26 April 2010

Exploiting the Rift in Taliban Leadership

As I discussed in a previous post, it appears that there may be a potential rift developing among the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban. Last month, the Taliban officially announced their plan to replace Taliban Deputy Leader (and de facto leader of day-to-day operations) Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with two different individuals - an unusual move that prompted many to question the decision of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. According to multiple reports, all military operations would be overseen by Mullah Abdul Qayim Zakir (for more on him, see my previous post here) and all logistics/support operations would be the responsibility of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor.

A recent article in the UK's Times Online provided additional insight into this developing rift, quoting sources within the Taliban and on the ground in Afghanistan who have confirmed the growing tensions within the Taliban's Inner Shura (top council of leaders). According to a tribal elder in Southern Afghanistan with strong links to the insurgency, "When Mullah Baradar was arrested, Mullah Mansoor thought he would be his replacement...when Zakir was introduced as the defense minister, [Mansoor] was disappointed." According to the report, this resentment has caused a bitter power struggle between the two, forcing subordinate commanders to choose sides. Mullah Mansoor, who was appointed as the Kandahar province shadow governor in 2007, felt he was the logical choice to run all military operations in the Southern region. He reportedly asked the Taliban's leadership council for military control of Helmand and Kandahar after Baradar was detained, but his efforts were blocked by Mullah Zakir and his supporters. Zakir, who is also from Helmand province (and spent several years detained at Guantanamo Bay) and has a reputation as a brutal and aggressive fighter, replied that, "I'm the defense minister. I control all of Afghanistan, we should work together."

As US and ISAF forces continue shaping operations in preparation for an offensive in Kandahar, it will be critical for us to take advantage of this growing rift within the Taliban's ranks. US and partner ISAF forces should make this a major information operations (IO) theme and interweave it within both their lethal and non-lethal operations. During key leader engagements (KLEs) and shuras, leaders should draw attention to the feud, gain more information about it, and highlight the fact that Taliban leaders are only out for themselves and care little about the people of Afghanistan. If the results of the poll quoted above are truly representative of the people's sentiment in Kandahar, then we have a long way to go in terms of discrediting the Taliban. The rift theme should also be heavily played upon in IO products to support our lethal targeting and exploitation operations - making a concerted effort to leave stay-behind fliers/leaflets and spread the word that different leaders and commanders are turning on each other and providing information to US forces. This will help to exacerbate the already-existent feud and increase paranoia across the organization. I've seen firsthand how effective this can be in dividing insurgent organization and creating additional targeting opportunities for US and partner forces.

23 April 2010

International Fusion Centers: Are They Possible?

*This post is not as well-researched as I would like it to be. Rather, it is more of a "stream of consciousness" of what I am thinking and how I am envisioning the end goal. It is an activity in both inner-dialogue and discussion with the reader.

This is an "idea of the day," so please share your insights as they percolate or simply bring me back to earth on this one. Either way, a forum-style platform to generate innovative ideas - or re-visit old ones - is how organizational structures and stragetic developments like this begin to manifest themselves.

In the midst of fighting a global war on terrorism, which we may de-construct to understand - according to one theory - as increasingly decentralized in nature, our intelligence collection apparatus and conjoining skills are prime. In short, intelligence enables decision-makers to drive operations, both on a domestic scale with criminal investigations and an international scale with combined arms.

As we are well aware, we were comforted once again in the wake of Abdulmutallab's underpants attempted-bombing to learn that our intelligence collection methods are solid but were frightened to learn that our intelligence sharing across the board did not produce. As a direct result, and rightfully so, there continues to be an increasing focus on strengthening intelligence-sharing protocols, procedures, and processes because of the threat that "there will be more like [Abdulmutallab]."

For further in-depth reading of creating structures for intelligence sharing, you can read a report by the Heritage Foundation, which called back in 2002 to institute a federal department under the control of the President to "confront the blizzard of information" for the purpose of identifying, tracking, monitoring, and responding to suspected terrorists and actual terrorist activity(ies).

An initiative has followed, now under the leadership of the DOJ, known as the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, to set-up successful fusion centers accessible by the DHS, FBI, and HHS, amongst others, in support of domestic criminal investigations, including terrorism. Law Enforcement, Intelligence, Public Safety, and the Private Sector act as stakeholders who "embody the core of collaboration" by working with effective tools to do more with less "as demands increase and resources decrease."

*The DOJ would greatly benefit from, as they may already be, the DHS' Global Terrorism Database - housed at the University of Maryland - that examines intelligence on domestic and international case events. Just as with, for example, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) while mobile on the ground, how the "user" decides with the intelligence provided determines the success or failure of the mission.

I agree with the idea of this institution, but think that a real-time issue is the actual task of building trusted relationships. That which we certainly agree on, namely, to dynamically examine the terrorist puzzle, can be systematically successful if we master a comprehensive method of collaboration that willingly puts the pieces together. The promise lies in the fact that we have already the best minds and acquired skills. Training (of the user) is essential.

