Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pakistan terror victims at an all-time high

Figures compiled from newspaper reports by Dawn newspaper show that more than 3,300 people, including law-enforcement and armed forces personnel, were killed in 2009 in terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan.
The statistics confirm that Pakistan is more dangerous that Afghanistan at present, with more killings, more bombings and more suicide attacks. And this is despite the fact that in Azad Kashmir, previously a major hotspot for terrorism, there have been very few incidents in the last year.
Suicide bombers struck every fifth day in Pakistan, killing 1,037 people n 76 suicide attacks in 2009. December saw the highest number of suicide attacks — 15 — which claimed 211 lives. On average nine lives were lost daily.
The data show that 443 army and police personnel lost their lives during military operations and terrorist attacks, the most brazen of which was carried out on 10 October by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants on the heavily-guarded GHQ in Rawalpindi. Six soldiers and four attackers were killed in the siege, which lasted almost 24 hours.
At least 42 people, including a number of serving and retired army officers, were killed in two suicide blasts and a gun attack on an army mosque near the GHQ on 4 December.
The NWFP was the worst-hit province where more than 64 per cent of the terrorism-related incidents took place in 2009. About 2,133 people lost their lives in the province with another 699 killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In Punjab, 369 people were killed in different incidents. Two incidents of terrorism took place in Sindh, where 44 people died. A further 35 people were killed in Balochistan, 29 in Islamabad and eight in Azad Kashmir.
The bloodiest month was May, during which 1,120 people — 945 in the NWFP alone — were killed. It was in this month that the government launched a full-scale military operation in Swat, Buner and adjoining areas.
The Taliban targeted many prominent personalities during the year, including elected representatives, seven of whom, including Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi who was an outspoken opponent of the Taliban, were killed in suicide attacks.
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi survived an attempt on his life in Islamabad on 2 September.
Two MPAs from the Awami National Party — Dr Shamsher Khan and Alamzeb Khan — also lost their lives in terrorist attacks.
Senior NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour survived an assassination attempt in Peshawar on 11 March during which six people, including two suspected suicide attackers, were killed.
The Taliban also blew up the shrine of the revered 17th century Sufi poet Abdurrahman Baba in Peshawar.
The military claimed to have killed a number of important leaders of the TTP and al-Qaeda during operations in the NWFP and FATA. TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack in August in South Waziristan.
In Lahore on 3 March a convoy of two buses carrying Sri Lankan cricketers and officials was attacked by 12 gunmen near the Qadhafi Stadium. Six policemen and two civilians were killed.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Leading Pakistani cleric makes Blackwater claim

Today in Karachi, the noted religious scholar Mufti Muhammad Rafi Usmani (above) alleged that US defence contractor Blackwater was responsible for Monday's bloody suicide bombing in the city that killed at least 43 people and wounded a further 90 taking part in a Shia Ashura procession.
Mufti Usmani is no backwoods mullah, living out in the sticks. In fact, he is Grand Mufti of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
According to Wikipedia: "He is also the current President of Darul Uloom Karachi. He is the son of the late Mufti Muhammad Shafi Uthmani, the founder of Darul Ulum Karachi. He is recognized for his knowledge in fiqh, hadith, and tafsir. He has authored a large number of books in Urdu, as well as some notable treatises in Arabic. He is the brother of another notable Islamic scholar, Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani and Maulana Wali Razi. Mufti Sahab is also a member of Jamiatul Ulama USA."
After making this ridiculous claim at a press conference, the Grand Mufti went on to say that immediately after the blast, markets were set on fire according to a well thought-out plan and he asked how the perpetrators could get petrol and weapons so quickly.
The Mufti made this remarkable claim despite the fact that the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan has claimed full responsibility for the Karachi suicide attack.
"My group claims responsibility for the Karachi attack and we will carry out more such attacks, within 10 days," Asmatullah Shaheen, one of the commanders of TTP, told Reuters. He is in the leadership of TTP and one of its 20 most wanted figures.
Talking to Pakistan's SAMAA news channel on Wednesday Asmatullah Shaheen said that the suicide bomber’s Jihadi title was Hasnain Mawya. He was apparently an old man, although Shaheen refused to disclose his original name and age. He added that the attack was carried out in the name of reverence to the Companions of the Prophet. This is another way of saying that the victims were killed because they were Shias.
Update: On Thursday, TTP spokesman Azam Tariq denied that his organisation had carried out the Karachi attack. He said that TTP commander Asmatullah Shaheen, who took responsibility for the attack, "acted on his own will". Tariq denied that the TTP attacked public places. This is, of course, untrue. On the same day, the TTP's commander in the Punjab, Khalilullah, was arrested by police in the company of a 17-year-old suicide bomber. According to reports, they were planning to attack the flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border crossing into to India in two days time. Police say Khalilullah was responsible for the Moon Market bombing in Lahore on 8 December that killed more than 40 people and injured another 100, many of them women and children.

