The Panjwayi Massacre: Crisis in Afghanistan Rising

The chilling massacre of 16 Afghan civilians reportedly killed by a lone U.S. Army sergeant in the Panjwayi district early on Sunday morning has the Obama administration reeling. They should be. Every imperial war and occupation has an “atrocity crisis,”which galvanizes opposition to the occupying forces in-theater, and opposition in the homeland to end the conflict. It remains to be seen if the Panjwayi Massacre will be that crisis moment; but one thing is clear, President Obama is moving with serious dispatch to contain the collateral damage on both fronts.

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Obama’s Expanding War In Pakistan: Key to U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan

President Obama took office vowing to strike al-Queda forces inside Pakistan if President Zardari’s government failed to ferret out the nations’ terrorists networks. But after ten months of foot dragging by Pakistan’s military, President Obama’s initial threat to respond to “actionable intelligence” has been replaced by an aggressive U.S. counterterrorist war to change the “facts on the ground.” While international attention has focused on the success or failure of America’s troop surge in Afghanistan, the center of gravity of Obama’s AF-PAC strategy has shifted to Pakistan. The tilt to Pakistan has occurred for two reasons. First Osama bin-Ladin and al Queda’s forces in Pakistan still poses the greatest threat to America’s national security. Thus Obama’s goal of “disrupting, dismantling and destroying” al-Queda calls for sustained air and ground attacks on their base of operations in Pakistan. Second, President Obama is pulling American troops out of Afghanistan. To shorten the war he must force the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table; that means significantly degrading the cross border operations and resupply centers of its two major organizations nesting in Pakistan. To that end Obama has intensified Predator drone attacks and expanded America’s Special Forces operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. 

 The dangers inherent in President Obama’s counterterrorist strategy are far reaching. The air strikes and U.S. military forces operating inside Pakistan are inflaming anti-American sentiment, undermining President Zardari’s brittle civilian government and strengthening the recruiting power of Pakistan’s Islamic extremists groups. The September 30 U.S. helicopter attack that killed two Pakistani soldiers mistaken for insurgents is a case in point. Pakistan’s government protested the incident by closing a major border crossing that supply U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan for ten days. Militants then blew up 55 oil tankers stranded at the strategic Khyber Pass. President Obama is keenly aware of the perils of America’s escalation of counterterrorist actions in Pakistan; but his options are limited. He is also running out of time to change the dynamics of the war in Afghanistan and the cancerous spread of Islamic extremism across Pakistan.


Before officially announcing his AF-PAC policy at West Point Academy in December 2009, President Obama had set his counterterrorist campaign in Pakistan in motion on October 7. Obama ordered C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta to: increase the number of Predator drones operating in Pakistan; expand the grid where drone attacks would be permitted; open new secret U.S. facilities in Pakistan and embed U.S. military advisors in operational Pakistani units. Since coming to office Obama has tripled the number of predator drone attacks in Pakistan compared to President Bush; launching 87 attacks from January 2009 to June 2010 that have claimed over 700 lives. The failed May 1, 2010 New York Times Square bombing attempt by Faisal Shazad–a Pakistani-born American citizen–prompted Obama to further expand America’s secret war in Pakistan. Although Shazad’s makeshift bomb failed to detonate, the discovery that he was trained by the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) unsettled the White House.

On May 19, Obama dispatched National Security Director James Jones and C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta to Pakistan to meet with President Zardari and Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Ashfaq Kayani. The two leaders were told that President Obama would be forced to respond to any future attack on America originating from Pakistan. Although it’s doubtful the United States would implement its current Pakistan “Retribution Plan” that calls for bombing up to 150 known bases of Pakistan’s radical organizations, the message was clear. Zardari and Kayani were also warned that if Pakistan was complicit in any future attacks on India–like the Mumbai massacre–the United States would not be in a position to restrain the Indian government. Jones and Panetta backed up their tough talk with President Obama’s demand that Pakistan engage in full intelligence sharing, provide the United States with its airline passenger lists and expedite visa applications for over 150 American military and intelligence personnel. Still, Zardari and Kayani were non-committal and complained about American encroachments on their sovereignty.

