31 October 2009

Iran's Help in Afghanistan

First of all let me say my thanks to Pat for starting this blog. It is nice to get those analytical gears turning again after taking some time off.

First, I would like to bring attention to the history of Iran and Taliban relations. Iran was the largest supporter of the Northern Alliance pre 9/11. Actually I would argue that the only reason the Northern Alliance existed was because of Iran. Relations between the Taliban and Iran were never any friendly, but Taliban became a clear enemy of Iran when the Taliban took control of Mazari Sharif on 08AUG1998 and killed 8 Iranian diplomats. On top of killing the Iranian diplomats it is reported that the Taliban systematically sought out hundreds of the Shia minority in the city and executed them. This spurred Iran to deploy over 70,000 troops to the Afghanistan border in preparation for an invasion to depose the Taliban. The UN was able to diffuse the situation, but the relations between the Taliban and Iran never improved. Now I pose the question, “Was this a missed opportunity to get rid of the Taliban and prevent 9/11?”

Now I would like to point out the help Iran gave during the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001. The United States would not have been able to even think of using the Northern Alliance as a military force without Iran’s contacts and help. It was in both countries interest to see the Taliban gone from Afghanistan. The US pressed Iran for intelligence while providing none of its own to Iran. It has also been reported that some Iranian Revolutionary Guards fought alongside the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Even after the Taliban was deposed the Iranians stepped in and played a decisive role in persuading the Northern Alliance to take a smaller role than they wanted in the interim government.

How does the United States respond to the help Iran gave in late 2001? Iran was placed on the Axis of Evil list during Bush’s State of the Union Address during January 2002. This severely undermined President Muhammad Khatami’s reformist movement in Iran who argued that Iran needed to thaw its relations with the United States. This gave the hardliners in Iran all the fuel they needed to rekindle their power base in the country.

I believe that the key to “solving” Afghanistan is to truly get Iran involved. Now I am not a big fan of the current hardliners in the Iranian regime, but with a new President in Office we have another opportunity to get a powerful ally against Al Qaeda and the re emerging Taliban (even if it is all behind closed doors).

Some Great Articles to Read on the Topic:
Great Article from USA Today on Iran claiming it didn’t get enough credit for its help in Afghanistan

Article on how the Neo Conservatives sabotaged Iran’s help on Al Qaeda

Current article on how Pakistan wants Iran to help stabilize Afghanistan

Good article on Iran’s investments in Afghanistan and the benefits of thawing US – Iran relations. Funny how Iran has already delivered 93% of its pledged aid while the US has only delivered 48%.

Great Video PBS on Iran’s reaction to 9/11 and their help in overthrowing the Taliban , sorry that it a bad partial youtube version of it, though…… if anyone can find the full length PBS video on “Iran’s help on Afghanistan” I would love to get the link to it. Also notice how it is likely a Sunni posted the video to show proof that the Shia helped the US invade Afghanistan.

30 October 2009

China's "Unrestricted Warfare"

In an attempt to continually broaden the blog’s subject matter (as User81 did with his great article on the ties between Somali piracy and AQ), I wanted to highlight a recent in-depth study of China’s Computer Network Operations (CNO) – aka “Cyber War” – capabilities and strategy. As the WSJ reports in its recent article, the study was commissioned by the bi-partisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report (see full PDF version here) does a great job of compiling a variety of open-source reporting and interviews to provide a comprehensive look at China’s current Cyber programs and their plan for the way ahead.

Putting this report in context, China’s cyber efforts should be considered one pillar in its efforts to develop a wide range of asymmetric capabilities that will be able to challenge its enemies who can outmatch them in the conventional realm. In 1999, Chinese COLs Liang and Xiangsui published “Unrestricted Warfare,” which argued that the US has created a self-induced trap by the very dominance of our conventional warfare. They conclude that confronting the US in direct conventional combat would be folly. Instead they recommend developing a strategy that emphasizes the “principle of addition,” advocating combined direct combat through electronic, diplomatic, cyber, terrorist, economic, proxy and propaganda means that exhaust the US system of systems. This 228-page book (translated into English and available here in PDF format)discusses the elements of "beyond-limits combined war" and provides invaluable insight into China’s perspective for the future of warfare. If you are limited on time, read Chapter 8 ("Essential Principles"), which begins on pg. 204 of the PDF. These guys definitely "get it."

As we consider this future, we must continue to develop capabilities and doctrine that address the full range of conventional and asymmetric threats posed by both traditional nation-states (and their proxies i.e. Iran/Syria – Hezbollah) and non-state actors (AQAM, criminal networks, etc).

28 October 2009

All Terrorism Is Local

While the Special Operation Forces and assorted other “door kickers” of our nations military and other governmental agencies deservedly receive a lot of the counter-terrorism spotlight, counter-terrorism efforts at home are often overlooked even by those who are in the greatest position to come into contact with terrorists operating within the Homeland, local law enforcement officers.

When boiled down to it’s constituent elements, terrorism is nothing more than ordinary crime on a grand scale. A car bombing, when looked at objectively is not simply a terrorist act, but a series of smaller crimes. It may start with some sort of immigration fraud which allows for placement of support cell members within the US. Those members then may become involved in petty crime such as redemption fraud, cigarette smuggling, or the repackaging of expired baby formula. As the support cell moves its activities forward, they may commit additional immigration fraud such as arranging for sham marriages in order to bring the operations cell members into the US, theft of the vehicle to be used in the car bombing and theft or other procurement of the explosives themselves which all culminate in property damage, assault and in the worst cases murder. Any of these smaller crimes offer a good opportunity for local law enforcement to disrupt the terrorist activity.

An example of this local model of counter-terrorism is the disruption of several Hezbollah cigarette smuggling operations in 2004 which officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimate netted millions of dollars for the terrorist organization. As reported in the Washington Post, "The schemes provide terrorists millions of dollars which can be used to purchase firearms and explosives to use against the United States and others," said ATF Director Carl J. Truscott, who was appointed to head the agency two months ago after 22 years in the Secret Service.

Due to the nature of their work, local law enforcement officers are in the greatest position to notice incidents and actors that are out of place and may represent terrorist pre-operational activity. Nearly every terrorist plot which was disrupted in the Homeland has a local law enforcement officer as it’s primary contributor. Unfortunately there are just as many examples of law enforcement missing the cues of potential attack preparation or possible terrorist financing.