Given these preliminary considerations (which I encourage you to either approve of and add to or tackle and dismiss), I think it is valuable to begin with many similar constructs such as "building trusted relationships" while recognizing the obvious constraints of a) compromising intelligence and/or b) endangering lives (which are in this case, nations and/or nations' agencies). One perspective I have held is that intelligence sharing and therefore the intelligence fusion is grounded in "relationship sharing," what is understood generally as social networking - a primary business term - but is meant here as locating "who" knows "what" information. Successful collaboration, as mentioned above, will ensure (at least to a higher degree than before) a successful exploitation of data.

In order to achieve mission-critical objectives, the "relationship" must be protected in order to establish long-term trust, as intelligence that is shared may not lead to the end but only be one step towards putting more pieces together. Applying this understanding to an international framework, can fusion centers maximize intelligence by building and maintaining trustful relationships with nation governments and intelligence agencies? In other words, because the terrorist activity(ies) happens on a global scale does the intelligence community need to create international structures, concretely or in TTP's, to provide a solution to the morphing problem? If nations can share relationships, the idea is that intelligence will be more timely, accurate, and useful in relation to the problem.

If so, it seems an international fusion center (remember, this is in a perfect world) requires first the solid development of partnerships between major players, a go-to list of who can help and how. I think it is wise to center our effort on the stakeholders in the Middle East, in two categories (which I think are obvious):
Group A

Group B
Saudi Arabia

In contrast, we must decide who the major antagonists are, who may be grouped together. Iran, of course, comes to mind, which would then include Venezuela. On the table for further discussion is both Russia and China, who in philosophy are competitors that will certainly not be willing to share (any bit of) intelligence but are key economic brokers in the Middle East.

Concluding Thoughts
Lastly, before I leave this post to the wolves for shredding (for positive growth), I think an aspect of our stragetic planning needs to include the formulation of a) incentives for partners to involve themselves and in good, consistent manner and timely fashion as well as b) consequences and punishments for i) partners who do no share according to terms and/or breach trust and ii) competitors who seek to or succeed in disrupting, dismantling, and defeating the fusion process.

Once again, I think the main question is as I stated: "Because terrorist activity(ies) happens on a global scale does the intelligence community need to create international structures, concretely or in TTP's, to provide a solution to the morphing problem? There you have it; no more thinking for the rest of my Friday evening.

22 April 2010

Lethal Targeting in Iraq; Success on an Unprecedented Scale

I think "WE" at al Sahwa would be remiss if we didn't try to put into perspective the recent lethal targeting events in Iraq. I will take a crack at it and hopefully the rest of the gang will fill in the blanks, as we have learned through trial and error, intelligence is always more accurate when it is a group effort. I will link many of the personalities to the LWJ because, as always, Bill Roggio does an impeccable job at providing detailed backgrounds on the myriad of targets.

We in the military largely fail at providing the media with timely facts about our operations under the guise that it will hinder operational success. While this statement is true, it hinders the media's ability to accurately report on our successes (which I will cover in depth later). A side note to this; the military often withholds information from successful operations for days and even weeks, because it often takes a while for our enemies to realize a key personality was killed or captured, thus giving us a golden opportunity to do more damage to a terrorist network.

By now, many of you, know the history of AQs beginnings in Iraq so I will try to cover only the important points. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the face most recognized in association with Al Qaeda in Iraq and is the best place to start when covering the history of lethal targeting in Iraq. Zarqawi, like many Jihadists of his time, got his roots in Afghanistan. What separated Zarqawi from the other Jihadists was his reported refusal to swear fealty to OBL at the time (pre-9/11). Zarqawi infiltrated Northern Iraq in April of 2003 and formed his first terror organization, Taheed wal Jihad (TWJ). Zarqawi's clout continued to grow swelling TWJ ranks from 1500 in 2003 to over 5,000 by mid to late 2004. Zarqawi attracted many talented Jihadists to include Abu Ayyub al-Masri (remember that name), who was reported to be an expert bomb maker. Around October of 2004, Zarqawi pledged fealty to OBL and TWJ merged into al Qaeda in Iraq. Our Government added the modifier Z on the end to signify who AQI was led by, AQIZ. AMZ was undoubtedly the largest thorn in our side from October 2004 until his death in June 2006. Zarqawi was so aggressive that even bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote letters personally telling AMZ to tone his sectarian agenda down because it was beginning to detract from AQ's overarching road map to the Caliphate. Once Zarqawi was eliminated the AQ leadership had to appoint his successor.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (AQ #2) knew that AQI's reputation was damaged under Zarqawi's rein and chose a successor that he could trust to refocus AQI. He chose Zarqawi's expert Egyptian bomb maker, Abu Ayyub al-Masri (AAM).

