07 March 2010

AfPak Update

Adam Gadahn aka Azzam al Amriki, was reportedly captured by Pakistani forces in Karachi.

Wanted to highlight a few important developments in the AfPak region:

1) According to multiple reports coming out of Pakistan, senior al Qaeda spokesman and leader Adam Gadahn aka Azzam al Amriki was captured by Pakistani Special Forces in Karachi. For more details, check out Bill Roggio's excellent post at the Long War Journal. If the initial reports are true, this would be a significant capture. Gadahn has quickly risen within the ranks of AQ's senior leadership over the last several years (in part due to his value to the organization as an American citizen). Successful and rapid exploitation of Gadahn could potentially provide actionable intelligence on senior AQ leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al Libi. More to come on this topic as details continue to emerge...

2) Operation Mostarak continues in Marjah (in the southern Afghan province of Helmand). While most of the significant military operations have ended, the more difficult task of transitioning from "clear/secure" to "hold/build" is now occurring. The best coverage and analysis I have seen on the way ahead in Marjah is Josh Foust's writing, both in his recent NY Times op-ed and on his blog Registan. Based on my analysis of the situation, the three greatest challenges facing ISAF and ANSF elements in Marjah are:
  • Establishing a government that is both capable and recognized as legitimate by the local populace. Currently there is a battle for control between two individuals - Abdul Zahir (the "official" civilian leader that was appointed by the Helmand provincial governor Gulab Mangal) and Abdul Rahman Jan (the former police chief/local warlord who is recognized by many as the most influential "strongman" in the area). Abdul Zahir will face an uphill battle to be recognized as legitimate amid reports of his criminal background and, more importantly, his reputation as an outsider. US leaders in Marjah will have to walk a fine line between trying to prop up Abdul Zahir, while minimizing the legitimacy of the more-popular (or at least more-feared) Abdul Rahman Jan. This will be the single-most important part of the entire campaign and right now I'm not sure we're backing the right guy.
  • Providing an alternative source of income to the majority of farmers in the area whose livelihood depends on poppy cultivation. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, Marjah has long been recognized as a critical hub in the opium trade that flourishes across Southern Afghanistan. ISAF and ANSF elements have already begun their "government-led eradication" campaign and locals are not pleased. The Taliban has recognized this as a major opportunity to win support and are tailoring their IO messages to highlight the fact that ISAF and the new government are doing more harm than good by stopping poppy growth, and at the same time providing no alternative. For more on the challenges and complexities of eradicating the opium trade in Marjah (and Helmand), see this excellent article from TIME.
  • Building capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). As ISAF draws down the number of troops in Marjah, it will become critical to have a competent and trusted security force of locals who can hold the city and prevent the return of the Taliban. Currently, most locals have little trust or faith in the ANSF, especially the ANP who are widely viewed as more corrupt than the Taliban. Several reports from embedded reporters during the operation have highlighted the challenges ahead in improving the performance of the ANSF. CJ Chivers has some excellent analysis in the New York Times, where he highlights the resistance of locals to support the ANP elements being brought to Marjah. One local elder commented to the US commander, "We’re with you. We want to help you build. We will support you. But if you bring in the cops, we will fight you till death." Also, check out this excellent article from several days ago by Chivers that describes the poor performance of the ANSF during the clearance operations in Marjah.
3) Finally, I just wanted to link to an excellent book review written by Dexter Filkins and published in The New Republic this week. Filkins reviews the book "In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan," by Seth G. Jones (from RAND). I recently finished the book myself and highly recommend it. Jones provides an excellent summary of the last fifty years in Afghanistan, providing great context for anyone interested in understanding the various forces and events that have brought us to the current point we're at in Afghanistan.

As usual, Filkins writing is masterful (just as it as in his book The Forever War) and I recommend his book review as a stand-alone article. Entitled, "The American Awakening," the article presents a clear, concise, and well-reasoned assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan, highlighting both the progress we've made and more importantly the challenges that lay ahead. If you don't have time to read Jones' phenomenal book, you should definitely check out Filkins' article.

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