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October 19, 2009

Comments

First Gary, glad to read you; it's a nice change of pace reading and responding to a piece with meat on the bones. Of course that makes the response all the more fun*:

"The threat to the U.S. that we're allegedly suppressing is immensely unclear at best. The cost that is being proposed we pay, in blood, and treasure, is far too high."

As luck would have it, there's a good counterpoint to this on TNR today.

*Alas, today has turned into one of those tough work days for me -- so I won't be able to engage this as much as I'd like.

For the record, I initially screwed up the paragraphing when I first posted this, but have now -- pshew -- finished fixing it all.

I hope.

It turns out that trying to format for both Blogger and Typepad simultaneously = not easiest thing in the world.

If anyone happens to find that I've gotten the paragraphing of anything off from the original articles, please point it out to me so I can fix it. Thanks.

Gary,

Great to see you here at Obsidian Wings, and I'm a big fan of your work.

But not a big fan of this whole "go deep" or "CT-only" strategy.

I'm going to articulate my own objections, not the objections of an imagined Obama Administration or what the U.S. has historically done, or what it should do. I can only defend my own position.

I'm for the McChrystal COIN strategy because:

1) It's the right thing to do for the Afghan people, including the Pashtuns, and it's what the majority of Afghans want. Polling in Afghanistan is hardly the most reliable, but every nationwide poll done indicates overwhelming preference of the Afghan people even for their own current incompetent government than for the Taliban. It also indicates big majorities in favor of continued presence of foreign troops. Foreign troops remain far more popular than the Taliban, even, and the Afghan National Army more popular than both.

2) I don't buy that the Taliban and al-Qaeda aren't buddies anymore. The Nightwatch article is assertion rather than fact. Peter Bergen writes up why at TNR here:

http://www.tnr.com/article/world/the-front

I'll point you specifically at the passages where Taliban fighters talk about the joint training and command with Arab fighters, which is drawn from this NEWSWEEK article:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/216235

Bergen also has extensive quotes from Mullah Dadullah, formerly the top Taliban field commander in 2005-2007, and numerous al-Qaeda figures. There has been absolutely no public break between Mullah Omar and bin Laden --- quite the opposite, in fact.

David Rohde's article makes clear that the Taliban have clearly grown more radical over time and under aerial assault in the FATA, not less.

Gotta run now, but I'll tack on a few more reasons later.

And here I was impressed at the length and breadth of your comments… ;)

In all seriousness though – it’s great to see you on the front page here Gary.

Steve, this was actually the short version. Really.

I cut all the stuff I had on the elections, and a couple of dozen more links, besides.

As it is, I expect it's only the exhaustion of a new infant that keeps Eric from flying in to kill me for taking advantage of the fact that -- as I'm sure he now regrets -- he forgot to give me a length limit. (Or if he did, I conveniently forgot.)

I should have another couple of posts tomorrow, but nothing quite so door-stoppy.

Assuming nothing goes wrong (I figured to be well finished with it by early this afternoon, but got hung up on stupid Typepad formatting issues for hours, instead), a hint on one: can we say "PATRIOT Act"?

I read through the "leaked" McChrystal report today and found it a mix of good and bad.

The good: It recognizes that killing civilians is bad.

The bad: I'm not convinced that the next 12 months are dramatically more important than the prior 12 months (or the prior 8 years, frankly).

Had he written his report in 2007, I doubt he would have written: The next 24 months aren't very important and require no new strategy. The 12 months after that will be very significant.

The Ugly: Military acronyms, including CIVCAS -- for those who thought the term collateral damage was too sentimental.

Bergen: "Though it may be tempting to think otherwise, we cannot defeat Al Qaeda without securing Afghanistan."

And Pakistan. And Somalia. And Yemen. And the South American terror triangle. And the unsecured militant regions of India. And all of Indonesia. And the Philippines. And Sudan. And everywhere on earth al Qaeda could flee.

Chasing this will-o'-the-wisp is what Osama bin Laden has said all along is his goal and strategy: why do we want to fulfill bin Laden's plan for him?

"But wouldn't the Taliban change its tune if it returned to power? Wouldn't Mullah Omar and his allies become deterrable in the same way that leaders of most other states are deterrable--and realize it is in their interest to drop Al Qaeda?"

This makes the mistake of treating the Taliban as a homogenous set of people, which they're not remotely. Which McChrystal and his aides know perfectly well.

In a section of this article I didn't quote for reasons of space:

[...] McChrystal identifies three main insurgent groups "in order of their threat to the mission" and provides significant details about their command structures and objectives.

The first is the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) headed by Mullah Omar, who fled Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and operates from the Pakistani city of Quetta.

"At the operational level, the Quetta Shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the coming year," according to the assessment.

Mullah Omar's insurgency has established an elaborate alternative government known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, McChrystal writes, which is capitalizing on the Afghan government's weaknesses. "They appoint shadow governors for most provinces, review their performance, and replace them periodically. They established a body to receive complaints against their own 'officials' and to act on them. They install 'shari'a' [Islamic law] courts to deliver swift and enforced justice in contested and controlled areas. They levy taxes and conscript fighters and laborers. They claim to provide security against a corrupt government, ISAF forces, criminality, and local power brokers. They also claim to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment."

"The QST has been working to control Kandahar and its approaches for several years and there are indications that their influence over the city and neighboring districts is significant and growing," McChrystal writes.

The second main insurgency group is the Haqqani network (HQN), which is active in southeastern Afghanistan and draws money and manpower "principally from Pakistan, Gulf Arab networks, and from its close association with al Qaeda and other Pakistan-based insurgent groups." At another point in the assessment, McChrystal says, "Al Qaeda's links with HQN have grown, suggesting that expanded HQN control could create a favorable environment" for associated extremist movements "to re-establish safe-havens in Afghanistan."

The third is the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin insurgency, which maintains bases in three Afghan provinces "as well as Pakistan," the assessment says. This network, led by the former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, "aims to negotiate a major role in a future Taliban government. He does not currently have geographical objectives as is the case with the other groups," though he "seeks control of mineral wealth and smuggling routes in the east."

Then there are all the local "Taliban," who vary from simple bandits and gangsters, to men who deeply resent foreign troops, to men who simply resent outside forces, as well as those with other motives.

Bergen then answers his own question: "It's impossible to know for sure."

Yes, it is. But harking back to pre-September 11th, 2001, is no answer. That was then; this is now; circumstances are very different.

"The point about Somalia and Yemen is unconvincing. Jihadists based there have shown no ability to hit targets anywhere but in their immediate neighborhoods. Many years after September 11, there is scant evidence that any senior Al Qaeda leaders have relocated to either place."

Bergen wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He goes back to the days of the Taliban government sheltering bin Laden to use that as evidence of one point, and then blithely avoids mentioning that al Qaeda used to be based in Somalia until U.S. pressure forced bin Laden and company to leave Somalia for Afghanistan. This is hardly a small or irrelevant point.

And this point seems downright cuckoo: "For its part, Somalia is probably too anarchic, and possibly too African as well, for the largely middle-class Arab membership of Al Qaeda."

