, but there was a real problem, which you continue to see to this day, with the dual role,” she said.

Ultimately, Mr. Powell’s proposal died. “The president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, the national security staff, all of them were skeptical of an ambitious project in Afghanistan,” Mr. Haass said.

“I didn’t see support.”

Mr. Dobbins, the former special envoy, said Mr. Powell “seemed resigned.”

“I said this wasn’t going to be fully satisfactory,” he recalled. “And he said, ‘Well, it’s the best we could do.’ ”

In the end, the United States deployed 8,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2002, with orders to hunt Taliban and Qaeda members, and not to engage in peacekeeping or reconstruction. The 4,000-member international peacekeeping force did not venture beyond Kabul.

As an alternative, officials hatched a loosely organized plan for Afghans to secure the country themselves.
The United States would train a 70,000-member army. Japan would disarm some 100,000 militia fighters. Britain would mount an antinarcotics program. Italy would carry out changes in the judiciary.

And Germany would train a 62,000-member police force.

But that meant no one was in overall command, officials now say. Many holes emerged in the American effort.

There were so few State Department or Pentagon civil affairs officials that 13 teams of C.I.A. operatives, whose main job was to hunt terrorists and the Taliban, were asked to stay in remote corners of Afghanistan to coordinate political efforts, said John E. McLaughlin, who was deputy director and then acting director of the agency. “It took us quite awhile to get them regrouped in the southeast for counterterrorism,” he said of the C.I.A. teams.

Sixteen months after the president’s 2002 speech, the United States Agency for International Development, the government’s main foreign development arm, had seven full-time staffers and 35 full-time contract staff members in Afghanistan, most of them Afghans, according to a government audit.

Sixty-one agency positions were vacant.

“It was state-building on the cheap, it was a duct tape approach,” recalled Said T. Jawad, Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff at the time and Afghanistan’s current ambassador to Washington. “It was fixing things that were broken, not a strategic approach.”

A Shift of Resources to Iraq

In October 2002, Robert Grenier, a former director of the C.I.A.’s counterintelligence center, visited the new Kuwait City headquarters of Lt. Gen David McKiernan, who was already planning the Iraq invasion.

Meeting in a sheet metal warehouse, Mr. Grenier asked General McKiernan what his intelligence needs would be in Iraq. The answer was simple. “They wanted as much as they could get,” Mr. Grenier said.

Throughout late 2002 and early 2003, Mr. Grenier said in an interview, “the best experienced, most qualified people who we had been using in Afghanistan shifted over to Iraq,” including the agency’s most skilled counterterrorism specialists and Middle East and paramilitary operatives.

That reduced the United States’ influence over powerful Afghan warlords who were refusing to turn over to the central government tens of millions of dollars they had collected as customs payments at border crossings.

While the C.I.A. replaced officers shifted to Iraq, Mr. Grenier said, it did so with younger agents, who lacked the knowledge and influence of the veterans. “I think we could have done a lot more on the Afghan side if we had more experienced folks,” he said.

A former senior official of the Pentagon’s Central Command, which was running both wars, said that as the Iraq planning sped up, the military’s covert Special Mission Units, like Delta Force and Navy Seals Team Six, shifted to Iraq from Afghanistan.

So did aerial surveillance “platforms” like the Predator, a remotely piloted spy plane armed with Hellfire missiles that had been effective at identifying targets in the mountains of Afghanistan. Predators were not shifted directly from Afghanistan to Iraq, according to the former official, but as new Predators were produced, they went to Iraq.

We were economizing in Afghanistan,” said the former official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “The marginal return for one more platform in Afghanistan is so much greater than for one more in Iraq.”

The shift in priorities became apparent to Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s former comptroller, as planning for the Iraq war was in high gear in the fall of 2002. Mr. Rumsfeld asked him to serve as the Pentagon’s reconstruction coordinator in Afghanistan. It was an odd role for the comptroller, whose primary task is managing the Pentagon’s $400 billion a year budget.

“The fact that they went to the comptroller to do something like that was in part a function of their growing preoccupation with Iraq,” said Mr. Zakheim, who left the administration in 2004. “They needed somebody, given that the top tier was covering Iraq.”

In an interview, President Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, insisted that there was no diversion of resources from Afghanistan, and he cited recently declassified statistics to show that troop levels in Afghanistan rose at crucial moments — like the 2004 Afghan election — even after the Iraq war began.

