17 November 2009

Helmand TOA Update and Saudi Economic Foreign Policy

Helmand TOA Update
The London Times provides a good update of the Brits' district-by-district TOA of Helmand Province, which I previously wrote about on 12 November. Highlights:

- 2010 is an election year. Gordon Brown has to have this in mind as domestic opposition to the UK’s AStan mission grows.
- The British military faces serious shortfalls and likely needs to pull out of ISAF in order to afford a large military modernization program. There are several articles about shortages in
armor and helicopters, among other major end items.
- The Brits have volunteered to host a NATO summit in January 2010 to develop a comprehensive political and military strategy. This is long overdue, and something that should have been done prior to the current Washington debate on the US way ahead. Whatever strategy or way ahead chosen for the ISAF mission must be a Coalition (NATO) way ahead, not a US mission that we hope/expect our partners to fall in line and support.
- The article cited PM Brown saying that operations had severely weakened al Qaeda through the depletion of its experienced leaders. I find this highly unlikely. Personal experience shows that organizations like this (in my case AQ/ISI) will likely suffer only in the short-term; examples include the deaths of
Jar Allah and Abu Qaswarah. The death of both these key personnel did not have the long-term organizational impacts we had hoped for. Another (likely more relevant) example is that of the TTP and Baitullah Mehsud. Baitullah was killed in a drone strike on 5 August 2009. The TTP Shura Council eventually chose Hakimullah Mehsud on 25 August to lead its operations. Several reports have since surfaced that Hakimullah Mehsud is more violent and ruthless than his predecessor. Citing just these few examples, the logic of his statement about the true damage done to AQ is likely flawed.

Economic Warfare
Foreign Policy’s Shadow Gov’t page has an interesting article (click above link) written by John Hannah about possible Saudi intentions of breaking the Iranian Regime through oil price controls. If the Saudi government is actually deliberately restricting oil prices through market saturation, it’s a stroke of brilliant (and quite dangerous) foreign policy. The US outspent the USSR during the 1980’s when oil prices were low. The pending economic collapse of the failing economy and social unrest in the USSR eventually led to Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost. Based off the information provided in Hannah’s article about required oil prices for each country’s budget, the Saudis can easily afford to squeeze the Iranians financially, thus hopefully causing the Iranian Regime to erode internally. The real danger in this is that the Iranian Regime is unlikely to let things slip that far. This form of economic warfare, if proven, would likely cause either a conventional strike against Saudi Arabia (or other perceived cohorts), or an unconventional strike by a group like the Quds Force inside a Sunni oil-producing state well before the Iranian Regime loses control of their state.



  1. Josh, totally agree that this is a rush to failure. I'm very interested in understanding what the true feelings/sentiment of the British populace are towards operations in Afghanistan. Has there been a similar AQ propaganda/IO campaign in the UK as there has been in Germany (by Bekay Harrach and his cohorts at Al Sahab - AQ's media wing)? If so, does Gordan Brown's premature (and clearly politically motivated) declaration of "victory" mean that the AQ information ops were a success? What lessons will they take from this and apply to their IO efforts targeting the US populace?

    More importantly, what can we as the US do to build consensus around a more comprehensive COIN effort in Afghanistan? Maybe this is part of the reason why Obama has taken so long to publicly announce a strategy. I wouldn't be surprised if JD was correct in his earlier post when he postulated that Obama has heavily emphasized getting buy-in from foreign allies prior to announcing the strategy.

  2. On Iran and economics this is potentially good or bad. As the writer says, it could lead to military action by Iran (though I find this unlikely in the current situation) or it could lead to Iran boosting support for terrorist and separatist groups (which seems much more likely). On the other hand it could force the Iranian leadership to seriously reconsider it's stance and possibly agree to the proposal of sending material elsewhere for energy.

  3. I find the likelihood of the Iranian regime actually accepting a nuclear bargain highly unlikely (read here: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/11/2009111962711262687.html). It's quite obvious that sanctions rarely work when working to contain regimes of this nature; pre-2003 Iraq and North Korea are both testaments to this statement. Thanks for the comments.