It was during this transition period that the leadership of AQ and AQI understood that there had to be an Iraqi face to their organization in order to bridge the rift caused between Zarqawi's foreign fighters and their Iraqi counterparts. They decided on the face below, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (AUAB) was the purported leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the al Qaeda front organization. The lines between groups often blurred but I drew the distinction of calling Iraqi insurgent members, ISI, and foreign fighters as members of AQI. There were a lot of reports in open source media that claimed AUAB was captured, killed, or was a fictitious personality created by AAM. One aspect of AQI/ISI was certain; both AAM and AUAB were not as directly involved with the day to day terror operations to the extent AMZ operated. There were reports circulating that at times, AAM was not even in the country. I think this explains why AAM and AUAB were able to last almost 2 years longer in office than AMZ.
So, if AAM and AUAB were not as aggressive in the day to day leadership of AQI as AMZ, how was AQI still able to maintain such a high Op tempo? Enter Abu Qaswarah and a host of other Wali's. Abu Qaswarah was the Emir of AQI in Northern Iraq until his death on October 5, 2008. He was active in directing terror attacks throughout Northern Iraq similar to how Zarqawi directed AQIZ. I think Abu Qaswarah's death is another example of how Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's rein of terror directly affected the U.S. Military's approach to public affairs relations. Throughout 2005 and up to June of 2006, scarcely a week would go by that Zarqawi's face wasn't plastered all over the news, mocking the American military's ability to capture one lone terrorist amidst over a hundred thousand military personnel operating in the country. From this experience, I think we are 1) afraid to highlight personalities that we are targeting for fear of looking inept to catch them and 2) unwilling to help certain individuals gain recognition through the media that could help bolster our enemy's recruitment (which I do believe is a valid point). The byproduct of this relationship is the American public largely doesn't understand what an immense victory it was to kill Abu Qaswarah, pictured below.

I don't have any hard evidence to back up my claim, but I believe that AAM and AUAB delegaded the day to day operational responsibility to individuals like Abu Qaswarah in an attempt to distance themselves from becoming our targeting focus. It is not a wise career choice to be America's public enemy #1. If AAM and AUAB relegate themselves to providing long term direction and cut themselves out of the day to day terror decision making process, then any intel collected on objectives would not directly point the Coalition Forces to their whereabouts.

This brings us to the lethal targeting events starting in January 2010 to the present day. January 5, 2010 A joint operation resulted in the death of the Wali of Northern Iraq (Abu Qaswarah's old position), Abu Na'im al Afri, and the detention of the Admin Emir, a high level Sharia Emir, and the Detainee Affairs Emir. A roll up of the entire operation resulted in 2 AQI killed and 21 detained.

January 28, 2010 A joint raid led to the death of Abu Khalaf, AQI most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Abu Khalaf was historically based in Syria; however, the successful round of targeting from Jan. 5th probably forced Abu Khalaf to assume a more active leadership role within Iraq. The death of Abu Khalaf was a major blow to AQI, due to his knowledge and expertise in funneling foreign fighters into Iraq.

April 1, 2010 A series of joint raids in March resulted in the deaths of AQI's overall leader in Northern Iraq, Shaykh Khalid, economic security emir (financial), Abu Marwa, and the overall military emir of Mosul, Abu Huda. In addition to the deaths, the security forces also detained several key personalities from the extortion (financial/security) lines. One, the captured oil emir, being a former AQI leader in the al Anbar province.

April 7, 2010 Two more joint operations removed overall military emir in charge of Mosul and one of his subordinates, the East side military emir.

April 19, 2010 Undoubtedly the greatest lethal targeting success since Abu Qaswarah and Zarqawi before him, a joint operation lead to the death of Abu Ayyub al-Masri (AAM) and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (AUAB), along with AAM top assistant and AUAB's son at AAM safe house.

April 20, 2010 Yet another joint operation leads to the death of the AQI Northern Emir, Ahmad Ali Abbas Dahir al Ubayd, who was in a position to potentially be AQI's interim leader until OBL and Zawahiri can officially name a successor.

It is clear that the AQI senior leadership is in complete disarray since they lost their top two leaders and the third highest position, Emir of Northern Iraq, has turned over at least three times, possibly a fourth if you account for Abu Khalaf. It may seem that we are having an amazing streak of luck in regards to our lethal targeting success; however, that is simply not the case. With lethal targeting, you create your own luck through countless hours of due diligence, and successful targeting often begets additional successful targeting through proper exploitation. The final point I want to highlight is how successful targeting forces AQ leadership to "come up on the net" and chose successors instead of directing from the shadows. I have little doubt in my mind that the three AQI Northern Emirs killed prior to the AAM/AUAB raid directly led to their deaths, because they were the only personalities that could name the deceased's successor. The exploitation from the AAM/AUAB objective probably led to the 4th AQI Northern Emir's death 48 hours later. The most significant aspect of AAM's death is that it will cause Ayman al-Zawahiri to end his communication blackout that started in December of 2009 to appoint AAM's successor. This will most likely take the form of sending a courier to Iraq with instructions from corporate. I hope Ayman's courier understands we are creating our own luck on an unprecedented scale right now.

20 April 2010

Global Engagement Directorate: Islamic Extremism

Are the men in the picture above Islamic extremists? How we define them greatly impacts how we engage them, fight them, and (as we have seen with the politically-driven debates about KSM) legally bring them to justice. Of my concern here is how to engage, as Professor Dan Kuehl of the National Defense University commented on a previous post of mine, in an effective counter narrative strategy to overcome the sway of AQ/affiliate ideology.