US Army training emphasises hearts and minds

An unclassified memorandum on training requirements, circulated by US Forces Afghanistan HQ earlier this month and published on the Cryptome website, contains some fascinating details of military procedures on a range of subjects including the pros and cons of wearing body armour, the deployment of Female Engagement Teams, the selection of Forward Operating Bases, language skills and the poor training of soldiers in indirect (mortar) fire.
The memo shows that at least at leadership level the US Army is prepared to make major doctrinal changes based on experience in the field. Whether these changes are actually implemented by platoon commanders is more difficult to judge.
On language training, the memo says it is "as important as your other basic combat skills". Soldiers are to begin language training well before they deploy and every platoon commander must reach a basic level of proficiency in Dari/Pashto.
The memo notes that units deploying to Afghanistan cannot interact with the female half of the population and that Female Engagement Teams (FETs) should be used more widely. "FETs have the potential to significantly improve relationship-building within Afghanistan, enhance information gathering and cast US forces in a positive light", it says.
The memo notes that to date FETs have been used primarily by the Marines, but that this should now be extended to all units. It recommends culture classes to educate FET members on considerations such as dress, offensive physical gestures, customs and religion. They should also receive training in the Pashtunwali code "to better understand Pashtun culture".
The issue of body armour is a delicate one. In the UK, the lack of it was a major issue until the government made more money available to ensure all troops were fully equipped.
However, the memo states that although wearing individual body armour (IBA) can be an appropriate force protection measure, "its near-universal application in Afghanistan has become a hindrance to establishing bonds in this personal relationship and trust-based society."
It notes that wearing IBA has become a default position, but that to Afghans it conveys a message of distrust or uneasiness. Usfora's Counter-Insurgency guidance notes state that "excessive force protection is distancing, not inspiring". Instead, units should be trained to know when to take off IBA.
On the selection of sites for forward operating bases (FOBs), the memo notes that in one town, locals asked for the FOB to be built around the local cellphone tower, as a previous one had been destroyed by the Taliban. It says FOBs - of which there are more than 200 - should be built within population centres to encourage trust and support from the local population. Locals should even be involved in the selection of sites for FOBs.
Interestingly, the memo encourages soldiers to think of the Taliban in two distinct groups:
"Group 1 are the ideological Taliban who will never accept a Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as legitimate. This group must be eliminated. Group 2 are the 'upset brothers', a description in Pashto. When we address and alleviate their issues they will reintegrate with Afghan society. We can affect this goal with the 'upset brothers' by using our FOBs to enhance participation with the people."

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Bergdahl says he is "healthy, well and safe"