Jones and Panetta left Afghanistan convinced that America needed more boots on the ground in Pakistan. Seeking to limit the exposure of U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, Jones and Panetta moved the Counterterrorism Pursuit Team–a 3000-man paramilitary unit of highly skilled Afghan troops that are paid, trained and controlled by the CIA—across the border into Pakistan. American Predator drones also take off and land at secret facilities inside Pakistan. And the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) now runs a not so covert forward operating base in the port city of Karachi. Recently, Pentagon officials and spokesmen from Blackwater—a private security contracting firm now called “Xe”–have confirmed that Blackwater and its subsidiary Total Intelligence Solutions (T.I.S.) employees are operating in a JSOC secret program inside Pakistan. Blackwater contractors are assisting in conducting targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and helping to gather intelligence for the Predator drone bombing campaign.

Thus far Obama’s secret wars have concentrated on al-Queda operatives and the Pakistan Taliban TTP (Tehrik e-Taliban). American drone attacks have killed high value al-Queda leaders and Baitullah Mehsud, former leader of the TTP. The recent buildup of U.S. clandestine forces in Pakistan aims to increasingly target the two major Afghan Taliban groups (Haqqani forces in North Waziristan and Mulla Omar’s Quetta Shura in Balochistan) while for the moment ignoring Gulbuddin Hetmayar’s Hizb–i-Islami group based outside of Peshawar. The U.S. wants to disrupt the cross-border movement of Taliban forces, supplies and narcotics smuggling operations that have financially sustained their strongholds in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces. At the same time, by July 2011 President Obama hopes that U.S.-NATO forces will have gained control of larger swaths of Kandahar and Helmand provinces where most of the fighting is occurring in Afghanistan. Obama’s goal is not to destroy the Haqqani and Quetta Shura safe havens or kill their leaders. Instead he wants to significantly degrade their organizations enough to force them to stay at the negotiating table with President Karzai. Over the past month President Karzai has been holding talks with representatives of the Haqanni network and the Quetta Shura. Indeed, their safe passage to travel to Kabul from Pakistan has been guaranteed by the U.S. military.

Finally, two things can be said about President Obama’s escalation of the counterterrorist war in Pakistan. The attacks against al-Queda and Pakistan’s indigenous Islamic extremists groups are strategic and will continue as long as Islamabad’s government and military permits them to occur. However, the buildup of U.S. Special Forces and covert operations to disrupt the Afghan Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan is more tactical in nature. It is a key element in President Obama’s strategy to accelerate the process of reaching a political settlement to end the war in Afghanistan and withdraw American troops. Nevertheless the risks to Pakistan and the region are enormous. The possibility that America’s secret war in Pakistan could trigger a chain of events that lead to the fall of President Zardari’s weak government, the outbreak of civil war, renewed conflict with India or most likely a military coup cannot be dismissed. One thing is certain; the contingency plans developed by the U.S. military to prevent Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal from falling into the hands of Islamic radicals won’t be far from President Obama’s desk.

Obama’s “Ghost Wars” in the Middle East and Central Asia

by Webster Brooks

Those who think President Obama’s combat troop withdrawal in Iraq and the 2011 drawdown of forces in Afghanistan signal America’s retreat from the region should think again. Quite the opposite President Obama’s escalation of secret Special Operations in the Middle East and Central Asia mark a shift in America’s military doctrine to pacify the region; it is an aggressive and long-term strategy. The emerging “Ghost Wars” foreshadow the transformation of America’s military from a conventional force to a counterinsurgency (COIN) centered leviathan. Since taking office President Obama has approved an unprecedented number of assassinations of al-Queda and jihadist leaders. Special Operations missions across the region have been scaled up and the new “Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order” allowing U.S. military commanders to launch intelligence gathering operations are well underway. As the vector of a new counterinsurgency strategy President Obama’s “Ghost Wars” are being buttressed by more U.S. military bases in Central Asia, advanced weapons sales to U.S. allies and NATO enlargement in Southern Eurasia. In short, President Obama is reconfiguring American hard power to prevail in the “Long War” in the Middle East and Central Asia’s epic “Great Game.”  