What, compared to Afghanistan? I'd laugh if it weren't such serious business. Instead I simply snort and dismiss such "logic."

I mean, Somalia already was al Qaeda's base. Add to that that the wilds of Afghanistan is hardly a comfy middle-class place.

Bergen then hand-waves Pakistan aside. Well, "[t]he point about Pakistan serving as a safe haven is a bit more complicated," he says. And argues that not conquering all of Afghanistan "will almost certainly give Al Qaeda new momentum and the greater freedom of action that an expanded geographical ambit will facilitate."

And then he doesn't mention Pakistan again.

Well, that takes care of that question.

Bergen then switches to arguing Afghan polling. Change subjects rapidly is not an argument.

Bergen concludes that Afghanistan "can be a peaceful nation again. And, if America is to keep Al Qaeda at bay, it must be."

But arguing backwards from a desirable goal is neither a plan nor an analysis of what's practical, nor a comparison of costs versus benefits. It's simply assuming a conclusion. We call that "begging the question."

Which is, to say: a fallacy.

Excellent collection of different views. I've been trying to get a post up at TiO, but distractions abound.

I'm really glad to see the Chinese mentioned along with a look at this from a different perspective. The question I see is if someone doesn't step up, is it in the long term interest of the US to have a vacuum of power in Afghanistan? A lot of our debates have simply viewed this as a two player game and it is not.

While tequila has a similar position to mine, I don't necessarily agree completely with the assumptions some of the sources he notes bring. If one accepts that there will be some kind of US military presence in Afghanistan, what HRC asked becomes relevant:

"If the President decides not to send more troops to Afghanistan, morally, can he still keep 68,000 U.S. troops there?"

Given that I don't see how we can imagine a complete and total withdrawal from Afghanistan, I hope it's understandable why I have argued for following the McChrystal plan.

There was also this in the NYTimes, there was this about the Taliban's financial network.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed an elaborate system to tax the cultivation, processing and shipment of opium, as well as other crops like wheat grown in the territory they control, American and Afghan officials say. In the Middle East, Taliban leaders have sent fund-raisers to Arab countries to keep the insurgency’s coffers brimming with cash.

While the article goes on to argue that because everything is so cheap there, it may be impossible to do anything about it, I take that to mean that plans to disrupt these networks from a distance are illusory at best. Any attempt to address the problem is going to require engagement on multiple fronts, and to my mind, withdrawal is the opposite of this.

A lot of our discussions also treat Afghanistan as a singular entity rather than looking at the possibility of choosing particular areas of Afghanistan to make an impact. Frex, Japan recently dispatched a small number of civilian staff to a Provincial reconstruction team in Ghowr province (where the Lithuanian contingent is based), which led the PRT commander, Colonel Alvydas Siuparis, to note that “provinces like Ghowr [are] in need of greater support from international community than what it [receives at the] moment: being relatively more peaceful than surrounding regions, Ghowr does not always attract all the attention necessary for development of vital sectors.” (via Shingetsu Institute)

I'd also like to mention the new Japanese PM's recent discussions with Obama which put forward agricultural and job training support. It is impossible to imagine these kind of initiatives taking place alongside a commitment to a withdrawal to the levels where Americans wouldn't be in harm's way. The link isn't the best, but the most detailed discussions are in Japanese and are tied to Japan cancelling the refueling mission in the Indian ocean.

To make this a question about defeating the Taliban puts too narrow a focus on this. The problem is not what arises in the conditions that are found in Afghanistan, but the conditions themselves. It does not seem a coincidence that India is dealing with its own indigenous rebels, who claim a much different belief system than the Taliban. Not meaning to be too unserious, the phrase 'It's hard to remember your goal was to drain the swamp when you up to your ass in alligators' is what I find myself thinking. If you believe that draining the swamp is a vital task, you deal with the alligators. If you don't think it important and can be left for someone else to handle down the road, you leave it be. I can understand arguments that say the alligators are piled too high, but I don't like arguments that dismiss the problem of the swamp.

reply hung up in sp-m folder. if someone could release it, I'd appreciate it.

"There has been absolutely no public break between Mullah Omar and bin Laden"

Who has claimed there has been?

elm: good point.

elm: good point

Gary, nice to hear from you, great post.

Took a moment's look and thought to figure out how to do that, LJ, but done.

"...is it in the long term interest of the US to have a vacuum of power in Afghanistan?"

Easily answered: no, it isn't.

But innumerable things in the world aren't in the long term interest of the U.S.

"Given that I don't see how we can imagine a complete and total withdrawal from Afghanistan, I hope it's understandable why I have argued for following the McChrystal plan."

How does Austin Long's plan, which I quoted at length, equate to "a complete and total withdrawal from Afghanistan"? Ditto the idea in general, as outlined by Fred Kaplan, of demonstration zones?

I'm also rather unclear why you're quoting Eric Schmitt's article to me when I quoted it at length in my post, above, starting with "Eric Schmitt describes the diversity of Taliban funding today...."

"A lot of our discussions also treat Afghanistan as a singular entity rather than looking at the possibility of choosing particular areas of Afghanistan to make an impact."

This is exactly what I didn't do. Your reply seems oddly unresponsive to what I wrote.

"If you don't think it important and can be left for someone else to handle down the road, you leave it be. I can understand arguments that say the alligators are piled too high, but I don't like arguments that dismiss the problem of the swamp."

If you could quote the sentences in which I did this, I'd appreciate it.

"...it takes one back to Part II."

Thanks muchly for pointing that out, Jay C. Fixed.

I blame the stupid Typepad software which doesn't actually show you HTML, or let you hand-type it, unless you use the alternative where it inserts vast amounts of its own HTML, which makes it even more almost-impossible to write your own HTML unless you're one heck of a lot more expert at HTML than I am.

(In fairness, Blogger is now offering an "upgraded" editor that works the same stupid way; both prevent using simple, hand-written, HTML, and seem to assume that users are either complete idiots, or immensely expert at HTML, leaving no middle ground possible; but at least Blogger still offers the "upgrade" only as an option, and leaves the simple version available, as well -- though not if you want to make use of more recent templates, sigh.)

Honestly, though I'm going to be completely understanding of anyone who takes to breaking into software company offices and putting guns to the heads of executives and saying stop complicating your software -- it's not an "improvement."

elm: "The bad: I'm not convinced that the next 12 months are dramatically more important than the prior 12 months (or the prior 8 years, frankly)."

One of those various links/articles I didn't work in was this, by A. J. Rossmiller, which includes:

[...] The situation in Afghanistan increasingly looks like Iraq did not too long ago. Not the actual political or military circumstances, of course, but the analysis and commentary. Phrases like "We’re entering a decisive period" and "It’s now or never" are being tossed around ominously as the debate over troop increases rages. One can hardly read an op-ed without being told that the situation is dire and that this is a critical time, perhaps even our Last Chance to Get It Right. Most notably, the report produced by General Stanley McChrystal announced that "the short-term fight will be decisive."

