Saturday, April 30, 2011
...Now Pakistan wants the relationship with the US reconfigured. It – especially the ISI – resents the CIA’s footprint there. Worse, it probably fears Washington really wants to neutralize Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.
Islamabad complains loudly that it’s excluded from the US intelligence loop. But it’s common knowledge in Pakistan (and the US) that the ISI has substantial ties to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and right-wing Islamic zealots – many of whom are the same folks trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Some suspect the ISI may even know where Osama bin Laden is hiding. The US intelligence community doesn’t trust the ISI. But then, as my Pakistani friend said, “No one in Pakistan trusts the ISI.”
The battle for influence in Afghanistan
Central to these tensions is the battle being fought in Afghanistan – the battle for influence. Pakistanis bristle at what they see as growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, and some contend that India funds anti-Pakistan Taliban factions responsible for terrorist bombings.
Along with that growing Indian presence, Islamabad is also sensitive to a growing Iranian sway in Afghanistan. As Pakistani journalist Aftab Borka observed, “Pakistan will always be anxious until it is the dominant, if not the only, player in Afghanistan.”
....Our men and women in uniform have performed heroically in Afghanistan, but it is now time for the ANA to be battle-tested on a large scale and to take the lead in fighting this war. Without major victories on the battlefield, and without seizing and holding battle space, the ANA will never attain the confidence and reliability it needs to be a viable force, and it will become more fearful of the al-Qaeda-assisted Taliban, less motivated to fight or even apathetic.
Regardless of whether a cease-fire is eventually realized with so-called moderate Taliban members and peace comes to Afghanistan in the short term, some hardened and irreconcilable elements of the Taliban are likely to fight on. It is likely that a lasting peace will be enforced only at the end of a gun barrel, and a large, empowered and professional ANA must be holding that gun.
Unless the ANA begins controlling territory on its own accord, compiling a winning record without direct ISAF military assistance, it is very possible that it will degrade and fragment after the departure of ISAF combat forces, much as the DRA disintegrated after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The current civil war with the Taliban would expand, with deserting ANA soldiers fleeing with their ISAF-supplied weapons to join the Taliban or rejoin tribal militias. The ISAF-trained ANA could repeat the Afghan army’s history of collapse, ushering in an era of protracted violence and instability of a magnitude not yet seen in the region.
Michael F. Walker retired last year after three decades in the Central Intelligence Agency, most recently as chief of the Near East and South Asia division from 2007 to 2010. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.
...Last week, Gen. Abdo Khodr Tellawi from Homs was killed with his two sons and a nephew. The Syrian state-run SANA news agency claimed that “armed criminal gangs … killed them in cold blood.” But opposition activists say that the Syrian intelligence services executed them because they were showing signs of sympathy for the protesters.
Other officers killed in the past two weeks include two Christian colonels, Samir Kashour and Whaib Issa, and Gen. Ayad Harfoush, who, like Tellawi, was an Alawite.
Alawite military and intelligence officers are generally expected to stand with the regime, fearing a bloody backlash against them should Assad fall. But the Alawite community is not a homogenous entity and there are longstanding tensions between rival clans which could witness some powerful Alawite figures siding with the opposition against the Assads.
Leaked Syria document approves the killing of army officers
Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, blamed the killings on the Air Force Intelligence directorate, which spearheaded the crackdown 30 years ago on the Muslim Brotherhood and is generally considered the most powerful intelligence agency in Syria.
Mr. Ziadeh said the regime's blaming “armed gangs” for the spate of assassinations of military officers was in line with the recommendations of a document obtained by opposition activists last week that purports to be written by the Syrian General Intelligence department. The document, dated March 23, when the protests were just beginning, lists propaganda, security, and political measures to be adopted by the security forces. The validity of the document could not be confirmed.
The document said, “It is acceptable to shoot some of the security agents or army officers in order to further deceive the enemy, which will further help the situation by provoking the animosity of the army against the protesters.”