But the former Central Command official said: “If we were not in Iraq, we would have double or triple the number of Predators across Afghanistan, looking for Taliban and peering into the tribal areas. We’d have the ‘black’ Special Forces you most need to conduct precision operations. We’d have more C.I.A.”

“We’re simply in a world of limited resources, and those resources are in Iraq,” the former official added.

“Anyone who tells you differently is blowing smoke.”

A Piecemeal Operation

As White House officials put together plans in the spring of 2003 for President Bush to land on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and declare the end of major combat operations in Iraq, the
Pentagon decided to make a similar, if less dramatic, announcement for Afghanistan.

On May 1, hours before Mr. Bush stood beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner, Mr. Rumsfeld appeared at a news conference with Mr. Karzai in Kabul’s threadbare 19th-century presidential palace.

“We clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities,” he said. “The bulk of the country today is permissive, it’s secure.”

The Afghanistan announcement was largely lost in the spectacle of Mr. Bush’s speech. But the predictions of stability proved no less detached from events on the ground.

Three weeks later, Afghan government workers who had not been paid for months held street demonstrations in Kabul. An exasperated Mr. Karzai publicly threatened to resign and announced that his government had run out of money because warlords were hoarding the customs revenues. “There is no money in the government treasury,” Mr. Karzai said.

At the same time, the American-led training of a new Afghan Army was proving far more difficult than officials in Washington had expected. The new force, plagued by high desertion rates, had only 2,000 soldiers. The Germans’ effort to train police officers was off to an even slower start, and the British-led counternarcotics effort was dwarfed by an explosion in the poppy crop. Already, small groups of Taliban fighters had slipped back over the border from Pakistan and killed aid workers, stalling reconstruction in the south.

A senior White House official said in a recent interview that in retrospect, putting different countries in charge of different operations was a mistake. “We piecemealed it,” he said. “One of the problems is when everybody has a piece, everybody’s piece is made third and fourth priority. Nobody’s piece is first
priority. Stuff didn’t get done.”

A month after his announcement in Kabul, Mr. Rumsfeld’s aides presented a strategy to the White House aimed at weakening warlords and engaging in state-building in Afghanistan. In some ways, it was the approach Mr. Rumsfeld had rejected right after the invasion.

Pentagon officials said that Mr. Rumsfeld’s views began to shift after a December 2002 briefing by Marin Strmecki, an Afghanistan expert at the Smith Richardson Foundation, who argued that Afghanistan was not ungovernable and that it could be turned into a moderate, Muslim force in the region.

Mr. Strmecki said that the United States needed to help Afghans create credible national institutions and that Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group and historically the Taliban’s base of support, needed a more prominent role in the government. Mr. Rumsfeld, according to aides, was impressed by Mr. Strmecki’s emphasis on training Afghans to run their own government and hired him.

Then another personnel change helped alter Afghanistan policy. Mr. Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who was a senior National Security Council official and a special envoy to Iraq exiles, was appointed ambassador to Afghanistan.

Mr. Khalilzad said he accepted the job after Mr. Bush promised to greatly expand resources in Afghanistan. “We had gotten the president to a significant increase,” Mr. Khalilzad recalled.

A leading neo-conservative, Mr. Khalilzad could get Ms. Rice or — if need be — Mr. Bush on the phone. He had been a counselor to Mr. Rumsfeld and had worked for Dick Cheney when Mr. Cheney was the first President Bush’s defense secretary. “Zal could get things done,” said Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, a former American military commander in Afghanistan.

When Mr. Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Thanksgiving 2003, he brought nearly $2 billion — twice the amount of the previous year — as well as a new military strategy and private experts to intensifying rebuilding.

They started a reconstruction plan dubbed “accelerating success” that involved the kind of nation-building once dismissed by the administration. General Barno expanded “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” to build schools, roads and wells and to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghans. The teams amounted to a much smaller version of the force that Mr. Powell had proposed 18 months earlier.

By January 2004, Afghanistan had reached a compromise on a new Afghan Constitution. With American backing, Mr. Karzai weakened several warlords. In October 2004, Mr. Karzai, who had been appointed president, was elected. At the same time, NATO countries steadily sent more troops to Afghanistan, and soon Mr. Rumsfeld, needing for troops for Iraq, proposed that NATO take over security for all of Afghanistan.

By spring 2005, Afghanistan seemed to be moving toward the success Mr. Bush had promised. But then, fearing that Iraq was spinning out of control, the White House asked Mr. Khalilzad to become ambassador to Baghdad.