On 26 May, 2009, President Obama in an official White House announcement entitled, "Statement by the President on the White House Organization for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism," prioritized how the White House should be organized to deal with the critical issues of homeland security and counterterrorism. The last of the five decisions created and instituted the Global Engagement Directorate, a new initiative "to drive comprehensive engagement policies that leverage diplomacy, communications, international development and assistance, and domestic engagement and outreach in pursuit of a host of national security objectives, including those related to homeland security."

Peter Feaver of Foreign Policy's Shadow Government Blog on 27 May, 2009, wrote that the GED would give the Administration an "equity stake" in comprehensive engagement. He also found himself asking what exactly this means internationally: "Will it be a major player on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan...that could benefit from a more seamless integration of communications, aid, diplomacy, and domestic outreach? Is there room for general policy formulation in this area, or is this a quintessentially "operational" matter?" Domestically, does this mean advancing an agenda based on human rights and non-discrimination in aiding community outreach and coalition building?

The Administration's choice to discontinue the use of the term, "Islamic extremism," is understood to strenghten their ability to leverage diplomacy on both the international and domestic levels because it, in theory, communicates the right message to the Muslim community worldwide that America is not at war with Islam (per his Cairo speech). The question remains: What is the benefit?

Perhaps Feaver would agree with my perspective that GED most likely determined that the discontinuation of certain religious-focused language would not enable the Administration to establish equity with Muslim partners both domestically and abroad nor promise to comprehensively engage geo-strategic governments in the Middle East. Yes, "Diplomacy works better the more informed we are about the other [government's] intentions and capabilities;" moreover, warfare is successful when one accurately defines who the enemy, in this case in relation to religious co-optation.

We should re-visit the National Security Decision Directive on U.S. International Information Policy, issued in 1984 (NSC-NSDD-130), relating to both international and domestic information strategies, which states:
"The fundamental purpose of U.S. international information programs is to affect foreign audiences in ways favorable to U.S. national interests. Such programs can only be credible and effective by respecting accuracy and objectivity. At the same time, the habits, interests, expectations and level of understanding of foreign audiences may differ significantly from those of the domestic American audience, and require different approaches and emphasis in the selection and presentation of information. While U.S. international information activities must be sensitive to the concerns of foreign governments, our information programs should be understood to be a strategic instrument of U.S. national policy, not a tactical instrument of U.S. diplomacy. We cannot accept foreign control over program content."

The Administration seems to be pragmatically calculating its rhetoric to achieve their strategic objectives, aiming to appease foreign audiences through the tactical instrument of diplomacy rather than comprehensively engage with governments according to a strong U.S. national security policy. It seems also that the discontinuation of terminology coincides (somewhat) with new rhetoric and action that seeks to advance the Cairo "groundwork" in a global campaign to promote entrepreneurship. Pradeep Ramamurthy, Senior Director for GED who will be hosting Muslim business leaders from more than 40 countries this month for an entrepreneurship summit, proposed the central question, “Do you want to think about the U.S. as the nation that fights terrorism or the nation you want to do business with?’’

In short, both; but it is important to re-iterate that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the prism of terrorism specifically.

The point is that changing the rhetoric or not using the terminology, as was done with the report on Nidal Hasan (Protecting the Force: Lessons From Fort Hood), and is expected in a forthcoming report "spelling out the country’s national security strategy plan" does not lessen the problem of Islamic extremism. In fact, discontinuing the terminology does not alter the fact that extremists seek to disrupt and dismantle U.S. economic and legal practices both internationally and domestically.

Islamic extremism exists.* The issue we should be debating is how to use right-minded religious-focused information in our narrative to adequately understand the enemy's co-optation and strategically combat AQ and affiliate's motivation and ideology. The difficult task is agreeing on the meaning of who we are collectively and what we ought to do and how so in reflection of our shared values/traditions. The projection of our values, of course, must comprehensively counter that of AQ/affiliates. In this sense, a good offense is a good defense, but the important aspect of the narrative is that we in fact go on the offense in terms of our religious/cultural, political, and socio-economic beliefs and practices.

*Persons repeatedly raise the rhetorical question of whether or not Islam is a peaceful religion. The answer is, once again, as always, a resounding yes. To continue to ask the question, though, highlights the very fact that analysts and professionals alike have not sufficiently convinced persons in both a quantifiable and qualitative manner.

But Sebastian Gorka has already said almost everything I have been trying to in this post:
"In the culture of Islam, the question of a leader's authenticity is paramount. Bin Laden and those who follow his Salafi worldview must be delegitimized. After the debacle that was strategic communications under the last administration, Washington must formulate a marginalization policy. A lead agency must be empowered by the White House, and it must coordinate a whole-of-government message that focuses primarily on the vast number of Muslim victims of terrorism, of al Qaeda's brand of terrorism. The United States should focus less on concepts such as democracy and more upon the bloody reality that is the result of al Qaeda's ideology. The United States will then soon discover that it is far easier to make al Qaeda and bin Laden look illegitimate and truly evil than it is to make everyone love America."