Under the veil of waging a war to disrupt, dismantle and destroy al-Queda President Obama’s secret wars constitute a far reaching project. Its three central objectives are: the pacification of anti-American Islamists and militant forces; containing Iran, China and Russia’s regional influence and securing a share of the area’s abundant energy resources. As evidenced by recent events in Kyrgyzstan, Somalia and Yemen the region and its authoritarian regimes are increasingly vulnerable to popular upsurges, succession movements, non-state militia challenges, inter-ethnic and religious conflicts and proxy armies sponsored by foreign governments. These flashpoints of instability call for a new American military response–one that is ubiquitous, mobile, stealth and capable of striking quickly with deadly force. Thus President Obama has already approved Special Operations in Georgia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran and Yemen. Obama’s “Ghost Wars” are forward-leaning and preemptive as America attempts to shape the outcome of events rather than continuing to react to them.    

How to move forward with the “Shadow Wars” has become an intense point of debate with the Obama administration. Since coming to office Obama has tripled the number of predator drone attacks in Pakistan compared to President Bush; launching 87 attacks from January 2009 to June 2010 and claiming over 700 lives. Faulty intelligence rather than inaccurate laser-guided strikes inevitably have resulted in the death of innocent civilians and created sympathy for the very jihadists in Afghanistan and Pakistan that America seeks to kill and isolate.

Yemen is another case in point where four drone attacks have been launched against al-Queda targets since the failed Christmas day bomber’s attempt to detonate a explosive on a flight from London to Detroit. In May, U.S. drone attacks in Marib Province killed the provincial deputy governor–a personal friend of President Saleh—who was negotiating with AQP members to put down their weapons. The Yemen strikes were conducted under the U.S. military’s Special Access Program, which unlike C.I.A. operations required no presidential authorization or notification to the Congressional intelligence committees. White House officials are now debating whether the Yemen campaign should be taken over by the C.I.A. as a “covert operation” which would allow secret operations to be conducted without the central government of Yemen’s approval. In Somalia, after months of official U.S. denials, it was also confirmed that drone attacks against al-Queda and al Shaabab forces have been launched from neighboring Kenya; expanding Obama’s Ghost Wars to continental Africa and the birthplace of his Muslim father.     

The success of Obama’s new counterinsurgency strategy will be heavily dependent on America retooling its intelligence operations. The CIA’s failure to anticipate the Taliban’s comeback, the explosive Shi’a-Sunni divide in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program and al-Queda’s rapid expansion in Yemen are just a few examples of the agency’s inability to grasp the region’s changing dynamics; they underscore the level of ignorance informing America’s foreign policy blunders in Southern Eurasia’s “Islamic Ark of Instability.” Under the new “Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order” signed in September 2009 by General David Petraeus (then CENTCOM Commander) intelligence Special Operations are now being conducted by the U.S. military, private contractors, foreign businesspeople, academics and other “non-traditional” assets. These Execute Orders for reconnaissance missions, the identification of militants, creating “situational awareness” reports and intelligence gathering on strategic targets reflect the military’s desire to lessen its dependency on the C.I.A. General Petraeus’s message to Washington’s was clear; America can no longer prosecute wars like Iraq and Afghanistan or quell insurgencies in nations whose history, culture religions, movements and leaders we know nothing about.

Indeed President Obama’s adoption of the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy has been largely influenced by General Petraeus, now serving as Commander in Afghanistan. Lionized as the “American Caesar,” Petraeus authored the new U.S. Army/Marine Corp Counterinsurgency Manuel in 2007 and spearheaded the 2008 troop surge in Iraq. He is the chief architect of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in the region. Following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq it was Petraeus who led his own rear-guard insurgency of Army generals against President Bush and President Obama to transform CENTCOM from a conventional to a counterinsurgency (COIN) centered force. Former Afghanistan Commander Stanley McChrystal, Former Iraq Commander Ray Ordierno, Iraq’s new Commander Lloyd Austin and Australian military specialist David Kilcullen whose book “The Accidental Guerrilla” articulated counterinsurgency warfare principles are all apostles of Petraeus’s (COIN) school. His disciples held press conferences, published books, engaged in media leaks and went behind the backs of their superiors in Iraq to implement their counterinsurgency strategies. McChrystal’s interview in Rolling Stone magazine which blasted President Obama and the State Department reflected the frustration driving the “General’s Revolt” and their push to re-order military priorities to pursue their counterinsurgency doctrine. Despite McChrystal’s firing for his insubordinate remarks the general’s public relations campaign succeeded in pressuring President Obama to surge an additional 50,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. 