As a Regional Intelligence Analyst assigned to act as a liaison between local agencies in a rural area of the Pacific Northwest and State and Federal counter-terrorism officials, I saw this sort of opportunity passed by on a regular basis. On one occasion, a credit card fraud was reported in a small rural town. The theft was relatively minor monetarily speaking, comprised of several transactions all of less than $250. The shocking revelation was the one way airline tickets purchased on a Persian Gulf based regional air carrier. After some rudimentary investigation I was able to uncover a sophisticated money laundering scheme as well as to identify a suspect who was residing in Beruit, Lebannon. Because the monetary value was relatively low, the responding officer only took the most basic of details and conducted no further investigatory action because the credit card company was going to reimburse the victim. I am sure that this is a typical response to such minor credit card fraud, a response that terrorist organizations both abroad and at home count on in order to facilitate their operations.

On another occasion I received information that a subject was frequenting a rural discount retail establishment and purchasing large quantities of items that could be considered precursors for the construction of a chemical weapon. He would go in one day and purchase a large quantity of one precursor then return the next day to purchase a large quantity of another precursor chemical, always paying in cash. The rural discount store was suspicious so they reported the incident to the local police. The young responding officer checked the local criminal justice database for involvement in drug activity, but because the paradigm of this officer didn’t include the possibility that someone could be amassing material for a weapon of mass destruction, he took no further investigatory action after determining that the subject had no drug history. Later investigation showed that he was indeed creating the chemical weapon, as was the initial concern. His application was relatively benign however as he was using it for pest control in his capacity as a landscaper. While this incident wasn’t truly terrorist related, it illustrates how easily local law enforcement can miss an opportunity to deter a terrorist act.

In the 9/11 Commission Report, a determination was made that there was an unacceptably small amount of information sharing between federal and local officials. As a remedy the Commission recommended the establishment of state intelligence fusion centers which would act as a clearing house to assure that information developed by local authorities was brought to the attention of federal authorities and that information developed by the federal government was transmitted to local agencies who had a need and right to know in a secure manner. These intelligence fusion centers were making great strides in facilitating both criminal and counter-terrorism information sharing. But, just as they were beginning to hit their stride, federal funding was either drastically reduced or removed altogether. Once again resulting in a climate in which law enforcement information sharing is hampered by distrust, fear of loss of credit for the work and suspicion of the motives of outside agencies.

Law enforcement at all levels must realize that the global paradigm has changed and in order to counter the ever present threat of terrorism we must be mission oriented and team focused. Individual recognition must not be the consideration when thousands of lives may potentially hang in the balance. Federal authorities must recognize that they have a valuable resource in local authorities and local authorities must realize that despite the fact that they may be responsible for a rural area, they may be able to provide information on possible terrorist preoperational indicators.

“McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country”

A great article today in the NY Times lays out the initial framework for what appears to be a middle-ground plan in Afghanistan. It appears that Obama is seeking some sort of compromise between a full-on surge/escalation and a withdrawal to a CT-only strategy.

The plan will focus on securing 10 key population centers, with additional BCTs being distributed in line with these priorities: 2x RC-South (1 to Kandahar and 1 unknown – probably to Helmand); 1x RC-East; 1x flex-reserve to “surge” (similar to what 3/2 Stryker did in Iraq). This strategy echoes the Iraq surge in its decision to accept risk in many part of the country and focus troops in key urban-population centers (Baghdad in the case of Iraq in ’07). The major differences of course are: 1) The soldier:population ratio in Afghanistan will be much lower than in Iraq due to the larger size of Afghanistan; 2) Many argue that the other conditions that enabled the success of the surge in Iraq (i.e. Sunni Awakening movement and Sadr’s JAM stand-down) are not present in Afghanistan.

Along these lines, Tom Friedman (who always offers a great big-picture, long-term perspective) puts the decision to send additional troops into the context of the US national interest in his NY Times op-ed today. Is McChrystal just asking us to reinforce failure in Afghanistan?

It appears that Matthew Hoh (who recently resigned as the State Department’s top civilian in Zabul province) thinks so. In his must-read letter of resignation, he argues that, “Success and victory [in Afghanistan]…will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.”

Obama is expected to formally announce his strategy between the Nov 7 presidential election run-off and a planned trip to Japan on Nov 11. Time is running out to make a decision. Where do you weigh in?

27 October 2009

The Other Counter-Insurgent Force

Ron Capps’ op-ed (read the article here) highlights an alarming issue nearly every deployed Soldier or Marine has asked at least once while deployed, “Where are all of the civilian specialists and why aren’t they spearheading the stabilization/reconstruction campaign and operations?” While the military has plenty of intelligent leaders who can and will figure out how to execute, combat Soldiers are by no means trained to support reconstruction efforts on the level in which we now are forced to support. Units with supporting Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) should be able to draw upon the PRT for its non-lethal expertise (in fields like agriculture and rule of law) and their subsequent support when drafting campaign plans and operations to enable host nation (HN) success. By and large, this is not happening. (side note: I asked the dozen other Captains in my class what their experiences with a PRT were, and only one answered positively)

Unfortunately, it will likely take a loud (and frequent) uproar from DoD leaders to effect policy change in Washington that actually makes our diplomatic efforts a priority instead of an after-thought; as the military currently bears the brunt of our failing DoS/USAID concept. It will likely take several subsequent years to build Department of State and US Agency for International Development capacity and capability to not only support their expanded partnership with the military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but to also have the wherewithal and experience to drive operations overseas. These efforts will not be in vain, even if operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan end before we reach full DoS & USAID COIN capability. The simple fact is that there is always another Iraq or Afghanistan.

Ensuring the host nation government can stand on its own two feet is THE end-game of COIN. We’re making it a lot harder and more costly than it has to be by forgetting the other half.

AQI Getting Jealous?

Tom Friedman’s recent NY Times op-ed highlights the need to keep our “eyes on the prize” in Iraq (read his article here). Despite the recent media (and political) focus on Afghanistan and the way ahead, we still have more than double the number of US troops serving in Iraq than we do in Afghanistan. And, with the 2010 national election looming, GEN Odierno has expressed his intent to maintain current troop levels until at least a few months after the elections in January.

While the security situation has improved significantly in the last few years (due to a range of complex, inter-related factors), we are far from being in the clear. Northern Iraq (my old stomping grounds) remains mired in ethnic conflict (mostly of the Arab-Kurd variety) and various reports have indicated a slight resurgence in the AQI network’s ability to conduct spectacular attacks (like the massive dual suicide bombing that occurred last Sunday in Baghdad) that have the potential to show the government's weakness in the security realm.

