Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts

23 August 2019

Overcoming Inertia: Why It’s Time to End the War in Afghanistan

By John Glaser and John Mueller

The war in Afghanistan has become America’s longest war not because U.S. security interests necessitate it, nor because the battlefield realities are insurmountable, but because of inertia. Policymakers have shied away from hard truths, fallen victim to specious cognitive biases, and allowed the mission to continue without clear intentions or realistic objectives.

Although the American people are substantially insulated from the sacrifices incurred by this distant war, the reality is that the United States can’t win against the Taliban at a remotely acceptable cost. Almost two decades in, the insurgency is as strong as ever, and the U.S.-backed Kabul regime is weak and mired in corruption. And while official assessments of the conflict have long acknowledged it as a stalemate, top military leaders have consistently misled the public and advised elected civilians to devote greater resources to achieve victory.

Can Trump Make a Deal for Afghanistan?

BY LARA SELIGMAN
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What’s on tap: Afghans and U.S. national security aides have deep concerns about peace negotiations after new violence in Kabul, Trump’s idea for a naval blockade of Venezuela, and the Army’s challenges in staffing up new cyber and electronic warfare units. 

New Violence in Afghanistan

A wedding turned deadly. A suicide attacker linked to the Islamic State detonated a bomb on Saturday night in a crowded wedding hall in Kabul, killing at least 63 people and wounded more than 180. “It was like doomsday,” one wedding guest told the Washington Post. 

The attack, one of the worst assaults on Afghan civilians in years, comes at a perilous time, as U.S. and Taliban negotiators reach the final stages of talks to end America’s 18-year war in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan's Warlords Prepare for Civil War

By Scott DesMarais
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Key Takeaway: Key Afghan warlords have begun preparing for a potential civil war as the U.S. nears an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has observed indicators that Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara leaders are taking steps to mobilize their ethnic communities in preparation for a looming power struggle as the U.S. and NATO leave Afghanistan. Afghan Pashtuns will also soon likely mobilize, if they have not already begun. 

The U.S. is about to finalize a bilateral agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan.[1] The Taliban in return is reportedly promising to prevent transnational jihadists (including Al Qaeda and ISIS) from conducting global attacks from Afghanistan. It has also ostensibly committed to subsequent negotiations with other Afghan political leaders over the future of Afghanistan. The exact terms of these negotiations remain unclear, but the U.S. has declined to explicitly support a leadership role in the talks for the current Afghan Government – implying that talks would focus on establishing a new Government of Afghanistan.[2] The apparent decision to sideline the current Afghan Government is a major concession by the U.S. and NATO. The existence and terms of this bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, when finalized, will sideline and severely weaken the Afghan Government. It will remove the government’s core source of leverage over the Taliban – namely, the military forces and international aid money brought by the U.S. and NATO to Afghanistan. 

US Army: No Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans Yet

BY KATIE BO WILLIAMS

Amid heightened speculation the United States may be planning an imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Donald Trump on Tuesday reiterated his desire to reduce the number of American forces there and suggested that ongoing talks with the Afghan government and the Taliban could lead to U.S. troops coming home. But he stopped short of confirming any such plans, and U.S. Army Acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy later told reporters he has been given no direction to halt or curtail troop deployments to the war. 

The Army announced on Friday that the 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, will be deploying to Afghanistan to continue to train Afghan Security Forces. The 10th Mountain Division Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum, New York, also has received orders to rotate in. 

“The direction we’ve given FORSCOM is head down to prepare [the SFAB] to get on a C-17 and deploy for the 9 months of the deployment,” McCarthy said. U.S. Army Forces Command, or FORSCOM, is the component of the Army that fields out land-based units to regional commanders. 

Is the Afghanistan deal a good one?

Michael E. O’Hanlon

According to teases leaked by the American negotiating team, it appears that an interim Afghanistan peace deal may be in the works between Washington and the Taliban. Details are far from clear to date. But the main contours of any agreement seem to be a renouncing of extremists by the Taliban, the withdrawal of several thousand American and NATO troops, together with an indefinite partial ceasefire, or at least a sustained reduction in violence by all parties. If that is indeed the deal — it’s not yet clear if the ceasefire would happen early on, as it must for the idea to make any sense from a U.S. and Afghan government perspective — there may be promise to the concept, provided that not only the Taliban but the Pakistani government support it as well. These initial steps would be followed by negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government over some future type of power-sharing, after which the preponderance of the remaining U.S. and other foreign forces would leave the country as well. It is crucial that the remaining U.S. forces not withdraw until a power-sharing arrangement has been well-established.