The politics of the “General’s Revolt” also has profound implications for the future. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars demonstrated that effective counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy require significant military involvement in political assessments, negotiations with insurgent forces, reconstruction projects and other nation building components. Thus far the extension of the military’s power into the President and the State Department’s political domain has created confusion, infighting and the lack of a coherency in both wars. Whether General Petreaus can craft a couunterinsurgency strategy that degrades the Taliban’s forces enough to negotiate a political settlement in Afghanistan remains to be seen. Irrespective of the outcome in Afghanistan the strategic shift to a long-term regional counterinsurgency strategy is moving forward.   

In many ways Pax Americana is confronting its “British Moment.” As England learned after World War I the burden of maintaining empire is a costly and bloody enterprise. Great Britain took control of most of the Middle East following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Wracked by economic crisis and public weariness with Great Britain’s  overseas ventures Winston Churchill withdrew most of England’s troops from Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in 1922; cutting the cost of maintaining England’s overseas deployed forces by 75 percent. Instead, Churchill  expanded England’s intelligence operations, destabilized countries, assassinated Arab leaders, organized coups in Iran and Iraq, installed pliant regimes, sponsored proxy forces and conjured up oil pipeline routes.  President Obama’s Ghost Wars bear all the markings of Britain’s failed global project that ended after World War II. Ironically, the same Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations that Britain literally created by drawing lines on maps to dismember the Ottoman Empire irrespective of ethnicity, culture, language and religion are erupting anew. Fully cognizant of England’s failed fifty year struggle to subdue Afghanistan in order to secure its imperial writ in India, Obama is maneuvering to avoid meeting his Waterloo in Kabul on the Central Asian steppes. With the unleashing of President Obama’s Ghost Wars the U.S. is now fully immersed in the three-dimensional geo-political chess match known as the “Great Game.” However, if history serves as a guide, the next decisive moves may not come from Iran, Russia, China or the United States but the people of Central Asia and the Middle East whose stake in the game makes them far more than sacrificial pawns.  

Al Maliki’s Defeat in 2010 Parliamentary Elections Will Be a Setback for President Obama in Iraq


Al Maliki’s Defeat in 2010 Parliamentary Elections Will Be a Setback for President Obama in Iraq



By Webster Brooks      

Washington, D.C. — The Iraqi legislature’s November 8 approval of a new election law and agreement to hold parliamentary elections before January 31, 2010 are bringing all the major problems in Baghdad to a head. Although President Obama praised Iraq’s parliament saying its action will keep U.S. troop withdrawals on track for completion by August 2011, the outcome of the election is fraught with danger for his administration. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s re-election bid is in deep trouble. Renewed sectarian violence hangs over Iraq as two deadly al Queda bombings on October 25 of government ministry buildings in Baghdad has unsettled the country. Pro-Iranian Shiia forces have re-organized their election campaigns and are gaining momentum. Tension between Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Turkmen forces over the status of oil-rich Kirkuk are also intensifying as the Parliament’s new election law backed Kurdish demands that voter eligibility in Kirkuk (Tamim Province) will be based on the 2009 voting list. With the stakes and the political temperature rising, U.S. armed forces in Iraq are prepared to redeploy to Kirkuk as Iraq braces for outbreaks of violence in the run up to the election.