See the LWJ article here for more detail about the attack, including the claim of responsibility from AQI/ISI on a jihadist forum on 26 OCT. Also, see a great analysis of the larger context and long-term implications of the attack from LWJ's Bill Ardolino here.

Friedman’s article also highlights the important of the upcoming elections in Jan 2010, highlighting the need to maintain pressure on Iraq’s leaders to keep the elections on the scheduled timetable (there are already attempts by some politicians to delay them) and to ensure that there is an “open list” system (which will allow Iraqis to vote for individual candidates rather than just a party). He perfectly describes the precarious political situation in Iraq:

“Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalized by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial.”

As we get closer to elections, expect AQI to ramp up these spectacular attacks in an effort to show the inability of the Iraqi government to provide security and services. We must continue to monitor this situation and ensure that GEN Odierno and MNC-I are properly resourced to finish the job properly in Iraq.

Also, expect a more detailed post from me this weekend that provides background and recommendations on the Arab-Kurd tensions in N. Iraq…

26 October 2009

Speaking of Najibullah Zazi

Following up to my previous post, I wanted to post a link to this excellent report, which was recently released by the Nine Eleven Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation. "Target: America - The September 2009 New York/Denver Terror Plot Arrests" provides the most in-depth UNCLASS analysis of the case against Najibullah Zazi I have yet to see, compiling a huge volume of open-source reporting into a great product. 18 pages packed full of data that's well worth reading - provides great insights into the TTPs being used by AQ to plan/execute operations in the West.

Download the report here.

The Taliban's Growing Ambitions

After reading JD’s post on David Rohde’s article and the links between AQ/Taliban and the Haqqani network (HQN), I wanted to respond to one portion in particular.

JD, you said, “Even with that said I still have not seen any evidence that Pashtun tribesmen are willing to conduct terrorist attacks outside of the AfPak region. We won’t see any evidence of this while the main battleground is in their backyard.”

While I agree that the current pressure on the Taliban will keep them mostly occupied and tied down in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I wanted to shed some light on what I see as the growing radicalization and “globalization” of the Taliban. As Rohde mentioned, there is a growing element within the Taliban who aim to achieve a wider Islamic Caliphate (which falls in line with AQ’s stated goals). Especially at the higher levels, I believe that the line of distinction between AQ and the Taliban is very blurry – and may not even exist in many cases.

Peter Bergen’s recent article in The New Republic, entitled “The Front,” examines the links between AQ and the Taliban, using the case of Najibullah Zazi (recently detained by US officials in Aurora, CO for planning attacks within the US) as an example.

Bergen highlights the critical role that AQ training camps has played in all of the recent attacks in the West (including 1993 WTC attack, 9/11, 1998 African embassies, USS Cole, 2002 Bali, and the failed 2006 British airline plot), explaining that the AfPak border continues to serve as the “epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism.”

Most importantly, Bergen offers some facts that point to an increasing level of cooperation between AQ and the Taliban, including some efforts by the Taliban to attack Western targets outside of the immediate AfPak region (he cites the involvement of Baitullah Mehsud – recent EKIA and former leader of the Pakistan Taliban – in a plot to dispatch suicide bomber to Barcelona in 2008). I believe this is similar to some of the attempts by Zarqawi (AMZ) to extend the reach of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) outside of Iraq –including a major suicide attack against a Western hotel in Jordan. As senior Taliban leaders (many of whom are Pashtun tribe members) become increasingly close with AQ, I think we’ll see them become more and more involved in planning attacks in the West.

Many details are still sketchy about who exactly Najibullah Zazi was working with and receiving direction from prior to his arrest in September, but I would be willing to bet that some of the “un-named intermediaries” that connected Zazi to Mustafa Abu al Yazid (a top AQ operational and financial leader) were in fact just “local Afghans.”

In my mind, this is what makes Afghanistan (and its porous border with Pakistan) the most dangerous of potential AQ safe havens – as compared to areas such as Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. In the AfPak region, AQ has built an extensive and complicated web of interwoven personal relationships that affords them protection and support (for example, Zawahiri is even married into a local tribe). They continue to involve themselves more heavily in Taliban efforts, embedding AQ “Arabs” as trainer and leaders within the existing Taliban leadership structure (similar to what we saw with the re-organization of the Mosul “Arab Battalion” when it was broken up and distributed across the entire military structure). As AQ increases its involvement in the Taliban at the operational and tactical level, I expect to see an even stronger relationship at the top-tier strategic level.

There are more Najibullah Zazi’s out there right now, being identified by embedded AQ leaders/trainers and recruited to move up within the AQ structure. This is who we need to watch out for…

25 October 2009

7 Months of Haqqani Hospitality

David Rohde recently completed a 5 part series for the NY Times about his 7 month captivity by the Haqqani Taliban. As I read the story a couple things jumped out at me. David Rohde set up an interview with a Taliban commander, Abu Tayyeb. According to the article, Abu Tayyeb is aligned with a moderate Taliban faction based in the Pakistani city of Quetta. I don’t know how many Taliban factions are based in Quetta but I do know that Mullah Omar is head of the Quetta Shura Taliban. This is quite an amazing comment by Rohde. The Quetta Taliban are moderate Taliban compared to the Haqqanis. David Rohde never made it to the Abu Tayyeb interview, he was captured by Mullah Atiqullah part of the Haqqani network. Another interesting note from Rohde is that the extreme Taliban want an Islamic Caliphate. It is common knowledge that Al Qaeda’s endstate is the Caliphate but I didn’t realize that the hardcore Taliban also want the Caliphate. Even with that said I still have not seen any evidence that Pashtun tribesmen are willing to conduct terrorist attacks outside of the AfPak region. We won’t see any evidence of this while the main battleground is in their backyard. Early on in his captivity Mullah Atiqullah had to move David deep into North Waziristan because the Arabs got word of his capture and were enroute with a film crew from Al Jazeera to behead him. This brings me to my next point. Even though the Haqqani Network is a brutal faction they still follow the Pashtun tradition of Pashtunwali. I think it is almost common knowledge now that Pashtuns have to provide safe haven for strangers. All this means is that they will not let anyone else hurt you while you are in their home, I don’t think it limits them from killing you if they captured you…I could be wrong. David Rohde also witnessed another part of Pashtunwali where his interpreter was prevented from showing fear or losing face to their captors. This is a very important fact that we must understand. Any kind of reconciliation that we try to implement down the road will need to give the Afghanis a way to surrender with honor. Giving up their Kalashnikov will not be an option. Rohde and his other two kidnapped associates were held in an uninhabited health clinic for much of the winter. That health clinic was constructed by the Pakistani government with US aid money. I think it is safe to say that much of our Aid money fails to reach the intended goal of winning some hearts and minds. Accounting for Stimulus money distributed throughout the United States is hard enough, tracking aid money to Pakistan that is distributed in the FATA is nearly impossible. The following is from Part 4 after a Predator strike destroyed a home only a block away from Rohde’s place of captivity.

