Archive for July 2009
By most accounts Pakistan’s military operation in the Swat Valley was successful. They drove militants out of the area and cleared the way for refugees to return. But there are problems which lay ahead, especially in the district’s largest city Mingora:
- Landowners and the economic elite fear returning because of a Taliban strategy to exploit class distinction and to target them for theft and kidnapping.
- Refugees returning home are confronted with some harsh realities of military occupation and a bankrupt local economy.
- And largely due to aerial bombings and Taliban sabotage, much of the area is in ruins.
Add to that today’s decapitation of a police constable and reports that most of Swat’s Taliban leadership is still at large.
The good news: police arrested the “godfather“
The battle for the “hearts and minds” is taking on a new twist, thanks to this book (reportedly issued by Mullah Omar) instructing Taliban to obey certain norms of conduct which include the treatment of prisoners and guidelines for suicide attacks to limit civilian (non-infidel) casualties.
“A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets. The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties.”
On most accounts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India this past week was a diplomatic success. She addressed India as it is – a burgeoning global power that deserves our attention. And although her trip didn’t result in much headway on global warming it did move forward a civilian nuclear power partnership, a defense deal that includes “end-use monitoring”, and the start of a procurement contract which may help US companies sell India up to 126 multi-role fighter aircraft.
Yet South Asia’s diplomatic challenges still abound. I think there are legitimate concerns that an increased US-India defense partnership may distract Pakistan from its internal counterinsurgency fight by shifting focus back to their conventional India threat; which, in turn, could hinder US goals for the Af-Pak theatre.
Additionally, the visit did little to push forward Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation goals, such as a reinvigoration of the NPT and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Possibly the biggest test of population-centric counterinsurgency is underway in Helmand province after 4,000 troops entered the territory for Operation Khanjar (Dagger) some 3 weeks ago. With the Taliban in retrograde defense – flushed from villages – US troops are moving forward, attempting to expand the central government’s reach and strengthen local government.
However, the civilian surge is considerably strained by resources and probably operating with less than 80 USAID and State Department personnel (estimates are based on this old article) . These civilians are tasked to spread development assistance over an area of almost 60,000 square kilometers, making it extremely difficult to reach major outlays of land.
Another key to the COIN strategy in Helmand is reducing the area’s poppy cultivation. To this end, US policy is now focused on crop replacement (over eradication) to create alternate economies aside from the poppy industry (Interestingly enough this is not the same approach that the coalition is taking).
However, this strategy has really only taken root in the northern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, areas which are much less reliant on the income from opium than is southern Afghanistan. Indeed, Helmand’s opium production accounts for over half of Afghanistan’s and 40% of the world’s total production. Not content with taking the time to introduce crop alternatives in Helmand, apparently the US has took its vengence on poppy plants by bombing the living sh*t out of them.
The military dropped a series of 1,000-pound bombs from planes on the mounds of poppy seeds and then followed with strikes from helicopters.
Another necessary goal for coalition troops is to enfranchise local voters and prepare them for the upcoming August 20 presidential and provincial elections. But these efforts are hampered by squabbles amongst intervening forces and the local population. As Pamela Constable writes, there are several elements that must be addressed before the Afghan government can replace Taliban authority in Helmand:
[US and British] officials said several factors, including a lack of qualified and educated workers in the remote province, a shortage of housing and office facilities for professionals from larger cities like Kandahar or Kabul, and a series of tensions and rivalries among various Afghan agencies, were impeding the kind of follow-up needed to convince residents that the Afghan government is credible, committed and a better alternative than the Taliban.
So, the outcome remains to be seen but the test is underway. The questions: Can we transform Helmand in the way we want, or will the operation become too cumbersome? If we do change it, will we need to stick around to ensure our changes remain? And if we succeed, do we want to continue with this approach to other areas of Afghanistan?
I want to nominate someone for World Class Dip-Shit: Fox pundit Ralph Peters for suggesting that the Taliban should kill Bowe Bergdahl.
There’s something about Obama’s plan to aid community colleges that really just warms my heart. Maybe its because I’m a product of a community college. But moreover it’s because I know that community colleges offer students a wider array of opportunities then most people give them credit for.
As a continuing master’s student, I almost feel the longer I stay in college the more I become high-minded and useless. How it makes me yearn for the days when I could have gotten myself an A.A. in a trade that would’ve given me valuable, productive employment.
But alas, I know the world needs PhDs, master’s degree students, and bachelors in political science (or at least I hope it does). But we also need more of what community colleges produce, i.e. nurses, graphic designers, security professionals, hemetologists, automotive techs, IT network administrators, dental techs, construction managers, child development specialists, and the list goes on and on.
So, +1 for Obama on this one.