At the center of the electoral firestorm is Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. In August al-Maliki announced his Dawa Party’s break with the major Shiia groups (Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Sadrist forces led by Muqtada al Sadr) to form a secular “State of the Law List” with his “Sunni allies.” After directing the Iraqi Army’s offensive to smash the Sadrists in Basrah in 2008, al-Maliki distanced himself from the ruling Shiia coalition in Iraq’s January 2009 provincial elections. Al-Maliki’s list won a plurality of 31% of the vote carrying most of the Shiia majority provinces by campaigning on a platform of nationalism, political secularism, restoring law and order, building a strong central government and supporting a Status of Forces Agreement to expel U.S. troops by 2011. After his strong 2009 campaign al-Maliki negotiated with Shiia groups for months, demanding 50% of the parliamentary seats for the DAWA Party to join the new Shiia-led “United Iraqi Alliance List.” Fearful that al-Maliki is attempting to consolidate power for himself and DAWA, the Shiia groups balked at his demand but left the door open for al-Maliki’s possible return. On November 4, Iranian Parliamentary leader Ali Larijani arrived in Baghdad for talks with Iraq’s Shiia parties, urging them to settle their differences and bring al-Maliki into the fold to maximize Shiia control over Iraq’s government in the upcoming elections. But rapprochement between al-Maliki and the new United Iraqi Alliance is not likely. Over the past year al-Maliki’s missteps have alienated key forces and developments have conspired to further undermine his power base.
In August, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari led a press conference announcing the creation of a new Shiia majority electoral list; the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). After losing the 2009 provincial elections, the Sadrists, the Fadhila Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) patched up their differences and formed the UIA. Shiia forces hold 128 of the 275 seats in parliament, but in the 2009 provincial elections the ISCI won only 12% of the vote, the Sadrist 9% and former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaffari won 5%. Forced to adjust its platform, the dominant ISCI dropped its call to create a Shiia controlled autonomous region (Shiiastan) in southern Iraq to appease Muqtada al Sadr’s forces in Baghdad and central Iraq who opposed Shiia regional autonomy. To appeal to more mainstream voters and secularists, the Sadrist and ISCI jettisoned their rhetoric to establish Iraq as a theocratic (read Shiia) Islamic state, choosing instead to run as a secular list. To broaden their base, the UIA invited Sunni groups, independents and influential Shiia secularist politicians like Ahmed al Chalabi and former DAWA Prime Minister al-Jaafari to join their list. When powerful Shiia cleric Ayatollah Sistani endorsed an open ballot process allowing Iraqis to vote for individuals, parties or lists, instead of just coalitions, UIA backers supported the measure in parliament although it will narrow their advantage at the ballot box.
While the UIA is expanding its base, al-Maliki’s “State of Law List” efforts to widen its influence beyond its DAWA base have met with little success. Prominent Sunni and secularist leaders publicly courted by al-Maliki are refusing to support his bloc. Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Sunni leader Saleh Mutlak and Vice-President Tarik al Hashemi formed the anti-Iranian “Iraqi National Movement List,” advocating re-integration of former Baathist leaders. Sheikh Ahmad Abu Risha, a force in Anbar and Interior Minister Jawad Bolani of the Constitution Party decided to create their own “Unity Alliance.” Similarly, al-Maliki’s efforts to recruit Ninewa Province’s ruling al-Hadbaa Party and Sunni tribal leaders from Anbar, Tamim and Salahaddin met with failure.
The Sunni lack of support for al-Maliki is not surprising. Al-Maliki promised to pay salaries for former Sunni Awakening forces and integrate them into Iraq’s national army, but half of the Awakening soldiers were never paid. Recently, al-Maliki announced the armed forces payroll would be cut as government salaries and expenditures were absorbing 74% of the nation’s $58 billion budget, thus the Iraqi National Army will likely remain a predominantly Shiia military. Moreover, reconciliation efforts to reintegrate Baathist forces into the wellsprings of Iraq’s government still has not occurred and no agreement has been reached on distribution of oil revenues. Despite his break with the Sadrists and the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council, the Sunni still view al-Maliki as an agent of Iranian ambition. Sunni dissatisfaction with al-Maliki was underscored by the twin al Queda bombings in October of government complexes in the middle of Baghdad. The blasts that killed hundreds seriously undermined al-Maliki’s claim that he has restored security to Iraq. As the attacks were directed against major government buildings it appears the bombings were a direct warning to al-Maliki that the Sunni can visit chaos on Iraq if their demands are not addressed.
With the passage of the new 2010 election law allowing the 2009 voter list to be used in Kirkuk’s elections the Kurds are poised to gain control of oil-rich Tamim Province and exercise virtual independence from Iraq. Sunni Arab and Turkmen groups argued for using the 2004 voting list to eliminate voter eligibility for thousands of Kurds that returned to Kirkuk after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. How the new election law would be applied to Kirkuk was the most contentious issue delaying the passage of the new bill and it remains the most volatile flashpoint that could lead to mass sectarian violence between the Kurds, the Sunni and Turkmen. The Kurds are now positioned to increase its 53 seat voting bloc in Iraq’s Parliament and strike a deal with the Shiia UAI List to incorporate oil rich Kirkuk into Kurdistan’s autonomous region. The two major Kurdish groups (PUK and KDP) will not enter into an alliance with Nouri al-Maliki, who opposed Kurdish enlargement and dispatched Iraqi Army forces to attack the Kurdish peshmerga in 2008. Instead, the Kurds will support UIA control of parliament and have a major voice in naming a new Prime Minister to replace al-Maliki if the “State of Law List falters.”
While Prime Minister al-Maliki’s chances of being re-elected are growing dimmer, shifting alliances and unforeseen events could tip the scales back in his direction the next sixty days. Iraq is a very unpredictable place. Prime Minister al-Maliki’s emphasis on secularism, law and order and building a unitary Iraq rather than ceding more autonomy to the Kurds and Shiia has been viewed with great favor by the Obama administration. And while his outreach to the Sunni may fall short of winning allies for the election, it has altered the political dynamic in Iraq. For the moment, the revamped Shiia led United Iraq Alliance has the momentum to win a working Parliamentary majority and name a new Prime Minister.  Among al-Maliki’s potential successors are Adel Abdul Mehdi, the Vice-President and a senior leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s first elected prime minister. A pro-Iran leaning UIA victory will mean Tehran will strengthen its position in Iraq as the United States prepares to accelerate troop withdrawals at the end of March. The referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement scheduled for approval during the 2010 parliamentary has been withdrawn and will proceed on schedule for all U.S. forces to be withdrawn by August 31, 2011. If American forces can avoid being drawn into the maelstrom of Iraqi politics and sectarian violence President Obama may have the good fortune to exit U.S. troops without significant losses and augment his forces in Afghanistan. While an orderly U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be viewed by many in the United States as a victory, in the larger strategic sense Iran’s ability to gain the upper hand in Iraq and solidify its control over the Persian Gulf would mark a major strategic setback for the U.S. Iraq’s 2010 elections and the fate of Prime Minister al-Maliki will significantly impact the future of American power in Gulf region as democratic elections continue to cast a large footprint across the Middle East.              




