1 February 2014

Empowerment of a Power House: The Infantry Battalion

IssueVol. 28.4 Oct-Dec 2013| Date : 31 Jan , 2014

By age-old convention, most wars have various forms of tactical operations undertaken under one overall plan – set-piece, irregular and Special Operations, for example. Indeed, the so called ‘conventional war’ has always had unconventional tactical recourses built into it. The infantry battalion has been in lead role in such irregular or unconventional operations, its flexibility of structure, weaponry and training allowing it to be moved by any mode of transport and fielded in any of the kind of aforesaid operations – all with equal proficiency and without much ado. The final test may, therefore, be to evaluate the significant flexibility which the infantry battalion has traditionally possessed.

“Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot but make it hot by striking.” —William Sprague

The central concern must be about the intangible assets that go to impart battle winning characteristics to any military unit…

Days of the Infantry

Evolution of the infantry as the decisive arm of war fighting is a phenomenon moored at the rise of British power in India, around the middle of the eighteenth century. Before that, victory favoured that force which committed its cavalry more effectively. After its introduction in the First Battle of Panipat, artillery joined as the second battle winner. Notably, these arms had generally been fighting as distinct elements of battle, inter-arm coordination being difficult if not impossible to implement. Arguably, it was the period of the Carnatic Wars and the Battles of Plassey and Buxar when the infantry’s steadfast defence from fortified redoubts followed by ‘volley and charge’ tactics carried the day, with artillery and cavalry playing their designated roles to prescribe the outcome1. Indeed, having conquered India with their ‘Sepoys’, it was the British who crowned the infantry as the ‘Queen of Battle’. It is important to understand as to why they chose to do so – because similar factors prevail even today.

With the decline of the Mughal Empire, horse-cavalry became difficult to maintain. Horses had to be imported from West Asia over a tedious logistics chain and bred in large depots. Obviously, it was frightfully expensive to raise and maintain cavalry. Development of the artillery, having earlier pushed the elephant arm to the services role, made cavalry charges even more costly to execute. An overseas trading company, stingy with investments as it had to be, the British East India Company, therefore, found it expedient to build up the infantry’s role in their campaigns. Development of field-craft, field works and tactical ground manoeuvres with high-technology artillery in support thus turned into an effective recourse of battle dominance, while the cavalry reconnoitred and shaped the battlefield before being committed to deliver coup de grace.2

Federalism and Foreign Policy: Making of India's Neighbourhood Policies

V Suryanarayan
Former Senior Professor, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras

The IPCS should be complemented for initiating a healthy debate on what role federal units should play in the making of India’s foreign policy. This essay is a perspective from Chennai.

India borders Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Maldives. India’s relations with each neighbouring country will therefore have its immediate fallout on the contiguous Indian sates. India-Pakistan relations will have an effect on Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir; India-China relations will affect Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. India-Nepal relations will spill over to Bihar, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim and West Bengal; India-Bhutan relations will impinge upon West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam; India-Myanmar relations will have its fall out on Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram; India-Bangladesh relations will affect West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam; India-Sri Lanka relations are closely intertwined with the politics of Tamil Nadu and India-Maldives relations will have its impact on Minicoy Islands. Relations with Thailand and Indonesia have yet to take off in a big way and have thus not been mentioned. 

During the era of one-party dominance, New Delhi pursued a foreign policy that it considered to be in India’s national interest. In that process, on several occasions, the interests and sensitivities of the contiguous Indian states were not taken into consideration. To illustrate, the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact of October 1964, by which large sections of the people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) were given Indian citizenship was concluded without taking into considerations the wishes of the affected people. It was also opposed by important political sections in Tamil Nadu. Rajagopalachari, Kamaraj Nadar, Krishna Menon, Annadurai and Ramamurthy criticised the inhuman agreement as a betrayal of the Gandhi-Nehru legacy. Similarly the India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary agreements of 1974 and 1976 which ceded the island of Kachchatheevu to Sri Lanka and bartered away traditional fishing rights enjoyed by Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay region was opposed by the ruling party and the opposition in Tamil Nadu. 

Even constructive suggestions made by the government of Tamil Nadu for improvement of bilateral relations were ignored by the Mandarins in outh Block. Chief Minister CN Annadurai was deeply concerned with the involuntary repatriation of Tamil labourers from Burma consequent to the nationalisation of retail trade and the related issue of non-payment of compensation due to them. After analysing the pros and cons of the issue, Annadurai wrote a letter to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suggesting that India should enter into a long-term trade agreement with Burma for import of rice, and compensation due to Burmese repatriates could be adjusted in the proposed deal. It may be recalled that in the mid-1960s, India was facing an acute shortage of food grain. It is unfortunate, but true, that this concrete proposal did not elicit any favourable response from New Delhi. 