The video released by the Taliban on Christmas Day of captured US soldier Bowe Bergdahl does little to resolve the question of whether or not he is a traitor. Put out by Al-Emara Jihadi Studio, the Taliban's new media arm - until earlier this year they relied on the Pakistan-based As-Sahab media house - the video, entitled One of their People Testified, is mainly a propaganda argument about the treatment of prisoners. Much of its 37 minutes is taken up with details of the atrocities committed against moslem prisoners in Guantanamo and at Bagram in Afghanistan, together with footage from Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
All of this, of course, was free propaganda for the Islamists and starkly illustrates why mistreatment of prisoners is ultimately counter-productive.
This is the second video of Bergdahl, who was captured on 30 June in eastern Afghanistan and is probably being held by the Haqqani faction of the Taliban, based over the border in Pakistan's North Waziristan.
The video was produced by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's Commission of Cultural Affairs and contains a warning at the beginning that it should not be seen with a musical accompaniment.
Only after a long introduction about American treatment of prisoners do we see Bergdahl himself. In contrast to the first video, where he was shown wearing traditional Afghan clothes, in the new video he is wearing his battledress, a military helmet and sunglasses and it is difficult to tell whether or not he is reading a prepared statement.
He speaks in the first person and seems to be extemporising when he says, for example, that "the numbers and facts prove that we have surpassed Hitler in his horror". His speech is rambling, but he occasionally looks to one side as if he may be looking at some general notes. Clearly his captors do not want it to appear that he is reading from a prepared statement.
He tells his parents at one point that he is "so sorry that it took so long to do something with my life" and that "strangely enough, I am making a lot of headway here."
He adds that "I'm healthy, I'm well, I'm safe", although he admits he is chained. Still shots show him eating a banana. He says his captors are treating him according to their religion and that they are following their religion "more than I have seen anybody follow their religion".
He adds that he has a toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving equipment and that he is "getting meals as if I was a guest here". One possibility is that he is now studying Islam, although he does not feel confident enough to declare himself a moslem. Personally, I would not be surprised if he becomes a convert.
The video ends with a statement read by official Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who says that the offer to exchange Bergdahl for a "limited number" of Taliban prisoners still stands.
If Bergdahl is ever recaptured/freed by the US Army, there will doubtless be a debate over whether or not he has betrayed his country. His family still believes he is simply a captured prisoner. Others may be less sympathetic.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Pakistan Taliban commander unbowed

Hakimullah Mahsud (l)and Waliur Rahman (r)

Interesting comments from the Pakistan Taliban's deputy leader, Waliur Rahman, who on Monday night gave the first interview by any of the group's leaders since the start of the Pakistan Army's offensive into South Waziristan on 17 October.
The interview took place in Shaktoi in South Waziristan, which in itself is revealing. Shaktoi is on the border of north and south Waziristan, in the territory of the Shabi Khel Mahsuds, one of the sub-tribes. It is interesting to note that Mullah Powindah, one of the most active opponents of the British in Waziristan in the 1880s-90s, was a Shabi Khel Mahsud.
You may also be surprised to find out that he assumed the title of Badshah-e-Taliban in the 1880s, so don't let anyone try to convince you that the Taliban is a new phenomenon.
Either side of this territory is land controlled by the Daurs and the Tori Khel Wazirs, both supporters of the TTP.
Waliur Rahman himself is from the Mal Khel of the Manzais of the Mahsuds, who are cousins to the Shabi Khel. As one informant told me: "They normally are on very good terms and are closer to each other in blood than the others, so if there is a problem among the Mahsud clans, the Manzais would always stand with Shabi Khels and vice versa."
This may all sound a bit complicated, but it is all of significance. The real point about Rahman's appearance is that it took place despite the presence of thousands of Pakistani troops in the area and Pakistani Army claims of a major success against the TTP.
Rahman appeared relaxed, according to the Ishtiaq Mahsud, the AP reporter who got the interview. He said he first travelled to the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali and from there was taken by Taliban militants on a six-hour ride to South Waziristan in a vehicle with tinted windows. No attempt to disguise themselves, it seems.
The interview took place in a large mudbrick compound, where Waliur Rahman was surrounded by seven bodyguards,and Azam Tariq, the TTP official spokesman. Despite Army claims that they have killed more than 600 fighters, Rahman claimed to have lost no more than 20.
Doubts are growing about the success of the Pakistan Army's offensive in South Waziristan. Although they have destroyed a lot of houses and seized large numbers of weapons, they appear not to have engaged and destroyed the TTP fighters, most of whom ran away to North Waziristan and Orakzai before the offensive began. Who is right: the Pakistan Army or Waliur Rahman?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Opium not so profitable for Afghan farmers

The United Nations's Opium Survey 2009, published last week, fills in some of the gaps found in the Summary Findings, published in September. It confirms that opium cultivation in Afghanistan decreased by 22 per cent, while production fell by 10 per cent to 6,900 tons.
The number of people involved in opium production, at 1.6 million, is a drop of one third since the previous year and the number of poppy-free provinces is up from 18 to 20 (out of 34).
New information includes the fact that the potential gross export value of Afghanistan's opiates is down 18 per cent, from $3.4 bn in 2008 to $2.8 bn this year. Opium now accounts for around a quarter of Afghanistan's GDP, compared to a third last year.
Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, makes a personal plea to President Karzai in the report: "For the sake of a viable future, the Afghan government must regain control over the main opium growing regions, bring major drug traffickers to justice, and promote more honest government."
The survey produces some interesting information. Part of the reason for the fall-off in cultivation is the low prices opium is fetching, due to a glut. In 2009 the ratio between gross income from opium and gross income from wheat was 3:1. The ratio between the net income from opium and wheat was even smaller, at 2:1. Compare this figure to 2003, when farmers could earn 27 times more gross income per hectare of opium than per hectare of wheat.

