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

17 August 2017

While Americans Fight the Taliban, Putin Is Making Headway in Afghanistan


When the Soviet Union withdrew its army from Afghanistan in 1989, its defeat seemed complete and irreversible. Most Afghans bitterly repudiated the attempt to impose communist rule by force.

An Afghan communist officer who fought with the Russians told me that his side lost because they could not overcome their image as atheist infidels.

Today, however, Russia is seeking to remake its image by exploiting Afghan disappointment with the dismal results of the post-9/11 intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

This Russian deployment of so-called “soft power” appears to be paying dividends in ways that could hardly have been predicted when the Soviet Army left Afghanistan after nine years of war.

The Russians are ramping up political, economic and propaganda activities to improve their image and reestablish their influence amid pervasive corruption that is impeding progress in Afghanistan.

Regardless of the gains that have been made in some areas, masses of unemployed Afghans have lost hope and are emigrating in unprecedented numbers. Afghan soldiers are fighting valiantly, but terrorist attacks are on the rise and the U.S.-backed Afghan government appears incapable of establishing security across the country. The bulk of U.S. and NATO military forces have departed, aggravating Afghan fears of being abandoned again by the West…Read on.

Sandhurst chief says army needs character not university degrees

Camilla Turner

The British Army is filled with graduates, the Sandhurst chief has said, as he reveals plans to entice school-leavers by offering them a university degree alongside their officer training. 

General Paul Nanson, Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said that 18-year-old feel that they should go to university because it is the “done” thing, and often have not considered alternative options. 

He said that when he was at Sandhurst, it was evenly split between university graduates and school-leavers, but now the vast majority - around four fifths - of Officer Cadets arrive with a degree. 

“You want to try and get youngsters in early and develop them yourself rather than [choosing from] an ever increasing pond of graduates,” said General Nanson, who was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for distinguished services in Afghanistan.

16 August 2017

In bid to beat back the Taliban, Afghanistan starts expanding its commando units

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

CAMP MOREHEAD, Afghanistan — The Afghan military will begin expanding its elite commando units in the coming weeks, Afghan officials and military officers said, in a bid to capitalize on a force that has been one of the few success stories in the nearly 16-year-old war.

Starting in September, the training academy here — an old Russian paratrooper base tucked into a valley south of Kabul — will add an 800-man, 14-week-long commando course atop its current curriculum. Afghan officials are optimistic that in the coming years the 12,000-strong force will be able to almost double, to 22,000 troops.

As the number of commandos grows, the Ministry of Interior’s elite police unit and the Afghan Air Force’s Special Mission Wing will also expand, to 9,000 and 1,000 troops, respectively.

The Afghan military’s decision to invest in its commando forces comes with strong U.S. backing and is a key component of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent military reform plan.

The commandos, with their track record of reliability, have become a favorite of U.S. military officials. They see the elite force as key to pushing back the Taliban militants who have taken over broad swaths of the country since NATO forces ended their combat mission in 2014. A recent report from the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan said the commandos and other special units were responsible for 80 percent of all Afghan offensive operations as of early 2017, but warned that they have been overused.

Will Pakistan Find Stability Following Its Latest Political Shake-up?

Marvin G. Weinbaum, Touqir Hussain
A decision by Pakistan's justices to leave Nawaz Sharif in office could have set the stage for widespread violent agitation.

Pakistan’s supreme court’s unanimous—if disputably reasoned—decision to remove Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, together with the Pakistan Muslim League’s easy management of leadership transition, has likely averted months of political turmoil. A decision by the justices to leave Nawaz in office could have evoked bitter condemnation by a united front of opposition parties and set the stage for widespread, possibly violent agitation spearheaded by Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf movement. If sustained, the military would probably have felt compelled to intervene.

An abrupt end to the Sharif dynasty and possible fracturing of the league over leadership succession, once thought possible by his opponents, was avoided with the designation of party loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister. Possessing an overwhelming majority in the national assembly, he should be able to serve through to the scheduled national and provincial elections next summer. The dynasty that has lasted nearly thirty years seems firm for the time being. Nawaz’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, remains in command of the party’s election machinery in its heartland, Punjab Province, and Nawaz has a strong presence behind the scenes.