India Invites Japan To Develop Infrastructure In Its Northeast

India has reportedly invited Japanese firms to develop infrastructure in a region disputed between India and China.
February 01, 2014

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to New Delhi last weekend resulted in a fairly long list of advances in the strategic partnership between India and Japan. I’ve so far discussed the ramifications of the security and defense aspects of Abe’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, including the positive momentum on the US-2 amphibious aircraft sale. One development that came out of last weekend is being pitched as a economic advancement but has important strategic implications in the increasingly complicated India-Japan-China triangle: India reportedly invited Japan to invest in overland infrastructure in its northeastern region, particularly in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is disputed almost in its entirety by China.

A report in The Times of India states that “Japanese companies will have the opportunity to help the development of the northeast specially to build roads, and aid agriculture, forestry and water supply and sewerage in these states.” Developing infrastructure has been an oft-stated priority for India’s central government but it has largely been unable to deliver to the extent necessary in the country’s remote northeast. By contrast, China has made a point of developing roads and infrastructure on its side of the disputed border in an attempt to demonstrate value to the local population.

In late November 2013, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee traveled to Arunachal Pradesh and affirmed India’s sovereignty over the region; the visit was later condemned by China. Mukherjee told the Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly that “The northeast of India provides a natural bridge between us and South East Asia. The essential philosophy of our ‘Look East Policy’ is that India must find its destiny by linking itself more and more with its Asian partners and the rest of the world.” Mukherjee mostly focused his visit to Arunachal Pradesh on promising additional development and infrastructure support from New Delhi. Inviting Japan to invest in the state sends a positive signal at this point and solidifies the India-Japan partnership (at China’s expense in this case).

Japan is already a major partner for India in several infrastructure projects across the country such as the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). Japanese firms will also help develop a new port facility in Chennai. It remains to be seen if Japanese involvement in Arunachal Pradesh could drive China farther away from India and Japan; while both countries import heavily from China, neither have particularly positive political ties with China. India and China fought a war in 1962 and are engaged in multiple territorial disputes. Japan and China are also engaged in a territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea that has grown increasingly heated over the past year.

China refers to Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet and claims upwards of 90 percent of the state’s territory as its own. Currently, India actively discourages Chinese investment in the region. In 2007, China blocked a loan requested for the state by India at the Asian Development Bank on the grounds of the dispute over Arunachal Pradesh.

Beyond Mullahs and Marxists

February 1, 2014

The Hindu Photo Archives LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: “During my travels I found young Muslims vigorously debating the ‘challenges’ facing India’s 170-million-strong Muslim community, and what it should do to haul itself out of the hole it is in.” A scene during Partition.

The notion that a practising Muslim cannot be liberal has become conventional wisdom, but over the past decade it has all changed, writes Hasan Suroor in his new book, India’s Muslim Spring. Excerpts from the book

A Hindu friend once told me, even as he profusely apologized for his bluntness, that there was only one kind of Muslim — the fundamentalist kind. The idea of a ‘liberal Muslim’ was a ‘misnomer’ according to him. Such a person was first and foremost a liberal who also happened to be a Muslim because of the sheer accident of having been born in a Muslim family.

‘Their liberalism doesn’t derive from Islam. It has nothing to do with their being Muslims. They are liberals despite being Muslims and not because they are Muslims. I have yet to meet a devout Muslim who doesn’t have fundamentalist views. And mind you, I’m 70 plus and have known at least three generations of Muslims,’ he said.

The notion that a practising Muslim cannot be liberal has become conventional wisdom. And, to be honest, I have often found myself broadly agreeing with this view. Working in Delhi as a journalist until the late 1990s, I had a hard time finding sane, liberal voices, even in educated Muslim circles, on issues such as free speech, Muslim personal law, women’s rights, and secularism. There were either the agnostic/atheist, mostly left-wing secular Muslims who felt almost embarrassed to be defined by their religious identity, or there were ‘mainstream’ devout Muslims — defensive, insular, intolerant and deeply suspicious of their secular peers contemptuously dismissing them either as communists or government stooges.

War divides, trade unites

Wagah border trade can boost India-Pakistan relations
Davinder Kumar Madaan

Trucks carrying tomatoes cross over to Pakistan at Wagha. A Tribune file photo

THE recent meeting of the Commerce Minister of Pakistan with his Indian counterpart on the margin of the 5th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Business Leaders Conclave in New Delhi decided that Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) and normal trade relations between India and Pakistan would be implemented by the end of February 2014. Both countries agreed to open the Wagah-Attari Land Customs Station operational on all seven days of each week, and liberalisation of the business visa regime. Further, on January 22, 2014, Pakistan approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a deal to buy electricity from India for which an inter-connection will be built between Amritsar and Lahore. Earlier, India offered to export electricity to the tune of 500 MW to Pakistan. In fact, the important milestone for their mutual trade took place on March 20, 2012, when Pakistan switched over from this Positive List of 1,963 items to the Negative List of 1,209 items that cannot be imported from India. Thus, more than 7,500 items became importable from India. All steps by the two countries are expected to accelerate the process of their mutual trade relations as there are tremendous gains due to their geographical proximity and contiguity of territories, which can help in saving the transportation and transhipment costs.