“These shootings are the second stage of the intelligence document,” says Ziadeh. “Maybe we will soon see the third stage, which was the bombing of churches and mosques to stir up sectarian tensions. The regime’s message is either stability with us, or chaos.”
Friday, April 29, 2011
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Major General Richard Mills cautioned against expecting any major withdrawals from Afghanistan, insisting that any moves would be a “slow transition” and that “we don’t want to attract attention” to it.
At the same time, Gen. Mills insisted that forces had already been thinned out “significantly” in some provinces, which will come as quite a surprise considering that the overall number of NATO troops in Afghanistan has not dropped.
Rather, it seems that troops are being shuffled around to different parts of the country, with insurgents shuffling away to whichever places the occupation forces are not. Mills cautioned that “if you pull out too early, there’s a risk of the insurgency returning.”
Of course the insurgency never really left, and April of 2011 is a new record for NATO deaths in the month. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed earlier this week that no recommendations have yet been made on a July drawdown, and since he and Gen. David Petraeus will both be leaving their positions at the end of June, it is highly likely that the process will be “delayed” if not dropped altogether by the Obama Administration.
KABUL — Faced with daunting bills and uncertain about the United States’ long-term commitment to fund the Afghan army and police, President Hamid Karzai is considering a military draft to replace the all-volunteer force being built in Afghanistan, according to senior Afghan officials.
The prospect of mandatory conscription, though still only a topic of discussion, has some appeal for Karzai because it would be cheaper than fielding the costly security forces that are rapidly growing with American money and support, the officials said. The Afghan security forces are projected to cost more than $6 billion to sustain in 2014, the year Afghans are set to take sole control of their combat duties — a vast sum for a country that took in $1.5 billion in revenue last year.....
-- bth: with virtually no tax revenue, how can Karzai think that he has a viable government?
....USAID’s problems have been compounded by months of budgetary uncertainty, followed by steep cuts to foreign aid in the 2011 spending bill that were demanded by House Republicans. The agency also is awaiting money from the 2010 budget because congressional requirements call for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to certify that the Afghan government is making progress on women’s rights and fighting corruption before those funds can be released.
Although USAID officials said they do not know how much they will have to trim from their Afghanistan initiatives, some programs have already taken a hit because of the agency’s preemptive budget-cutting. The job-training program, for instance, was once envisioned as a $125 million project over 18 months; it has been scaled back to between $25 million and $40 million.
The delays have heightened tensions between U.S. civilian and military officials in Afghanistan, prompting some senior officers to employ their own resources for development projects.
Top military commanders recently dispatched a contingent of U.S. troops to augment State Department and USAID personnel in the provincial reconstruction team office in Kandahar. And the commanders have requested military agribusiness development teams, composed of National Guard personnel who are farmers, because they feel there are not enough civilian agriculture experts from the U.S. government in southern Afghanistan....
“The civilians had promised they would do certain things, and we expected them to follow through,” the senior officer said. “Now we’ve realized that we can’t depend on them, so we have to do it on our own.”
Thursday, April 28, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan — With Afghan discussions under way about the future involvement of the United States in the country and the prospect of long-term military bases, the Pakistani government has urged Afghanistan to distance itself from the West and tie its future more tightly to that of China and Pakistan, according to Afghans and Americans who are knowledgeable about a meeting between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
During a landmark April 16 meeting here in Kabul, for which the most powerful figures in the Pakistani government flew to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan suggested that Afghanistan needed to look to China, a power in the ascendance, rather than hewing closely to the United States.
“There was a mention of China in the meeting, China as a country, as an emerging economic power, and that maybe we should reach out to a new global economic power,” said an Afghan official knowledgeable about the meeting. “And there was the suggestion that Afghanistan and Pakistan should strengthen relations.”...
-- bth: are we really getting anything useful from Pakistan besides a supply route?
