Wednesday 19 December 2012

More evidence of Petraeus' flawed judgment

More evidence of General David H Petraeus' flawed judgment is evident today in an excellent article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the Washington Post.
The article catalogues Petraeus' inappropriate relationship with Kimberly and Frederick Kagan of the right-wing, defence-contractor supported, Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute respectively.
The husband-and-wife team appear to have been taken on as unpaid advisers to the General during his time in Afghanistan, promoting a series of hawkish policies that chimed nicely with their corporate sponsors' (DynCorp International, CACI International and General Dynamics) agendas. Shocking that America's most senior general in Afghanistan should have allowed himself to become associated with two such arms industry pimps.

Monday 17 December 2012

Tattooed militant amongst Peshawar base attackers

Heavily tattooed body of Peshawar airport attacker
Tattoo was an unfinished version of this design by Boris Vallejo
Photos published in Pakistan show that one of the 10 militants who carried out the attack on Peshawar airport at the weekend was heavily tattooed with demonic images. Although the attack was quickly claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistani officials had already suggested that up to five of the attackers were Uzbek and that one at least had come from Daghestan in the Caucasus.
The tattoos have been the subject of much debate in Pakistan (see this strand, for example), with various religious authorities stating very clearly that they are un-Islamic. The Express Tribune quoted Professor Khursheed Ahmed saying “You cannot perform religious duties if you have tattoos on your body”. He therefore drew the conclusion that the attackers could not be muslims! 

The same conclusion was drawn by Allama Tahir Ashrafi, head of Pakistan Ulema Council. “It was astonishing to see the body with a horrible face tattooed on his body. Islam does not allow drawing tattoos. This cannot be the body of a Muslim.”
The attack on Peshawar airport began on Saturday night. The target was the military side of the base, where fighter planes and helicopters are housed.
Five of the attackers were killed during the attack on Saturday, along with three civilians and two policemen. Five more militants were killed on Sunday afternoon when they were spotted in the nearby village of Pawakai. Two of them exploded their suicide vests. The airport reopened after 18 hours.
This was the third attack on a Pakistan military base in the last few months, a phenomenon mirrored in neighbouring Afghanistan where 10-12-man teams have also attacked two large coalition bases in recent months. Highly disciplined teams of well-trained fighters have been central to all these attacks, suggesting that trainers with military backgrounds and contacts are involved in preparing and planning them. Uzbek fighters are seen as some of the best trained fighters and continue to cause problems in the tribal areas. Yesterday 17 Uzbek men without papers were arrested by Frontier Corps personnel travelling on a bus in Chaghi, Balochistan.

Update: On Tuesday Provincial Information Minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, informed the provincial assembly that two of the attackers killed on Saturday at the airport were Chechens and three were Pakistanis. The five men killed in Pawakai on Sunday were from Pakistan, Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Dagestan. 

Thursday 13 December 2012

Information on UK drone usage in Afghanistan

Some interesting facts and figures on UK drone use emerge in a Parliamentary report, published by the House of Commons library. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones): an introduction notes that the UK currently operates four major types of UAVs in Afghanistan, three of which are operated by the Army (Hermes 450, Class 1 Desert Hawk and the T-Hawk) and one (the MQ-9 Reaper) used by the RAF.
The five RAF Reapers are the only armed drones used in Afghanistan, but there are also nine Hermes 450 drones that provide tactical level imagery to unit and formation commanders on the ground and which require an airstrip to launch.
There are also 239 Desert Hawk 3s, which are hand-launched drones, designed to provide ground forces with a live tactical video feed and which are primarily used by bomb defusing teams to examine suspicious structures or vehicles.
There are also apparently 64 Black Hornet nano-drones, that weight only 16g, although no information is provided on their
operational use.
Currently there are 31 RAF personnel qualified to pilot the Reaper aircraft, with plans to train a further 16 pilots. "Reaper pilots are all RAF and Royal Navy pilots who are qualified in operating other military aircraft. The majority have served on at least one operational tour on a traditional manned platform. 32 RAF personnel are qualified to pilot the Reaper. Operators of the Army’s unmanned UAVs are not required to be qualified pilots because of the greater level of autonomy of their UAVs."
Altogether 290 personnel are involved in delivering Desert Hawk, Hermes 450 and Reaper. This includes command, aircrew, technicians, intelligence and support staff. The total financial approval for delivering and supporting the UK Reaper system from 2007 until the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2015, is £506 million.
Since entering service in 2007, only one Reaper has been lost, due to mechanical failure. Eleven of the Hermes 450 drones have crashed in the same period. The UK’s fleet of UAVs have carried out over 100,000 hours of flying in Afghanistan and fired 349 precision-guided weapons (297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs). The report says Afghan civilians have only been killed on one occasion by drones in March 2011, when two insurgents and four civilians were killed and two civilians injured. A report into the incident has not been published.