Though enormous trade potential between India and Pakistan exists, still they realised less than 8 per cent of the potential. Nearly 70 per cent of what Pakistan consumes is from imports, but its imports from India are very less. During 2012, the official trade between India and Pakistan could have increased from US$ 2.1 billion to US$ 29.8 billion (14.2 times), provided both had removed certain irritants in the way of trade. Pakistan's tariff on import from India was as high as 100 per cent on black tea, 70 per cent on cardamoms, 31.9 per cent on woven fabrics, and 30 per cent on tomatoes, chickpeas and cumin seeds. India's tariff was as high as 42.8 per cent on cotton fabrics, 30 per cent on sesamum seeds, and 24 per cent on dates.

The Wagah border is very important for exploiting the trade potential between India and Pakistan. During 2012-13, 34 per cent of the total bilateral trade was via this land route. Both countries resumed the truck movement at the Attari/Wagah border on October 1, 2007. With the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) on April 13, 2012, the number of trucks crossing the Attari/Wagah border increased from 51 in 2009-10 to 207 per day in 2012-13. The items imported included cement, chemicals, gypsum, dry dates, dry fruits, float glass, marble stone and sand. The items that were exported to Pakistan were potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cotton, meat, ginger, garlic, green chillies, soyabeans, newsprint, polypropylene, carbon dioxide in liquid form, etc.

Pakistan’s myths and manipulations

February 01, 2014

The Pakistani mind is encouraged by the state to nurse certain myths about why the country is in trouble.

The uneasy alliance with America is crumbling, and al-Qaeda and affiliates are more popular than ever.

The Pakistani mind is encouraged by the state to nurse certain myths about why the country is in trouble. The foreign office, ever articulating the current military thinking, encourages this mythmaking by not coming clean on matters that exercise the collective mind.

The first myth is that India must not be present in Afghanistan. Why? Because India threatens Pakistan’s security through its consulates; it is already busy abetting insurgency in Balochistan, for which Pakistan need not present any evidence to India. The Taliban are killing people because “external powers” are manipulating them. America has its own designs on the region, including Central Asia; it is helping India become the big power in South Asia as part of the American “pivot” against China. But on the ground, non-state actors incubated by the state (that is, the army) to carry out cross-border proxy wars are killing innocent people, most of their acts criminal rather than revolutionary because there is money in it. The ultimate myth is that the state is under threat from without and not from within, despite a former army chief’s assertion that it is under threat from within.

These are signs of where Pakistan is headed, its mind collectively warped. A number of American analysts have written books saying Pakistan just didn’t deliver on its commitments as an ally and was in fact colluding with terror; that the Pakistani state was in crisis and couldn’t help itself let alone help the US; that the Pakistan army was internally divided and its intelligence agencies were following strategies that crisscrossed with the grand design of the Taliban-al-Qaeda combine; and that, because of the ongoing collapse of the state, al-Qaeda was bound to make a comeback in Pakistan after being ousted from the Islamic world by drone attacks.

Former US secretary of defence Robert Gates, in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, says, “Although I would defend them (Pakistan) in front of the (American) Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse and endangering our supply line, I knew that they were really no ally at all… The US never thought of consulting Pakistan before raiding Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound because it feared that the Inter-Services Intelligence was protecting him. Empowering the Pakistani military at the cost of democratic institutions was an American mistake and Washington’s personalisation of relations with different autocrats has significantly weakened the state of Pakistan.”


31 January 2014

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Friday met members of the committee formed to hold talks with the Taliban and instructed them to initiate peace talks immediately, a media report said.

The four-member committee, which includes journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai, former ambassador and expert on Afghanistan affairs Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ISI official Amir Shah and Irfan Siddiqui, columnist and special assistant to the prime minister on national affairs, was formed Wednesday. The panel met Sharif to discuss the dialogue strategy, Geo News quoted sources as saying. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar was also present at the meeting.

The prime minister said he wanted to make efforts to restore peace and directed the interior minister to keep him informed about the progress of the team. Sharif also asked the panel to open communication channels with the factions that are ready to take part in the dialogue process. The report, quoting informed sources, said it was decided in the meeting that the committee should be able to exercise autonomy during talks with the Taliban.