What I have attempted to add specifically is the value of appropriately detailing religious language as an aspect of an over-arching information strategy to overcome the "evil" of AQ's ideological pursuits. Our national security policy ought to recognize how effective such "marginalization" rhetoric can be in light of the GED's commitment to leveraging diplomacy, communications, international development, domestic engagement and outreach to secure our freedoms and maintain our security. The move would not back away from the enemy or diminish our national policy but engage Islamic extremism by defining its followers for what they rightfully are.

Once more, if I haven't made the point clear: We need more religiously-minded analysts to help in objectively tailoring a counter narrative strategy that directly engages the enemy.

19 April 2010

Abu Ayyub al Masri AND Abu Omar al Baghdadi EKIA?

Short post before I drop a more in-depth Iraq update tomorrow. Abu Ayyub al Masri (AAM) was reportedly killed "in the last couple of days" in Salah ad Din (SaD) Province in a US airstrike.

It would be little surprise to me if AAM was indeed in SaD, even if he was just passing through. Obviously this story is just dropping, but if true could bolster Maliki's attempts to hold onto the premiership.

More to follow in the coming days (hopefully) in regard to this breaking story.

18 April 2010


Maj Seth Wheeler penned an interesting study on "Pseudo-Operations" as an additional, plausible option for our Nation's CT strategy. You can read his full submission to the Small Wars Journal, here.

The bottom line, Maj Wheeler highlights several historical case studies where nations used Pseudo-Operations to affect Insurgent/Terror groups and offers these examples as a possible future means for America to conduct counter terror operations in non-permissive environments. I have believed for a long time that the United States needs a low visibility option that can degrade terrorist organizations' capabilities in areas where our Foreign Policy is not conducive to direct US involvement. This is one more facet needed in our CT/IW kit bag.

I think the CIA's involvement with Ahmed Shah Massoud during the late 90's is a great example of how a possible Pseudo-Operation could be implemented. To be clear, the US involvement with Massoud was not a Pseudo-Operation; however, the infrastructure used could be utilized as a model for Pseudo-Operations. The CIA would send small teams to bring Massoud money, equipment, and provide training, in the hopes that he would provide intel or even capture OBL. There was great concern on the CIA's part that money and aid used to target Bin Laden would not be consistent with American values, and give, not only, the United States, but also the CIA, the proverbial black eye. One method used to help maintain our morality was the use of written counseling statements, clearly stating what was and was not acceptable behavior. Maj Wheeler states that Pseudo-Operations can be successful with proper oversight. I believe this oversight comes in the form of written counseling that states, support is contingent on the Pseudo Organization's actions.

If there was a place to perfect this kind of operation, it is undoubtedly Somalia. Nothing has worked so far and Somalia is not on the brink of peace, so what do we have to loose? There are loyalty shifts between individuals in al Shabaab, Hizbul Islam, and the Islamic Courts Union. We would need to find a disenfranchised member of Hizbul Islam or the ICU, who wants to play a future role in a functioning Somali government. In effect, the goal would be to pit the three groups against each other (which is already happening to some extent) to degrade al Shabaab's capabilities enough to allow the Transitional Federal Government to succeed. The key to this particular Pseudo-Operation would be a clearly defined end state for the chosen group leader. If he plays by our rules, he will receive money and equipment, while working toward a position in the TFG. The Pseudo-Operation's fighters would also need some legitimate way out of conflict, a program like the "Sons of Iraq" could be the way to go. I think this situation and scenario provides us the least risk in attempting a Pseudo-Operation.

14 April 2010

COIN: Art & Culture

President Obama has proposed a 3.7% cut to the $161.3 million alloted for last year's funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). What does this have to do with the military and the state of warfare? Retired Brigadier General, Nolen Bivens, testified to Congress yesterday (Tuesday, 13 April, the day of President Thomas Jefferson's birth), saying to the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies; "Future conflicts should be approached with a better understanding of how a nation values its cultural heritage and its arts."

His statements come with a proposed 7.5% increase in funding, estimated at a total budget cost of $180 million, one supported by a large advocacy group, Americans for the Arts. Bivens' comments call for the "arts," however this is to be particularly defined, to be a vital component of diplomatic efforts both home (i.e. veterans) and abroad (i.e. insurgents). I focus my brief analysis here on the latter: How to win public sentiment in the "new anti-insurgency tactics the U.S. military has since adopted in Iraq and Afghanistan."

On 26 November, 2007, in a speech given at Kansas State University, Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, stated; “One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win - economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous militaryand police forces, strategic communications, and more – these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success.”

What Bivens is bringing to the table is the idea that fostering cultural arts amongst the local populace can serve as a tool in "impacting the lives of people, which in turn affects their attitudes and perceptions." For one, in thise sense, intelligence packets prepared by analysts can highlight art and culture within the context of situational awareness to aid the decision-making process: Win hearts and minds.

Understanding how a nation values its cultural heritage, though, rests on understanding how a local tribe values theirs. We know full well, as this one news report notes, that the Taliban are attempting to secure the same hearts and minds but in different ways (i.e. fear): The pillage of ancient Afghanistan art in the Kabul Museum also destructed the people's connection to, for example, religion and culture; that which fosters national unity. The most difficult task, as in any diplomatic operations, is to generate action on behalf of the people. Then-Director Omara Khan Massoudi recognized this as both a barrier and challenge. Our soliders have enough on their plates trying to secure Afghan jobs for the long-term let alone thinking about providing cultural avenues for enjoyment.