Perhaps of more interest, law enforcement authorities have long known of the existence of these GPS location records and have routinely used them to provide information during investigations. It is not difficult to see that knowing where a mobile phone was at a specific time could also give the police a pretty good idea of where the owner of that phone was at that time, as well. Now, thanks to a researcher at a conference in Santa Clara, the general public is also aware of the practice as it relates to Apple, and now Swedish programmer Magnus Eriksson and other researchers say that “virtually all Android devices” file geo-location data away and send at least some of the collected information back to Google.
Apple had already told Congress that “cell tower and WiFi access point information” is “intermittently” collected and “transmitted to Apple” every 12 hours. Congress, in the form of Representative Ed Markey, is already asking more questions of Apple about this practice, and can be expected to ask the same of Google. According to a CNET story, there are commercially available products available to law enforcement that make it simple to extract geo-location data from mobile devices and therefore avail themselves of an unassailable record of where the phone, and likely the phone’s owner, has been in space and time....
- bth: big brother knows where you are. To ask the government not to abuse this power is to believe in unicorns.
TRIPOLI, Libya —Police and soldiers have been deployed to keep the peace at gas stations throughout government-held western Libya, as lines stretch hundreds of yards and waiting times to fill a tank often last days.
Crowds of men mill around at almost every gas station and fist fights are common, according to residents of Tripoli, the capital. Many police officers posted at the facilities are armed with assault rifles, while others carry wooden clubs and are dressed in riot gear.
The lines represent the most obvious sign that international sanctions against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s government are beginning to bite. But is not clear who will benefit politically from the public frustration....
The government minders who accompany journalists everywhere in
Gaddafi-controlled western Libya try to prevent their charges from
stopping at gas stations or photographing and filming the lines, many of
which stretch 500 yards, two rows deep....
The impact has been magnified because the refinery at Tobruk, a port
city 778 miles east of Tripoli, is in rebel hands, while another at Ras
Lanuf, also in the east, is on the front line. As a result, Gaddafi has
to rely largely on the big refinery in Zawiyah, just 27 miles west of
Tripoli, to supply the western part of the country.
There was relief in early April when the government managed to circumvent the sanctions,
importing gasoline from an Italian refiner via Tunisia and transferring
the cargo to a vessel owned by a Libyan company outside the U.N.
blacklist, the Reuters news agency reported. The lines at gas stations
in Tripoli briefly evaporated but have now reappeared with a vengeance....
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
If these things are true and Karzai's government is now hopelessly corrupt and planning our departure by negotiating with our enemies and China, perhaps we should look at splitting Afghanistan and keeping air and small ground bases in the northern areas which have been traditionally friendly to the US. Let Pashtun areas drift to Pakistan's governance and declare those regions of what was southern Afghanistan and NW Pakistan uncontrolled and essentially free fire zones.
(Reuters) - Pakistan denied media reports on Wednesday that it was lobbying Afghanistan to drop its alliance with Washington and look to Islamabad and Beijing to forge a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuild its economy.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani "bluntly" told Afghan President Hamid Karzai to "forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country," according to Afghans present at an April 16 meeting between the two men.
"Reports claiming Gilani-Karzai discussion about Pakistan advising alignment away fm US are inaccurate," Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, wrote on his Twitter feed.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told Reuters: "It is the most ridiculous report we have come across."
The Journal reported that Pakistan's apparent bid to separate Afghanistan from the United States is a clear sign that tensions between Washington and Islamabad could threaten attempts to end the war in Afghanistan on favorable terms for the West....
-- bth: worth reading in full. What real incentive do we have to be allied with Pakistan at this point? Further do we really need to support a unified Afghan government? What if Afghanistan split, Pashtun and non-Pashtun with us keeping bases in the non-Pashtun north?
Pakistan is lobbying Afghanistan's president against building a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S., urging him instead to look to Pakistan—and its Chinese ally—for help in striking a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuilding the economy, Afghan officials say.