Pakistan's invisible counter-terrorism agency

What has happened to Pakistan's National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta)? Set up in January this year, it has done little more than appoint a national coordinator, Tariq Pervez - the retired head of the country's Federal Investigation Agency. Reports in the Pakistan press say that Nacta is "presently confined to a single room where Pervez has his office", while some reports suggest he is on the verge of resigning.
Nacta was supposed to be the focus for Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts, tasked with reseaching and analysing the mindset of militants and integrating civilian, military, provincial and federal efforts - namely the activities of the FIA, the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau of the police.
When its formation was announced in January 2009 by Pakistan's prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani he tasked it with drawing up a national strategy in consultation with all the stakeholders to boost counterterrorism efforts. In February, Interpol chief Khoo Boon Hui praised Pakistan for setting up the agency, sending a letter to Tariq Pervez saying that the establishment of Nacta was "a strong testament to the commitment of Pakistan towards addressing the menace of terrorism".
Since then, despite the massive increase in terror-related incidents and the increasingly regular suicide bombings and gun attacks by Islamist militants which have killed hundreds of Pakistani citizens, Nacta has been conspicuous by its absence from either investigations or from strategic discussions.
Nacta is presently located in the Interior Ministry where the minister, Rehman Malik, has been responsible for its existence. The lack of activity prompted prime minister Gilani to make a visit to the ministry recently to question Malik on what was happening.
“Serious efforts are required for countering terrorism and extremism through psychological warfare that needs proper research and analysis of the mindset of militants,” Gilani was quoted as saying. He added that the organisation should "act as a think-tank to give policy options to the government on countering extremism and terrorism,”.
In a thinly-velied criticism he said the interior ministry’s actions in protecting the life and property of the people should be visible to the public eye. “It is the duty of the government to ensure foolproof security of the citizens.”
Gilani also announced that funding for the new agency would double from $3.5 million to $7 million within a year, although there is little to show how money has been spent so far. The European Union had previously agreed to support the agency with a grant of 15 million Euros. This month, the German state-funded development agency, GTZ, advertised for a senior police advisor to Nacta, with a provisional starting date of January 2010. Will anything have changed by then?

Friday, 18 December 2009

The strange case of David Coleman Headley

What are we to make of the David Coleman Headley case? It is alleged that Headley carried out numerous surveillance trips to Mumbai on behalf of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist group prior to the attack last year and also scoped out the offices of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoons, in preparation for an attack that never took place.
He was eventually arrested in October at Chicago's O'Hare international airport when it became apparent he was participating in yet another plan by the LeT terrorist group to attack India.
Not only was Coleman a highly trained LeT operative who had spent months in training camps in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. After being convicted of attempting to import heroin in to the United States in 1997, he became a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant and then, post 9/11, an FBI agent.
Today, in yet another twist in this story, the sole-surviving Mumbai attacker, Ajmal Kasab, claimed that Headley was a member of the FBI team that interrogated him after his capture.
Clearly there are wheels within wheels here. While the US may have thought it was running a brilliant agent, he was almost certainly working for the opposition. It is almost impossible to believe that Headley's LeT handlers and their friends in Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, did not know of Headley's connections to US law enforcement agencies.
As each day goes by more information is being revealed about this unusual US citizen. He was born in Washington in 1970 and named Daood Salim Gilani, the son of Syed Salim Gilani, who worked for Voice of America and later headed up Pakistani radio, and Serrill Headley, his American mother. He spent much of his childhood in Pakistan after his father gained custody following a divorce, but returned to America when he was 17 to live with his mother. Both his parents died last year.
In fact, Headley is the half-brother of Danyal Gilani, a public relations officer for Pakistan's prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani- to whom he is also distantly related - and one of Headley’s other Pakistan-based relatives in 2001 was a ranking ISI officer.
One theory now doing the rounds is that Headley was actually a CIA asset who was used to infiltrate LeT. This could explain the remarkably explicit (but wrongly timed) warning passed by the USA to India in September last year about a planned attack on precisely the same hotels that were eventually attacked two months later. In this scenario Headley was sent to infiltrate the LeT, but was turned by them and became a double agent.
If you have the time and the inclination you can read more about this extraordinary story here, here and, for an Indian perspective, here . Whether or not Headley was a double, treble, or even quadruple agent will possibly be revealed in his trial. Either way, this case shows the dangers inherent in the black arts of the intelligence services.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

