Monday, August 31, 2009

The Metrics Are Coming, the Metrics Are Coming!, sort of. At least we have some idea what they are going to be. And hopefully we'll have them ready to report to Congress by the September 24th deadline. Of course the White House is doing a "test run" (to make sure the numbers aren't too bad?) before releasing the list. If the Washington Post has seen the full list they are either choosing to dole information out a little at a time, or the metrics are nothing new, "including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resource." I'll provide analysis once more information comes out.
Meanwhile, General McChrystal is apparently delivering his review to the Pentagon and NATO as I write. We shall see what it actually says, and if it is more useful than the previous five reviews. We know it doesn't contain a direct request for more troops. And the metrics are separate. So what does it have? A strategic rationale? A desired end-state? A strategy for achieving it? As Joshua Foust has repeatedly pointed out, most of McChrystal's initiatives were simply extensions of McKiernan's ideas executed better due to increased political support. This is McChrystal's chance to really suggest a new path and show that the change in leadership was justified.

Friday, August 28, 2009

India Wants Attention!

What with the elections, violence, reviews, and strategic discussions in Afghanistan, drone and ground attacks in Pakistan, visits by senators to Burma, and even remembrances of how Ted Kennedy helped found Bangladesh, India is the odd South Asian country out in terms of news coverage lately.
What's a poor second-largest-country-on-Earth to do to get back in the headlines?
You could try having a well-respected former External Afairs minister, Jaswant Singh, get kicked out of his party for simply suggesting in a book that Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wasn't the worst person ever. The BJP party, India's leading opposition, is now in turmoil as different factions support or oppose Singh.
If that's not enough, try scrambling a fighter jet to intercept a civilian airliner that had the wrong radio identifier.
Or you could make everyone nervous by re-hashing old battles about nuclear weapons tests, including having hard-liners suggest that more nuclear tests are necessary. Those always help with regional stability. Indian nuclear scientist K. Santhanam declared that India's 1998 nuclear tests were intended to have a much larger yield. The H-bomb test especially, was a "fizzle." He was, of course, refuted by former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, of the BJP, as well as the current defense ministry. As Arms Control Wonk points out, it's pretty common knowledge among the nuclear nerd community that the H-bomb test fizzled, so why bring it up again now? Apparently Santhanam is worried that India might sign the Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty and didn't want that to happen.
Of course Pakistan didn't want to be outdone in the nuclear crazy department, so they responded by releasing nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, who ran a nuclear smuggling ring selling Pakistani knowledge and technology all over the world, from even his previous minimal house arrest.
South Asia has plenty of problems folks. Is a little restraint and common sense on nuclear issues really too much to ask?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Intelligence and Social Networking

The Washington Post has a great article this morning on Intellipedia, the intelligence community (IC)'s wiki. It seems like an extremely valuable tool for helping to destroy some of the "stovepipes" that plague the IC. People in the intelligence business are naturally suspicious people, so they tend not to trust even other intelligence agencies. Combining the intelligence from multiple analysts and multiple agencies can yield far better results.
The IC needs younger, more technologically savvy people who embrace new forms of communication like wikis, blogging, Twitter, and whatever comes next, or the IC will cease to be relevant. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Twitters (@thejointstaff), and I've heard that he read about Israel entering Gaza within seconds, yet it took the IC over a day to confirm it. I had a former colleague who was denied a job with the IC because when asked if he had ever done something illegal he replied that he had downloaded music from the Internet before that was considered illegal. Isn't that exactly the kind of person on the cutting edge of technological innovations who we should want in the IC? Of course Osama bin Ladin doesn't Tweet (at least not the real one), but more and more open source information is out there if you know how and where to look, and the IC ignores that at their own peril.
None of my IC friends Tweet (that I know of), although most of them are on Facebook. Of course open source can work both ways; you wouldn't want someone to Tweet "off to Yemen to infiltrate a jihadi group," but the IC should encourage both old and new employees to become familiar with social networking/Web 2.0 tools. Imagine how effective Intellipedia could be if everyone in the IC actually used it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Call of Duty: Counterinsurgency? How 'Bout Them Metrics?