There is not a single Afghanistan myth more prevalent or more specious than this one. To be at a "critical juncture" implies that one side or the other is poised to decisively gain the upper hand and therefore to win. But the situation in Afghanistan is almost the exact opposite of that.

[...]

Often when a crisis is invoked, it is to push a particular course of action, to make people believe that a recommended remedy must be undertaken immediately. In other words, warning of an impending crossroads can be a useful bullying mechanism, and that is what is happening now, as proponents of a broad-based counter-insurgency strategy confront those who favor a more focused counter-terrorism mission.

[...]

If I were to blindly go along with the current discourse on Afghanistan, I would also say that this moment represents our Last Chance to Get It Right. But the reality is that political compromise will happen at some point, and, even if it doesn’t happen now, little will change in the near-term. The question then becomes, how many lives, how much money, and how much strategic energy will we expend in the meantime?

Just to expand upon my "good point." :-)

A few other pieces I'd have worked in, if not for already being overlong, but responsive to LJ's comments about agricultural and job training support, and the general need for foreign civilian support.

The Civilian Surge Myth: The U.S. needs to stop pretending it can do nation-building:

How can we snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Afghanistan? There's one solution that has attracted analysts of all stripes: a "civilian surge," where development and political advisers working for (or contracted by) the State department and the U.S. Agency for International Development flood the country and turn the tide against the insurgents.

The logic, at least, is sound: It takes more than military success to defeat insurgents.

[...]

There is consensus on the problem and general agreement on the solution, but absolutely no sense of how to make it happen. There is little chance that the United States will mobilize enough civilian capability to re-engineer backward states and keep it in the field during a protracted insurgency. It is, as the Pentagon official told me, "a pipe dream."

[...]

Even a fully funded Civilian Response Corps--the crown jewel of the effort--would theoretically consist of 250 full time members, 2,000 "standby" members from elsewhere in the federal government (which begs the question of how their employing agencies would do without them if they were gone for years at a time), and 2,000 "reserve" member from the private sector and state and local governments (who also would leave their employers in the lurch if deployed for an extended period). Under the absolute best possible conditions, the Civilian Response Corps could send one American adviser for every 42,000 people in a country like Pakistan, or one for every 35,000 in Nigeria, at least for as long as they could be kept in the field. This is a drop in a very large bucket.

[...]

There are only two solutions. We could belly up and provide the resources for a serious expeditionary civilian corps. But a few hundred or even a couple of thousand people is not enough. We would need many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of advisers with linguistic skills and cultural knowledge willing to leave home and live under risky conditions for years at a time. And we are not talking about 20-somethings paid a pittance and fueled by idealism, but skilled professionals demanding serious pay for their expertise and sacrifice. (The difficulty that the State department had convincing even its hardened professionals to volunteer for duty in Iraq showed what a challenge this is.) Of course, if the pay is high enough, the experts will come. But, at a time of massive government budget deficits and a persisting national economic crisis, this is simply not in the cards.

What, then, is Plan B? If we are unwilling to pay the price for a serious civilian capability--and admit that foisting the job of development and political assistance on the military is a bad idea--the only option is to alter our basic strategy. We could find a way to thwart Al Qaeda and other terrorists without trying to re-engineer weak states. We could, in other words, get out of the counterinsurgency and stabilization business. This is not an attractive option and entails many risks. But it does reflect reality. Ultimately, it may be better than a strategy based on a capability that exists only in our minds.

See also Civilian Goals Largely Unmet in Afghanistan and Civilian, Military Officials at Odds Over Resources Needed for Afghan Mission.

Thanks Gary. Very impressive amounts of research. I do think the million dollar question is what the Taliban would do with AQ if they reestablished control.

thx for helping out!

"Very impressive amounts of research."

Not research, actually; research is going out and looking for stuff. I just bookmarked stuff I read, and narrowed it down a great deal to what I could squeeze into something resembling a narrative.

As to the question, I think the many different people in the many different factions of the Taliban would do very different things from each other as regards the various factions of al Qaeda.

None of them, in my view, seems to call for the U.S. spending trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of soldiers at a time, losing thousands of soldiers per year, and spending many decades, to prevent any of them from happening.

Not when we have the rest of the world to pay attention to, as well.

Thanks muchly for kind words.

Some opinions about the Taliban/al Qaeda relationship from Anand Gopal.

Gary, a lot of people are going to be citing Peter Bergen on the alleged Taliban/AQ leadership alliance soon. In advance, I'll tell you that Leah Farrall, a former Aussie police expert on AQ and CT ops fact-checked Bergen today - and he was left wanting.

Great post, though.

Regards, Steve

The next question is who is involved with and who is dominating the decision making process. So far I have actually been surprised at the willingness of the adminstration to wait on making a final decision for troop deployment. Is this play or is this an agreement that things aren't so easily decided?

Thanks for releasing my comment and sorry about missing the Schmitt quote,, splitting the post over two posts makes it hard for me to remember what you quoted and what I am remembering. Trying to take your points in order

"...is it in the long term interest of the US to have a vacuum of power in Afghanistan?"

Easily answered: no, it isn't.

But innumerable things in the world aren't in the long term interest of the U.S.

But is there another region that is in the shape that Afghanistan is in that has our fingerprints all over it?

Long's plan is good, but might it not be better if more US troops were put in areas where they could provide security for humanitarian projects? How would a plan that aims for the smallest possible footprint encourage other countries to help with rebuilding and humanitarian aid?

I'd also point out that what Kaplan has proposed is basically the same as what I have said in several comments to Eric (here for an example). However, as this discussion has developed on this blog, those caveats have been ignored, so my reply should be taken as a reply to the wider discussion rather than just to your points. I have to admit, I don't remember precisely what plan Eric as put forward as acceptable, but my impression is that he has argued for a withdrawal with all due haste. You seem to support that view when you conclude with

But ultimately a huge American commitment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is unsustainable.

If I've unfairly conflated your viewpoint with Eric's, my apologies, but that's one of the dangers of group blogging ;^)

I also appreciate the civilian surge article. That actually underlines a point that I have made several times, that if security is not established (note the lack of an agent in that sentence), it is impossible to imagine a civilian surge doing anything. In fact, I feel like this could have been in any one of my comments

If we are unwilling to pay the price for a serious civilian capability--and admit that foisting the job of development and political assistance on the military is a bad idea--the only option is to alter our basic strategy.

However, I don't see any other organization with the capabilities and capacity, or the hierarchical structure, to carry out such a plan. So I have consistently argued that we have to find a way to retask the military to do this. I certainly understand that the military isn't going to 'want' to do this, as one commentor pointed out, but I really don't see any alternative, if we are serious about our commitments and our responsibilities.

"Long's plan is good, but might it not be better if more US troops were put in areas where they could provide security for humanitarian projects? How would a plan that aims for the smallest possible footprint encourage other countries to help with rebuilding and humanitarian aid?"

Short answer, LJ: the sum of what I pointed to/suggested/proposed isn't to go for "the smallest possible footprint."