PAKISTAN’S SEARCH FOR ITS PLACE IN SOUTHERN ASIA’S EVOLVING ORDER

SANNIA ABDULLAH

Southern Asia’s evolving geopolitics are leading to the intensification of the China-Pakistan nexus, a development that has been greeted in Pakistan with exuberance. Although the China-Pakistan “all-weather” friendship goes back decades, there appears to be in recent years a greater willingness in Islamabad to air frustrations with the United States while embracing China as the “cornerstone” of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Much of this is in response to the deeply entrenched perception in Islamabad that Washington is tilting inexorably toward New Delhi. The Trump administration’s recent condemnation of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and its potential designation of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism are lending credence to the notion that Washington is once again on the verge of abandoning a longtime partner. The shifting allegiances on the subcontinent have pushed Pakistan into the arms of China, even as it questions the value of its relationship with the United States.

Since India and the United States signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2005, Pakistan’s response to perceived American slights has been to cry foul. While there may be some merits to Pakistan’s position, its responses to these exogenous shocks have been dictated by emotion and incredulity. If Pakistan is to navigate the evolving strategic environment in South Asia and compete for its interests effectively, it must adopt a more calculated, clear-eyed approach. This process must start with honest assessments of Pakistan’s strategic environment, what it might stand to gain or lose from spurning other powers (including the United States), and how to avoid provoking its neighbors into aligning with India. Pakistan needs to re-evaluate its tendency to antagonize the United States, avoid reflexive escalation vis-à-vis India, and be more honest with itself about the limitations of its Chinese partnership.

To ‘Win’ in Afghanistan, Devise a Strategy and Do Not Quit

By Robert Cassidy

Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban is the main reason for the continued stalemate in Afghanistan after almost 16 years. To be sure, there are other ancillary factors that help explain the instability, but Pakistan is the key reason. 

The war in Afghanistan will not end, or it will end badly unless the U.S.-led Coalition and its Afghan partners compel Pakistan to cease its malign conduct. 

What a win looks like.

A ‘win’ in Afghanistan would not resemble the win in World War II where the Allies thoroughly defeated and then received the unconditional surrenders of Germany and Japan. The end will be negotiated and conditional.

A ‘win’ would see the Afghan government and its security forces have sufficient capacity to secure Afghanistan’s future.

A ‘win’ would see a durable Afghan state, with the government, the security forces and the population aligned against a marginalized Taliban.

A ‘win’ is an Afghanistan that does not fragment and endures as a state that is inhospitable to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) and other Islamists groups.

The bar is not high, and the aim is not to remake Afghanistan into Arizona. There will still be violence, poverty, and underdevelopment, but relative stability, absent an existential threat, is a win.

15 August 2017

Taliban retakes eastern Afghan district from Afghan forces


The Taliban retook control of the contested district of Jani Khel in Paktia from Afghan forces last night. The district has changed hands three times over the past two weeks. The repeated loss of Jani Khel to the Taliban demonstrates the difficulties Afghan forces face in holding onto remote contested districts.

Afghan officials and the Taliban both confirmed that Jani Khel fell to the Taliban. An Afghan official told TOLONews that security forces retreated from the district center after Taliban fighters launched their assault.

“The security forces asked for air support during the clashes, but did not receive a response and retreated from the district as a result,” an official told the Afghan news agency.

Paktia province is a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network – the powerful Taliban subgroup based in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Sirrajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, serves as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs.

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda outlet, the group claimed that “over 12 puppets were killed and at least 17 others suffered injuries” after Taliban fighters took control of the police headquarters, the district administrative center and surrounding security outposts. The Taliban claimed two of its fighters were killed and three more were wounded.

McCAIN CALLS FOR NEW STRATEGY FOR AFGHANISTAN


Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today announced an amendment he has filed to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA) that offers a new strategy for success for the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

For months, Chairman McCain has urged the new administration to submit a strategy for success to Congress, but no strategy has been submitted to-date. Developed in consultation with some of the nation's most experienced and respected former military and intelligence officials, the strategy calls for a civil-military approach to bolster U.S. counterterrorism efforts, strengthen the capability and capacity of the Afghan government and security forces, and intensify diplomatic efforts to facilitate a negotiated peace process in Afghanistan in cooperation with regional partners – supported by an enduring U.S. troop presence.

Chairman McCain released the following statement on the strategy:

“America is adrift in Afghanistan. President Obama’s ‘don’t lose’ strategy has put us on a path to achieving the opposite result. Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened. The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.

WE HAVE LOST THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN. WE SHOULD GET OUT NOW


BY IVAN ELAND 

In a recent meeting, President Trump correctly told his generals that they were “losing” the war in Afghanistan, rejected their proposed strategy, and sent them back to the drawing board to create a new one.

Like chronic alcoholism, compulsive American meddling in the affairs of other countries can only be recovered from by admitting the problem exists in the first place.