“Several days after the drone strike near our house in Makeen, we heard that foreign militants had arrested a local man. He confessed to being a spy after they disemboweled him and chopped off his leg. Then they decapitated him and hung his body in the local bazaar as a warning”….Anbar 2005 anyone?

Part 5 has no value to understanding more about the Haqqani network, it is a play by play of David Rohde’s escape to a Pakistani military base in Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan. All in all the 5 part series was a good read and Rohde does a great job of capturing the hypocrisy of Islamic Extremism.

24 October 2009


“This report does not claim that to follow the Go Big plan would unquestionably result in disaster” The reason I put that quote from LTC Davis upfront is that I don’t want anyone reading this to believe I am trying to prove his assumptions wrong since he is not discounting a fully resourced COIN option. There are a few points that I see differently.

“There is presently no successful “Sons of Iraq”-type operation that would remove large numbers of enemy fighters from the streets, valleys and mountains.”

“Second, due to the history and geography of Afghanistan, there is little prospect that an “SOI” program in Afghanistan can be formed to replicate the success enjoyed in Iraq.”

I don’t think we need an Afghani “SOI” to be successful. The conditions in northern Iraq were not conducive to an awakening movement, yet the local populous still reported on insurgent activity even when the Iraqi Army was predominately Kurdish. The question is not if Afghanistan will have a similar movement to the “Sons of Iraq”, rather are the Taliban so brutal to the local populous that it will foster disenfranchised locals willing to provide intel to the Counter Insurgents? Max Boot provides some insight into the possible effectiveness of a population centric policy in his NY Times article published Oct 21, 2009… Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor — unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country’s most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines.

“The potential for the population to view the introduction of tens of thousands of additional troops as foreign “invaders” or “occupation forces”…

This is another abundant misnomer in the media and academia. There is a lot of contention about ensuring that we don’t make the same mistake the Soviets did in the 80’s. I believe we incorrectly look at the troop levels as the main catalyst for the Soviets being viewed as invaders when in fact it was the Soviets indiscriminate indirect fire and close air support missions resulting in massive loss of civilian life that awarded them the title of invader. Gen McCrystal is aggressively attempting to ensure we do not earn a similar title by restricting our use of artillery and airpower. Will the locals in Paktia Province know that there are more counterinsurgents in the Helmand river valley? If President Obama added 40,000 more police officers to Texas, would the residents of Grapevine or El Paso know it was 40,000 or would they only see an extra hundred or so? I think Gen McCrystal chose 40,000 as his conservative bare minimum number he needs to get the job done.

LTC Davis incorrectly views the under resourced out posts in Wanat and Nuristan as the reason 40,000 additional troops couldn’t possibly be enough to secure Afghanistan. This fact is true, however; these tiny outposts in remote valleys are no longer the focus of our efforts. Gen McCrystal’s plan is to practice economy of force by placing the counter insurgents in the populated areas. Gen McCrystal will assume operational risk by ceding the vast swaths of lightly inhabited valleys.

I believe everything else LTC Davis states in his Go Big report is dead on. I especially agree with his assessments about the logistics, self imposed timelines, and Afghani corruption. LTC Davis also brings up some great points on the difficulty of building a credible Afghani military and police force.

“…as an analysis of pre-9/11 efforts reveals that parts of our efforts were in fact remarkably successful. It was political decisions, in some key situations, that resulted in lost opportunities.”

I could not agree more with this statement. The difficulty conducting CT operations is, 10 years from now when the 9-11 attacks are two decades old, will the President pull the trigger on a seemingly random AQAM member who doesn’t have history of spectacular attacks but the intel community believes he has the means to commit. My belief is the further we get away from 9-11 the less likely our civilian leadership will be willing to drop a bomb.

“Counterintuitively, our efforts are currently complicated by the number of conventional troops we have on the ground, as in many cases our mere presence fuels the insurgency by playing directly into the insurgent propaganda efforts painting the United States as a “foreign occupation.”

This is the statement that I disagree with the most. This quote is in the context that our ground presence is actually hurting our ability to target the extremists because our presence simply generates more fighters than our ability to target. As I have said before, I believe it is how we act not how many counterinsurgents are present that is actually the determining factor to fueling the insurgency. The problem with LTC Davis’ statement and my counterargument is there is no true metric for anyone to positively know what the truth actually is. This argument raged on about our involvement in Iraq but I have yet to see any analysis conducted on this topic.

“As I demonstrated in an Armed Forces Journal article in April of this year, an examination of attack trends and troop levels over the next several years showed that as we sent more US fighting troops to Afghanistan, the Taliban was able to recruit more fighters and inflict more damage.”

I don’t have the full picture and I can’t actively do my own research on this but, is it possible to draw incorrect conclusions from our analysis. This is the difficulty with analyzing intelligence; we all bring our own biases to the analysis. A better analysis would include attack trends, troop levels, and how ISAF conducted operations. It is no surprise that SIGACTs increased in relation to increased troop levels, however; just looking at raw SIGACT numbers can mislead us. We as a military largely conducted operations that were counterproductive until 2007. I believe it is fair to say that the counterinsurgents in Afghanistan were also largely counterproductive providing the Taliban the space to thrive.

After thoroughly reading LTC Davis’ work I believe he is actually advocating for a COIN approach without the focus of protecting the populous. He talks in length about targeting the extremists, building up Afghani security forces, coupled with economic aid and political mentoring. LTC Davis has put forth the best CT proposal in that it doesn’t strictly rely on simply targeting the extremists. My belief is that Gen McCrystal’s plan does not carry the significant risks that LTC Davis predicts. 40,000 additional troops focused on the population centers, implementing a population centric COIN approach will allow us to gain the initiative against the Taliban. I don’t think we can effectively run a purely assist and advise task organization (AAB) in Afghanistan right now. If we adopted this model before 2007 in Iraq our forces would have incurred high casualties because of being spread too thin. It is only well after the benefits from the Surge that we can implement this strategy in Iraq. I know that we are currently implementing an AAB format in Afghanistan but we must realize that this is only one of the Brigades in Afghanistan, the rest are focused on providing security. If we opt for LTC Davis’ Go Deep option our advisement of Afghani security forces will be less effective because our ground units will be too small to accompany their host units out in sector. Basically we could see a Wanat or Nuristan mismatch anywhere in the theater. The more I study to topic the more I believe a COIN approach is the correct one. LTC Davis points out that we still have many important unanswered questions ie: corruption, logistics of increased troop requirements, and building a credible ANSF force.