International conference in London

The international conference on Afghanistan, to be hosted by the UK government in London on 28 January, will be the first of three interlinked conferences. Another will follow in Kabul in spring 2010 and then another in spring 2011. You can find out more here, where you can also sign up for news updates.

Monday, 14 December 2009

UK Army bishop admires Taliban's faith and loyalty

I was struck by something the new bishop for the British Armed Forces, the Rt Rev Stephen Venner, said yesterday. According to the Daily Telegraph website, Venner called for a more sympathetic approach to the Taliban that recognises their humanity.
While stressing his admiration for the sacrifices being made by British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, he said:
"There’s a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the west could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation because it’s not honest really. The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.”
He added: “We must remember that there are a lot of people who are under their influence for a whole range of reasons, and we simply can’t lump all of those together. To blanket them all as evil and paint them as black is not helpful in a very complex situation.”
As the Telegraph article pointed out, the Bishop is not the first person to make this point. Earlier this year, Peter Davies, the new right-wing mayor of Doncaster in South Yorkshire, claimed that British society could learn from Taliban family values. He said: "The one thing that can be said about the Taliban is that they do have an ordered society of some sort and that they don't have hundreds of cases of children under threat of abuse from violent parents as we do in Doncaster."
Naive, perhaps, but these kind of comments hightlight the growing moral deficit between the Karzai government and Mullah Omar's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The main story in Kabul at present is President Karzai's feeble attempts to deal with endemic and colossal government corruption. Compare that to the decision by Mullah Omar to issue a Book of Rules earlier this year (see my posting on this) to govern the conduct of his fighters, as well as the Quetta Shura's recent attempts to distance itself from the excesses of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
I am not a philosopher, but all this begs the question of how to justify a war against an enemy that may be morally superior to your own allies. That is, of course, if you can put aside questions such as attitudes to women, fierce Islamic punishments, etc. However, if that was the only basis for war, then we would probably have to declare war on Saudi Arabia as well.
Update: On Monday afternoon, Bishop Venner apologised for claiming that the Taliban could be admired for their "conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty." Clearly he had been jumped upon from a great height. Of the 20 comments on the Telegraph's website reporting the apology, almost all were supportive of Venner, saying that he had said nothing disloyal or insulting to the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Another Taliban statement in favour of negotiations

The Taliban's latest (unsigned) statement, issued yesterday, about President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan makes some interesting claims about the alleged failure of coalition military operations in Helmand this summer. It also says that Washington has rejected a Taliban offer of peace (issued last week) based upon a Taliban guarantee not to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. Not sure that this is true.
As if trying to reassure the West, the statement also refers to US national security advisor James Jones stating that most foreign fighters have left Afghanistan. This is probably a referrence to an interview he gave CNN on 4 October, when he said the "maximum estimate" for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was around 100 fighters. There has been other reporting suggesting a substantial falling out between the Quetta Shura and al-Qaeda, although this matter is still unclear and some reports say pro-war officials close to the White House have been playing up Taliban-al-Qaeda relations. Whichever way you look at it, this Taliban statement and several others issued recently (see below) clearly indicate a willingness to negotiate.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Taliban pledge no meddling in foreign internal affairs