I was watching a friend of mine play the realistic video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and as he piloted an AC-130 gunship providing air support to his team of retreating commandos he also enjoyed shooting his various weapons at additional random buildings to see if they would blow up. I joked that if this were really modern warfare he would lose points, since he had just created hundreds of additional insurgents.
Which brings us to General McChrystal's statement that success in Afghanistan is judged not by insurgents killed but by the number of people protected. Could you duplicate that in a video game (Modern Warfare 2, due this November?)? Would it be any fun?
And more importantly, will McChrystal's upcoming review actually contain the long-awaited metrics? All signs point to McChrystal being given 12-18 months to show progress. We know the metrics we're using in the absence of better ones (troops killed, insurgents killed, civilians killed, number of bombs, etc) will go down this winter due to the weather. Hopefully McChrystal will have something better in place by then both in terms of a strategy and a way to measure success.

If Afghanistan Was Vietnam, We'd Be Winning

The internet has recently blossomed with commentary saying Afghanistan is today's Vietnam, or that the United States is now in the place of the Soviet Union. Don't believe a word of it.
Let's look first at the local population. As Robert Kagan points out (I can't believe I'm linking positively to the Weekly Standard), in Afghanistan the Soviet Union was supporting a puppet state it helped install against the will of the vast majority of the local population. The same thing was true for the United States in Vietnam. In modern Afghanistan the population supported the U.S.-led invasion by a wide margin, and still supports U.S. efforts by a healthy majority.
Both the Soviet Union and the United States in Vietnam were fighting for, or against, an ideology, rather than for their security. The local populations did not embrace their goals, and were fighting for their own security. We want Afghanistan to become a stable, secure nation, and our primary aim is security and freedom for the people. Afghanistan just had an election, and the United States was and is prepared to live with whoever wins.
At its peak we had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam. We currently have around 68,000 in Afghanistan, where the Soviets had two to three times that number. It helps that we're not fighting against the entire population the way they were, but we're still far below the Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual's recommended twenty troops per 1,000 residents ratio. 500,000 doesn't even get us to that ratio (though it surpasses it for just the areas where the insurgency is strong). I'm not calling for half a million troops or anything like it, but we do need to note that disparity in commitment. We have just enough troops now to tread water. If we had as many troops as we committed to Vietnam--or even the troops we stupidly sent to Iraq instead--Afghanistan would have been stable long ago.
One final similarity between the U.S. loss in Vietnam and the Soviet failure in Afghanistan is the massive amounts of external support each insurgency received. We should know, we helped provide it to the mujaheddin. The Taliban enjoy some support from fringe elements in Pakistan and some funding from a few rich extremists in the Gulf, but as far as I know no major foreign power is hoping to defeat the United States in Afghanistan.
Success in Afghanistan, even minimal success, will require additional troops and the time to let them work. However, it will also require better goals and actual strategies. We didn't fail in Vietnam for lack of resources, we failed because we were opposed by the population, fighting against an ideology not an actual enemy, and didn't have the correct strategy to accomplish our goals. In Afghanistan we need the resources and an actual strategy to accomplish defined and limited goals. Hopefully President Obama can balance his guns and butter well enough to maintain support, and hopefully General McChrystal's imminent review had enough good ideas that we don't miss our window of opportunity.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wilkerson Steals My "Armed Peace Corps" Headline

Michael Wilkerson at FP's Passport blog has a very similar argument to my post from two weeks ago refuting O'Hanlon's op-ed. Thanks for the thoughts Michael, I'm glad you agree. But would a link to my ideas posted a week before yours be out of line?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walt's "Safe Haven" Update

Professor Walt nicely posted his own response to Bergen's critique just a few minutes after my own. He reiterates his scepticism that the Taliban would actually regain control of Afghanistan, and discusses how useful a base Afghanistan actually would make for al-Qaeda. I still think he should discuss the existing safe haven in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but no matter, he makes similar points as I do. I think the questions deserve to be asked, but the answer is not a cut-and-dry "withdraw" as Walt seems to be arguing.

