Monday, 31 May 2010

Dangers of local defence in Afghanistan

The Afghan Analysts Network has produced an extensive and critical report, written by Mathieu Lefevre, on Local Defence in Afghanistan. The report examines the use of "informal armed groups" - the local militias financed by the Afghan government and US military, particularly in areas where the Taliban is gaining ground.
Lefevre examined the Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police, which was launched in 2006 by the Ministry of Interior and closed down in 2008. He also looks at the Afghan Public Protection Programme (known as AP3) which was set up in Wardak with the support of US Special Forces.
The third force examined is the Local Defence Initiatives, which started last summer. As Lefevre comments: "According to policy documents, the overall aim of LDI is to ‘secure local communities’ by giving ‘responsibility and employment to village members’ so that they ‘no longer provide support for insurgents’ and ‘will not allow insurgents to live within their village’.
"In a part of Arghandab district in, Kandahar province, the program is at a more advanced stage: a group of ‘defenders’ selected from the community provides security and work closely with US Special Forces, while a large group of villagers receives incentives in the form of agricultural and cash-for-work projects. The program is funded by the US military."
Lefevre says that the relationship between government-backed armed groups and the Afghan National Security Forces is often problematic and that such programs may deter prospective candidates for the police and army. He also points out that it is difficult to avoid picking sides when working with local groups, which may have long-term consequences.
Where success is evident, this is usually due to a relationship with highly trained international forces working with these government militias and is unlikely to survive for long without them. However, Lefevre recognises that the LDIs are not going to go away and that they now represent a model for reintegrating former Taliban insurgents. And bound up within this debate is a wider discussion about whether or not the Taliban can be militarily defeated and whether Coalition forces are "fighting to win" or simply gearing themselves towards an exit from the conflict.
If you want to know what these local militias look like close up then I suggest you read One Tribe at a Time by Major Jim Gant, about whom I have written before. You can read about him here.
One final point: apologies for my absence for the last few weeks, caused by a combination of a home move and a very inefficient ISP.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Afghanistan - the view from Moscow

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an interesting report setting out how Afghanistan is perceived in Moscow. Afghanistan: A view from Moscow, written by Dmitri Trenin and Alexei Malashenko (both of whom work for Carnegie's Moscow Center), notes that "Russia is entwined in a complex web of relationships with the Afghan parties, neighbouring states and the West."
The Soviet Union lost 14,300 soldiers in Afghanistan and the war remains deeply traumatic within Russian society. It invaded Afghanistan when it was at the height of its power and left as a broken and mangled empire, on the brink of collapse.
While initially there appears to have been an element of schadenfreude in the Kremlin as they witnessed America and its allies being drawn into a more and more complex war, that feeling has since given way to one of concern about the implications of Western forces being defeated.
Russia knows very well that the situation in Central Asia is potentially dangerous. Already there are or have been insurrections in Chechnya, Daghestan, Tajikistan and parts of Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan is also unstable.
The authors are critical of US plans to disengage from Afghanistan by the end of Barack Obama's term of office, saying that 'cutting and running' is not a good option. They argue that "Military operations need to mellow the Taliban just enough to separate and isolate the hard-line jihadists - to be further pursued and destroyed - from those whose interests are focused on power distribution within Afghanistan". They add:
"The main effort in Afghanistan should be trying to bring the Afghan government and the opposition together to discuss the terms of a new national settlement."
They add that the US should increase its relations with non-NATO partners, such as Pakistan, China and even Iran.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Relentless increase in "enemy-initiated attacks"

Some interesting figures in the latest GAO report on the security situation in Afghanistan, which shows that the level of "enemy-initiated attacks" has risen every year since 2005. The increase in the last year has been exceptionally high: between September 2009 and March 2010, the number of attacks increased by about 83 per cent compared to the same period last year. Attacks against civilians rose by 72 per cent.
Overall, more than 21,000 enemy-initiated attacks were recorded in 2009 - an increase of 75 per cent over 2008. The US military expects attacks to continue to rise in number throughout the coming summer.
The level of violence in Afghanistan is having a serious effect on reconstruction and development. The GAO report quotes a UN document that reports "limits on accessibility of development programme activities" in 94 districts considered very high risk and 81 districts considered high risk.
For example, by destroying generators at the Kandahar Industrial Park in August 2009, the Taliban halted economic development for the project. Almost a year later the generators have still not been replaced. And USAID reports that a $40m literacy programme has been severely disrupted because the villages taking part are no longer safe enough to visit.
With 84,000 US military personnel (due to rise to 98,000 very shortly) in Afghanistan, plus 40,000 Coalition troops and 113,000 soldiers from the Afghan National Army, the forces lined up against the Taliban are now greater than ever before.
US civilian numbers have also increased - up by 200 since December - with many of these extra staff earmarked to work in around 50 postings outside Kabul. Can't see that happening for a while.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Pakistan Taliban's claim for Times Square carbomb

(The blank space you are looking at above is due to the fact that YouTube has stupidly decided to censor Qari Hussein's video. I have kept the rest of the article as it was, including his spoken words, which I copied from the video. If anyone finds a copy of the video posted somewhere else, please let me know and I will endeavour to post it here. Presumably the two videos below may be taken offline soon, so make copies if you need them for reference - Editor, Wed 5 May.)