The pitch was made at an April 16 meeting in Kabul by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who bluntly told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both, according to Afghans familiar with the meeting. Mr. Karzai should forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country, Mr. Gilani said, according to the Afghans....
bth: I think Pakistan has misread our willingness to be played by them any further.
...Broken by waterboarding and the special interrogation techniques authorized by the administration of former US President George W. Bush, Sheikh Mohammed told the Americans about various terrorist projects, each having the goal of killing as many infidels as possible. For instance, he said, he had instructed Jafar al-Tayar, a US citizen and al-Qaida member, to explore the Panama Canal for a plan that involved blowing up one or two ships loaded with explosives. Al-Tayar also had more general orders to scout out possible targets in the United States.
The sheikh seemed obsessed with the idea of turning aircraft into weapons of terror. The "Detainee Assessment" of Sheikh Mohammed contains a list of planned attacks several pages long. Apparently al-Qaida's chief planner painstakingly told his interrogators about all the plans he had made. He also quibbled with them over the details. In one case, for example, he insisted that he had only had half of the responsibility for the planning efforts. At some point, he also no longer ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, saying that he had intended to unleash "a nuclear hell storm."
It appears that Sheikh Mohammed never got over the fact that he had failed to successfully strike the White House in Washington, and that he had wanted to make up for the loss by including such an attack in future plans. The so-called "second wave," which would have involved attacks on multiple targets in the United States, also remained one of his projects. Aircraft became something of an obsession for Sheikh Mohammed. In late 2001, he told interrogators, he had issued the order to attack the "tallest building in California" with a hijacked aircraft. The hijackers were to gain access to the cockpit with at least two bombs hidden in the soles of their shoes. This too is revealed in the documents.
Another plan involved using an aircraft to attack a Western warship in the port of Dubai. To this end, the terrorists were to hijack an aircraft at the Dubai airport, fill it with explosives and then fly it toward the harbor. According to the statements of 14 "high-value" prisoners, the plan involved a Yemeni al-Qaida leader providing the explosives, which were to be brought overland to Dubai from Yemen. One of the places the terrorists planned to hide the explosives was under piles of fish. Some of the al-Qaida plans read like wild and sometimes rather naïve cock-and-bull stories.
According to the sheikh, in April 2002 he had instructed al-Qaida operative Lyman Faris to develop a basic assessment of the possibility of infiltrating the cargo areas of airports. The sheikh said that he had planned to crash several cargo planes into various aircraft buildings in the United States, and that Faris had also wanted to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
A Deadly Dispute over a US hostage
Another idea, which was on the verge of being implemented but was discovered after a raid in Karachi, was relatively straightforward. In September 2002, Pakistani and American security forces found doctored SEGA video games that had been filled with explosives and were to be detonated remotely, using mobile telephones and other devices.
In addition to being al-Qaida's chief planner, Sheikh Mohammed also acted as a mobile banker of sorts who was involved in the funding for various operations. He told US interrogators that he had paid Hambali, a major Indonesian terrorist for many years, $130,000 (€89,000) -- $100,000 as a reward for the successful attack on the island of Bali in October 2002 and another $30,000 for future attacks.
Sheikh Mohammed claimed that in early 2002, when security forces were ramping up the pressure in Pakistan, he gave an associate named Saifullah Paracha between $500,000 and $600,000 for safekeeping. Six months earlier, Paracha had been instructed to investigate safe forms of investment. Sheikh Mohammed was known to hand over such large sums in the form of bills wrapped in newspaper or cellophane.
Another episode from the Guantanamo files, which relates to the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, shows how deeply Sheikh Mohammed hated all things American. According to statements made by an al-Qaida member, there was a dispute in 2002 between Sheikh Mohammed and the senior al-Qaida member Saif al-Adel.