An unsigned statement that appeared on the Taliban's website on Friday offers some interesting food for thought. The most important sentence in the statement reads as follows: "The Afghans, particularly the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantee if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan."
This is new and worth exploring in greater detail. Does it mean that al-Qaeda will be held to the same guarantee? How could it be enforced? Is this the majority view of the Quetta Shura? What about Hekmatyar and Haqqani?
The statement goes on to blame foreign forces for what it calls the "chaotic situation" in the country. "They handed over power to notorious warlords, venal officials and mafia-linked governors," says the statement.
It continues by noting that ISAF convoys are being escorted by "murderous militias involved in kidnapping and extortion of arbitrary taxes" who use official vehicles to transport heroin.
This latter point is undoubtedly true, and was the subject of an article in the Army Times on Wednesday (which is where the person who wrote the Taliban statement probably saw it). Sean Naylor's article refers to convoy escorts "wreaking havoc as they pass through western Kandahar province, undermining the coalition's counterinsurgency strategy".
The Taliban article also castigates the Karzai government for giving government land to warlords. "Government land in Shirpur, located to the north-east of the Kabul city is a good example. Once a property of the Ministry of Defense, now it is a posh area usurped by the warlords who have built luxurious houses there."
Again, this is true, but an old story, first reported in 2003 , when Karzai allocated government land to 30 of his ministers and officials. Squatters who had lived there for 20 years were evicted.
The statement makes it clear that even if the Taliban accept the principle of negotiation, they will not lay down their arms until all foreign forces have left the country.
One final point to note about this statement. It says that Afghanistan has become the location for a proxy war between different intelligence services. "Bomb blasts in public places are the work of these agencies," it says. India and Pakistan take note.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A soldier's strategy for winning in Afghanistan

One of the significant differences between the British and US armies is that the latter seem to be able to engage publicly in a much franker level of discussion about issues raised by the conflict in Afghanistan. Although the British Army allows blogs from soldiers serving in Helmand (see Frontline bloggers or Helmand Blog), these are little more than cheery news from the frontline about the latest successes. They don't set out to confront any of the serious issues and nor do they challenge official doctrine.
In contrast, there are some fascinating blogs and writings by serving US soldiers. One of the most striking of these is a pamphlet called One Tribe at a Time, by Major Jim Gant of the US Special Forces, published recently. In 2003 and 2004 Gant fought in Kunar and Helmand provinces before working as an adviser to an Iraqi National Police Quick Reaction Force battalion. He then spent the next two years as an unconventional warfare instructor for Special Forces.
Gant argues passionately that the key to success against the Taliban is to work with the tribes. He says: We demonstrated month in and month out that a small effective fighting force could unite with an Afghan tribe, become trusted and respected brothers-in-arms with their leaders and families, and make a difference in the US effort in Afghanistan. In doing so, we discovered what I believe to be the seed of enduring success in that country."
His strategy is based on the idea of Tribal Engagement Teams, working as part of an overall strategy that allows these teams working closely with a tribal group to decide how to engage the enemy. As Gant says: "TETs must be allowed to be on their own, grow beards, wear local garb, and interact with the tribesmen at all levels. They must be allowed to be what they are: American tribesmen...Rules of Engagement must change. Using the TETs will become a very intense, personal fight. If they need to drop bombs or pursue an enemy, they must be able to do so. The teams will always fight alongside Tribal Security Forces (TSFs), and no missions will be conducted unilaterally. There will always be an Afghan face on any mission."
It is hard not to feel that Gant has somehow 'gone native' while reading his pamphlet. He refers to a local tribal leader in Kunar as 'Chief Sitting Bull' and says things like: "I feels like I was born there. The greatest days of my entire life were spent in the Pesch Valley and Musa Qala and with the great 'Sitting Bull'...I love the people and the rich history of Afghanistan. They will give you their last abit of food in the morning and then try and kill you in the evening. A people who despite their great poverty, as as happy as any American I have ever met. A people who kill and fight and die for the sake of honor. A great friend and a worthy enemy."
Gant believes that specially trained soldiers can win trust with Afghan tribes and gradually spread their influence across the country. He speaks eloquently of his own experiences in Kunar where his special forces group were able to win over one tribal grouping - and to be treated as fellow tribesmen.
All of this, to anyone who has never visited Afghanistan before, is very intoxicating. Afghan friendship is something special. And for Gant and his comrades, there is something very heroic about these Pashtun fighters. They uphold many of the values he himself holds most dear - although Gant does not care to mention any of the less 'heroic' values that sometimes go with village life, such as honour killing of women.
In truth, it is unlikely that the generals of the US Army would allow small groups of soldiers to embed themselves in Afghan tribes - or that any kind of coherence would be the result. As Gant may know, feuding is a national pastime in parts of Afghanistan, much of it between close relatives. Almost the first action through which Gant won trust from his hosts was a threat against another tribal group that had taken over some land. How do you decide who is right?
Gant's pamphlet is a very human document. He came to Afghanistan as a soldier and found men to whom he could relate and who impressed him with their warrior qualities. He is not the first person to whom this has happened. Nor will he be the last.
In the introduction to his pamphlet, Gant says he started writing it in 2008 after he received orders to return to Afghanistan. It was to have been his 'Intelligence Preparation for the Battlefield' (IPB) document. A few days before he was due to leave for Afghanistan early in 2009, he was told he was not being sent there after all. Instead he was being sent to 1st Armored Division for a return tour to Iraq. Make of that what you will.