The "smallest possible footprint" would indeed be the kind of complete pullout you abhor. Or we could just stay in Kabul and train troops there.

The proposal, or set of proposals, I outlined, is intead to choose certain areas of Afghanistan where sympathies already lie largely with the government, and proceed to give these limited areas -- demonstration zones -- lots of humanitarian aid, while maintaining security, and let these areas become relative flowers of good government and flourishing economics.

And when Afghans elsewhere see these fruits of success, they'll ask for such benefits to be extended to their areas, and they'll actively want help from Kabul and NATO and foreign aid workers.

And when and if enough Afghans start clamoring for such help and success to be extended to their areas, support for the Taliban forces will wither, and slowly die. The idea is that such Taliban territory will slowly become smaller and smaller, and slip out of their hands.

The whole point of COIN is to accomplish that: win hearts and minds, and kill as few of the "enemy" as possible, because, as McChrystal has stated many times, every time you kill an Afghan, no matter that he's Taliban or al Qaeda, you generate ten times more new enemies.

This is McChrystal's plan; I simply question the need to go all out in huge areas of the country with a major expansion of U.S. troops that won't be sustainable for very long, and who, when they will have to leave, won't have left areas that can be held, and thus will simply, in the mid-term and longer-term, provide more examples of the failures of the foreigners and the Kabul regime.

That would be counter-productive in a huge way.

And help isn't something you can force on people: they have to want it.

To be sure, the key flaw in this idea is that it's still dependent on the Kabul government, whether of Karzai or some "unity" government, somehow magically changing into a relatively non-corrupt, relatively effective, government, in the near future, and I remain deeply pessimistic about this, as there are no signs whatever that Karzai has such a capacity, or interest.

If you haven't read Elizabeth Rubin's Karzai in His Labyrinth, I urge you to, for a picture of just what a dithering mess Karzai has proven to me. (Yes, I've linked to and recommended a whole lot of articles: what can I say, but that the more info one has, the more perspective one has.)

The bottom line is that we can't do anything beyond what's sustainable in the long term of many many years. Everyone agrees that if there's any chance of improving things in Afghanistan that it's a project of many years, and ultimately decades.

Any realistic plan has to accept this as a basis.

So any commitment, be it military or civilian, American, NATO, Japanese, or from anywhere, has to be set up with a very long-term view that's realistically sustainable, unless the idea is to simply pay foremost attention to domestic policy at home, and keep punting the problem with short-term palliatives as best you can.

And that's why I believe that an attempt to massively extend government control throughout much or all of Afghanistan in the immediate short term of the next two years or so is both immensely unlikely to succeed in the short run, or sustainable in the long run if we try to do it all at once.

If there's any chance at all of long-term success, nobody should bite off more than they can chew, and starting (as we are doing now: restarting) with a realistic plan for what can realistically be accomplished in the short term, and then, and only then, expanding as possible with a sustainable commitment of forces -- which can't be huge -- seems to me to be the only practical way to proceed, short of that which you abhor, a total or near-total pull-out.

And to underline one last time: if there isn't a decent government in Kabul, any effort from outside Afghanistan truly is doomed to failure, no matter what else we do, or how much we don't like it. Afghanistan belongs to Afghans; foreigners can't remake it on our own. Thinking otherwise is classic American hubris.

I hope this goes some way towards answering your question.

Gary, no offense to Eric, but I hope you stick around these parts for a while -- and don't worry too much about the long posts. A subject like this deserves a little more than a couple of paragraphs (or whatever the limit is).

I'll start with the positive -- I greatly appreciate Gary's breakdown of the Taliban in his 7:49 comment. Am I right to conclude from that analysis that it's just the HQN faction that's still keeping ties to AQ?

"But arguing backwards from a desirable goal is neither a plan nor an analysis of what's practical, nor a comparison of costs versus benefits."

First, I fully grant that Bergen gives far too little attention to the question of whether "victory" is possible.

Whether this is a "desirable goal" or a "national security priority" is a key part of this discussion. If denying AQ sanctuary in Afghanistan is key to denying them the means to carrying out massive attacks against other nations, than that goal becomes more than "desirable", and it is proper to start by saying "Here's what we need to do".

"He goes back to the days of the Taliban government sheltering bin Laden to use that as evidence of one point, and then blithely avoids mentioning that al Qaeda used to be based in Somalia until U.S. pressure forced bin Laden and company to leave Somalia for Afghanistan. This is hardly a small or irrelevant point."

Yes, the US managed to pressure Somalia into forcing out bin Laden before they had committed a MTA. But that only strengthens the argument that AQ couldn't relocate there -- to this day (as I understand it) the ICU has stated that OBL and his like would not be welcome in Africa's horn.

In fact, it looks like the only regime or local power willing to give AQ sanctuary are the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and only factions are maintaining ties at that.

Well, at any rate, in the realm of matter, it looks like I'm once again at the start of a full day, so I've only got a few minutes. I seriously envy you guys who are getting so much deeper into this. I'll get back to you when I can.

Quick catch up:

There's a lot I like in Gary's last comment. Definitely worth some thought.

Also, TBC, I'm not sold on McChrystal's analysis -- many of the doubts have already been raised here (why now?, etc).

No time for more, but I'll just say this: I think it's a bit telling that Gary has mistaken Somalia for Sudan in his analysis.

Gary, you pointed to Austin Long's proposal, which is for 13,000 troops. It puts the elite forces, Green Berets, Navy Seals, Army Rangers there. We can argue what 'smallest' means, but a force like that is the military equivalent of never having to say you are sorry...

As I've stated in the comments, I am with you 100% about not thinking that we should be dealing with Afghanistan as a whole, and I think that I've stated something very similar to this

The proposal, or set of proposals, I outlined, is intead to choose certain areas of Afghanistan where sympathies already lie largely with the government, and proceed to give these limited areas -- demonstration zones -- lots of humanitarian aid, while maintaining security, and let these areas become relative flowers of good government and flourishing economics.

Perhaps it is my lack of clarity, but that suggestion has been met with skepticism, if not outright ridicule, yet, as you say, it is the only way to proceed. And if we proceed in that way, we had better not try to do it on the cheap. Yet much of the discussion here has failed to acknowledge that we are going to have a presence in Afghanistan whether you like it or not, so cutting down to a small, if not smallest footprint is creating a situation that is completely the opposite of the MacChrystal recs.

Certainly, McChrystal's report mentions 'country wide', but there are hints that a dividing of Afghanistan is acceptable. For instance, take this

An isolating geography and a natural aversion to foreign intervention further works against ISAF. Historical grievances reinforce connections to tribal or ethnic identity and can diminish the appeal of a centralized state. All ethnicities, particularly the Pashtuns, have traditionally sought a degree of independence from the central government, particularly when it is not seen as acting in the best interests of the population. These and other factors result in elements of the population tolerating the insurgency and calling to push out foreigners.

I suspect that something like that is being discussed, but for obvious reasons, partitioning Afghanistan is the strategy that dare not speak its name.