Ten Fictions that Pakistani Defense Officials Love to Peddle

January 31, 2014 

The U.S.-Pakistan “strategic dialogue” has restarted yet again. I would be remiss if I did not point that it has never been strategic and it has certainly not been a dialogue. No doubt the Pakistanis are worried that wary American taxpayers and their congressional representatives may close the checkbook for good when the last U.S. soldier departs from Afghanistan. In the spirit of perpetual rent-seeking, Pakistani defense officials have recently alighted upon Washington to offer the same tired and hackneyed narratives that aretailored to guilt the Americans into keeping the gravy train chugging along.

Here are the top ten ossified fictions that Pakistani defense officials are pedaling and what you need to know to call the “Bakvas Flag” on each of them.

1. “Our relationship should be strategic rather than transactional.”

Nonsense and here’s why. For the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to be “strategic,” there should be a modicum of convergence of interests in the region if not beyond. Yet, there is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, Pakistan seems most vested in undermining U.S. interests in the region. In the name of the conflict formerly known as the Global War on Terror (GWOT), the United States has given Pakistan some $27 billion in military and financial aid as well as lucrative reimbursements. However, during these same years, Pakistan has continued to aid and abet the Afghan Taliban and allied militant groups such as the Haqqani Network. These organizations are the very organizations that have killed American military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan along with those of our allies in theInternational Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and countless moreAfghans, in and out of uniform. This is in addition to the flotilla of Islamist militant groups that Pakistan uses as tools of foreign policy in India. Foremost among them is the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is proscribed by the United States and which is responsible for the most lethal terror operations in India and, since 2006, has openly operated against Americans in Afghanistan.

2. “The United States has been an unreliable ally.”

Rubbish. Pakistani officials enjoy invoking the two treaties, the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Southeast Treaty Organization (SEATO) through which the United States and Pakistan ostensibly were allies. They lament that despite these partnerships and commitments, the United States did not help Pakistan in its wars with India (1965 and 1971) and even aided non-aligned India in its 1962 war with Communist China. It should be noted that Americans were never party to CENTO; rather, they maintained an observer status, and Americans were leery of letting the Pakistanis join SEATO, fearing that it was a ruse to suck the alliance into the intractable Indo-Pakistan dispute. In point of fact, Pakistani officials beginning with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, and General Ayub Khanrepeatedly sought to join American military alliances in exchange for money and war materiel.

China’s Deceptively Weak (and Dangerous) Military

In many ways, the PLA is weaker than it looks – and more dangerous.
By Ian Easton
January 31, 2014

In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.

China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.

Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.

Not to be outdone by the conventional army, China’s powerful strategic rocket troops, the Second Artillery Force, still uses cavalry units to patrol its sprawling missile bases deep within China’s vast interior. Why? Because it doesn’t have any helicopters. Equally scarce in China are modern fixed-wing military aircraft. So the Air Force continues to use a 1950sSoviet designed airframe, the Tupolev Tu-16, as a bomber (its original intended mission), a battlefield reconnaissance aircraft, an electronic warfare aircraft, a target spotting aircraft, and an aerial refueling tanker. Likewise, the PLA uses theSoviet designed Antonov An-12 military cargo aircraft for ELINT (electronic intelligence) missions, ASW (anti-submarine warfare) missions, geological survey missions, and airborne early warning missions. It also has an An-12 variant specially modified for transporting livestock, allowing sheep and goats access to remote seasonal pastures.

The Chinese Military's Toughest Opponent: Corruption

Is Xi Jinping willing to bring his anti-corruption drive to bear on the People’s Liberation Army?
February 01, 2014

South China Morning Post reported details this week on an official government raid of the home of Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, one of the highest-ranking PLA officers to ever be investigated for graft. Gu, who used to be the deputy chief of the PLA’s General Logistics Department, reportedly had quite a collection of treasures at his home in Henan Province, including “a pure gold statue of Mao Zedong, a gold wash basin, a model boat made of gold and crates of Maotai liquor.”

For all the recent fervor in the United States over China’s military modernization programs, corruption within the ranks could be weakening these efforts behind the scenes. According to Xinhua, China’s official defense budget for 2013 was $114.3 billion, a 10.7 percent increase over 2012. Western analysts such as Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff have noted that it is incredibly difficult to tell exactly what this money is being used for. “China still does not release even basic information that would provide insight into intra-PLA spending priorities, including a budget breakdown by service, the total amount spent on weapons imports, or the procurement costs of specific weapons and platforms,” they told the National Bureau of Asian Research in 2013.