President Trump has partially accomplished this first step by recognizing what has been obvious for years, but an even more enlightened conclusion would be that the war has been “lost” for quite some time now and the only solution is to withdraw U.S. forces as quickly as possible.

However, that is not the new strategy that the generals will likely come up with. Instead, as in Vietnam, they will continue to say—and probably even believe—that a turnaround is still possible. They have had 16 years to “win” the war, but have abjectly failed to do so.

In any counterinsurgency war, if the insurgents are not losing, they are winning. Fighting guerrilla style means that insurgents use hit and run tactics against the weak points of a generally stronger enemy (usually government or foreign forces) and then flee before the stronger side can catch them.

14 August 2017

7 Pillars for Success in Afghanistan

Earl Anthony Wayne

Afghanistan has severely challenged every U.S. administration since the fall of 2001. The Trump administration is debating intensely what strategy, if any, might lead to more success than its predecessors achieved and turn around the “stalemate” on the ground in Afghanistan.

The media focus is largely on the troop numbers, tactics and costs being proposed to put the Taliban and its extremist bedfellows on the defensive and the positions of various U.S. policy makers including the president. A strategy for success, however, is much more complicated than just the issues surrounding security, vital as they are. There are at least seven pillars needed for a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan: 1) military and security tactics and capacity-building; 2) Afghanistan’s domestic politics; 3) governance and economic performance; 4) Pakistan’s role; 5) options for a non-military solution; 6) international support; and 7) an effective U.S. policy and budgetary process. To only focus on the military pillar is a formula for misunderstanding. Neglecting any of the pillars can lead the enterprise to fail.

Supporters of a continued U.S. role in Afghanistan argue that it is in the national interest to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for terrorists. They argue that success is possible with a sustained, vigorous, multi-year effort without deadlines to bolster Afghan government capacity and to generate sufficient pressures on the Taliban and others to open paths to a non-military solution. This approach, they argue, will prevent terrorists from being able to operate internationally from Afghanistan.

Qods Force-linked Taliban commander leads insurgency in central Afghanistan


A Taliban commander who was targeted by the US military in an airstrike nearly a decade ago and who has links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp – Qods Force remains a key player in the insurgency in central Afghanistan. The Taliban commander, known as Mullah Mustafa, was instrumental in the Taliban’s takeover of Taiwara district in Ghor province several weeks ago. Afghan forces have retaken the district, but maintain a tenuous hold on it.

Taiwara district fell to the Taliban on July 23 after hundreds of fighters assaulted the district center and overran Afghan forces and the local militia and police forces. More than 700 Taliban fighters using “humvees and trucks stolen from Afghan forces in Helmand province” launched the assault, according to The New York Times. Out of a force of 50 Afghan commandos guarding the district, 12 were killed, more than 20 were wounded, and several more are missing. Afghan officials claimed that more than 200 Taliban fighters were killed during the fighting.

Mustafa, who The New York Times described as “a local facilitator of the Taliban,” had “played a major role in the recent offensive” to take Taiwara. He “has contacts in Iran” and “is protected by senior figures in Kabul, the capital, including those in Afghanistan’s peace council assigned to negotiate with the Taliban.”

13 August 2017

Did the US Fight a 16 Year War in Afghanistan Only to Lose the Country to Iran?


FARAH, Afghanistan — A police officer guarding the outskirts of this city remembers the call from his commander, warning that hundreds of Taliban fighters were headed his way.

“Within half an hour, they attacked,” recalled Officer Najibullah Amiri, 35. The Taliban swarmed the farmlands surrounding his post and seized the western riverbank here in Farah, the capital of the province by the same name.

It was the start of a three-week siege in October, and only after American air support was called in to end it and the smoke cleared did Afghan security officials realize who was behind the lightning strike: Iran.

Four senior Iranian commandos were among the scores of dead, Afghan intelligence officials said, noting their funerals in Iran. Many of the Taliban dead and wounded were also taken back across the nearby border with Iran, where the insurgents had been recruited and trained, village elders told Afghan provincial officials.

The assault, coordinated with attacks on several other cities, was part of the Taliban’s most ambitious attempt since 2001 to retake power. But it was also a piece of an accelerating Iranian campaign to step into a vacuum left by departing American forces — Iran’s biggest push into Afghanistan in decades.

Trump’s indecision on Afghanistan leaves generals in lurch


U.S. and Afghan military commanders battling the Taliban and the Islamic State are encountering an obstacle they never expected, sources close to them say: months of indecision by President Donald Trump on whether to commit thousands of additional American troops.