"No time for more, but I'll just say this: I think it's a bit telling that Gary has mistaken Somalia for Sudan in his analysis."

I accidentally wrote bin Laden had been in Somalia, rather than Sudan, and the latter, of course, is correct, and the former incorrect, yes. You are welcome to draw any conclusions you like from such an accidental substitution.

I suggest that if you believe I actually am unfamiliar with the history of either country, or bin Laden's history in Sudan, or that I actually have the countries confused, you are mistaken, but you remain welcome to come to any conclusions you wish to, of course.

And a quicker drop still:

"No time for more, but I'll just say this: I think it's a bit telling that Gary has mistaken Somalia for Sudan in his analysis."

Well, seeing as I went along with the confusion, I feel something of a goof for it not hitting me -- I mean, I know this stuff! I guess you could put it to my stressed morning overall, but that doesn't really put me at ease.

"David Rohde's article makes clear that the Taliban have clearly grown more radical over time and under aerial assault in the FATA, not less."

So far, David Rodhe's quite interesting account makes clear that he met a handful of low level Taliban people, viewed at a distance a lot of members of the Haqqani network, met one local leader, Abu Tayyeb, and and met one senior commander of the Haqqani network, Badruddin Haqqani. I'm unclear just how far anyone can reasonably generalize about everyone who fights for the Taliban from that, but I do think it doesn't at all extend to everyone who fights for the Taliban.

Rhode does say of Abu Tayyeb that: "One morning, he wept at news that a NATO airstrike had killed women and children in southern Afghanistan. A guard explained to me that Abu Tayyeb reviled the United States because of the civilian deaths."

Rhode does say of his guards that "They all had relatives or friends who had been killed by Soviet or American troops. They grew up in a culture where teenage boys reached manhood and made a name for themselves by showing their bravery."

He also says: "Their rigidity was the opposite of the tolerant attitudes I had found among the vast majority of Muslims I had met in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

And: "I realized that he and other fighters might be exaggerating their views to frighten me. The virulence I saw among the Haqqani foot soldiers was not as monolithic as it sometimes seemed."

And: "DURING our months in Miram Shah, patterns emerged. When certain commanders visited, the atmosphere was tense, and discussions centered on what they saw as Western injustices against Muslims. When we were alone with the guards who lived with us, moments of levity emerged."

And his closing part of today's third installment:

[...] Despite my efforts, romantic songs — whatever their language — were the guards’ favorites.

The Beatles song “She Loves You,” which popped into my head soon after I received my wife’s letter from the Red Cross, was the most popular.

For reasons that baffled me, the guards relished singing it with me. I began by singing its first verse. My three Taliban guards, along with Tahir and Asad, then joined me in the chorus.

“She loves you — yeah, yeah, yeah,” we sang, with Kalashnikovs lying on the floor around us.

Point: "Am I right to conclude from that analysis that it's just the HQN faction that's still keeping ties to AQ?"

No, I think it's fair to say that the Quetta shura/Mullah Omar's outfit is still keeping ties to al Qaeda. How significant the ties are in either case, or how strong, or how much agreement within the Afghan groups versus dissension there might be, I certainly don't feel competent to speak to. I find most assertions that I've read in either direction unconvincing, as yet.

I find a lot of sure assertions by foreigners about Afghanistan, and what significant numbers of various groups are thinking, unconvincing, as I often find sure assertions about rather opague people far far away, unconvincing.

Such surety of views too often tends to be more a mark of either a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, or someone needing to sell a convincing article, or justify a well-paying think tank/military/political/academic/expert/blogger position, in my view.

LJ: "...so cutting down to a small, if not smallest footprint is creating a situation that is completely the opposite of the MacChrystal recs."

It's the opposite of a key element of McChrystal's recommendations, yes. He had a lot to say, and in sum, I've agreed with some of what he said, and disagreed with other parts.

"I suspect that something like that is being discussed, but for obvious reasons, partitioning Afghanistan is the strategy that dare not speak its name."

I don't disagree, but I'd note that temporary focus on some areas doesn't amount to any kind of long-term partition; it simply amounts to doing what you can where you reasonably can, and seeing what comes of it. I certainly don't see that as necessarily amounting to anything like, say, the armistice agreement with North Korea, and think any such longterm outcome is pretty unlikely.

(Not that you were asserting such an outcome, exactly, but I'm trying to continue to clarify the borders of my views.)

A sort of "rolling partition" that one would hope expands outwards with minimal fighting, as the locals come to seek the aid and security that, one would hope, the central government could eventually supply, might not be a completely unfair restating of what I'm suggesting, though.

But I always have to keep returning to my caveat that if a central government that is vaguely competent, not terribly corrupt, and more and more seen as legitimate, can't be assembled, most any kind of project beyond very limited humanitarian aid seems hopeless. And right now there aren't great signs of such a government emerging.

One can only hope that will change in the near or midterm future, but the need for such change is within a matter of months, at most, not years.

This doesn't make me optimistic.

I'd love to be pleasantly surprised in the next six months.

Certainly as unsteady and unstable and still highly violent as Iraq remains -- and much though I don't think whatever the future will bring retroactively justifies the U.S. invasion and its cost both to Iraqis and ourselves -- Iraq in recent months has made more progress than I'd thought most likely. I've never held myself out as someone who is a seer, or necessarily gets foreign policy critiques right. Indeed, I've been completely wrong on the most serious of issues on at least two critical occasions.

I'm just a guy with an armchair, and I'm ready to use it at times. (No pajamas, though.)

Actually, it's more of an old-fashioned wooden office chair, and rather uncomfortable, to boot. My more modern office chair in Boulder was more comfortable, though not perfectly so, but I couldn't afford to ship it. I know everyone wanted to know this.

Steve Hynd, as always, you give great link. That Leah Farrall piece at All Things Counter Terrorism is indeed tremendously interesting.

"I find a lot of sure assertions by foreigners about Afghanistan, and what significant numbers of various groups are thinking, unconvincing, as I often find sure assertions about rather opague people far far away, unconvincing."

Fair enough -- though, given our involvement, I wouldn't think it a bad thing that we're trying to understand them, even if it will always be riddled with uncertainty.

There's trying to understand them, and trying to sound as if you know you understand them.

To be sure, I might be engaging in some of the latter, myself, but I want to be clear that I know I'm just a guy who reads a lot of books and a lot of articles, who speaks no other language than English, and hasn't traveled off the North American continent, and that's all.

I completely get you, Gary*.

Also, FWIW, my day got a lot lighter, so I can give this thread some attention for the next couple of hours (yay!).

*If that's not too assuming ;)

Once again an excellent post. As a muslim-American I know first hand how counterproductive this "permanent war" strategy really is. I can only hope Gary is being tongue-in-cheek about China, however, as that would be disastrous for all concerned.

On a related matter*:

"Can the government in Kabul become one that most Afghans regard as legitimate? That is the antepenultimate question... The penultimate question is: if so, can we help the government in Kabul become that legitimate government?"