Is it on the U.S. Army's/Marine Corps' tool-belt to get Afghans to visit cultural sites such as this? Is it even within the purview of the military forces on the ground to engage in such diplomatic initiatives? The US Army/US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, in collaboration with Combined Arms Center, state in the report (provided in the link);
"COIN requires deep and detailed context- and culture-specific understanding of local and regional conditions. Success requires leaders who can effectively understand their environment and the impact of their actions on that environment. Consequently, COIN leaders must learn to be both critical thinkers and innovative problem solvers..."
The essential question is; "How can the U.S. forces act as a broker in the process?" Is it essential to the regional objectives for the Army/Marines to impact the environment through the arts?

The most obvious point of our initial assessment is that there is not a viable structure of military personnel to institute such an effort, and to remain focused on it while the insurgency adapts and morphs. Furthermore, shall we raise once more the question of how much responsibility we ought to place on our soldiers. This, perhaps, might be a profound discussion for another time, as dialogue now-a-days surrounds the emerging trends of "soft engagement."

In short, "soft" efforts led by the military may indeed not promise the best outcome. The promise of success and method by which we measure it may rest more in the hands of non-military partners. For example, between 2003 and 2005, "the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded the Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP). APEP offers emergency access to accelerated elementary education for out-of-school youth between ten and eighteen years of age, focusing on females. APEP supported Accelerated Learning (AL) programs for 170,000 over-age youth in more than 3,000 villages in Afghanistan." Funding "arts" campaigns to aid military and diplomatic goals, and U.S. interests abroad, which rest on the stablization of an economic-driven Afghanistan and ousting of Taliban strongholds within the region, is a new and innovative approach (yes); however, the need for organizational collaboration and coordination with partners (like UNESCO) who are specialists in cultural arts should be the cornerstone for this effort.

BG Bivens is hopeful when speaking about incorporating art-awareness, but it appears to me that its application to "new warfare" does not aid soliders' efforts to recognize threats to support decision-makers' response on the ground but aim to promote collective prosperity through individual and cultural expression. If anything, this is a ways down the road, as our troops have enough on their plate trying to promote individual/familial prosperity through the acquistion and procurement of jobs.

The task begins now, of course; I just think we ought to focus primarily on providing basic goods and services to the Afghan people - which is an ingredient for long-term success (per Gates). When we get to a certain point in the road, then the commanders may find it mission-critical to foster growth in this fashion. Again, questions concerning the role of "soft" tactics really needs to continue to be asked.

09 April 2010

Shifting Focus to Kandahar

As the US continues to build combat power as part of the Afghanistan surge, GEN McChrystal has already telegraphed his next major move - into the strategically vital Kandahar province. Recognizing the importance of Kandahar city (and its surrounding towns/villages), US forces are planning to focus several of the additional BCTs arriving in Afghanistan in the province. Additionally, McChrystal and ISAF are re-organizing the Regional Command (RC) structure in the South to split the existing RC-South into RC-SW (Helmand) and RC-SE (Kandahar). RC-SW will be led by a Marine 2-star and RC-SE will be led by British MG Nick Carter (the current RC-South commander). Beginning in 2011, a US commander will take over RC-SE and focus the command on conducting operations in Kandahar.

Just as in the recent operation to clear and secure Marjah in Helmand province, the US has developed a comprehensive plan to improve security, governance, essential services, rule of law, and economic growth in the area considered to be the birthplace of the Taliban. And, just as in Marjah, the most difficult objective will likely be to make improvements in governance amidst a highly complex political and tribal landscape [for more background on Kandahar, check out this excellent open-source primer from The Institute for the Study of War]. As Frank Ruggiero, the top US civilian official in Southern Afghanistan explained in a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Kandahar is a political problem...and the campaign in Kandahar will be led by governance." In addition to improving governance across the province's ten districts, it will also be critical to strengthen the rule of law, maintain the delicate tribal balance, and weaken several key power-brokers who wield more influence than the "official" government leaders.


ISAF forces definitely have their work cut out for them when it comes to improving governance in Kandahar (both at the provincial and the city level). As I've discussed in previous posts, the "official" Kandahar government is in competition with the Taliban's shadow governance structure, which is recognized by many locals as more effective and responsive than the provincial government led by Kandahar Provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa. A childhood friend of President Hamid Karzai, Wesa is regarded by many as ineffective at best (and also has a reputation for corruption). As Ruggiero explains, "The specific objective is to make the Afghan government a more viable option for people to turn to...it's to show that the government has more relevance to their lives vis-à-vis the shadow governance of the Taliban."

Currently, the provincial government is essentially holed up in their offices in Kandahar City, unable to exert influence/control into most of the province's 17 districts.
As explained in a recent NY Times article, there is much work to be done at the district level. One local explained that in Kandahar proper, “The Taliban can walk around, and government officials cannot.” Outside the city, it is worse. Government services barely exist. Only 5 of 17 districts in the province are accessible for government officials. Administrators and police chiefs are appointed to the districts, but they have so little backup and so few resources, they can do little. With 40 to 60 police officers in each district, they can barely guard the district center. Health services and education are virtually absent outside the towns, and two-thirds of the province’s schools are closed, human rights officials say.