I have been highly skeptical of this year’s peace talks, even though they have been led by the wily and wise Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (an Afghan-born American who was President George W. Bush’s envoy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations). The Taliban’s abject unwillingness to meet with representatives of the elected and constitutionally-legitimated government of President Ashraf Ghani, together with the belief of the Taliban leadership that America wants out and will use the peace talks as a fig leaf to cover a retreat from the country, provided grounds for extreme caution. President Trump’s announcement last December that he would soon cut the U.S. troop presence in the country in half, unconditionally and abruptly, was one of the two issues that apparently sparked the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis — and revealed the president’s apparent true intentions about a mission he never really supported in the first place.

It Matters Whether Americans Call Afghanistan a Defeat

BY JIM GOLBY

The public’s judgment about whether the United States won or lost the war will affect civilian-military relations for years to come.

The Trump administration appears poised to announce, within days or weeks, a deal with the Taliban that will involve a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. If that happens, the administration may soon find itself in a new battle over public opinion. The question then would be: Did the United States win or lose?

The answer depends partly on the terms of a potential deal, but also on the public narrative that forms around it. A negotiated peace normally involves concessions by both sides, and can therefore be characterized in multiple ways; critics of the deal now taking shape are describing it as a U.S. surrender, while proponents will likely portray it as an honorable end to America’s longest war. Whether the deal comes to be seen as a victory or a defeat could influence relations between the military and civilian leadership for years to come.

Following the Vietnam War, a narrative developed among the U.S.-military officer corps that civilian leaders had stabbed military leaders in the back by cutting a deal to withdraw U.S. troops, rather than allowing them to win. A broader literature suggests that a “stabbed in the back” narrative is a common cultural response among militaries that have failed to achieve their wartime goals. Many of these frames have staying power. The Powell Doctrine—war should be a last resort, and exercised only with a commitment to using overwhelming military force—played a major role in national-security debates in the 1990s, but had its roots in Vietnam.

22 August 2019

A look at the Islamic State affiliate’s rise in Afghanistan


KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bombing at a wedding party in Kabul claimed by a local Islamic State affiliate has renewed fears about the growing threat posed by its thousands of fighters, as well as their ability to plot global attacks from a stronghold in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.

The attack came as the Taliban appear to be nearing a deal with the U.S. to end nearly 18 years of fighting. Now Washington hopes the Taliban can help rein in IS fighters, even as some worry that Taliban fighters, disenchanted by a peace deal, could join IS.

The U.S. envoy in negotiations with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the peace processmust be accelerated to put Afghanistan in a “much stronger position to defeat” the Islamic State affiliate. On Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to “eliminate” all IS safe havens.

Here's a look at IS in Afghanistan, a militant group some U.S. officials have said could pose a greater threat to America than the more established Taliban:

AS US PRESSES NEGOTIATIONS, TALIBAN PROMOTES TRAINING OF FIGHTERS AND ATTACKS


As the US government pushes for a deal with the Taliban that will pave the way for the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban continues to promote the training of its fighters and attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces.

In the Taliban’s latest video, which was released today on its official Website, Voice of Jihad, the group shows its fighters training for war as well as a montage of attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces. The video, titled ‘Caravan of Khaibar,’ is named after the battle of Khaibar in 628 in which Muslims conquered a Jewish community in the Arabian Peninsula.

The video opens with well equipped Taliban fighters in various levels of training. In one scene, the Taliban practice movements in brand new Toyota H-Luxs adorned with large white Taliban flags. The location of the training was not disclosed; it could be in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Either way, the Taliban is operating in broad daylight without fear of being targeted from US, Afghan, or Pakistani forces…Read on.

Taliban Trolls Could Adopt New Terrorist Tactics in the Wake of America's Peace Plan

by Robin Simcox

If the United States does negotiate a durable peace settlement in Afghanistan, then it is possible that some of the most hardcore Taliban elements that want to carry on fighting may be drawn to the transnational jihadism of ISIS-K.

President Donald Trump wants out of Afghanistan by 2020. He may get his wish. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan, has been negotiating with the Taliban for a nearly a year and is hopeful that the next round of talks will produce a “lasting and honorable” peace agreement.

While peace would be wonderful, the United States should not be too hasty in reaching a deal. Two of the Trump administration’s top counterterrorism priorities—defeating ISIS and preventing Afghanistan from once more becoming a hub of global terror—are sometimes viewed as separate objectives. In fact, they are part of the same fight—and that fight is complicated.

As US presses negotiations, Taliban promotes training of fighters and attacks

By Joanne C. Lo

War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a war, we shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will: his first object is to throw his adversary, and thus to render him incapable of further resistance. War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. Violence arms itself with the inventions of Art and Science in order to contend against violence.

—Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Technology is a tool for warfare. It is certainly a valuable tool, but its value comes from how it is used in the battlespace. “Everything in war is very simple,” Clausewitz contends.[1] The objective is to compel our opponent to submit to our will, and we do it by maneuvering to optimize our defense and offense in the physical, moral, and mental domains. “But the simplest thing is difficult,”1 Clausewitz continues, with difficulty brought on by friction and compounded by danger, physical demand, and the fog of war.[2] The role of technology is to reduce the overall friction of war such that simple actions can be carried out as rapidly and effectively as possible. This requires a flexible technology tool kit that enables each warfighter to attack enemies physically, mentally, and morally; seize the strategic initiative via every conduit in a joint battlespace; and attack relentlessly in a synchronized manner whenever a vulnerability opens up until the adversaries are completely paralyzed.

It Matters If Americans Call Afghanistan a Defeat

Jim Golby

The Trump administration appears poised to announce, within days or weeks, a deal with the Taliban that will involve a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. If that happens, the administration may soon find itself in a new battle over public opinion. The question then would be: Did the United States win or lose?

The answer depends partly on the terms of a potential deal, but also on the public narrative that forms around it. A negotiated peace normally involves concessions by both sides, and can therefore be characterized in multiple ways; critics of the deal now taking shape are describing it as a U.S. surrender, while proponents will likely portray it as an honorable end to America’s longest war. Whether the deal comes to be seen as a victory or a defeat could influence relations between the military and civilian leadership for years to come.

Following the Vietnam War, a narrative developed among the U.S.-military officer corps that civilian leaders had stabbed military leaders in the back by cutting a deal to withdraw U.S. troops, rather than allowing them to win. A broader literature suggests that a “stabbed in the back” narrative is a common cultural response among militaries that have failed to achieve their wartime goals. Many of these frames have staying power. The Powell Doctrine—war should be a last resort, and exercised only with a commitment to using overwhelming military force—played a major role in national-security debates in the 1990s, but had its roots in Vietnam.

Afghanistan: Quetta Blast Slow Reverberations – Analysis

By Ajit Kumar Singh*

Amidst reports emerging that the long-drawn talks between the United States (US) and the Afghan Taliban were at the ‘concluding stage’, a blast inside a mosque in the Kuchlak town area of Quetta (Quetta District), the provincial capital of the Balochistan Province of Pakistan, on August 16, 2019, killed four people, including the prayer leader Ahmadullah Akhundzada, the brother of Afghan Taliban ‘chief’ Hibatullah Akhundzada. Some 25 people were also injured in the blast. The Deputy Inspector General of Police, Quetta, Abdul Razzaq Cheema, stated, “An explosive time device was planted under the wooden chair of the prayer leader.”

Columnist Rahimullah Yusufzai disclosed that the mosque was attached to a madrassa (seminary) that had earlier been run by Hibatullah: “After he [Hibatullah] became the emir he left this place. His younger brother [Ahmadullah]… was running the madrassas…”

The targeted mosque has long controlled by and linked to the Quetta Shura the ‘executive council’ of the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban. An unidentified Taliban source corroborated, “This mosque was a place where most of the Taliban members used to meet and discuss issues. The duties of the mosque were handed over to Ahmadullah by Hibatullah after he was appointed as the emir of the Taliban group [in 2016].” 

21 August 2019

Afghanistan Endgame, Part Two: How Does This War End?

Melissa Skorka

Should the Haqqani network manage a collapse of the Afghan government, Pakistan threatens to make winning the next war more difficult than previous ones.

This is a guest post by Melissa Skorka. She served as a strategic adviser to the commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2011-14 and is a doctoral candidate at Oxford University’s Changing Character of War Centre. 

Many senior scholars and analysts argue that the “forever war” in Afghanistan long-ago evolved, expanding from “a limited focus on counterterrorism to a broad nation-building effort without discussion about the implications for the duration and intensity of the military campaign.” In the latter years of Barack Obama’s presidency, that broader effort was scaled down dramatically, but it was extended in the face of a renewed understanding of Afghanistan’s potential to serve as a Petri dish for transnational terrorist organizations such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Consequently, as a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report concludes: “After expending nearly $800 billion and suffering over 2,400 killed, the United States is still there, having achieved at best a stalemate.”