Does Karzai's agreement to have a runoff election affect how we answer these questions?

*Actually, if you just want to do a separate post for this, that's cool too.

On a related matter*:

"Can the government in Kabul become one that most Afghans regard as legitimate? That is the antepenultimate question... The penultimate question is: if so, can we help the government in Kabul become that legitimate government?"

Does Karzai's agreement to have a run-off affect how we answer these questions?

*Gary, if you want to do this in a different post, that's cool too.

Gah, double post!

Gah, double post!

"Does Karzai's agreement to have a runoff election affect how we answer these questions?"

I think it very much remains to be seen how meaningful -- or not -- the election is.

I'm skeptical it will be particularly meaningful, regardless of the results.

Specifically, if Abdullah Abdullah somehow wins the run-off, I'll be immensely surprised.

Even if he somehow did -- and astonished might be a better word for my reaction if he does -- what difference he'd make seems to me a completely open question.

Could he somehow, by dint of the very limited powers of the Afghan presidency, grossly lessen corruption, make the government vastly more effective, deal with the powers of the many tribes and warlords, and otherwise make a huge difference?

I wouldn't say it's impossible, but it seems to be a considerable stretch to assume that he could do much of that, even if he were to win, which, well, I won't repeat myself.

Maybe, if Abdullah Abdullah wins, he could convene another loya jirga, appoint a whole new, strong, supportive, cabinet, change the local governors for the better, make major changes to greatly reduce corruption in Kabul and in the countryside/provinces, etc.

Maybe. But I don't know any reason to assume that would happen.

Meanwhile, I don't know any reason to think that Abdullah Abdullah would win an honest run-off.

So if Karzai wins, after an "honest" run-off election, in which much of the country still doesn't vote, and tribes and clans still remain tribes and clans, is Karzai suddenly going to become much more capable than he's been for the last five years? Is he suddenly going to start cleaning up corruption, and etc., see above?

Y'know, maybe, but I'd want to see some evidence of this happening -- some strong evidence -- before I start putting much credence or hope in the idea.

"So if Karzai wins, after an "honest" run-off election, in which much of the country still doesn't vote, and tribes and clans still remain tribes and clans, is Karzai suddenly going to become much more capable than he's been for the last five years? Is he suddenly going to... grossly lessen corruption, make the government vastly more effective, deal with the powers of the many tribes and warlords, and otherwise make a huge difference?"

I'm wondering if the Kabul government needs to be "effective", in this sense, for it to be legitimate -- after all, prior to the Soviet invasion, the country had a widely accepted, though highly decentralized, government.

Now, to keep from double posting...

"So if Karzai wins, after an "honest" run-off election..."

Damn it! ;)

Rohde's analysis is an excellent picture of what some senior and junior level Haqqani network people are thinking and what they're like. The picture is that they are quite politically extreme and unwilling to compromise, and their worldview doesn't have much room for an Afghanistan with either a Western presence or a non-Taliban government.

And for all the relative tolerance of the rank and file for Rohde's singing of the Beatles, the commanders are the ones who set the tone and give the orders, and they are quite extreme.

As Rohde himself summarizes:

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

"I'm wondering if the Kabul government needs to be 'effective', in this sense, for it to be legitimate -- after all, prior to the Soviet invasion, the country had a widely accepted, though highly decentralized, government."

The uprising against the communist government began significantly before the Soviet invasion; it's what caused the Soviet invasion.

I'm going to assume that what you actually mean is either the Mohammed Daoud Khan government which ran from his coup in 1973 until the Saur Revolution of 1978, or to Mohammed Zahir Shah's, the last king/shah of Afghanistan, regime, which ran from 1933 until 1973.

tequila: "And for all the relative tolerance of the rank and file for Rohde's singing of the Beatles, the commanders [of the Haqqani network] are the ones who set the tone and give the orders, and they are quite extreme."

Yes, I'm sure most of them are.

"are referring to" would have been a better choice of words, Point, than "actually mean." Sorry about that.

The Leah Farrell blog is pretty interesting stuff, but I think she is perhaps focusing a bit too much on AQ's command structure alone. Arguing that AQ only numbers, at most, a few hundred and focusing on those who have sworn the blood oath to bin Laden as amir underestimates the foreign fighter phenomenon in the Taliban, I think.

The Taliban oral history article in NEWSWEEK mentions Arab fighters directly integrated into the training and equipping structure, and Arabs in command of Taliban forces in the field. Are these necessarily al-Qaeda hardcore? That's hard to know. They may be more loosely organized than that, not directly part of AQ but certainly affiliated, and certainly jihadist.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/216235/output/print

At first I didn't hear the Afghans talking about going back to fight. But the Arabs did, and they encouraged the Afghans and the local tribal people not to give up. Nothing much happened for the first year or so, but then the Arabs started organizing some training camps. The first one I heard about was at Shin Warsak village, near Wana. When I had some time off from school, I decided to visit. I was really impressed. There was more than one camp. One was run by Arabs, and another by Chechens and Uzbeks.

Thanks to my madrassa studies I could speak Arabic; I made friends with Egyptians, Saudis, Libyans, and Yemenis. Nek Mohammad Wazir [a pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal leader who was killed by a June 2004 Predator strike] gave the Arabs places to train and access to weapons and other supplies. They moved openly on the main roads and in the towns and villages, showing no concern about security. I decided to leave my studies and join their resistance.

...

In our camp there were about 150 Arabs, along with some Afghans, Chechens, and local tribal militants. The Arab instructors taught us how to fire Kalashnikovs, especially in close-range fighting; how to gather intelligence on the enemy; and how to fire mortars and rockets accurately. It was a friendly place; we all felt a commitment to help and sacrifice for each other. At the start of 2003, the weather became bitterly cold, and the camp closed. But the commander called me back that March. He told me he was working with Nek Mohammad to arrange for one of the first cross-border attacks against American forces in Afghanistan. Even with Nek Mohammad's help, we only had usable weapons for 50 of the roughly 200 mujahedin who had been trained. But 50 of us—a couple dozen Arabs, three or four Afghans like myself, and some Waziri and Mehsud tribals—were armed and ready to go.

...

The first thing I learned was to shoot, field-strip, and maintain an AK-47. Then we did ambush and guerrilla-war exercises day and night in the hills. The Arabs taught us how to make an IED by mixing nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, and how to pack plastic explosives and to connect them to detonators and remote-control devices like mobile phones. We learned how to do this blindfolded so we could safely plant IEDs in the dark.

...

We were divided up into 10 groups. Each had two or three Arabs assigned to it as commanders and instructors.

...

Arab and Iraqi mujahedin began visiting us, transferring the latest IED technology and suicide-bomber tactics they had learned in the Iraqi resistance during combat with U.S. forces. The American invasion of Iraq was very positive for us. It distracted the United States from Afghanistan. Until 2004 or so, we were using traditional means of fighting like we used against the Soviets—AK-47s and RPGs. But then our resistance became more lethal, with new weapons and techniques: bigger and better IEDs for roadside bombings, and suicide attacks.

...