Wading into the "Safe Haven" Debate

I am not a part of the 51 percent of Americans who apparently no longer think the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Then again the public also approves of President Obama's handling of the war to date; I find myself in the minority of both groups. I believe that we should be in Afghanistan, but only if we develop a realistic and achievable desired end state and a strategy to accomplish that mission.
Over the last few days several foreign policy blogs have been discussing a line from President Obama's speech to the VFW, “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans." Realist scholar Stephen Walt argued in six points that leaving Afghanistan (presumably immediately) would not create more of a safe haven for terrorists bent on attacking the United States, that it is not fundamental to our survival as a nation, and thus that Afghanistan is not a "war of necessity." He was then "slammed" by, among others, Peter Bergen, Paul Cruickshank, and Spencer Ackerman.
The thing is, while I don't agree with everything he is saying, Walt has a valid point. Would leaving Afghanistan create a safe haven for al-Qaeda? Probably, because either the Taliban would take over or Afghanistan would be come what is referred to as an "ungoverned space."
The first problem is, al-Qaeda already have a safe haven: the ungoverned space on the Pakistan side of the border. Has any analyst or policymaker been so bold as to propose that either the United States or Pakistan will be able to tame and rule the mountainous tribal areas? No power in history has been up to the task. Functioning countries on both sides of the border along with continued drone flights would contain the problem, and that is a valid, and hopefully achievable, goal, but totally eliminating a mountainous maze as a safe haven won't happen. Bergen points out that the 2005 London subway bombings, the 2006 liquid bombs on planes plot, and others were plotted in Pakistan, all while surrounded by thousands of U.S. and allied troops. Eliminating every nook and cranny along the Durand Line is just as difficult as eliminating every nook where a cockroach could be hiding in your house.
A second problem, which some of the commenters acknowledge and then ignore, is that many other ungoverned spaces exist, including Somalia and Yemen, that can and do serve just as well as terrorist bases and training areas. And in a modern, globalized, interconnected world safe havens in ungoverned or welcoming countries aren't necessary. Sure several of the 9/11 hijackers trained in Afghanistan, but they also spent significant time plotting, training, and waiting in Hamburg, Cairo, and Florida (is Florida an ungoverned space? It's easy to get and practice with guns and other weapons there, and parts of it certainly have religious fanatics...).
I don't believe we should withdraw from Afghanistan, although without a real strategy we are simply treading water. We need to set a realistic and achievable goal and figure out a plan to achieve it. The President is right, leaving now would result in an "even larger safe haven" (italics mine), but staying won't eliminate one completely, nor should that be the goal. I don't agree with Walt that we should leave, but he should not be attacked for pointing out that the idea of "safe havens" is not enough of a reason to stay.

I Think This Is an Emergency, Or So It Has Been

Guest Post: Michael Rohrs is a counterterrorism intelligence analyst and consultant with BAE Systems. He is a member of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and an occasional blogger on national security and foreign policy issues. The views expressed are his own.

I participate in a discussion group on international terrorism. The topic of tonight’s discussion is: the Office of Foreign Assets Control's (OFAC) ability to designate U.S.-based entities as ‘specially designated global terrorists.’ One of the preparation questions posed in advance (admittedly not one at the true heart of this debate) asks, “Eight years after 9-11, are we still in the midst of a ‘national emergency’ which is necessary to invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)?”

The IEEPA, as defined by Adam J. Szubin in particularly lucid testimony,

…grants the President a broad spectrum of powers to deal ‘with any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States, if the President declares a national emergency with respect to such threat.’ The President typically exercises these IEEPA powers through Executive Orders that declare a national emergency and impose economic sanctions to address the emergency.

On September 23, 2001, President Bush issued E.O. 13224 which has been renewed every year since—including 2009. What should happen in 2010?

Regarding the above question, here are my preliminary thoughts on the issue as prepared for discussion:

I think we can all agree that in the years immediately following 9-11, the country was well within the designation of a state of national emergency; and as with DHS, emergency measures were hastily but necessarily taken to mitigate extreme circumstances. That said, the threat of a terrorist act being committed on U.S. soil—be it from without or originating within—has not, and in my opinion is not going away. Even further, if you believe Philip Bobbitt, this is only the leading edge of the inevitable. In that sense we are undoubtedly facing a threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and rightfully in a national state of emergency.