It’s worth wondering, though, if the Chinese government itself keeps a careful eye on where all this money goes. Given the amounts of money Chinese civilian officials have been convicted of embezzling—over $28 million in the case of former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun—if there are similar levels of corruption in the PLA, a significant chunk of China’s defense budget (both reported and unreported) might be used not to develop new weapons systems, but to pad officers’ pockets. There haven’t been nearly as many public reports on corruption in the PLA, but the occasional investigation does suggest the scale of the problem. In 2005, the last military official to be toppled by corruption charges, Adm. Wang Shouye, was rumored to have stolen almost $20 million.

In April 2012, PLA General Liu Yuan, the political commissar of the PLA’s General Logistics Department (and rumored to be a close friend of Xi Jinping’s) gave a series of candid speeches on the issue of corruption in the PLA. According toForeign Policy, Liu told PLA officers that “no country can defeat China … only our own corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting.” In addition to misusing funds, Liu also pointed to the problem of effectively buying promotions, another issue that the civilian and military spheres seem to share. This could have serious repercussions on the efficacy of Chinese military leadership.

On Iran, compromise is needed

After Iran and the major powers signed onto an interim deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, expectations were high. Over the past week, they have fallen sharply as Iranian officials have made tough public comments and Israel’s prime minister has reaffirmed his opposition to almost any conceivable deal, a skepticism shared by several influential U.S. senators. This does not mean a final deal with Tehran is impossible, but it does mean that both sides, Tehran and the West, need to start thinking creatively about how to bridge what is clearly a wide divide and how to get around the main obstacle they will face — which is not abroad but at home.

The Iranian statements that have attracted so much attention came from both the foreign minister and president. The former, Mohammad Javad Zarif, explained to CNN’s Jim Sciutto that, contrary to what Washington had repeatedly claimed , Iran “did not agree to dismantle anything.” Later, in an interview with me also on CNN, President Hassan Rouhani explained that Iran would not destroy any of its existing centrifuges. He also indicated to me that Iran would not shut down its heavy-water reactor at Arak, a point of contention with the West, which worries that the facility can produce plutonium capable of making a bomb.

Iran and America have fundamentally different views about an acceptable final deal. On the basis on my interview with Rouhani and talks with other Iranian officials, my sense is that the Iranian vision is as follows: Iran will provide the world with assurances and evidence that its nuclear program is civilian, not military. This means that the country would allow unprecedented levels of intrusive inspections at all facilities. This process has already begun. The interim agreement calls for international inspections at Iran’s centrifuge production factories, mines and mills. This week, for the first time in nearly a decade,inspectors have entered Iranian mines.

But Iran’s officials are determined not to accept any constraints on their program. They speak often about the importance of being treated like any other country that has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which to them means having the unfettered right to enrich uranium to produce electricity. In fact, the treaty says nothing about enrichment activities specifically. Many countries with nuclear power plants do not enrich but others do, which allows Iran to claim, reasonably, that enrichment has so far been a permitted activity. The only criterion the treaty lays out is that all nuclear production must be “for peaceful purposes.”

Enable the Warrior-Diplomat

January 30, 2014 

The mission in Afghanistan is either going to change into something much smaller—about 10,000 troops—or it will end. After two long foreign occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the appetite of the American public for lengthy stabilization operations is gone. Cries for “returning to our roots” and “getting back to the basics” will echo through the corridors of the Pentagon. Top line fiscal cuts will cause the bottom lines of “nonessential” training and education programs to dwindle. We’ll lean out our personnel numbers, stick to the basics of offensive and defensive land, amphibious, maritime and airborne operations, and forget the “softer side” of basic combat operations. Never mind training for what happens after initial combat ends—nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and other governmental organizations will take care of that, right?

Such outspoken advocates of “returning to the basics” should keep in mind the timeless observation of former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who was more right than he knew when he said “All politics is local.” This is true in Afghanistan, and will continue to be so wherever Washington tells the military to deploy, even in wars that we may initially view as “conventional,” like Iraq in 2003. And even as Washington spurns any operation with a whiff of counterinsurgency, U.S. forces remain involved in missions that require partnering with and assisting allied militaries and community leaders. Evan Munsing’s recent article does well to highlight the harsh reality that locally brokered solutions in Afghanistan will be the product of a weak central government. However, given the failed imposition of a centralized counterinsurgency approach to a decentralized problem in Afghanistan, this author would argue that the need for well-trained “warrior-diplomats” is key for future deployments in resource-constrained environments. COIN doctrine itself was not the problem. The strategy was the problem. The lack of a clearly defined political endstate gave rise to interagency parochialism and regional interpretations of “progress” and “stability.” Some units improvised local solutions, in anticipation of those inevitable locally brokered post-withdrawal deals of which Munsing speaks. This was certainly the case with the U.S. Marines in Sangin District of Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 when they were given the nebulous mission to “conduct full-spectrum counterinsurgency operations in order to extend the governance and economic development of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.” And as the mission in Afghanistan draws down, it is worth looking back on some lessons learned. For even when dealt a strategy that lacks clearly defined political objectives, units at the operational level can adapt and counter instability using a locally ascertained solution.