Pearl had been lured into a trap in Pakistan and was kidnapped during a supposed interview. His kidnapper turned him over to Sheikh Mohammed, who was the head of terrorist operations in Karachi at the time. It would not be very wise to kill Pearl, Al-Adel said, and advised Sheikh Mohammed to either free the journalist or return him to his original kidnappers. Sheikh Mohammed disagreed.
Daniel Pearl was dead a few days later.
Despite a solid decade of US officials insisting that Osama bin Laden fled from Tora Bora to Pakistan and remains there to this day, new leaked document show that this is not the case. Rather, US officials collected considerable evidence that bin Laden did not flee to Pakistan, but deeper into Afghanistan.
The documents cites information from detainees familiar with the escape, and said bin Laden was escorted out of Tora Bora to the northeast, and wound up in the Kunar Province. He remained there for at least 10 months. There was no indication where he went from there.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, on the other hand, did flee to Pakistan, but fled into the frontier areas along the border after the capture of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. The documents provide no good clues as to where either wound up after that.
US officials continue to express the belief that bin Laden is in Pakistan, but this does not appear to be based on any concrete evidence to that effect. Given that bin Laden was able to secure his escape deeper into Afghanistan and remained there deep into 2002, it seems he could have easily gone anywhere.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
On Sept. 11, 2001, the core of al-Qaeda was concentrated in a single city: Karachi, Pakistan.
At a hospital, the accused mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole was recovering from a tonsillectomy. Nearby, the alleged organizer of the 2002 bombing in Bali, Indonesia, was buying lab equipment for a biological weapons program. And in a safe house, the man who would later describe himself as the intellectual author of the Sept. 11 attacks was with other key al-Qaeda members watching the scenes from New York and Washington unfold on television.Within a day, much of the al-Qaeda leadership was on the way back to Afghanistan, planning for a long war....
More Americans disapprove of President Obama’s management of the war in Afghanistan than support it, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a finding that reflects the public’s broader concern over the course of the nearly decade-old conflict.
Americans have given Obama wide leeway in escalating the conflict in Afghanistan, which as a presidential candidate he called “the war we have to win.” That latitude is changing — and fairly quickly — as the longer-running of the two wars he inherited approaches the 10-year mark.
In the Post-ABC News survey released Monday, 49 percent of
respondents said they disapprove of Obama’s management of the war and 44
percent voiced approval. The disapproval mark is the highest on record
in Post-ABC News polling. Overall, the figures have essentially flipped
since January, the last time the poll asked the question. In that
survey, 49 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan war
and 41 percent disapproved.
The change in public opinion comes at the start of the annual fighting season in Afghanistan, a period that U.S. military commanders have warned will probably be more intense than previous ones as the Taliban seeks to retake ground lost to U.S. forces over the past year.
After a months-long strategy review in fall 2009, Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in hopes of changing the course of the war. He also set July 2011 as
the date he would begin pulling out those forces, putting U.S.
commanders and Afghan leaders under pressure to show progress over that
In recent months, U.S. military officials have described
battlefield achievements against the Taliban, including in some of its
traditional strongholds. But they have also warned that the gains remain
“fragile and reversible.”
There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, twice the number in Iraq.
Monday, Obama met with his senior national security team at the White
House for a monthly assessment session, as the debate over how quickly
to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer and how
many to pull out gains momentum.
But at a time of rising concern
at home about the national fiscal health, the American public is clearly
tired of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, according to the Post-ABC
Last month, the survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of Americans think the war is no longer worth fighting, the highest number recorded in response to that question.
steadily waning support for the war — and Obama’s stewardship of it —
might have political implications as the president fights for
The poll released Monday showed that a majority of
self-identified independents — 53 percent — disapprove of Obama’s
handling of the war.
Independents were an essential part of the
coalition that elected him in 2008, and the White House has been seeking
to win back those voters as 2012 nears.
The last time the
Post-ABC News poll recorded such high dissatisfaction among independents
over Obama’s management of the Afghanistan war was in November 2009,
the month before he announced his new surge strategy. It is only the second time that a majority of independents have said they disapprove of his approach.