Analysis:  November 3, 2009    

by Webster Brooks 



With Hamid Karzai’s re-election as President of Afghanistan guaranteed by Abdullah Abdullah’s withdrawal from the race, President Obama is  moving U.S. policy towards the end-game of America’s occupation in Afghanistan. To reverse the Taliban’s momentum, protect Afghanistan’s major population centers and allow more time for President Karzai’s embattled government to be stabilized, President Obama will deploy up to 20,000 additional U.S. troops. By steering a “middle course” with a scaled down version of General McCrystal’s counterinsurgency plan, the President hopes to tilt the battlefield in favor of U.S./NATO forces without launching a forward-based offensive in the Pashtun Belt that will result in heavy U.S. troop losses.  The “McCrystal Light” strategy will place more emphasis on containing the Taliban, rather than the U.S. taking aggressive actions to significantly degrade Taliban forces. President Obama’s overarching strategic consideration will be re-setting the battlefield to give Afghanistan’s indigenous anti-Taliban oppostion forces the leverage to militarily engage and nuetralize the Taliban over time as the U.S. starts drawing down forces in 2011.   

President Obama’s decision to surge more U.S. troops to Afghanistan was never in question for several reasons. The Taliban’s growing momentum and influence cannot be allowed to expand without a challenge. Troop increases will also forestall a revolt by the U.S. military establishment and the Republican Party that have solidly backing the McCrystal plan. At the same time, a more robust presence of U.S. troops on the ground will send a message to America’s allies (NATO, India and Pakistan) and regional adversaries (Russia, Iran and China) that Afghanistan will not be abandoned. 