The centralized government solution that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was tasked to realize was ignorant of cold hard facts on Afghan society, economy, and history; namely, the feudal traits of Afghan society, a piddling economy, and a history of being the proverbial doormat of invading forces heading into and out of Southwest Asia. Consequently, the operational objectives that the Marines in Sangin and all other allied forces in Afghanistan were ordered to pursue conflicted egregiously with the political realities of individual districts to the point of being tactically ineffective. So, like good Marines, they adapted to the local version of stability in the final months of 2010. Was the result the “picture of success” envisioned in ISAF headquarters and Washington? Only time and commitment would tell.

To retake cities, Iraq turns to Sunni tribes

By Loveday Morris

BAGHDAD — In his battle against an al-Qaeda-led insurgency in western Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is providing arms and funds to unnatural bedfellows — Sunni tribesmen who complain of being neglected by his Shiite-dominated government.

The government has trucked weapons and approved millions of dollars in payments to tribesmen in Anbar province in a bid to win their help ousting al-Qaeda-linked fighters who took over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi earlier this month. The United States is also speeding up its supply of small arms to Iraq, urging authorities to pass them on to tribesmen.

The support is a desperate attempt by Maliki to reassert control of Anbar by reviving a wilted initiative — the organization of Sunni tribes and former insurgents into the so-called Awakening movement, also known as the Sahwa — that the United States used to dramatically weaken the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq during the final years of the war there.

But the effort faces major challenges. The ranks of the paramilitary movement have dwindled since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011, and Maliki is facinginsurrection from parts of the country’s wider Sunni minority, who complain of mistreatment and subjugation at the hands of his government.

With the government wary of arming tribesmen who may turn against it, trust is lacking on both sides. Still, some observers say a revival might be the best chance Maliki, who has ruled out sending the Shiite-dominant Iraqi army into Sunni-majority Fallujah, has to pacify Anbar.

“No one can face the terrorists without the help of the Sunnis. The Americans couldn’t eliminate them without the Sunnis, and nor can the government,” said Dhafer al-Ani, a spokesman for the Sunni Mutahidun political party.

To bring them on board, Maliki has recently said there is no limit on arming and equipping tribal fighters. Government spokesman Ali al-Moussawi said the Iraqi cabinet has approved $3.4 million for payments to tribesmen and more than $17 million for infrastructure projects in Anbar.

Ukraine: Heading towards civil war?

Nidhi Sinha
30 January 2014

The situation in Ukraine has deteriorated sharply with violence marring the anti-government protests. Opposition activists claimed that five people were killed in clashes, while government has acknowledged the death of two and a police officer. 

The sudden deterioration has led to Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first president after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, to warn that the country was on the "brink of civil war" while asking the parliament (Verkhovna Rada)to "act with great responsibility". Political forces in Ukraine are engaged in talks aimed at diffusing the situation. As part of the compromise measures outlined by President Viktor Yanukovych, the Parliament (Rada) is debating an amnesty for protestors arrested during the agitation. 

In the last week, 10 of the 27 regional governments have been overturned and government buildings taken over by the protesters in a direct challenge to the President's authority. President Yanukovych's supporters have termed these as violations of law and claim external support is being provided to the protesters.

The sticking points for a final compromise are, however, Yanukovych's insistence that the protestors immediately leave their current camps in Kiev and elsewhere, while the opposition maintains that the barricades will be pulled down only when the President steps down, announcing early parliamentary and presidential elections.

These waves of demonstrations started in November last year after Yanukovych decided not to sign the association agreement with European Union. This, followed by acceptance of the Russian $15 billion economic bailout package coupled with lowering of prices for natural gas supplies, created the public perception that Ukraine was moving away from the EU towards the Moscow-promoted Eurasian Union.

The Ukrainian government justified the decision on economic grounds, arguing that the Russian offer was more beneficial to Ukraine than whatever the EU had offered, because the Russians did not impose any conditions similar to the IMF conditions embedded in the EU financial offer. Additionally, there were fears that the EU insistence on elimination of tariffs and monopolies would lead to the decimation of Ukrainian manufacturing, which would buckle in the competition with more efficient European producers. 

Iran and North Korea: The Nuclear 'Axis of Resistance'


A new U.S. intelligence report warns North Korea could resume exporting nuclear technology and material. That could spell trouble for U.S. efforts to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

The comprehensive nuclear deal Iran is negotiating with the West could be undermined by increased Iranian cooperation with North Korea, a country that the U.S. intelligence community reports is ramping up its nuclear enrichment and illicit export programs.