Friday, 4 December 2009

American anthropologists unhappy with HTS

More on anthropologists and the US Army's Human Terrain System (see my entry for 24 Nov). At its annual meeting in held in Philadelphia this week, the American Anthropological Association published another report on the Human Terrain System. Its Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) published its Final Report on The Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program which has been gestating since December last year.
The report notes that HTS and similar programs are becoming a greater fixture within the US military, a fact that should be a "source of concern" for the AAA and for any social science organisation or federal agency "that expects its members or employees to adhere to established disciplinary and federal standards for the treatment of human subjects".
In fact there are a total of 27 Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) teams, 21 of which are in Iraq and six in Afghanistan. Those working for the HTS go through a four-and-a-half month training programme before being placed into a Human Terrain Team.
At present HTS has 417 employees (including deployed team members, personnel in training, RRC members, and program staff, including both military and non-military personnel). Of those, 135 have an MA degree, 11 are ABD, 49 have a PhD, and 33 have other technical or military degrees.
The report says that any anthropologist working for HTS will have difficulty reconciling potentially irrreconcilable goals and in determining whether or not s/he will be able to follow the AAA's disciplinary Code of Ethics.
The key statement is as follows: "When ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment – all characteristic factors of the HTS concept and its application – it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology."
The AAA does not rule out entirely the possibility of constructive engagement between anthropology and the military, although its panel suggests that the organisation should emphasise the incompatibility of HTS with disciplinary ethics and practice for job seekers.
One obvious point, if the HTS is beyond the pale for the AAA, what about the university departments - for example at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which offers Afghanistan Immersion training - that offer courses for HTS employees? How do they feel about their role?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

More US troops needed in Kandahar - report

As US commanders consider how they are going to deploy an extra 30,000 troops in Afghanistan in the next few weeks, they may be considering a strategy spelt out in a report from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Written by Carl Forsberg, who has also worked at the US Marine Corps Intelligence HQ and for the Ugandan State Minister for Disaster Relief and Refugees in Kampala, The Taliban's Campaign for Kandahar argues that The Quetta Shura of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has made the province of Kandahar, including the city itself, a primary objective of its campaign in the south of the country. Since 2004 it has taken control of the districts around the city one-by-one, with the result that by the end of 2008 its forces could use these areas to launch attacks on the provincial capital itself.
In contrast, ISAF has failed to prioritise the province over Helmand and has also failed to position sufficient forces within the city. Due to lack of troops, ISAF has only been able to disrupt the Taliban in Kandahar, but not eradicate it. Forsberg says ISAF should use enough troops to neutralise the Taliban in Kandahar, which is a necessary first step to reversing the Taliban's gains throughout the south of Afghanistan.
The problem with Forsberg's argument is that it cannot show how an increase in troops in the city will defeat the Taliban. The Canadians and the US battalion fighting in Arghandab to the north of the city have both been badly stung by Taliban fighters, who clearly have substantial support in the area. Indeed Forsberg himself points this out, noting "The Taliban’s judicial system, regularized taxation, oversight mechanisms, complaints committees, and protection of opium growers all demonstrate a clear concern with winning local support" and "The Taliban’s desire to win public support in occupied areas through their judicial code is also demonstrated by their willingness to moderate the harsh legal prohibitions on entertainment they had taken during their tenure in power during the 1990s. Radio, television, and the shaving of beards are no longer outlawed by the Taliban in Kandahar, although such activities remained rare in many Taliban-controlled villages due to a reigning conservative social culture."
If only it were possible to compliment the Karzai government in the same way.
The issue today is not military defeat of the Taliban. This is unlikely, even with the extra troops now heading to Afghanistan. A greater troop presence in the crowded confines of the city and surrounding connurbations will only lead to civilian deaths and even greater disenchantment. The only military strategy that makes sense now is one that drives a wedge between Mullah Omar on the one hand and the al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists who are using the Afghans to further their own heretical aims.