A Lingering Threat

Before departing Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad fought a final battle within the administration. It revealed divisions within the American government over Pakistan’s role in aiding the Taliban, a delicate subject as the administration tried to coax Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to cooperate.

In an interview on Afghan television, Mr. Khalilzad noted that Pakistani journalists had recently interviewed a senior Taliban commander in Pakistan. He questioned Pakistan’s claim that it did not know the whereabouts of senior Taliban commanders — a form of skepticism discouraged in Washington, where the administration’s line had always been that General Musharraf was doing everything he could.

“If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country, which has nuclear bombs, and a lot of security and military forces, not find them?” Mr. Khalilzad asked.

Pakistani officials publicly denounced Mr. Khalilzad’s comments and denied that they were harboring Taliban leaders. But Mr. Khalilzad had also exposed the growing rift between American officials in Kabul and those in Islamabad.

Mr. Grenier said that when he was the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there,” he recalled. “And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.”

Pakistani had backed the Taliban throughout the 1990s as a counterweight to an alliance of northern Afghan commanders backed by India, Pakistan’s bitter rival. Pakistani officials also distrusted Mr. Karzai.

Deciding that the Pakistanis would not act on the Taliban, Mr. Grenier said he had urged them to focus on arresting Qaeda members, who he said were far more of a threat to the United States.

“From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force,” he said, adding, “We were very much focused on Al Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.”

But Mr. Khalilzad, American military officials and others in the administration argued that the Taliban were crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing American troops and aid workers. “Colleagues in Washington at various levels did not recognize that there was the problem of sanctuary and that this was important,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

But it was not until 2006, after ordering a study on Afghanistan’s future, that Mr. Bush strenuously pressed General Musharraf on the Taliban. Later, Mr. Bush told his aides he worried that “old school ties” between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban endured, despite the general’s assurances. The Pakistanis, one senior American commander said, were “hedging their bets.”

“They’re not sure that we are staying,” he added. “And if we are gone, the Taliban is their next best option” to remain influential in Afghanistan.

As 2005 ended, the Taliban leaders remained in hiding in Pakistan, waiting for an opportunity to cross the border. Soon, they would find one.

To Afghans, a Fickle Effort

In September 2005, NATO defense ministers gathered in Berlin to complete plans for NATO troops to take over security in Afghanistan’s volatile south. It was the most ambitious “out of area” operations in NATO history, and across Europe, leaders worried about getting support from their countries. Then, American military officials dropped a bombshell.

The Pentagon, they said, was considering withdrawing up to 3,000 troops from Afghanistan, roughly 20 percent of total American forces.

NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he had protested to Mr. Rumsfeld that a partial American withdrawal would discourage others from sending troops.

In the end, the planned troop reduction was abandoned, but chiefly because the American ground commander at the time, Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, concluded that the Taliban were returning and that he needed to shift troops to the east to try to stop them. But the announcement had sent a signal of a wavering American commitment.

“The Afghan people still doubt our staying power,” General Eikenberry said. “They have seen the world walk away from them before.”

To sell their new missions at home, British, Dutch and Canadian officials portrayed deployments to Afghanistan as safe, and better than sending troops to Iraq. Germany and Italy prevented their forces from being sent on combat missions in volatile areas. Those regions were to be left to the Americans, Canadians, British and Dutch.

Three months after announcing the proposed troop withdrawal, the White House Office of Management and Budget cut aid to Afghanistan by a third.

Ms. Rice said that much of the money allocated to Afghanistan the previous year had not been spent.

“There was an absorption problem,” she said.

Mr. Neumann, then the ambassador, said he had argued against the decision.

Even so, American assistance to Afghanistan dropped by 38 percent, from $4.3 billion in fiscal 2005 to $3.1 billion in fiscal 2006, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

By February 2006, Mr. Neumann had come to the conclusion that the Taliban were planning a spring offensive, and he sent a cable to his superiors.

“I had a feeling that the view was too rosy in Washington,” recalled Mr. Neumann, who retired from the State Department in June. “I was concerned.”

Mr. Neumann’s cable proved prophetic. In the spring of 2006, the Taliban carried out their largest offensive since 2001, attacking British, Canadian and Dutch troops in southern Afghanistan.

Hundreds of Taliban swarmed into the south, setting up checkpoints, assassinating officials and burning schools. Suicide bombings quintupled to 136. Roadside bombings doubled. All told, 191 American and NATO troops died in 2006, a 20 percent increase over the 2005 toll. For the first time, it became nearly as dangerous, statistically, to serve as an American in Afghanistan as in Iraq.