Thus, one of the major objectives of the ISAF campaign in Kandahar will be bolstering the local district governments, making them more powerful and able to respond to the needs of their residents. Many have argued that the district level is where we truly need to focus our efforts, and I tend to agree. With ineffective and often corrupt provincial level leaders (who are usually close personal friends of Karzai), our best bet is to empower the district leaders to allow for true "community-level" governance.

Power Brokers - Karzai and Shirzai

The crux of the challenge lies in the need to limit the power of a small group of power brokers who have a death grip on the provincial budget and wield power based on their control of the provincial council, ties to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a monopoly on lucrative security and reconstruction contracts. In essence, real power rests with just two families who have prospered under the presence of American forces in the past eight years. One of them is the family of President Hamid Karzai
, who is represented here by his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who heads the provincial council. The other belongs to Gul Agha Shirzai, the former governor of Kandahar, and his brothers Bacha Shirzai and Razziq Shirzai, who have gotten lucrative security and construction deals with NATO forces. Residents and elders accuse the families of persecuting rivals and excluding all other tribes from access to power. Their domination has undercut any popular backing for the government or the foreign forces supporting them.

As the New York Times recently explained, “The first thing Afghans fear is the coming of more foreign troops, and the second thing they fear is the empowering of the current leadership and administration,” said Shahabuddin Akhunzada, a tribal elder from Kandahar city. His Eshaqzai tribe has complained of repeated arrests and political exclusion. The West’s acceptance of Mr. Karzai’s re-election despite widespread fraud was the last straw, he said.

Much attention has been centered lately on the murky past of Ahmed Wali Karzai, in particular his potential links to the illegal opium trade and involvement with the Kandahar Strike Force, a paramilitary element allegedly run by the CIA. In a recent NY Times article, Dexter Filkins discusses the controversial decision of ISAF and US leaders to allow Ahmed Karzai to remain in power in Kandahar despite his alleged ties to the drug trade and potentially to Taliban figures in the region. I tend to agree with several ISAF/NATO officials who argued for Ahmed Karzai's removal (much as Bing West has recently argued for Hamid Karzai's removal). The problem, though, is who (or what) do we replace him with?

I think David Ignatius was onto something with his recent Washington Post op-ed when he discussed "re-balancing" the Kandahar power elite. My proposed strategy to do this would draw on the concepts of sub-national/community-level governance advocated by COL Chris Kolenda and call for the empowerment of district level leaders (whether tribal or other) who could better represent the interests of their people and offer some competition for the Wesa-Karzai-Shirzai factions who control most of the provinces resources right now. Although risky, if ISAF elements are able to find, vet, and empower solid leaders at the district level and funnel resources and money directly to them, it could eventually create some competition for the Kandahar provincial leaders and also eliminate some of the feelings of disenfranchisement that many locals feel right now.

We will continue to see this debate play out in the coming months as ISAF/US forces continue shaping operations around Kandahar and begin the clear/hold phase of the operation. Ultimately, though, there will be no enduring success in Kandahar (or Afghanistan at all) until we're able to establish an effective and legitimate alternative to the Taliban's shadow government.

03 April 2010

Warrant Based Targeting: The Iraq Model

A USF-I press release recently informed the public of a successful round of targeting conducted in Northern Iraq. I want to analyze the overall targeting picture from the beginning of 2010 to the latest press release.

At the onset of the new year (January 2009), units deployed in Iraq could no longer capture and detain insurgents without a signed warrant from an Iraqi judge. The transition was a painful but necessary process. Collectively, we put our heads together to develop ways to prolong our pressure on the terror network under this new system. Prior to Jan 2009, if we had actionable intelligence on any insurgent, we simply put together a plan and executed it. The exploitation from the detained individual would usually lead us to our next operation. This targeting model became unsustainable post Jan. 2009.

Since the beginning of 2010, there have been three major rounds of successful targeting: January 5, 2010 A joint operation resulted in the death of the Wali of Northern Iraq, Abu Na'im al Afri, and the detention of the Admin Emir, a high level Sharia Emir, and the Detainee Affairs Emir. A roll up of the entire operation resulted in 2 AQI killed and 21 detained.

January 28, 2010 A joint raid led to the death of Abu Khalaf, AQI most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Abu Khalaf was historically based in Syria; however, the successful round of targeting from Jan. 5th probably forced Abu Khalaf to assume a more active leadership role within Iraq. This operation was not as large as the Jan 5 operation, but the death of Abu Khalaf was a major blow to AQI.

April 1, 2010 A series of joint raids in March resulted in the deaths of AQI's overall leader in Northern Iraq, Shaykh Khalid, economic security emir (financial), Abu Marwa, and the overall military emir of Mosul, Abu Huda. In addition to the deaths, the security forces also detained several key personalities from the extortion (financial/security) lines. One, the captured oil emir, being a former AQI leader in the al Anbar province.