Time to Expand UNSCR 1838?

Any Marine will gladly recount the story of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and the Battle of Derna, and it rightly holds a legendary place in the history of the Marine Corps. Today, the world again faces an increasing pirate threat off the coast of Africa. Somalia and the waters surrounding it have overwhelmingly taken the lead in not only the sheer number of attacks, but also in ransoms paid. This piece relates some of the recent history, and offers solutions for the way ahead militarily in the region.

Al Qaeda in Africa

The Shabaab organization (meaning “The Youth”), was previously the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, who through late 2006 controlled most of central and southern Somalia. It is currently headquartered in the southern town of Kismayu. One of its former military commanders, Adan Hashi Ayro (EKIA 1 MAY 2008), was reported by both the US Government (USG) and Somali Government (SOMGOV) as the appointed leader of the Somali branch of Al Qaeda in Africa. Ayro had been previously linked to 16 murders in Somalia, including a BBC reporter, and also tied to the failed plot to down an Ethiopian airliner. A Long Wars Journal article from March 2009 by Bill Roggio titled Shabaab leader admits links to Al Qaeda (click here for article) further highlights numerous links between Al Qaeda and the Shabaab organization. Adan Hashi Ayro, along with several other Shabaab commanders and fighters, was reportedly trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan prior to 2001. On 14 SEP 2009, a US Navy (USN) SOF element conducted a helo assault in Somalia on another AQ terrorist, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan-born Al Qaeda bombmaker. Nabhan was wanted by the USG for involvement in the 1998 Dar es Salaam and Nairobi Embassy bombings, and the 2002 attacks in Kenya on an Israeli airliner and seaside hotel frequented by Israelis. Nabhan was killed with multiple Shabaab fighters while traveling south through the Barawe District. Another likely connection between AQ and Shabaab is the large influx of foreign jihadists into Somalia during 2009, with Somali internal security sources estimating a four-fold increase this year. The ties between the two organizations are clearly growing, if not having already culminated in a full strategic alliance this year. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross offers a compelling and detailed article on the Shabaab, its history and connection to Al Qaeda in the Fall 2009 edition of the Middle East Quarterly (click here for article).

Piracy Connections

Starting with 2007, reported pirate actual or attempted attacks has first nearly quadrupled from 32 to 107 (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2009) and then again almost tripled this year to 306 total incidents. It is important to note that numbers of reported incidents by organization vary greatly. The International Maritime Bureau hosts a streaming Piracy Map for 2009, and archived maps for 2005-8, available here; these provide an impressive level of detail about each reported incident and is probably the most accurate source for information on pirate attacks available. Another alarming trend in 2009 is the escalation of armament and force by pirates, with a 200% increase in the number of incidents with weapons. This is probably in partial response to the sole successful counter-pirate operation (3 EKIA), executed by US Special Operations elements on 12 APR 2009. While purely a for-profit venture for most involved (and necessity drives ingenuity), the level of detail and coordination required for current pirate operations suggests a significantly higher level of thought than most teenage Somali pirates are capable of providing. This is where the Shabaab organization comes into the mix. By all reports, the Shabaab is extremely well-organized and hierarchical in nature. Pirate attacks by skiff and dinghy, currently occurring up to 700 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, are utilizing “mother ships” as launch points and floating bases of operation. Once a successful attack occurs, the ransom money (usually in the millions of dollars), paid by maritime transport companies is often dropped onto mainland Somalia. This level of coordination and professionalism fully suggests Shabaab command and control of these operations, and thereby implicates al Qaeda to some extent. At a bare minimum, pirate operations by Somali pirates are financing continued instability in Somalia (pirate captains are reportedly paid only around $40,000 annually, a miniscule percentage of one successful hijacking), the bloodshed of African AMISOM peacekeepers, enhancing regional instability in countries like Uganda and Burundi (both supporting AMISOM mission), and increasing business costs globally. The UN has made initial steps through UNSCRs 1816 and 1838, but more must be done to combat this form of terrorism.

Strategic Options for the Way Ahead

Much of the recent pirate activity in the Indian Ocean is attributed to the area around the southern port city of Kismayu. On 19 OCT 2009, Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Hassan Yacqub announced the group’s successful interdiction of a US military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), reflecting at a minimum an acceptance by the USG and Shabaab of the city’s importance in the counter-terror (CT) fight. While providing no confirmation of the UAV’s destruction, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet (Naval component of US CENTCOM) was cryptic in its retort to Yacqub’s announcement (click here for full article), stating “all UAVs had been successfully recovered”. In the last week the USG has also authorized a recent $5 million of military aid to Mali, and reportedly has reached an agreement to base UAVs in the Seychelles. These actions, combined with ongoing maritime task forces like CTF-151, are a step in the right direction. For the sake of time and space, I will skip the obvious civil & humanitarian issues and support the international community should be providing in Somalia, and provide thoughts strictly on a military approach to the problem set.

1. 1. Maritime patrols and convoy support must continue. The preponderance of warships to support these functions can and should be provided by the international community. A Chinese, Indian, Danish, or Canadian (or any other Coalition nation) warship is just as good of a deterrent as an American warship. Further, it may help to actually improve relations between some of these nations.

2. 2. FID must not only continue, but increase. This should not be in the form of arms and equipment shipments to a failed state, as the US conducted earlier this year to Somalia. Military trainers must come with the arms and equipment, to not only train indigenous forces on their application, but to nurture the Host Nation’s (HN) military establishment, professionalism and CT capability. 3rd Special Forces Group (AFRICOM-aligned), a complement of “soft” Army Special Operations Forces (CA/PSYOP), and a SeAL Team (for port, coastal and maritime offensive and defensive operations) must be put on permanent rotation within AFRICOM under a 3rd SFG command element. The Naval Special Warfare Command would be well served aligning SeAL Team 8 solely to the AFRICOM mission (akin to 3rd SFG) to fully develop and mature cultural and language skills within the assigned Team, and could thus provide an additional command element for rotation in this JSOTF.

3. 3. Direct action operations by our nation’s CT forces must continue. The simple fact is that terrorists are far less effective when they feel they cannot operate with impunity wherever they are. Thinking that at any time they are within the reach of our military is an effective tool in our arsenal, and we must continue to dismantle AQ and Shabaab operations.