The same flag, however, can justifiably be waved from the opposite shore; it is precisely the perpetual state of threat that nebulous, transnational terrorism poses—not only to the United States but also to Americans abroad and the democratic international community writ large—that negates “state of national emergency” designation. If you believe threats of irregular attack with intent to incite terror in the United States are imminent, indefinite, adaptive, and ongoing (regardless of whether you believe we are actually “at war” with terrorists or on terrorism) then the IEEPA as a designation reserved for unusual and extraordinary circumstances—which includes the implication that they’re temporary—no longer applies.

Adopting this conclusion, as I do, requires a fundamental revision of thinking. It’s no secret that bureaucracy in general and American bureaucracy specifically has difficulty reconstructing paradigms. No paradigm is more deeply ingrained in the United States and about which Americans are more sensitive, than individual—and by extension national—security. However, in order for the IEEPA label to be lifted, U.S. lawmakers with the CT, HS, MI, and Intelligence communities need to redefine the state of the union as it regards the (sober and realistic) threat of terror, and redraft sensible and timely legislation to deal with a changing threat environment; an environment in which combating terror financing is an essential part. Until the paradigm is redrawn and national attitude is adjusted accordingly, however, it is unwise, unsafe, and unacceptable to scale back our counterterrorism intelligence practices at the risk of the American people.

Finally, consider this question: Does the IEEPA extend beyond mitigating risks of the U.S. homeland and its citizens abroad to ensuring that the US is not in any way facilitating (unwittingly!) the financing of terrorist organizations and their operations anywhere in the world? Let us assume the target of a given terrorist organization is something other than Americans and/or American interests. If U.S.-based charities are serving as an avenue (be it merely a canal or as a hub), it remains our responsibility (especially ours!) to paralyze, penetrate, and prosecute these conduits of terrorism. The question remains, however, whether circumstances renders the IEEPA specifically applicable. If not, does a suitable and sustainable (remember the IEEPA is for extraordinary temporary circumstances) alternative statute exist? If not, are we not morally and axiomatically responsible to implement one?

Yes Afghanistan Can?

We're still waiting on results from today's election in Afghanistan, but things seem to have gone quite well today, despite fairly low turnout. The Afghan police did a good job in stopping several potential incidents intended to disrupt the voting. As other people have pointed out, the process of the election, including the much-publicized donkey transportation for some ballots, is more important than the actual outcome.
That being said, Karzai is overwhelmingly favored to be re-elected. Andrew Exum speculated earlier this week that the Taliban would prefer to have Karzai in office (since his platform seems to be pro-corruption, pro-warlord, and pro-drug), and thus would reduce violence in the south, Karzai's stronghold. That doesn't seem to be the case; turnout has been lower in the south due to violence and higher in the relatively peaceful northern parts of the country. Will that be enough to keep Karzai under 50 percent and avoid a runoff? We shall see how hard the anti-incumbent tide swings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting Schooled on Afghanistan