This is the video in which Qari Hussain Mahsud, the Pakistan Taliban leader and trainer of their suicide bombers, takes responsibility for the crude car bomb left in Times Square, New York. Still not clear if this is a genuine or opportunistic claim. Below is a translation of the words spoken by Qari Hussein:

"We, Tehreek-e-Taliban with all the pride and bravery, accept the responsibility for the recent attack on Times Square, New York, USA. We also congratulate the Muslim Ummah with all the pleasure and happiness. This attack is revenge for the great and valuable martyred leaders of Mujahideen, ie Baitullah Mahsud Shaheed (and) the Arab Mujahideen's leaders, especially Abu Umer al-Baghdadi Shaheed's companions in Iraq.
This is also a revenge for the global American interference and terrorism in Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan for Lal Masjid operation, the recent rain of drone attacks in the tribal areas and the abduction, torture and humiliation of our most respected and innocent sister, Dr Aafia Siddiqui. We furiously warn the member countries of NATO, their governments and common public to oppose the evil US policies and sincerely apologize for the massacres in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan tribal areas. Otherwise we prepared for the worst ever destruction and devastation in their regions, Inshallah."

Also of interest is this video, posted on 2 May, of Hakimullah Mahsud, proving conclusively that he is very much alive and well, even if he is no longer emir of Tehreek-e-Taliban. He says in the video that it was recorded on 2 April. In the video he says that attacks are being planned on America.

And this one, which is Hakimullah's voice, along with graphics and stills, is dated 19th April. In it Hakimullah says that American towns and cities are now on the Pakistan Taliban's target list.
It's hardly surprising that Pakistan's ISI intelligence service last week admitted that Hakimullah was still alive. They must have already seen copies of these videos.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Divergent strategy of al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies

Anne Stenersen, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, has published an excellent study of the relationship between al-Qaeda and the various Taliban factions. Al-Qaeda's Allies, published by the New America Foundation, points out that al-Qaeda and the Quetta Shura of the Taliban have diverged strategically since 2001, largely due to the former's relocation to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
While the Quetta Shura has continued to fight US and Allied troops in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda has become involved in internal Pakistani politics and has supported the campaign by militants there aimed at overthrowing the Pakistani state.
Stennersen notes: "Formally, al-Qaeda's leaders have sworn an oath of allegiance (bay'a) to Mullah Omar." But, she says: "In practice the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Quetta Shura is not necessarily one of command and control. Rather, it is a political relationship, where al-Qaeda has agreed not to establish a competing organisation to that of Mullah Omar's."
al-Qaeda fighters still take part in actions in Afghanistan, but these tend to be very localised and largely confined to the southeastern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Stennersen has analysed the 90 or so films released by the As-Sahab media house - al-Qaeda's official propaganda arm - in the series Pyre for the Americans in the Land of Khurasan.
This series first appeared in 2005. In 2006 38 films appeared, with production dropping off over the next few years until only three were produced in 2009. An analysis of where the films were shot showed that 44 were filmed in Khost and neighbouring Paktika, 12 were filmed in Kunar and 8 in Zabul. The significance is that Khost and Paktika are just over the border from the main al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Waziristan and Bajaur.
As Stennersen says, "It suggests that al-Qaeda has established few bases deep inside Afghan territory itself and that cross-border raids seem to be the preferred type of activity. Moreover, there is a disproportionate number of films from southeastern Afghanistan, given the high level of insurgency-related violence in this area."
The report examines the relationship of al-Qaeda with the Baitullah Mahsud group and other militants in FATA, as well as shedding light on the other foreign fighters who use FATA as a sanctuary, including the Uzbeks and Chechens.
Stennersen concludes: "In future al-Qaeda's alliances with local militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan may develop in one of two ways. The al-Qaeda militants could dissolve into the local militant environment and adapt to the agenda of local groups...If such a development takes place, al-Qaeda would gradually become irrelevant as an international terrorist organisation.
"Alternatively, and of more concern, al-Qaeda could succeed in inserting its ideology into the local militant environment. al-Qaeda's alliance with the late Baitullah Mahsud and the TTP may be seen as a development in this direction...If this development continues, it will make the Afghanistan-Pakistan region a hub for anti-American Islamist militancy for years to come."