4. 4. The USG must begin exploring additional options for looser engagement criteria in international waters; waiting to take the shot when there are already hostages is too complicated and risky to be executed regularly. Max Boot offers the following in a blog for Commentary Magazine, “If the U.S. and its allies took the gloves off and allowed the kind of unfettered pirate-hunting that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—when pirate vessels could be sunk on sight and captured pirates inevitably executed after a swift trial—piracy would likely disappear as a serious problem” (Boot, 2009). While I am not advocating as bold of an international policy as Mr. Boot, I do advocate a more responsive and proactive strategy. One option could easily be confirmation through Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) of an attempted pirate attack with "eyes on" the skiff maintained. This should be more than sufficient under even the most restrictive of ROEs. Further, how many civilian skiffs operate 700 miles offshore in typhoon-frequent waters? Release authority can still be maintained at the highest levels of government, and still supports the concept of self-defense in international waters. This level of confirmation for hostile intent could also therefore easily be applied to the “mother ships” from where the skiffs came once they return to their mother ship, which would help reduce all piracy in the region as a mother ship is probably much harder to replace than a skiff full of Somali teenage thugs.

5. 5. The USG must maintain the lead on IMINT/UAV operations, we own the majority of them and are the SMEs of their tactical employment. The USN has a couple of great platforms still in testing, one being the X-47 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), but currently available platforms are more than suitable for these operations until the X-47 comes online. The Navy’s RQ-4N Global Hawk is fielded in limited numbers, but must be rapidly expanded. Broad Area Maritime Security (BAMS) is an easy way for the USN to not only expand its role in the GWOT, but to also move forward with some TTPs developed by the Army that are highly applicable to a BAMS mission set. I envision entire USN Squadrons of UAVs and UCAVs, similar to the USAF Reconnaissance Squadrons, with the preponderance of these platforms being the MQ-1 Reaper and the MQ-9 Reaper. Since it is wholly impossible to cover the entire Indian Ocean with UAV platforms, it becomes important to combine assets into Hunter/Killer (H/K) teams to allow for maximum coverage. The wide-area MTI capabilities and tremendous endurance of the Global Hawk could allow the platform to cover very large Targeted Areas of Interest, at least 100 sq km per H/K team. While not a significant portion of open-ocean by itself, a 100 sq km TAI developed through timely and accurate intelligence is actually quite large. Suspicious vessels could subsequently be targeted by shorter endurance weaponized platforms like an MQ-1 or MQ-9 under a “persistent stare” methodology. Even without taking "the shot", by utilizing a persistent stare on suspicious vessels, entire pirate networks from ship to shore could be developed and matured to allow a holistic (ground and maritime) operation (remember those HN forces I was advocating in my second bullet?). I don’t have to belabor the point for everyone reading this to understand where I’m going with this. The bottom line is that counter-pirate operations may not be the sexiest function the USN performs, but it is highly relevant in the GWOT (due to Shabaab's international jihadi aspirations and its links to Al Qaeda) and currently under-supported by the USG.

A reported $180 million was paid in ransom during 2008, private security firms reportedly charge $1 million for each successful crossing of the region (20,000 ships on average per year use these shipping lanes), governments across the globe are supporting maritime task forces, and citizens are feeling the pinch by paying higher prices for internationally shipped goods (de Borchgrave, 2009). The USG and international community have a number of options available. The current “deter and respond” method is not working; Somali pirates are becoming more brazen and the Shabaab organization is beginning to branch out from a national organization to one with regional and international reach.

I fully welcome any comments or feedback to this post.


23 October 2009

Go Big or Go Home?

LTC Dan Davis (US Army officer and DIA analyst) adds another great perspective to the Afghanistan debate with his in-depth analysis of strategy options entitled "Go Big or Go Deep."

It's 30 pages long, but well worth a read over the weekend. It provides a critique of the COIN surge option (what he calls "Go Big") and advocates a hybrid solution focused primarily on CT options (what he calls "Go Deep") and scaling down our ambitious goals of growing ANSF capability. There are some major issues with his proposed strategy (especially in his argument to make the NCTC responsible for coordinating all CT operations in Afghanistan, which would be a disaster), but the real value of his paper lies in his argument against the COIN surge and his examination of the risk involved with both COAs.

Additionally, the paper ends with a short comparison of the Iraq surge to the situation in Afghanistan, making a great point about the stark differences between the two. If you only have 5 minutes, read the epilogue for some good perspective.

Download the full PDF document here.

22 October 2009

The Debate Continues...

Today’s NY Times op-ed page featured two opposing arguments on the way ahead in Afghanistan. Both are worth a read:

Max Boot highlights two examples of recent success where additional troops have helped to dramatically improve not only the security situation, but also made gains in terms of governance (see his article here). He argues that the success of the Marines’ 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in the small village of Nawa can be duplicated across the country if GEN McChrystal is given enough troops. For more detail on the success of the Marines in Nawa and its potential implications, see Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s article in the Washington Post here.

Arguing the other side, Nick Kristof frames his argument around the concept that much of the insurgency is fueled by resentment of US forces that are viewed as occupiers (especially by Pashtuns who form the core of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan). He makes a great point when he asks: “if we can’t even hand out billions of dollars [in Pakistan] without triggering nationalistic resentment, don’t expect a benign reaction to tens of thousands of additional American troops [in Afghanistan].”

Kristof’s argument against the surge is probably one of the best I’ve read to date. One particular point really struck me and is worth quoting at length:

“The American military has become far more sensitive to Afghan sensibilities in the last few years, and there are some first-rate commanders on the ground who cooperate well with local Pashtun leaders. That creates genuine stability. But all commanders cannot be above average, and a heavier military footprint almost inevitably leads to more casualties, irritation and recruitment for the Taliban.”

This is a point that many don’t consider. We assume that all commanders will be able to grasp and successfully implement a complex, full-spectrum COIN campaign, but this isn’t true. Within the US Army, those who truly “get it” are few and far between – not everyone is a Petraeus or a McMaster. Based on my personal experiences, I agree with this wholeheartedly. In fact, I would argue that the surge in Iraq was often successful in spite of top commanders and leaders (thanks to junior officers and NCOs who grasped COIN and made it successful at the tactical level).

Taking COIN Too Far?

The ongoing debate about the US role in Afghanistan has dominated the media and academia recently - and for good reason. The decisions we make now in terms of combat power, funding/resourcing, and military strategy will have profound and lasting effects not just for the "AfPak" region, but for the US and our NATO allies as well.