Instead of approving their plan for more troops as anticipated, the president has caught his generals off guard by questioning whether the 16-year-long effort to stabilize Afghanistan is still worth it, according to current and former military officials familiar with the conversations. Meanwhile, news reports raise the prospects he might replace the top U.S. commander in the region or hand private contractors the day-to-day task of advising the flagging Afghan security forces.

Amid the uncertainty, the security situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. Deaths of Afghan security forces in the early months of 2017 were “shockingly high,” the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction recently reported, continuing a years-long upward trend. The Afghan government “controls or influences” only 60 percent of the country’s 407 districts as of early this summer, down from 65 percent the same time last year, according to the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul.

Is It a Good Idea to Privatize the War in Afghanistan?

by S. Rebecca Zimmerman

Several weeks ago Erik Prince, best known as the CEO of the Blackwater Corporation, wrote an op-ed arguing that the U.S. should privatize the war in Afghanistan.

The outcry has been voluble. Commentators have highlighted the moral qualmsassociated with private armies, the propensity toward violence and warlordism of mercenary forces, and the conflicts of interest that could be inherent in such a plan.

And yet, amid a deep frustration with current options, administration officials are reportedly giving the plan some thought. It is important not to dismiss this plan categorically, but to consider it on the merits, understanding how contracting for military services has been undertaken in Afghanistan to date.

Doing so highlights the risks of such a plan, not only to the Afghanistan mission, but to the nation's future military force.

First, contracting for Afghanistan has often been subject to “wishful staffing.”

During the bidding process, companies tend to highlight standout individuals who could work on the project. But the star résumés that win the bid don't always reflect the reality of the hiring process.

Consider the Human Terrain System, which billed itself as doctorate-level specialists in ethnography (PDF) and regional studies. While the original few teams were composed of such highly qualified people, as it expanded, later teams were staffed with less qualifiedmembers.

In Afghanistan, U.S. Exits, and Iran Comes In


By CARLOTTA GALL

FARAH, Afghanistan — A police officer guarding the outskirts of this city remembers the call from his commander, warning that hundreds of Taliban fighters were headed his way.

“Within half an hour, they attacked,” recalled Officer Najibullah Amiri, 35. The Taliban swarmed the farmlands surrounding his post and seized the western riverbank here in Farah, the capital of the province by the same name.

It was the start of a three-week siege in October, and only after American air support was called in to end it and the smoke cleared did Afghan security officials realize who was behind the lightning strike: Iran.

The assault, coordinated with attacks on several other cities, was part of the Taliban’s most ambitious attempt since 2001 to retake power. But it was also a piece of an accelerating Iranian campaign to step into a vacuum left by departing American forces — Iran’s biggest push into Afghanistan in decades.

President Trump recently lamented that the United States was losing its 16-year war in Afghanistan, and threatened to fire the American generals in charge.

There is no doubt that as the United States winds down the Afghan war — the longest in American history, and one that has cost half a trillion dollars and more than 150,000 lives on all sides — regional adversaries are muscling in.

Another Russia-U.S. Proxy War Looms Over Afghanistan

BENNETT SEFTEL

As the Trump Administration struggles to develop a strategy in Afghanistan, Russia has surreptitiously inserted itself into the mix. In late July, reports once again surfaced that Russia has been providing material support to Taliban militants battling U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces. In some respects, this seems as though a complete role reversal between the U.S. and Russia in Afghanistan has taken place over the last three-plus decades. During the 1980s, the CIA funneled weapons to Afghan rebels who were fighting Kabul’s communist government and the Soviet troops backing it. And now, by aiding the Taliban, Russia has seized an opportunity to inflict casualties on U.S. supported Afghan forces and extract revenge.

“The Russians probably look at this role reversal as a delicious irony and a payback for their own involvement in Afghanistan years ago,” Mike Sulick, Cipher Brief expert and former Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, told The Cipher Brief. “They have a long memory. I’m sure many of them still resent the U.S. provision of weapons to the Afghans and eventually, the Russians walking from the area with their heads held down.”

Russia’s interests in Afghanistan are longstanding, dating back to 19th century when the British and Russian empires vied for political and military control over the country in what came to be known as the “Great Game.” Today, Moscow views security along Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan – a key Russian ally – as critical for its regional interests. Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin may be chomping at the bit to expand his influence into a part of the world where the U.S. has gained little traction in cultivating capable partners or recruiting trusted allies.