Cruelty and Tax Evasion in Pakistan

Two more very useful reports:
Amnesty International has published “The Hands Of Cruelty”: Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas which sets out in graphic detail the barbaric techniques used by both the Pakistan Army and also by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the tribal areas.
Second, The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives and the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, both based in Islamabad, have jointly published Representation without Taxation! An analysis of MPs' income tax returns for 2011 which shows that 61 per cent of all lawmakers in the Pakistan Parliament and regional assemblies paid no income tax in the year they contested elections. Even former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and his 25-member Cabinet paid no tax in their respective elections years. All this in a country which has one of the lowest tax to GDP ratios (about 9 per cent) in the developing world. Even Sierra Leone has a higher ratio.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Long way to go for women's rights in Afghanistan

Here is a link to the UNAMA report Still a Long Way to Go:Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan, published yesterday. The report "examines implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW law) by judicial and law enforcement officials for the period October 2011 to September 2012 and identifies the many challenges Afghan women still face in accessing justice. 
The analysis is based on information gathered from 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and highlights the reporting, registration and judicial process followed under the EVAW law and the Penal Code by the Afghan National Police (ANP), prosecutor’s offices and primary courts in a representative sample of violence against women incidents."
The report notes that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission recorded 4,010 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012 throughout Afghanistan compared to 2,299 cases it recorded for the entire solar year in 2011 (from 21 March 2010 to 21 March 2011). 
However, it says that increased reporting may be the result of increased public awareness and sensitization to violence against women and to women’s rights generally through efforts of civil society organizations, the Government and international actors. But overall reporting of incidents of violence against women to police and registration of such incidents by the police remained low.

Thievery unchecked as equipment lies unused

Everyone is aware that huge amounts of dollars are leaving Afghanistan every year, usually in the luggage of corrupt politicians and officials on their way to the Gulf. According to one estimate, an estimated $4.5 billion was taken out of the country in 2011 alone.
Once the problem was recognised, a working party at the US Embassy in Kabul came up with a 'bulk cash flow action plan' to monitor the money passing through Kabul's airport. Its 33 proposals including training and investigative efforts, installation of cash-counting machinery and various other moves.
In August this year the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) decided to review these measures, conducting a site visit to the airport and interviewing officials in Kabul. The results are not very encouraging, as set out in Anti-Corruption Measures: Persistent Problems Exist in Monitoring Bulk Cash flows at Kabul International Airport, published by SIGAR yesterday.

Unused currency counting machines at Kabul Airport
They found, for example that the two bulk currency counters, designed to record serial numbers, create databases and process up to 900 bills per minute - and then to transmit this data via the internet to the Financial Transactions and Records Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA) at the Central Bank - were not being used for their intended purpose. VIPs were being allowed to bypass these controls, the machines were located in an inaccessible cupboard and staff did not feel comfortable using them. "Although DHS officials told us that Afghan customs officials have been provided on-the-job training on the use of the bulk currency counters, we did not observe any use of the machines. However, we were able to check that each machine was plugged into an electrical outlet and appeared to be in working order."
Neither machine was connected to the internet or a computer server and a new Very Very Important Persons (VVIP) lounge was being built at the airport where there was no main customs screening or use of a bulk currency counter. Officials told the SIGAR inspectors that they feared the repercussions of making the system work. "As of October 2012, according to DHS officials, efforts to connect the bulk currency counters to the internet or a computer server were “at a standstill.”
So just to recap, corrupt Afghan officials and politicians are stealing billions of dollars every year and exporting their ill-gotten gains through the main airport in Kabul, without let or hindrance. Systems set up specifically to deal with the problem lie unused and unconnected in some cupboard in an inaccessible part of the airport. Welcome to Afghanistan.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Two useful CRS reports on Afghanistan

Two useful CRS reports on Afghanistan.
1) In Brief: Next steps in the War in Afghanistan? Issues for Congress. "This short report considers issues that may be of interest to Congress as it considers the strength and duration of further U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, to 2014 and beyond."
2) Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians

Report to Congress sees progress in Afghanistan

Between 1 April and 30 September this year Taliban attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces were up only one percent compared to the same period last year. Such attacks increasingly take place outside populated areas and the security of many of Afghanistan's largest cities is has improved substantially, according to the latest Report on Progress Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan, written by the US Department of Defense, for members of Congress.
However, the report notes the increase in 'insider attacks' and states that "The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government, and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan."
The report notes that between 1st March and 30th September the US decreased its military forces in Afghanistan by 25 percent, while other Coalition forces increased by one percent. There are now around 68,000 US forces in Afghanistan.
Overall, says the report, the surge accomplished what it set out to do: "The comparison in violence between 2012 to date and 2010 (the first year with surge-level forces present for the same nine month period) is stark: EIAs have declined by 12 percent, IED explosions have declined by nine percent, ISAF-caused civilian casualties have declined by 28 percent (insurgent-caused civilian casualties increased by 11 percent), Direct Fire (DF) attacks have declined by nine percent, and indirect fire attacks are down by 24 percent. The ANSF has grown by 88,464 personnel, and has dramatically increased its capabilities. The areas of the country influenced by the insurgents and the ability of the insurgency to attack the population have been significantly diminished."
Lots more facts and figures in this 172-page report, which only barely hides the fact that Coalition forces are no nearer defeating the Taliban than they were two years ago.

NGOs and attitudes to the Taliban

Ashley Jackson of the Humanitarian Policy Group and Antonio Giustozzi from King's College London have produced an invaluable discussion paper on the Taliban's attitude to NGOs.
Talking to the Other Side: Humanitarian engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan looks in particular at Faryab and Kandahar provinces, noting that whilst at a leadership level there are clear attitudes towards foreign NGOs, at a local level commanders exert considerable discretion and flexibility.
Although senior and provincial Taliban leaders state that where an aid agency obtains its funding does not influence access, in practice many local commanders are suspicious of projects funded by ISAF troop-contributing countries. They were also hostile towards Western notions of women's rights. "In general, but particularly pronounced at local level, there is deep and prevalent hostility towards aid organisations and a general difficulty in distinguishing between different actors (NGOs, UN agencies, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), for-profit contractors, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and so on)."
This is an extremely useful report that highlights the dilemmas facing local Afghan staff who may recognise the need to speak to Taliban power brokers, but are prevented from doing so by a culture of 'don't ask, don't tell', within NGOs. That in turn increases the risk that local staff will be seen as 'spies' working for foreigners.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Momentous events in South Waziristan.

What was behind the decision of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen of South Waziristan to issue an ultimatum to 40,000 displaced Mahsud tribespeople to leave Wana by 5th December?
The decision - later extended to 15 December - was taken at a jirga held in Rustam Bazaar in Wana, attended by elders from all nine subtribes of the Ahmadzai Wazirs. Overseeing the jirga was Maulvi Nazir, the pro-government militia commander who, only days before, had been injured in a targeted suicide attack in the same town that killed eight of his companions.
As far as the jirga was concerned, the attackers of Maulvi Nazir were from the Mahsud tribe and they were therefore entitled to tell them to leave. There is a long history of bitterness and rivalry between the two tribes, and this recent incident has been used by political officials to encourage the Ahmadzai Wazirs to act against the Mahsuds.
The Mahsuds, in turn, form the backbone of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistani Army action aimed at the TTP in South Waziristan is the reason there are so many Mahsuds living temporarily in Wana. Many of their homes have been destroyed or are in areas that are too dangerous for occupation.
Some sources say that the suicide attacker tasked with killing Maulvi Nazir was despatched by Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the TTP. The attack was an attempted revenge for the killing of Wali Muhammad on July this year. Wali Muhammad was a close associate of Hakimullah and had only returned to South Waziristan recently, having been expelled by Maulvi Nazir in the past. (more on the background to this feud can be found here).
In the past the Ahmedzai Wazirs have usually attempted to settle their differences with the Mahsuds, not least because they have always needed their agreement to get access to DI Khan and other border areas. The Mahsuds control access to important strategic roads - such as that running from Tank-Jandola-Wana - and have been able to exert a stranglehold on the Wazirs in the past.
However, that era may now have come to an end with the opening of a new road on 18 June this year. Built by the Pakistani Army with American money, the 105-km Kaur-Gomal-Tanai-Wana road means that the Wazirs no longer need permission from the Mahsuds to connect with the rest of the country (more on this here).
Tribal politics in FATA are complex and this may not be the end of the matter. Already, Pakistani officials are talking about putting pressure on the Utmankhel Wazirs in North Waziristan to expel Mahsud tribesmen from Miramshah.
All of these events may be the reason that rumours are growing of a split within the leadership of the TTP. Hakimullah's policy of war against the Pakistani state appears now to come with a price tag that is too high for many of his fellow tribesmen to bear. No wonder that Waliur Rahman, touted as someone who can cut a deal with the military and also turn TTP guns towards Afghanistan, is being spoken about as a future leader of the organisation.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Another senior al-Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan

The death of Sheikh Khalid Abdul Rahman al-Hussainan - aka Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti - in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan's tribal areas yesterday is a serious blow to al-Qaeda. According to some accounts, the Kuwaiti cleric, part of a recent trend of 'internet imams',  was a likely successor to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and played an important role as religious advisor to the organisation and member of al-Qaeda's religious committee.
Sheikh Khalid Abdul Rahman al-Hussainan
He was well known for his lectures and videos, many of which were put out by the As-Shahab organisation. He was also the last known Arab with a serious religious  background living in Pakistan's tribal territories.
According to reports 46-year-old al-Hussainan was killed whilst taking his early morning meal. A statement on an al-Qaeda-linked web forum, posted on Friday, stated: "“We celebrate to you the news of the martyrdom of the working scholar Shaykh Khalid al-Hussainan (Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti) while eating his suhoor (dawn time) meal, and we ask Allah to accept him in paradise."
More detail on his background can be found in an interview published earlier this year by Flashpoint Partners.
The death of al-Hussainan comes in the wake of the killings of at least three contenders for the leadership role in al-Qaeda since the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Ilyas Kashmiri, Atiyah Abd-al Rahman and Ayman al-Awlaki have all been killed in drone strikes, leaving a serious gap in the top leadership of the organisation.

Friday 7 December 2012

End of Hakimullah's bloodthirsty reign?

Waliur Rahman, TTP leader in waiting?
Reuters is reporting an imminent change of leadership in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, saying its bloodthirsty - and by some accounts, heroin-addicted - leader Hakimullah Mahsud will soon be replaced by his rival and long-time adversary Waliur Rahman. This blog reported the threat to Mahsud's leadership three weeks ago - see Latest FATA Security Report below, on 13 November.
Reuters adds that the change will signal a new emphasis on actions in Afghanistan, rather than against the Pakistani state. It has been clear for some time that the TTP's strategy of killing Pakistani soldiers and police and targeting civilians has been winning it no friends. It was a strategy heavily influenced by al-Qaeda ideologues, who also provided funding to the organisation. Presumably these sources have now dried up, or perhaps Wali has done a deal with the ISI?
Update: Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal argues strongly that reports of a split between Rahman and Mahsud are much exaggerated. "Dare I say that Pakistani officials are using Reuters and other news agencies as part of a not-so-sophisticated information operation designed to split the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's top leadership? It is high time that news organizations see through this patently obvious nonsense," he says. He may be right, but there are other sources on the fading star of Hakimullah. One to watch.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Looking into post-2014 Afghanistan

The Congressional Research Service has come up with an informative and timely report on the functioning of the Afghan state, particularly in the context of likely events following Western military withdrawal in 2014.
Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance by Kenneth Katzman doesn't attempt to set out solutions, but gives a good overview of the stresslines that are likely to become apparent in the next couple of years.
No matter who wins the 2014 Presidential elections, there is a widespread belief that governance will founder, says Katzman, and if it does so, then "The informal power structure consisting of regional and ethnic leaders—who have always been at least as significant a factor in governance as the formal power structure—is expected to assert itself".

Monday 3 December 2012

Splits develop within the Taliban leadership

Anand Gopal, who is Bernard L Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation, has written an interesting article on splits within the Afghan Taliban. Based largely on interviews with Taliban figures in the UAE and with others interviewed via telephone or skype calls in Pakistan, the article, published by the Combating Terrorism Center suggests that the Taliban leadership is fracturing: "Certain commanders have been dismissed from the insurgents’ top brass, spats have erupted between leading figures, and a growing number of field commanders are contravening the orders of their superiors. In the process, a political struggle between blocs favoring and opposing talks with the United States has emerged."
Gopal says there are three reasons for the recent disagreements: the arrest and detention of Mullah Barodar by the Pakistanis; the US military strategy of killing mid-level Taliban leaders; and the initiation of peace talks by Washington.