Iran has halted its enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level as part of the interim agreement it signed with the world’s major powers last November. Thattemporary deal doesn’t address Iran’s illicit trade with countries like North Korea, which has been building a massive complex of uranium-enriching centrifuges. Given North Korea’s penchant for selling Iran illicit technology, the risk of Pyongyang exporting nuclear technology is real, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

“North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor… illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities,” the U.S. intelligence community wrote in its annual Worldwide Threat Analysis, released Wednesday. And despite its repeated pledges “not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how, North Korea might again export nuclear technology.”

North Korea has already expanded its uranium-enrichment facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, and restarted a plutonium reactor at Yongbyon that was shut down in 2007, the IC report stated. North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last February.

Get Real(ist) About the Geneva Talks

January 30, 2014

Let me start by saying that I hate the Syria debate. I think it shows the worst of our national tendencies toward oversimplification, wishy-washiness, blind ideological fervor, and hopeless optimism. And yet, I feel compelled to participate. Clearly, I need an intervention.

What sparked this epiphany was the recent article in by Michael Doran and Michael O’Hanlon entitled “Why Syrian Peace Talks Will Fail.” Then another article by Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled “Stopping the Syria Contagion” was brought to my attention. Last, but certainly not least, the latest contribution to the Syria debate is Zachary Keck’s “America is Winning the Syrian Civil War.”

Starting with the last, because the last shall be first, Keck’s article is very interesting, and I am not sure I disagree with many of his conclusions. He leads with a haymaker: “The U.S. is right to seek a quick settlement to the civil war in Syria…[but] the legitimate desire to end the conflict does not diminish the reality that the U.S. is winning in Syria.” He further states, “Just as the U.S. has been the primary benefactor of the Syrian civil war, no third party has been a bigger loser in Syria than Iran.”

That second bit—that no party has been a bigger loser than Iran—is important, but underappreciated. The material and moral costs for Iran (and Hezbollah) have been significant. Scarce resources have been utilized to support Assad’s regime, which could be used elsewhere. Equally importantly, as Keck points out, Iran’s stature in the Arab world has collapsed, and its relations with both states and key non-state actors such as Hamas have deteriorated. These are important things to notice, since a consistent trope in the “take a hard line on Syria” side of the debate has been that we have to halt the rise of Iranian power and influence in the region. Keck concludes with the warning that humanitarian concerns, the growth of potentially explosive sectarianism, and the possibility of spillover into neighboring countries make a negotiated solution in America’s best interest.


January 31, 2014

Is Al Qaeda fielding its JV team? The answer depends on what game we’re playing.

The President’s recent characterization of Al Qaeda in an interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, and the subsequent discussion it has sparked, illustrates a basic misunderstanding on the part of many self-proclaimed foreign policy thinkers about the on-going conflict between the U.S. and its allies, and the global network of Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist organizations. As the President put it, “…if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant… I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.” The President’s implication here is that Al Qaeda’s highest aspiration, which would require their “varsity” level of effort, is to strike against the U.S. homeland, while less capable versions of Al Qaeda must satisfy themselves with fighting local conflicts having peaked at their maximum operational reach. However, what the President’s assessment of modern jihadism fails to take into account is the distinction and the interrelation between decisive and shaping operations. Without a greater understanding of the difference, this conversation will remain an echo chamber of cross-purposed argument.

Decisive and shaping are two doctrinal terms which originally defined and clarified the efforts of various forces fighting traditional, linear, force on force wars. Decisive operations are those that serve to accomplish the specified task at hand—seizing key terrain, destroying a specified enemy formation, etc. Shaping operations, on the other hand, serve to shape the battlefield in a manner more advantageous to the main effort. These could include artillery fire to attrite enemy forces or infantry seizing nearby high ground from which to provide supporting fires. Understanding the distinction between these two often has little to do with the form which these attacks or efforts take. Rather, one must understand that the shaping attack sets the conditions for success by the decisive effort, not the other way around. A commander will allocate his assets and array his forces in a way that will most likely achieve success in his decisive effort. To return to the President’s basketball analogy, sinking baskets is any team’s decisive effort. Passing and defense would be shaping efforts. While all of these are important, a varsity team would be one which best accomplishes its decisive goal of scoring more points than an adversary.

DNI Clapper: Transparency is the Way Forward

January 30, 2014

The primary lesson that emerges from the unauthorized disclosures of classified intelligence information by Edward Snowden is that U.S. intelligence agencies must be more transparent in their operations, said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper yesterday.

“The major takeaway for us, certainly for me, from the past several months is that we must lean in the direction of transparency, wherever and whenever we can,”DNI Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“With greater transparency about these intelligence programs the American people may be more likely to accept them,” he said, promising “further declassification.”