12 August 2017

To ‘Win’ in Afghanistan, Devise a Strategy and Do Not Quit

By Robert Cassidy

Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban is the main reason for the continued stalemate in Afghanistan after almost 16 years. To be sure, there are other ancillary factors that help explain the instability, but Pakistan is the key reason. 

The war in Afghanistan will not end, or it will end badly unless the U.S.-led Coalition and its Afghan partners compel Pakistan to cease its malign conduct. 

What a win looks like.

A ‘win’ in Afghanistan would not resemble the win in World War II where the Allies thoroughly defeated and then received the unconditional surrenders of Germany and Japan. The end will be negotiated and conditional.

A ‘win’ would see the Afghan government and its security forces have sufficient capacity to secure Afghanistan’s future.

A ‘win’ would see a durable Afghan state, with the government, the security forces and the population aligned against a marginalized Taliban.

A ‘win’ is an Afghanistan that does not fragment and endures as a state that is inhospitable to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) and other Islamists groups.

Sectarian War Is Looming Over Afghanistan

By Rustam Ali Seerat

On July 22, 2016 twin suicide bombers attacked a rally of the Shiite Hazara community, taking the lives of more than 80 people. More than 250 were injured. In November 2016, a suicide attacker targeted a Shiite mosque in Kabul, killing 27 members of the Shiite Hazara community. On June 6, 2017 in an attack on Herat Jamma Masjid, seven Shiite Hazaras were killed by a suicide bomber. On August 2, in the same city, a suicide attack blew up a Shiite mosque, claiming the lives of 29 worshipers. Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (the group’s outfit in South Asia) claimed responsibility for each of these attacks.

The Taliban, a Sunni religious group, so far has attacked the citizens of Afghanistan regardless of their sectarian beliefs. However, in recent months their bombings and suicide attacks have also been concentrated on the Shiite populated areas of Kabul, the capital. In a more recent attack on August 5, 2017, the Taliban and ISIS teamed up and took control of a village in Sar-e Pul province inhabited by the Shiite Hazaras. According to official reports the militants have slaughtered at least 60 men, women, and children and took more than 150 families as hostages. At the time of this writing, 235 hostages have been released, after mediation by a neighboring village’s elders, but around 80 are still captives.

11 August 2017

Positive attitude raises hopes for resolution of Pakistan-India water dispute

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: A constructive engagement between Pakistan and India during the recently held water talks in Washington has raised hopes for an amicable resolution of this dispute, according to diplomatic sources.

The World Bank, which hosted the talks at its headquarters two weeks ago, also noticed this positive change and mentioned it in a press release on Aug 1, noting that the “meetings … were held in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation”.

Islamabad and New Delhi disagree over construction of the Kishenganga (330MW) and Ratle (850MW) hydroelectric power plants being built by India. (The World Bank is not financing either project). Islamabad contends that the technical design features of the two plants contravene the Indus Waters Treaty.

The plants are on a tributary of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers, respectively.

An international expert, who closely monitors the Pakistan-India water talks, told Dawn this was the first time in many years that delegates “held a constructive discussion, instead of merely stating their official positions”.

The expert said in previous talks “sometimes the two sides did not even exchange formal greetings”.

They would “just read the statements they brought with them and leave, but this time it was different,” he added.

US’S DEEPENING AFGHAN QUAGMIRE

Hiranmay Karlekar

A US withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan is likely to bring down the Kabul regime. The belief that this will not affect American fortunes is untenable

The recent joint attack by the Islamic State (IS) and Taliban, which killed over 50 persons in Afghanistan’s Mirzawalan village in the northern Sar-e-Pul Province, was the third joint operation by the two organisations in recent times. This suggests a significant turn in their relationship. They had, until recently, clashed regularly in search of supremacy ever since the IS established a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in 2015. The already beleaguered Afghan Government would find itself in serious difficulty if the new-found cooperation continues.

Also meriting attention is the report that the massacre occurred after the Afghan Local Police (ALP) guarding the village was overcome in a 48-hour-long battle. The positive side here is that, unlike on many past occasions, when uniformed forces fled at the beginning of trouble, the ALP fought. More important, this is not the first time when the Afghan Army and the other constituents of the security forces have shown a willingness to fight.

The negative aspect is that the unit was defeated. This could be because it was heavily outnumbered, and/or because of the known weaknesses afflicting the Afghan security forces—poor leadership and inadequate training, weapons and equipment. Unless the insufficiencies in each of these areas are addressed, one cannot rule out the possibility of the Afghan forces going under.