Most of the proposed strategies fall in line with one of two overarching themes: 1) increase combat forces to enable a more effective COIN effort and build ANSF capability; or 2) draw down combat forces (either immediately or very soon) and shift our strategy to focus primarily on CT efforts against AQAM. So far, those in favor of the COIN approach appear to be greater in number and include GEN Petraeus, GEN McChrystal, ADM Mullen, Fred and Kim Kagan (from AEI), and a large number of academics from "pro-COIN" think tanks such as CNAS. They point to the recent success of the "surge" in Iraq and attribute much of that success to the adoption of a COIN-based approach across the theater.

Too Much COIN?

The debate reminded me of a Washington Post article from May 09 (recently re-sent by User81) cautioning against the over-application of the COIN concept. In "Countering the Military's Latest Fad," Celeste Ward argues that, "counterinsurgency [strategy] risks being taken too far, distracting us from other threats, challenges and strategic debates." She goes on to argue that much of the success in Iraq that was attributed almost solely to the surge was in fact due to a complicated set of inter-related conditions - particularly the formation of Awakening groups and the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) cease-fire ordered by Sadr. Although much of the article reads as a defense of GEN Chiarelli and crew (who led Iraq operations from 2005-2006), Ward does make some valid points about the potential risk in constantly defaulting to the new COIN paradigm as a way to fight. The conclusion of the article makes a strong case for ensuring that we truly consider whether COIN is the right option for Afghanistan:

"Washington's ultimate objectives in Afghanistan remain unclear. The United States has spent six years, more than 4,000 American lives, mass quantities of psychic and political energy, and untold billions on the effort in Iraq -- a project that has to date yielded little in a strategic sense. Iraq had an urban, educated population, infrastructure and bountiful natural resources, whereas Afghanistan has none of these. If "counterinsurgency" is merely a more palatable stand-in for "nation-building," that politically freighted but strategically more illuminating term, then our terminology may be obscuring the true extent of our predicament.

The U.S. military can be notoriously resistant to change, so the rapid ascent of counterinsurgency thinking is an impressive triumph of intellectual entrepreneurship in a normally parochial institution. But while counterinsurgency theory and doctrine are vital and have a role to play, their applicability is bounded. Too often in Washington the discovery of a hammer makes everything look like a nail. The question is not whether counterinsurgency works, but where, when and to what ends it is wise to commit U.S. power and resources."

While many of Ward's points are valid, she (like many other critics of COIN) fails to offer any sort of alternative solution. VP Biden has been the most vocal critic of an increase in combat power, arguing that rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces should concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics. US forces would accelerate training of Afghan forces and provide support as they took the lead against the Taliban. But the emphasis would shift to Pakistan. Biden has often said that the United States spends something like $30 in Afghanistan for every $1 in Pakistan, even though in his view the main threat to American national security interests is in Pakistan (see recent NY Times article). However, Biden has failed to articulate any sort of detailed plan for exactly what this strategy would look like at the operational and tactical levels.

Drawdown Options

Robert Pape is one of few scholars to offer specific recommendations, which he outlined is his recent NY Times op-ed ("To Beat the Taliban, Fight from Afar"). Pape argues for a version of "off-shore balancing," justifying a reduction in forces with the typical argument that increasing combat forces in an area will only serve to reinforce the occupation mentality among the populace and result in increased attacks. Similar arguments were made by opponents of the surge in Iraq, but ultimately don't hold water. While an increase in combat power will initially likely result in increased casualties, the increased "area security" provided by the troops will reduce violence in the long-run. This is the fundamental flaw in Pape's logic - an assumption that more troops will result in an increased perception that ISAF are "seen and mistrusted as an occupying power." Pape ignores one of the key tenet's of McChrystal's strategy, which is to change the operational culture of ISAF forces to focus primarily on securing the populace. If the increase in combat power is successfully paired with this change in mindset (and mission), we will begin to see increased support from the local populace for both ISAF and ultimately for the Afghan government.

Pape explains the details of his plan, which would "[rely] on over-the-horizon air, naval and rapidly deployable ground forces, combined with training and equipping local groups to oppose the Taliban." He highlights the success of US forces cooperating with Tajiks and Uzbeks (under the old Northern Alliance...which fell apart when tested in 2001-02) as a model and makes the assumption that we will be able to "lead Pashtun tribal militias in the southern and eastern areas to abandon their support for the Taliban and, if not switch to America’s side, to at least stay neutral." This argument, however, is just plain wrong and goes against years of recent history. The Pashtuns form the core of the Taliban (and much of AQ) and are not likely to support the Karzai government any time soon (unless it's able to show some legitimate progress in improving security, governance, and jobs at the local level).

Another version of the "CT-only" option has been recently advocated by Austin Long on ForeignPolicy.com. Long advocates a "shift to a 'small footprint' counter-terrorism mission" composed almost entirely of SOF and SF elements (with required logistics/medical support as well as robust enablers i.e. intel). While Long is the first to truly lay out the number (roughly 13,000), organization, and type of units required, his analysis falls short in explaining what intelligence we will use to drive these operations. Where will all of the analysts sitting in high-tech fusion centers get their data? He argues that SF teams embedded with local ANSF forces will provide much of the HUMINT data, but this is a huge assumption. More fundamentally, he also fails to understand that we can continue to target AQ/Taliban forces until the cows come home, but there is a growing pool of recruits disenfranchised not just by the presence of US/NATO forces, but more importantly by the inability of the Karzai government to represent and provide for them. In the words of GEN McChrystal, "You can kill Taliban forever, because they are not a finite number." This is where the other lines of operation within a comprehensive COIN campaign (governance, economy, etc.) come into play. Providing enduring area security to local Afghans is impossible when we land a helicopter, snatch/kill some bad guys, and then leave. The Taliban will come right in behind us and intimidate/convince the people that they are the only ones who can provide basic needs.

Although Pape, Long, and a few others have gone a long way towards explaining their rationale for a CT-focused drawdown, some critical questions and problems remain:

1) Will the current and future administrations (Republican and Democrat) be truly willing to conduct a global counter terror strategy that will undoubtedly kill women and children?

2) Will this strategy push our Tier 1 targets deep inland to mitigate our commando reach?

3) Does a CT strategy actually mean pulling out all ground forces from Afghanistan or will we just make the argument for advisors and non-combat troops to be aligned with host nation partners (Advisory Assistance Brigade concept)? Who will do this – conventional or SF units?