I sometimes feel like a school teacher handing out homework when writing this blog. As you sit around waiting for results from Thursday's election, here are some reading suggestions. We can discuss them in tomorrow's class.
Read yesterday's Washington Post article about how General McKiernan got fired in large part because he didn't know Washington or play politics well enough (while at the same time not being offered the same power or resources as McChrystal already enjoys). Read Andrew Exum's post where he finally (almost) admits to being too close to a tactic (counterinsurgency) and unable to objectively examine the strategic realities in Afghanistan (if you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail). Read the Times op-ed talking about how ethnic divisions in Afghanistan (like almost everywhere) complicate the process of creating a government. As always, read Steve Coll's take on the strategic debate over Afghanistan, which he says will heat up even more. And if you haven't yet done so read Rory Stewart's lengthy skeptical article in the London Review of Books asking, just as I have been for some time, what our strategic objectives are and taking specific umbrage with the tautological idea of counterinsurgency as a one-size-fits-all solution.
Some of my favorite Stewart quotes:
Policymakers perceive Afghanistan through the categories of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, state-building and economic development. These categories are so closely linked that you can put them in almost any sequence or combination. You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban. There cannot be security without development, or development without security. If you have the Taliban you have terrorists, if you don’t have development you have terrorists, and as Obama informed the New Yorker, ‘If you have ungoverned spaces, they become havens for terrorists.’
The Afghan national army is reasonably effective. Pakistan is not in a position to support the Taliban as it did before. It would require far fewer international troops and planes than we have today to make it very difficult for the Taliban to gather a conventional army as they did in 1996 and drive tanks and artillery up the main road to Kabul.
Counter-insurgency is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for state-building. You could create a stable legitimate state without winning a counter-insurgency campaign (India, which is far more stable and legitimate than Afghanistan, is still fighting several long counter-insurgency campaigns from Assam to Kashmir). You could win a counter-insurgency campaign without creating a stable state (if such a state also required the rule of law and a legitimate domestic economy).
But Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. He chooses to be there precisely because Pakistan can be more assertive in its state sovereignty than Afghanistan and restricts US operations. From a narrow (and harsh) US national security perspective, a poor failed state could be easier to handle than a more developed one: Yemen is less threatening than Iran, Somalia than Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan than Pakistan.
This is not a plan: it is a description of what we have not got. Our approach is short-term; it has struggled to develop Afghan capacity, resolve regional issues or overcome civilian-military divisions; it has struggled to respect Afghan sovereignty or local values; it has failed to implement international standards of democracy, government and human rights; and it has failed to set clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success. Why do we believe that describing what we do not have should constitute a plan on how to get it? (Similarly, we do not notice the tautology in claiming to ‘overcome corruption through transparent, predictable and accountable financial processes’.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

O'Hanlon Calls For an Armed Peace Corps

We've all heard how once a high percentage of Ivy League graduates served in the military, but now few liberal, well-off, and elite-educated (service academies aside) students want to or are willing to serve. Truman Project Fellow and Brooking Institute Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon may have come up with a solution (although he doesn't identify it as such) in a Washington Post op-ed: essentially a militarized Peace Corps.
O'Hanlon describes the current situation in the Congo and compares it to Darfur, where many in the United States wanted to do something and the best humanitarian assistance might have been troops on the ground providing security, but with the military stretched thin as it is by extended deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan even considering it was impossible.
He proposes creating a "peace operations division" of 15,000 soldiers, of which 3-4,000 or so would be deployed at any one time. The troops would be specifically recruited for this humanitarian division, would only serve two years, and would have more experienced officers and NCOs, including those driven away by the stupidity of "don't ask, don't tell." A more lovable, more liberal, military. The Peace Corps with guns.
It's an interesting concept, and I think encouraging a broader spectrum of young people to serve our country would benefit both the individuals and the military, but I also see some major flaws. Having a "special" force liberal interventionist troops with many gay leaders, and you want them to be less well trained and go on softer missions? Wouldn't that just reinforce stereotypes? Instead create specific training for humanitarian/peacekeeping/nation building missions for our current troops. Undertake those types of missions if they make sense to our national interest. Use various methods, including touting those missions, to recruit from a broader spectrum of young Americans. And repeal DADT. But don't create an alternative, wimpier, military for liberals and gays.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Natural Security: the Next Big Security Issue

Anyone still living in New Orleans doesn't have to be told that natural disasters can be as big a threat to their lives and well being as an attack by terrorists or another enemy. And you don't have to tell the president of the the island nation of the Maldives, who is saving a significant portion his country's tax revenue so that they can buy land elsewhere and relocate the country when it is covered by the rising sea. The journal Nature reports that this is the highest level of hurricanes in the Atlantic in the past 1,000 years.
Stephen Walt may be his usual contrarian self and say natural security is not a real threat, but the government disagrees, including climate change in the National Intelligence Council's "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World" report on future threats.
Several organizations are noticing as well. Truman Project-affiliated Operation Free is working to promote understanding and action on climate change as a national security imperative. CNAS has launched their own natural security project as well. The Center for Naval Analysis has been rolling out lots of retired stars (admirals and generals) promoting their own report. Friend Of The Blog Nat Skinner writes frequently about the intersection of "Energy, Environment, and Security."
I'm quite convinced that natural security is an important component of the security threat debate. But I have yet to hear any significant answers from these groups. The CNA group talked about how DoD needs to become more energy efficient, but none of them seem to have done anything to make it happen when they were actually serving. What is it we should do? Is it just high level policy changes, and if so which ones? If we passed a cap-and-trade bill with some teeth would that do the trick? I'm convinced we have a problem, I'm still waiting for someone to think hard and come up with real solutions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama and McChrystal Need to Watch "The Wire"