Partisan lines are also deeply drawn over the issue.
half of the Republican respondents in last month’s poll said the war
remains worth fighting, nearly 70 percent of Republicans in the latest
survey said they disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
Among Democratic respondents, 30 percent disapproved.
telephone poll was conducted April 14 to 17 among a random national
sample of 1,001 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus
3.5 percentage points.
Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, two preachers who lived off state benefits after claiming asylum, are identified by the American authorities as the key recruiters responsible for sending dozens of extremists from throughout the world to Pakistan and Afghanistan via London mosques.
The leaked WikiLeaks documents, written by senior US military commanders at Guantánamo Bay, illustrate how, for two decades, Britain effectively became a crucible of terrorism, with dozens of extremists, home-grown and from abroad, radicalised here.
Finsbury Park mosque, in north London, is described as a “haven” for extremists. United States intelligence officials concluded the mosque served as “an attack planning and propaganda production base”.
The files will raise questions over why the Government and security services failed to take action sooner to tackle the capital’s reputation as a staging post for terrorism, which became so established that the city was termed “Londonistan”.
The documents show that at least 35 detainees at Guantánamo had passed through Britain before being sent to fight against Allied forces in Afghanistan. This is thought to be more than from any other Western nation....
--- bth: worth reading in full.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Speaking at a conference Isaf Spokesperson Gen. Josef Blotz said more than 2,000 low level insurgents have been captured and 500 other insurgents have been killed.
"More than 30 suicide attacks have been targeted in soft targets since the beginning of the year," Gen. Blotz said. "While the overall number of suicide attacks continues to decrease as it has since 2008."
The number of Haqqani linked insurgent leaders have been arrested or killed in the operations this year hit 50, he said....
So between 2 breakouts in 3 years 1300 prisoners have escaped - part of our Taliban catch and release plan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- More than 400 inmates – many of them Taliban insurgents – escaped from the main prison in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar overnight through an underground tunnel, an official said Monday.
The massive jailbreak in Kandahar, the focus of much of the international military effort to defeat the insurgency, is a reminder that the Afghan government is still weak and easily thwarted in the south, despite an influx of international troops, funding and advisers.
The escape comes after years of security upgrades and tightened procedures at the 1,200-inmate Sarposa Prison following a brazen 2008 Taliban attack that freed 900 prisoners.
On Sunday night, about 476 prisoners streamed out of a tunnel dug between the prison and the outside and disappeared into Kandahar city, prison supervisor Ghulam Dastagir Mayar said. He said many of the missing were Taliban militants.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgents on the outside dug the 1,050-foot (320-meter ) tunnel to the prison over five months, bypassing government checkpoints. The tunnel finally reached the prison cells Sunday night, and the inmates were led through it to freedom by three prisoners who had been informed of the plan, Mujahid said.
About 100 of those who escaped were Taliban commanders, and most of the others were fighters with the insurgency, he said.
In the 2008 attack, dozens of militants on motorbikes and two suicide bombers assaulted the prison. One suicide bomber set off an explosives-laden tanker truck at the prison gate while a second bomber blew up an escape route through a back wall. About 900 inmates escaped, including 400 Taliban fighters.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
...Army officials said data from a 1988 survey are still being used to design gear, but that body types have changed significantly since.
A pilot study conducted by Natick in 2007 found the obesity epidemic plaguing the general population was “somewhat reflected in our troops,” Blackwell said.
Active-duty male soldiers in 1988 averaged 69.1 inches (5 feet 9 inches) in height, and weighed 172.7 pounds. By 2007, the average height stayed pretty much the same, but weight had shot up to an average of 184.1 pounds. Chest, waist and hip girth all increased, with the average waistline growing from 34 inches to 36.3 inches....
-- bth: so in a twenty years the average weight increased 10 lbs.