4) Does a CT strategy create more security issues in the long run if it is not a shaping operation in an overarching plan like it was in Iraq?

5) Can a CT strategy without significant ground forces properly feed the targeting cycle with actionable intel? Obviously, it has worked to a certain extent with Predator strikes in Pakistan, but all of us know how much more effective targeting is when battle space owners are involved.

COIN Surge Options

The other alternative, of course, is the option to send an increased number of troops to fully enable a COIN strategy. While numbers vary, we have heard calls for anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000 more Soldiers who would remain for some set timetable (likely years and not months like the surge in Iraq). Along with an increase in combat power, GEN McChrystal also emphasizes the importance of changing the way we do business on the ground. The two primary missions of ISAF units would shift to securing the local populace and training and building capacity of ANSF (eventually fielding an Army of 240,000 and police force of 160,000). Accompanying this change in strategy, McChrystal explains, must be a shift in "operational culture," much like the one ushered in by GEN Petraeus during the Iraq surge. In my opinion, although numbers are important, this is the key component of the entire plan. This will allow ISAF forces to go from being the occupier to the mediator and enabler of the Afgan government. Changes like this take time, but are necessary for success in such a complex operating environment.

When it comes to details of the plan, there are several proposals outlining how many troops are needed, where additional forces should be focused, and how they should be employed. One of the better (and easiest to read/understand) plans is the one laid out by Fred and Kim Kagan in a series of PowerPoint slides (available in PDF format here). They provide an in-depth analysis of current units in Afghanistan and determine that there are only roughly 89,200 "available counter-insurgents" including ANSF elements actually conducting COIN operations (once you factor in all of the logistical and support troops and account for ineffective ANSF units). Based on this and a thorough assessment of where we need to focus our efforts, they recommend approx. 40,000-45,000 additional US forces. They also discuss the pros/cons of the "CT-heavy" approach and offer several faults with this plan.

Bruce Riedel (a CIA veteran and chair of President Obama's recent AfPak review) and Michael O'Hanlon explain their expert opinions in favor of a COIN-focused surge in their USA Today op-ed from 24 Sep 09. In it, they offer a few key arguments against the CT-lite plan:

1) The fundamental reason that a counterterrorism-focused strategy fails is that it cannot generate good intelligence. Ultimately, our Afghan friends who might be inclined to help us with such information would be intimidated by insurgent and terrorist forces into silence — or killed if they cooperated — because we would lack the ability to protect them under a counterterrorism approach.

2) The second reason a counterterrorism-oriented strategy would fail is that, if we tried it, we would likely lose our ability to operate unmanned aircraft where the Taliban and al-Qaeda prefer to hide. Why? If we pulled out, the Afghan government would likely collapse. The secure bases near the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and thus our ability to operate aircraft from them, would be lost.

3) Third, we would likely lose our allies with this approach. A limited mission offers nothing to the Afghans, whose country is essentially abandoned to the Taliban, or to the Pakistanis, who would similarly see this as the first step toward cut and run. The NATO allies would also smell in a "reduced" mission the beginning of withdrawal; some if not most might try to beat us to the exit.

For all of it's positives, the COIN-surge approach also leaves many questions unanswered:

1) One of the reasons "The Surge" was successful is because the Iraqi populous was fed up with the violence. Is Afghanistan ready for peace after 30 years of on and off fighting?

2) A COIN strategy will have to be viewed as a double down for success. How will this affect the ARFORGEN plan to give our soldiers 1:2 dwell?

3) How long are our NATO partners in Afghanistan willing to let a COIN strategy play out?

Way Ahead?

In the end, we are left with a very difficult decision. As Andrew Exum explains in his excellent CNAS policy brief ("Afghanistan 2011: Three Scenarios"), all of the options available "involve risks and resources that would strain an already exhausted NATO alliance and Afghan people." An effective strategy will, “almost certainly require a further commitment of precious U.S. time and resources, to say nothing of the human cost. Ultimately, the president must select the option he considers least undesirable.”

20 October 2009

The Awakening

The idea for this blog started with a series of e-mail conversations between a group of current and former military folks who had recently returned from serving together in Iraq. As we all moved on to different locations, we recognized the need for continued discussion and critical thought about what lay ahead. Our goal is to identify and analyze emerging trends in intelligence and irregular warfare - in terms of threat, mission, and environment. The idea is to inspire reasoned, informed debate and discussion among a wide range of participants who can offer alternative perspectives.

The name of the blog - al Sahwa - translates to "the Awakening" in English and is inspired in part by a concept explained in the Arabic-language book "al-Zarqawi - al-Qaida's Second Generation, " by a Lebanese journalist Fouad Hussein. Written in 2005, the book is perhaps the most definitive outline of Al Qaeda’s (AQ) master plan to date. Drawing heavily on an interview conducted with Saif al Adl (a top AQ operational planner and security chief), Hussein lays out a seven-phased campaign that will occur over the next 20 years.

As Lawrence Wright explains in his 2006 article in the New Yorker:

"Al Qaeda’s twenty-year plan began on September 11th, with a stage that Hussein calls “The Awakening.” The ideologues within Al Qaeda believed that “the Islamic nation was in a state of hibernation,” because of repeated catastrophes inflicted upon Muslims by the West. By striking America—“the head of the serpent”—Al Qaeda caused the United States to “lose consciousness and act chaotically against those who attacked it. This entitled the party that hit the serpent to lead the Islamic nation.” This first stage, says Hussein, ended in 2003, when American troops entered Baghdad." (see full article in The New Yorker)

Our blog aims to serve as an opposition to this awakening and growth of radical Islam and jihadist thought - manifested primarily in organizations like al Qaeda and associated movements (AQAM). Through our discussions and analysis, we hope to identify ways to innovate and improve our intelligence and irregular warfare capabilities.

The blog's name also alludes to the recent growth and success of the "Sahwa (Awakening)" movement in Iraq. First formed in Iraq's western-most Anbar province in 2005, this grass-roots movement morphed into an informal coalition of small groups of local leaders and citizens who made the decision to stand up to increasingly violent Al Qaeda forces operating in their towns and villages. Armed with an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the enemy, these groups were critical in the fight to secure Iraq and limit the influence of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

In much the same way, we aim to gain a deep understanding of our enemies' motivations, methods, and intentions. We must develop this rich understanding in order to inform our discussions on how to improve our plans and policy - at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

We want to involve as many folks as possible in the process - from intelligence analyst to deployed infantry Soldier, to DC think-tanker, to government policymaker. Please take part in these discussions and feel free to agree, disagree, and suggest new topics or points for discussion.