President Obama and General McChrystal should schedule a few evenings to sit down and watch a few episodes--or seasons--of The Wire. They would learn that killing drug lords--or warlords--is only a temporary solution. Every time you capture or kill an Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell will take his place, and Proposition Joe, and Marlo Standfield after them.
Like the Baltimore "po-lice" we can keep treading water in Afghanistan, going after the top 50 drug kingpins and tribal leaders, but they will always be replaced by other ambitious and talented leaders driven by anger, violence, and need. Sure, sometimes the succession can get bloody, and we will cheer and even help out as different sides battle each other, but nothing will change without a long term plan.
The United States, like Baltimore, has to make a strategic choice. The best solution in the long run is to pump lots of outside money in (from the United States/the state of Maryland) and improve conditions for the population to the point that conditions are no longer ripe for drug trafficking, violence, and terrorism.
Alternatively you can define more limited goals, like the reduction of the crime and violence that goes along with drug trafficking, and reducing the negative impact on the surrounding community. In Season 3 Major Bunny Colvin set up "Hamsterdam" in his district, a free zone where drug dealers and users could go without penalty, greatly reducing crime and violence in the rest of the community. I'm not suggesting that the United States should allow Afghanistan to collapse into a den of drugs and terrorism, since the goal of both those activities is to spread worldwide. I'm simply saying that limited objectives can also be successful if they are clearly defined and the trade-offs are acknowledged.
Invading Afghanistan accomplished its initial goals--the terrorist leaders are no longer in Afghanistan, they are in Pakistan, and could soon flee to Somalia, Yemen, or other "ungoverned spaces." We have to make a strategic choice in Afghanistan and decide if we are trying to make it into a Central Asian Valhalla, or if we should adopt more limited goals.

Holbrooke on Success in Afghanistan: Like Pornography "We'll Know It When We See It"

At a Center for American Progress event today with almost his whole barrel-of-monkeys interagency team, Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had the astounding quote regarding success in Afghanistan that "We'll know it when we see it." Wow. That's almost certain to be the quote of the event. No wonder we can't come up with metrics. These are the supposed experts? It's an impressive list of names, but between them they can't come up with a strategy or a way to gauge success?
We shall see if anything useful comes out of this event. But gatherings like these seem to show that rather than "Rumsfelding" Afghanistan we are taking the opposite approach: over thinking everything and not coming to any decisions. I'm glad discussions are going on now, but the experts on Holbrooke's team so far are just increasing my pessimism about the mission in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Times' Afghanistan Round-Up

Once again the New York Times decided to follow my lead, this time doing a review of "is Afghanistan worth it" stories. Check it out, if only for comparison's sake.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Picking Up Bits of Baitullah

Ask and ye shall receive. I wondered how we would a) gain enough material from the Baitullah Mehsud hit to do a DNA study and become more than 90 percent sure we killed him, and b) how we had other DNA of his to compare it to, and BBC News answered at least part b: Pakistani intelligence services apparently have a sample from his brother.
Of course now we (or more likely the Pakistani services) still have to send someone into the lovely neighborhood of South Waziristan to scrape some charred remains off of the rocks around where the house used to be and hope it was from Mehsud and not one of the other people killed in the attack. Easier said than done. But at least I got my question answered!