Mr. Neumann said that while suicide bombers came from Pakistan, most Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan were Afghans. Captured insurgents said they had taken up arms because a local governor favored a rival tribe, corrupt officials provided no services or their families needed money.

After cutting assistance in 2006, the United States plans to provide $9 billion in aid to Afghanistan in 2007, twice the amount of any year since 2001.

Despite warnings about the Taliban’s resurgence from Mr. Neumann, Mr. Khalilzad and military officials, Ms. Rice said, “there was no doubt that people were surprised that the Taliban was able to regroup and come back in a large, well-organized force.”

Divisions Over Strategy

In July 2006, NATO formally took responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan. To Americans and Europeans, NATO is the vaunted alliance that won the cold war. To Afghans it is little more than a strange, new acronym. And NATO and the Americans are divided over strategy.

The disagreement is evident on the wall of the office of Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the commander of the 35,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan, where he keeps a chart that is a sea of yellow and red blocks. Each block shows the restrictions that national governments have placed on their forces under his command. Red blocks represent tasks a country will not do, like hunting Taliban or Qaeda leaders. Yellow blocks indicate missions they are willing to consider after asking their capitals for approval.

In Washington, officials lament that NATO nations are unwilling to take the kinds of risks and casualties necessary to confront the Taliban. Across Europe, officials complain the United States never focused on reconstruction, and they blame American forces for mounting air attacks on the Taliban that cause large civilian casualties, turning Afghans against the West.

The debate over how the 2001 victory in Afghanistan turned into the current struggle is well under way.

“Destroying the Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan was an extraordinary strategic accomplishment,” said Robert D. Blackwill, who was in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq policy at the National Security Council, “but where we find ourselves now may have been close to inevitable, whether the U.S. went into Iraq or not. We were going to face this long war in Afghanistan as long as we and the Afghan government couldn’t bring serious economic reconstruction to the countryside, and eliminate the Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan.”

But Henry A. Crumpton, a former C.I.A. officer who played a key role in ousting the Taliban and became the State Department’s counterterrorism chief, said winning a war like the one in Afghanistan required American personnel to “get in at a local level and respond to people’s needs so that enemy forces cannot come in and take advantage.”

“These are the fundamentals of counterinsurgency, and somehow we forgot them or never learned them,” he added. He noted that “the United States has 11 carrier battle groups, but we still don’t have expeditionary nonmilitary forces of the kind you need to win this sort of war.”

“We’re living in the past,” he said

Among some current and former officials, a consensus is emerging that a more consistent, forceful American effort could have helped to keep the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s leadership from regrouping.

Gen. James L. Jones, a retired American officer and a former NATO supreme commander, said Iraq caused the United States to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. He warned that the consequences of failure “are just as serious in Afghanistan as they are in Iraq.”

“Symbolically, it’s more the epicenter of terrorism than Iraq,” he said. “If we don’t succeed in Afghanistan, you’re sending a very clear message to the terrorist organizations that the U.S., the U.N. and the 37 countries with troops on the ground can be defeated.”

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting.

[bth: What I find fascinating is the comments by Dov Zakheim who I watched lie to congress about the budget needs of Iraq in 2004 and early 2005. Then when the shit hit the budgetary fan in the spring of 05 he'd conveniently retired to take his job over at Booz Allen. To hear him talk about the lack of financial resources - well whose fault is that? Where was his courage to tell the truth a few years ago when it might have made a difference? But who am I to questions such authorities? The lying mother fucker.

That a reporter for the NYT would even ask for an opinion from Doug Feith, that incompetent .... at best I can call him incompetent as to say more would acuse him of treason.

One asks what is our goal now in Iraq and Afghanistan? If in Afghanistan it is to eliminate al-Qaeda and contain the Taliban shouldn't our resources and missions be defined accordingly? And if unity of command is important isn't it interesting how the military seems to have totally forgotten it in Afghanistan?

That the military seems able to field 11 carrier groups and to this day has not restructured to address a counter insurgency, a civil affairs program... more to the point it hasn't adapted to winning an insurgency or a guerilla war. We're still planning to winning the Cold War, kicking the Soviets asses, addicted to ridiculously expensive weapons programs which are useless in this conflict and to fighting an enemey that doesn't exist.

Leaders in the Pentagon need to remember that Americans despise losers.]