Another possibility, he acknowledged, is that even with greater transparency the American people will choose not to accept certain kinds of intelligence programs.

“If dealing with reduced capacities is what we need to ensure the faith and confidence of the American people and their elected representatives, then we in the intelligence community will work as hard as we can to meet the expectations before us,” DNI Clapper said.

Already, the Snowden disclosures have caused “profound damage” to U.S. intelligence, the DNI said.

“What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs. As a result, we’ve lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources, including some shared with us by valued partners.”

“Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security,” the DNI said.

The use of the word “accomplices” appeared to suggest that the DNI views the journalists who possess and report on the Snowden documents as Snowden’s partners in crime, and even as criminals themselves.

“Is it now the official view of the Obama administration that these journalists and media outlets are ‘accomplices’ in what they regard as Snowden’s crimes? If so, that is a rather stunning and extremist statement,” wrote Glenn Greenwald, who first reported on the Snowden releases last June.

But though it has never yet figured in an actual prosecution, the issue of criminal liability for journalists in this area is embedded in the law.

It’s true that there is no general legal prohibition on publication of classified information. (Congress passed such a statute in 2000, but President Clinton vetoedit.)

But there is a clear and specific prohibition on the willful disclosure of classified communications intelligence information. And that prohibition, in 18 U.S.C. 798, extends also to anyone who “publishes” such information.

NASA to make water on Moon and oxygen on Mars

Jan 30, 2014

NASA is planning to launch robotic missions to make water on the Moon in 2018 and oxygen on Mars in 2020.

The Moon mission will be the US space agency’s first attempt to demonstrate in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) beyond Earth.

The purpose of ISRU, or “living off the land” is to harness and utilise space resources to create products and services which enable and significantly reduce the mass, cost, and risk of near-term and long-term space exploration.

“Every pound that you don't have to launch from the Earth of dumb mass - things like water and air and propellant - means that you can add a pound of intelligent mass - an experiment, a computer, something designed to accomplish some job or give us some capability,” said lunar geologist Paul Spudis, with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

“Doing ISRU gives you incredible leverage because you’re changing the fraction of intelligent-to-dumb mass on your spacecraft in favour of the intelligent part,” he said.

The first in-space ISRU test is targeted for 2018, ‘Discovery News’ reported.

NASA plans to launch a mission called Resource Prospector that includes a rover with instruments to scout for telltale hydrogen, drill out samples, heat them and scan for water vapour and other volatiles on the moon.

Vapour also could be re-condensed to form a drop of water.

“A lot of the technologies have broader use than just lunar...It’s just a convenient location to be testing the ISRU technology,” said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters in Washington DC.

A second ISRU experiment is due to be aboard NASA’s next Mars rover, which is slated for launch in 2020.

The device, which is yet to be selected, would pull carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere, filter out dust and other particles and prepare the gas for chemical processing into oxygen.

The demonstration also could include actual oxygen production, the report said.

Defense expert calls for thousands of US troops in Africa

Published: January 30, 2014

In 2011, the U.S. military trained a battalion of roughly 700 Congolese troops as part of an effort to professionalize a force that has a reputation for lawlessness. U.S. efforts in Congo have been limited mainly to training. 

STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. should send a 5,000-strong security assistance brigade to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help stabilize a country ravaged by more than a decade of war, a prominent U.S. military analyst recommends.

In a “memorandum” to President Barack Obama, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution also urges the White House to send several hundred military advisers to Libya to help train that country’s fledgling armed forces.

“The United States should, with a focused effort and in partnership with other states, make a significant push to improve security in Africa,” O’Hanlon wrote in his Jan. 23 memo, which was posted on the Brookings website. “No massive deployments of U.S. troops would be needed, and in fact no role for American main combat units is required. But we should step up our game from the current very modest training efforts coordinated through Africa Command (AFRICOM).”

The recommendation comes at a time of increased concern about instability in certain parts of Africa. The list of hotspots is long: Mali, Somalia and across ungoverned spaces in the Sahel region of western and north-central Africa, where extremists have taken root, armed in large part with weapons looted from Libyan armories during NATO’s air assault on Moammer Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.

In addition, ethnic divisions have exploded into bloody violence in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the DRC.

AFRICOM has engaged in many of those hotspots, though U.S. military action generally takes the form of modestly sized training missions, intelligence gathering operations and logistical support to French forces on the ground in places like Mali.

It seems unlikely that the Obama administration would follow O’Hanlon’s recommendation.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, Obama emphasized that as the war in Afghanistan winds down, he would send U.S. forces into conflict zones only as a last resort.

“I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary. Nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts,” Obama said.