Bailing Out China’s Belt and Road


On August 3, in his first visit to the Asia-Pacific region, new U.S. secretary of defense Mark Esper called out several examples of aggressive conduct by China, including “using predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals.” The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has created some conflicts between recipient governments and international institutions in the past. Perhaps the latest and starkest example is in Pakistan, where a wave of BRI projects was followed by this summer’s bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

When the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was announced in 2015, it should have been easy for followers of the BRI to foresee where the initiative was heading. Even at its initial announced value of $46 billion, the initiative would have amounted to more than 20 percent of Pakistan’s GDP. While details were unclear, as they often are with the BRI, the majority of lending would inevitably come in the form of direct bilateral loans from The Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM) or the China Development Bank (CDB). This was the case for Pakistan’s precedents in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Montenegro, Congo, and other recipients of ambitious bilateral lending initiatives, each of which led to a debt crisis several years later.

Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast

By Nathaniel Popper

SAN FRANCISCO — Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, has been designated a terrorist organization by Western governments and some others and has been locked out of the traditional financial system. But this year its military wing has developed an increasingly sophisticated campaign to raise money using Bitcoin.

In the latest version of the website set up by the wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, every visitor is given a unique Bitcoin address where he or she can send the digital currency, a method that makes the donations nearly impossible for law enforcement to track.

The site, which is available in seven languages and features the brigades’ logo, with a green flag and a machine gun, contains a well-produced video that explains how to acquire and send Bitcoin without tipping off the authorities.

Terrorists have been slow to join other criminal elements that have been drawn to Bitcoin and have used it for everything from drug purchases to money laundering.

The draft Afghan peace plan, explained

By Pamela Constable

KABUL — The proposed Afghan peace deal presented Friday to President Trump by the administration’s top peace negotiator would accomplish the president’s major goal of beginning to withdraw thousands of U.S. forces from the country, after nearly 18 years of fighting and just over 2,400 U.S. personnel killed. 

In return, Taliban insurgents would agree to cut ties with al-Qaeda and prevent it from operating or carrying out activities in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. This commitment is something U.S. military officials have said is important to help prevent other extremist groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks against American interests in the region.

Beyond that, however, the agreement as described by U.S. officials leaves several key issues unaddressed, others not yet explicitly endorsed by the Taliban, and still others to be worked out at future meetings between Taliban and Afghan leaders that have not yet been confirmed or announced. 

Afghanistan: Scores killed in Kabul wedding blast


At least 63 people have been killed and scores wounded in an explosion targeting a wedding in the Afghan capital, according to officials, in the deadliest attack in Kabul this year.

The suicide blast took place on Saturday night in the men's reception area of the Dubai City wedding hall in western Kabul in a minority Shia neighbourhood packed with people celebrating a marriage.

Women and children were among the casualties, said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the interior ministry. 

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday. 

The blast comes as the Taliban and the United States are trying to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan's US-backed government.

20 August 2019

The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan

BY AARON DAVID MILLER

The eighth round of U.S.-Taliban negotiations concluded this week without an accord. Still, there’s a real possibility that an agreement will be concluded by September. 

It’s far too early to call winners and losers before the details of a framework accord are announced and likely even afterwards, given the uncertainties inherent in any accord. But here are several key politically inconvenient realities that would seem to flow from any U.S.-Taliban agreement. 

This isn’t about peace

On August 11, as Afghans were marking the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hope that “this is the last Eid where Afghanistan is at war.” I worked with Khalilzad at the State Department, and he’s one smart negotiator.

The draft Afghan peace plan, explained

By Pamela Constable
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KABUL — The proposed Afghan peace deal presented Friday to President Trump by the administration’s top peace negotiator would accomplish the president’s major goal of beginning to withdraw thousands of U.S. forces from the country, after nearly 18 years of fighting and just over 2,400 U.S. personnel killed. 

In return, Taliban insurgents would agree to cut ties with al-Qaeda and prevent it from operating or carrying out activities in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. This commitment is something U.S. military officials have said is important to help prevent other extremist groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks against American interests in the region.

Beyond that, however, the agreement as described by U.S. officials leaves several key issues unaddressed, others not yet explicitly endorsed by the Taliban, and still others to be worked out at future meetings between Taliban and Afghan leaders that have not yet been confirmed or announced. 

U.S. Seeks to Reassure Afghan Military Amid Uncertainty Over Peace Deal

by Mujab Mushal 

The top American commander in Afghanistan sought to reassure Afghan forces on Thursday that they still had the full backing of the United States, after a report that the support was being dialed back in preparation for an imminent peace deal with the Taliban.

The fighting in Afghanistan has intensified as United States diplomats and the insurgents have worked through eight rounds of negotiations in Qatar. Afghan forces and the Taliban have both sought to increase their political leverage through violence, with both sides suffering heavy casualties and civilians bearing the brunt of the attacks…