There are some interesting trends that we can gleam from these reports:
1) I think the warrant based targeting model forced us to slow down our targeting cycle. Prior to Jan 2009, we don't see many solitary operations that resulted in the same success as the Jan 5th 2010 and March 2010 operations. The prior targeting model was simple, once you have enough intel you launch your assault force. I think we are now more deliberate and wait to develop a more holistic network picture, with solid warrant packets. The Jan 5th joint raid is most likely the current targeting TTP used in Iraq. I think the March raids were similar in the fact that there was probably solid warrant packets on Abu Huda and Abu Marwa prior to the operation launched to kill/capture the Wali of Northern Iraq. The previous comment is pure speculation on my part, it is possible that the exploitation of Shaykh Khalid provided key information that built a warrant packet complete enough to launch follow on operations. The reason I believe the intel picture was complete prior to Shaykh Khalid's death is; 24 hours between Abu Marwa and Abu Huda is not a lot of time to put a packet together and get it blessed off by an Iraqi judge. Also when targeting, the small fish usually lead you to the big fish, not the other way around. I think the new targeting model could be summarized as, understand the complete terror network and develop one large operation or multiple quick succession follow on operations casting a broad net over the entire network.

2) As our unit was leaving Mosul in 2009, there seemed to be a rising influence on the AQI leadership billets from the al-Afri (Tal Afar) tribal name. I was not surprised to read, on Jan 5th, that the Wali of Northern Iraq was held by someone who's name was Abu Na'im al Afri. As we see from the March 2010 rounds of targeting, the top two AQI positions were held by members of the Jabouri tribe. This is just a guess, but it looks like the al Afri tribe's influence on the AQI leadership is wanning.

3) The detention of the oil extortion emir was probably a major blow to the psyche of the AQI leadership, since the emir was a Legacy AQI member who fought the good fight down in al Anbar province. AQI is extremely good at replacing their killed/captured leadership; however, when key positions such as the Northern Wali have a high turn over rate, or legacy members are captured, it tends to have a deeper effect on the remaining leaders. Sometimes infighting will occur because it may look like there is a mole within their ranks.

The deaths of the Northern Wali within 90 days of each other is a major victory for the lethal targeting side of the house. Leadership positions above the Northern Wali are largely ceremonial. The Northern Wali is the highest leadership position that actually directs terror operations throughout Iraq. I believe Abu Khalaf either assumed the duties and responsibilities of the Northern Wali or was next in line at the time of his death. It is possible that the highest operational leadership position in Iraq has already turned four times this year. Successful pressure on this position will most likely provide the GOI the breathing room they need to continue to grow. Look for another large round of targeting to take place prior to July 1.

01 April 2010

A Good Offense is a Good Defense: We Need a Counter Narrative Conference

Wow, I have not been posting! Actually, I think what is to follow cannot even be considered a full post, but more of a thought.

As I shared on Twitter, we need a conference to discuss a viable Counter Narrative, one that involves professionals of varying but interconnecting education and experience; military, academic, intelligence community, law enforcement, public affairs, media relations, investigative journalists, health practitioners, economists, security administration, international business specialists.

The American-born quantum physicist, David Bohm, who worked closely with Albert Einstein (I encourage you to please put aside his Communist tendencies and focus solely on his professional brilliance), stated in his major work entitled, Thought as a System (London, 2000, 2002); "...thought actively participates in forming our perceptions, our sense of meaning and our daily actions." The conference, I propose, can focus predominantly on formulating a "system of thought" that shapes perceptions of AQCL/affiliates. Further, our particular focus can set-forth a process of implementation characterized by an interconnected construction of actions: We must utilize all of the resources we have to support a single system of thought.

This is the catch, and that which certainly needs to be debated in a forum-style conference: The difficult task is agreeing on the meaning of who we are collectively and what we ought to do and how in reflection of our shared values/traditions. The projection of our values, of course, must comprehensively counter that of AQ/affiliates. In this sense, a good offense is a good defense, but the important aspect of the narrative is that we in fact go on the offense in terms of our religious/cultural, political, and socio-economic beliefs and practices.

For example, one panel discussion ought to highlight the perspectives already brought to the table by Malcolm Nance (An End to Al Qaeda), James Roberts (Addressing the Zawahirist Outsurgency), and both Sebastian Gorka (Countering the Enemy Narrative) and Katherine Gorka (The Language of Jihad). In many ways, each differs on how we first approach the formation of a counter narrative and then implement the strategy horizontally.

This dialogue will highlight also the importance of an overarching COIN strategy, that which reaches the population directly. So, the perspective of a prominent leader, such as Hwang Jang-Yop, a North Korea defector and current South Korea resident, on the use of an effective ideological warfare (i.e. use language of human rights along with market and diplomatic pressures) can compliment combined arms TTP's to be technically and tactically proficient.

Overall, I am speaking here primarily from a philosophical standpoint in advocating a strategic-systems approach to dismantling and disrupting AQ/affiliates. As Starbuck and I agreed this morning, "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics." See, I told you this was more of a thought than a post. In due fashion, please share your insights, perhaps on an effective counter narrative, news on upcoming events, and/or logistical planning for an upcoming conference!