Those first groups crossing the border were almost totally sponsored, organized, and led by Arab mujahedin. The Afghan Taliban were weak and disorganized. But slowly the situation began to change.

To be fair, the one fighter who seems to really dislike the Arabs also says:

Our jihad is more solid and deep than individual commanders and fighters—and we are not dependent on foreigners, on the ISI [Pakistan's intelligence agency], or Al Qaeda. Personally I think all this talk about Al Qaeda being strong is U.S. propaganda. As far as I know, Al Qaeda is weak, and they are few in numbers. Now that we control large amounts of territory, we should have a strict code of conduct for any foreigners working with us. We can no longer allow these camels to roam freely without bridles and control.

For those who laugh at the idea that American troops on the ground cannot gather intel in Afghanistan:

That base on top of the mountain [in Barge Matal] had to go. The Americans there were monitoring our phone calls and walkie-talkies, and they ran intelligence operations with Afghan spies from there. So [last June] we began carefully planning an attack.

I also agree with Spencer Ackerman here.

"For those who laugh at the idea that American troops on the ground cannot gather intel in Afghanistan...."

I take it as read that you mean can gather intel, but I don't know anyone who asserts that American troops can't gather any intel.

""are referring to" would have been a better choice of words, Point, than "actually mean." Sorry about that."

No worries -- FWIW Mohammed Zahir Shah was who I had in mind.

Run-off on November 7th.

"'I call upon this country to take this as an opportunity to move this country forward and participate in this new round of elections,' Mr. Karzai said, according to the English translation of his remarks, adding that he was grateful to the international community for its help."

Only a cynic might doubt that Karzai was thrilled to have massive fraud revealed and reported upon, a third of his votes taken away, and be forced into a run-off, by foreign pressure.

"'Unfortunately, the election of Afghanistan was defamed,' Mr. Karzai said. 'Any result that we were getting out of it was not able to bring legitimacy.'"

Defamation has to be an untrue claim.

Sorry, this bothered me a bit, so I wanted to comment on it, though it was a ways back.

only then, expanding as possible with a sustainable commitment of forces -- which can't be huge -- seems to me to be the only practical way to proceed, short of that which you abhor, a total or near-total pull-out.

I want to underline that it is not what I abhor, it is what I think is unavoidable. I imagine that at least a combat brigade would remain in Afghanistan, along with the necessary logistical tail. Long posits 13,000 elite troops there, and as the numbers reduce, the units stationed there would be compelled to adopt a more defensive posture. This could lead to another Marine barracks type attack, it could lead to a steady trickle of casualties. Either way, it is not a pretty thought.

The pressure on Karzai to hold a run-off:

[...] A senior administration official described the international pressure on Mr. Karzai as a “full court press” that also included not-so-subtle threats delivered by telephone to Mr. Karzai’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates both called General Wardak to press him to persuade Mr. Karzai to concede, a senior administration official said.

“Wardak wants more American troops,” said this official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing private conversations. “They both told Wardak that this would affect the decision-making process on the troops.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke with Mr. Karzai three times, European diplomats said, adding his voice to the pressure. “He made clear that Karzai just had to accept” the results of the international election commission, one diplomat said, or he “would no longer be a partner of the West.”

More there.

Defamation has to be an untrue claim.

At common law, truth was no defense to a charge of seditious libel. A true accusation is frequently more damaging than a false one.

"At common law, truth was no defense to a charge of seditious libel."

In the common law of Wales and England until overturned by section 6 of the Libel Act 1843 (defense of justification for the public benefit).

Since we're not living in in 1842 or earlier, the relevance of this is unclear to me. To be sure, I have no idea what Afghan law says about defamation.

And we can't defeat al Qaeda without obliterating them in Mali.

The list goes ever on.

From the look of it, the Mali government is handling AQ in their territory fine enough.

If keeping the organization down means continuing military aid, I wouldn't be too concerned -- especially if, while we're at it, we back it up with civilian and economic aid.

In which Nicholas Kristof agrees with me.

John Kerry is such a liberal wimp, he could never play hardball.

Correction to a bit in my post: I cited Fred Kaplan on Army recruitment numbers. Kaplan now writes that he got the numbers wrong.

Of course, now Karzai appears more the puppet than ever.

Anyone interested in discussing any of this?

So how's that standing up the Afghan police going?

Not so well.

[...] American efforts to expand Afghanistan’s security forces are faltering, leaving the largest training centre in the country operating at only 25 per cent capacity.

Recruitment has been low in recent months amid rising Taleban violence and political instability after the unresolved election. Thousands of men are leaving the force every month, with about one police officer in three resigning over the course of a year, The Times learnt. Some have joined the Taleban.

“We simply can’t recruit enough police,” General Khudadad Agha, the officer in charge of training, said. “The salary is low and the job is very dangerous. If someone wants $120 (£72) a month then they join up. But 95 per cent of the new recruits are uneducated, unskilled and they can’t find food. That’s why they join the police.”


[...]

Recruits for the Afghan Public Protection Force are usually sent to Laghman to be trained by American Special Forces. “There hasn’t been a single recruit for more than a month and a half,” General Agha said. “More than a hundred people were rounded up and sent to the training centre, but the commander in charge told me they ran away. Iran opened the border [in the west] and they all thought it was better to go abroad.”

interesting stuff, Gary, and I'm wondering how we could avoid making Karzai look like a puppet while simultaneously dealing with the problems with the election. Most of the comments on this have argued that Obama is dead wrong and he's got some JFK complex. Yet the last paragraph of your last link, along with reports that an increase in troops was made provisional on acceptance of a runoff election and Kerry's appearance suggest that there is a lot more going on below the surface.

I found this piece from the Telegraph, of all places, and it's in response to this Johann Hari piece that probably encapsulates the other side, though the fact that I am on a side that Hitchens and Kamm are on make me seriously doubt its wisdom.

Thanks for the links, LJ. I appreciate your final clause, too. :-)

Heaven's piece seems entirely unpersuasive to me; it doesn't even attempt to address reality in any way; it simply argues that there's a moral duty to fix Afghanistan -- with no discussion whatever of mere means or limits.

End question: "But with a possible troop surge do we really need to fantasise?"

Yes, because "tropp surge" are not magic words, and as I've written at length, whatever can be done in Iraq isn't answerable with those two magic words.

"...and I'm wondering how we could avoid making Karzai look like a puppet while simultaneously dealing with the problems with the election."

As I wrote, we couldn't/camp.

And that encapsulates the whole problem: an outside power can't legitimatize a government in the eyes of its own people, and an outside power certainly can't relieve that government of the perception that it's a puppet of foreign powers while enforcing the outside powers' will on that government to make sure that government does as it's told.

We can't win a civil war, or a counterinsurgency war, for someone else.

If the Karzai government can start to legitimize itself with its own people, against the highly downward trend of the last five years, great.

But let's start seeing some of that, then. All the focus on what the U.S. or NATO, or other foreign powers, can do, is a focus on the wrong ball. People need to pay attention to what Afghans do: it's their country, not ours.