Is Afghanistan Worth It? A (Limited) Roundup of Opinions

What to do when three of your favorite bloggers decide to take significant portions of August off? Luckily we have plenty of opinions to discuss on "should we be in Afghanistan?" front.
The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that General McChrystal stated the Taliban are winning (although the Pentagon is now protesting that he didn't really say that). David Rothkopf gave the Obama Administration a six-month grade of D for Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, saying "The best we can hope for is to get some bad guys and get out, hand the problems over to locals and forge a partnership with the other great powers in the region, notably India and China to contain the spillage from a place that is likely to be an open wound on the world for decades to come." Of course having India involved in Afghanistan would only add to the problems with Pakistan, but no matter. Seth Jones does his usual shtick of repeating platitudes and recycled ideas--this time how to "win" in Afghanistan without defining what winning means--and somehow getting published.
Lee Hamilton is asking the questions. The counterinsurgency crew (and hangers on) are providing their answer. CNAS' Andrew Exum has even provided a forum on his blog compiling people's answers to the strategic questions.
The overall feeling seems to be turning more pessimistic about the chances of our success in Afghanistan. As for me, I still think we can succeed, depending on how we define success. We will never pacify or control the tribal regions completely, and it would be crazy to even try. We can, however, give Afghanistan a fighting chance at having a stable central government that controls most of the country--on their own terms--but it will require long-term aid as well. The U.S. military is capable of almost anything, but the civilian policy makers need to define what limited goals they want accomplished and then allow the military to do its job. The longer we fail to have a real defined strategy the more pessimistic I will become.

Notes on a Post-Mehsud Afghanistan and Pakistan

After a weekend of thinking about it, it looks like we really did get Baitullah Mehsud. Hurray! And now his deputies are fighting each other over who gets to be leader of the club now. Double hurray! That saves us the trouble. Various analysts have speculated that whereas Mehsud focused his attacks more on Pakistan, which ever deputy ends up leading his group is likely to focus more on attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. That's both good news and bad news. Our troops will get attacked more, but they will be in Afghanistan, where we can fight back, not across the invisible line into Pakistan where we can only use drones.
The "successful" drone strike (it took us many attempts, and the strike that killed Mehsud may not have even been targeting him) means we will likely use drones even more readily. That's not necessarily a good thing, as we have a poor track record of killing the people we want to (terrorists and insurgents) and not the ones we don't (civilians).
On the drug front, we have decided to spend time and energy hunting down drug lords in Afghanistan. I wonder if we're going to include the drug lords who are some of Karzai's biggest supporters. Sure, extra heroin in the world is a bad thing, but we didn't invade Afghanistan to control drugs. Michael Cohen has been keeping an "Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch" going for awhile. Looks like he has some job security!
We are currently spending at least $60 billion per year in Afghanistan. That's roughly six times more (conservatively) than if we simply decided to buy everything Afghanistan produced (drugs included) every year. We're likely committed to spending at least $4 billion a year for quite a few years after we leave (whenever that may be) just to pay for the Afghan army and police forces, since their tax base cannot support it. What are we getting? Is this really the best strategy? Is there a strategy?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud Dead? Now For My Second Wish... Actual Afghanistan Metrics!

I recently wished I would wake up and find out we had hit our exact target with a drone-fired missile in Pakistan. This evening I "awoke" from a Twitter slumber (a cybersecurity warning sign?) to find we actually did kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud with a drone strike yesterday--maybe. It seems we won't know for sure until we get in to South Waziristan to collect a DNA sample (quick side note: how do we possibly have another DNA sample to compare it to?), far easier said than done, since we can't do it by drone.
If we did get Mehsud that's great news of course, but before we get too cocky we should take note that militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Mehsud's in particular, are like the hydra, and Mehsud apparently has several able deputies willing to step up and take his place.
So for my second wish, I'd like the Obama Administration to come up with actual metrics for success in Afghanistan (and Pakistan). Apparently Congress wants the same thing. After the first (or was it third) "AfPak" review the White House released a white paper promising metrics for success--and has failed not only to announce how we're doing, but what the metrics are. As I've argued repeatedly, you can't measure progress toward a goal you haven't established.
So far the White House has been better at determining what metrics not to use: enemy killed, miles of roads built, bombs defused, tips gathered, etc. Those are helpful steps, but if, according to the Times, we already have "nine broad objectives for metrics to guide the administration’s policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan" why can't we develop metrics now? We need another month or two to continue studying them? Is this a cooking-the-books plan where by the time the actual metrics are up it will be winter and things will look good because fighting is difficult for the militants?
We do need to get the metrics right, but metrics should measure progress toward a goal. Firmly and clearly state the goal, and and tell the social scientist metric creation team to get their academic butts in gear. We've wasted enough time.