"As I wrote, we couldn't/camp."

Er, couldn't/can't.

Still waking up, and I feel like crap, actually, after a huge cough and headache last night, which persist this morning, having added stuffed head to stuffed chest, and otherwise feeling illish. :-(

Since we're not living in in 1842 or earlier, the relevance of this is unclear to me. To be sure, I have no idea what Afghan law says about defamation.

You were the one who brought up defamation law and asserted, "Defamation has to be an untrue claim." I was just pointing out that's not always true. The relevance of the whole thing is unclear to me, but I'm not the one who brought it up.

As far as Afghan defamation law goes, it looks pre-1842 to me:

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders welcomes TV reporter and presenter Fahim Kohdamani's release on 19 April 2009 after four weeks of detention in Kabul and calls for the withdrawal of the "defamation" and "insult" charges still pending against him, especially as the organisation has obtained a letter proving that his arrest was the result of a complaint by Iranian officials.

"It is deplorable that an Afghan journalist was detained like a criminal because of a complaint by the Islamic Republic of Iran," Reporters Without Borders said. "The public prosecutor and the government must resist foreign pressures that lead to the press law being applied arbitrarily. All Kohdamani did was criticise certain religious superstitions."

Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of a letter that Iranian ambassador Fada Hossein Maleki sent to Afghan prosecutor general Mohamad Ehssagh Alko on 23 March requesting "legal proceedings" against the privately-owned TV station Kohdamani works for, Emroz, for insulting "senior officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran," including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Calling for Emroz to be punished under the Afghan criminal code for "suspect, separatist and insulting actions," the letter warned the prosecutor that a failure to take preventive action would have a "negative influence" on relations between the two countries.

Kohdamani told Reporters Without Borders that during interrogation by members of the prosecutors office he was questioned about his opinion of Ayatollah Khomenei, the Islamic Republic of Iran's founder. He said they accused him of criticising passages of a book by Khomenei in an edition of the Emroz programme Obor Az Khat (Beyond the Line) that was about the book.

Kohdamani explained that he had not criticised Khomenei, just certain religious superstitions."

Available at http://www.ifex.org/afghanistan/2009/04/24/tv_reporter_released_defamation/

A half a day's drive from Kabul:

[...] As the Obama administration moves into a crucial phase of deliberations over the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, residents of a widening arc of territory a half-day's drive from the capital, Kabul, describe daily lives fraught with danger as the militants' foothold becomes stronger.

Just beyond the Kunduz city limits, insurgents brazenly tool around in Ford Rangers stolen from the Afghan police. A Taliban-run shadow administration, complete with a governor, a court system and tax levies, wields greater authority than its official counterpart in much of Kunduz province.

Traffic is thin and nervously quick on the main highway, where insurgent roadblocks and ambushes have been common, spurred in part by a new NATO supply line running south from Tajikistan.

"There's no safety now -- it's war," said Abdul Rahman, an ice cream vendor who is afraid to travel to his home in an outlying district. "The Taliban aren't in the city yet, but they're out there everywhere in the countryside around here. I'm scared."

[...]

Hekmatyar's fighters frequently stage attacks against Western troops and Afghan security forces in the north. But in what analysts describe as a classic Afghan hedging technique, the commander is making political inroads in the region, even as he keeps up the battlefield pressure.

Many think Hekmatyar is positioning himself for possible power-sharing in a new administration likely to be led by President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan leader, facing a runoff challenge from his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, is cementing ties with powerful warlords such as Hekmatyar, ignoring Western discomfort over such alliances.

"Hekmatyar is looking for more political influence here," said Habiba Urfan, a provincial council member in Kunduz. In Baghlan, an entire tier of provincial officials, from the governor on down, is allied with Hekmatyar, intelligence officials say.

[...]

In the north, even more than elsewhere in Afghanistan, Western forces seem at a loss as to how to distinguish friend from foe.

"Everywhere we go, they smile and wave at us, and then they turn their guns on us," said Spiering, the German military spokesman. "People want to be on the side of the winner. And they don't know yet who that is going to be."

Dexter Filkins: The Great American Arm-Twist in Afghanistan:

[...] In Afghanistan, you take your victories where you can get them, even if, as was the case in Kabul last week, victory amounts to little more than a catastrophe averted.

Mr. Karzai, after all, only agreed to abide by the laws of his own country. A United Nations-backed panel had nullified nearly a million ballots counted in Mr. Karzai’s favor — a third of his total — following an election on Aug. 20 that was marred by epic levels of fraud and vote stealing.

Mr. Karzai had vigorously resisted the panel’s findings, and seriously considered overriding them and declaring himself the winner. It was only Senator Kerry’s relentless efforts, and a round-the-clock lobbying press by American and European leaders, that staved off political disaster.

And that, ultimately, was the underlying message in the ceremony announcing Mr. Karzai’s concession last week: Mr. Karzai may have agreed to follow the law — he may have agreed to act in a democratic way — but he did so only after representatives of the United States, the United Nations and the largest European countries all but pushed him onto the dais to do it.

Eight years after the American-led coalition pushed the Taliban from Kabul, democracy in Afghanistan is still a very fragile thing. So fragile, indeed, that the deadlock last week seemed to raise fundamental questions about the wisdom and the direction of the American-led project here.

[...]

Diplomats in Kabul said afterward that the senator made it clear to Mr. Karzai that if he refused to accept the election results, domestic support for his government, in the United States and Europe, would collapse.

“It look a lot of convincing,” said a Western diplomat here, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

[...]

Yet even with the immediate crisis resolved, there remains the matter of the runoff election, which will pit Mr. Karzai against his rival, the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Despite assurances from officials with the United Nations and Western governments, there seemed little reason to expect that the fraud and vote stealing that occurred in August wouldn’t happen again. Unless something changes by Nov. 7 — the day of the runoff — most of the same officials are likely to be in place who carried out the fraud the first time around.

“Mr. Karzai got 48 percent of the vote and Abdullah got 27,” said Azizullah Ludin, the chairman of the Independent Election Commission. Despite its title, the commission is widely seen here as a tool of the president. “We will have another election, and we’ll have the same result.”

Mr. Ludin smiled broadly. “Karzai is going to win.”

But, you know, this democracy in action will change everything.

I'm reminded of how much difference this made.

Back to Filkins:

[...] The ability of the Afghan state to govern — to keep order, to build roads, to deliver basic services — is virtually nonexistent outside the capital.

Ultimately, the events of last week demonstrated that politics in Kabul and the war in the countryside are inextricably intertwined. As Mr. Emanuel suggested, no number of foreign troops can defeat the Taliban unless the government they are defending retains the support of ordinary Afghans.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Fareed Zakaria's GPS program was particularly interesting. (video link, can't find transcript) Tom Ricks on the Battle of Wanat and Shashi Tharoor and a discussion of what India has been doing in Afghanistan.

This explains a great deal: Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll.

The government is following my advice, which, of course, worries me: U.S. to Protect Populous Afghan Areas, Officials Say

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