President Obama’s adoption of the “McCrystal Light” counterinsurgency plan is clearly a gamble to play for more time–more time for fresh U.S. forces to get postioned during the winter lull in fighting; more time to coordinate a new strategic orientation with NATO, and more time for new power sharing arrangements to be forged between Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and the warlord powers. Afghanistan’s fraudulent elections have further undermined President Karzai’s despised government, increased ethnic tension and could still lead to violence between competing warlords if a post-election power sharing arrangement is not reached. 

By maintaining control of Afghanistan’s major population centers and key highways between Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar e Sharif, Herat and Kabul, U.S. /NATO forces may be able to bludgeon the Taliban’s advance while containing its presence in Eastern and Southeastern Afghanistan. To disrupt the Taliban and al Queda operations, the U.S. will certainly continue its Drone attacks and Special Forces missions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In the meanwhile, the Obama administration will be forced to rapidly buildup the criminal warlord forces and their militias along with Afghanistan’s National Army as a bulwark against a Taliban takeover. As the warlord forces outside the Pashtun Belt represent Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and Turkmen ethnic groups (60% of the total population), it’s possible that America’s eventual withdrawal could lead to a civil war between Afghanistan’s ethnic groups and the Pashtun dominated Taliban. These non-Pashtun communities that  coalesced under the banner of the Northern Alliance to help topple the Taliban in 2001 have no desire to live under Taliban rule again. Thus, to the extent that these forces could re-unite to form an effective anti-Taliban united front, preventing a Taliban takeover of all Afghanistan can be averted even if the Taliban is not completely dislodged from its Pashtun Belt strongholds.

President Obama is also gambling that as U.S. forces begin to draw down troop levels, Iran, Russia and India–three countries that supported the Northern Alliance and have a significant stake in preventing the Taliban’s return to power –may increase support for their various proxy forces within Afghanistan. Thus far Russia and Iran have benefitted strategically from America being pre-occupied and weakened by the conflict in Afghanistan. However, a Taliban takeover would spell trouble for Moscow and Tehran. Indeed, there are realistic scenarios in which the United States can withdraw the majority of its armed forces from Afghanistan and still prevent a Taliban takeover while denying al Queda a safe haven.

Under any of these scenarios, the real tragedy will be the horrible violence and deprevation the majority of Afghan people will continue to endure. The hardship they have suffered since the Taliban was deposed in 2001 has not significantly changed under the corrupt Karzai government. Moreover, the criminal warlords who have privatized the nation’s resources, stolen its mineral wealth, established their own tax collections system, profited from Afghanistan’s booming narcotics industry and crushed the Afghan peoples’ democratic rights have rivaled the Taliban in the art of brutal repression. The much discussed need for a counterinsurgency strategy and increasing U.S. troops to defeat the Taliban while doing nothing to curb the warlords power will leave millions of Afghans defenseless against these henchmen, many of which hold top level positions in the Karzai government today.

President Obama has come under heavy criticism for being indecisive and taking too much time to respond to General McCrystal’s assessment and recommendations on Afghanistan. What may be closer to the truth is that President Obama did not particularly like the options he was presented with. Vice-President Biden’s counterterrorism stategy emphasizing Drone attacks and Special Forces operations to subdue the Taliban was nothing more than a quick and dirty withdrawal strategy by another name. Obama will conclude that the situation on the ground does not yet warrant committing 40,000 additional troops. Given the current strain on U.S. armed forces Obama is also clearly concerned about getting bogged down in a long war in Afghanistan when America has other challenges it must prepare for. The situation in Iraq where 130,000 U.S. troops are still deployed remains a fluid and dangerous thearte of war. In steering the “middle course” President Obama will seek to balance all the competing internal forces on the ground in Afghanistan to achieve an outcome that prevents the Taliban from returning to power. This strategy calls for reshaping alliances and weakening forces in some cases, while strengthening forces and even provoking rivalries in others instances. With public support in America waning for the war in Afghanistan, President Obama’s “McCrystal Light” strategy to achieve the same objective of pushing back the Taliban and al Queda with minimal U.S. troop fatalities may also strike an acceptable balance.

Subduing insurgencies in foreign countries is sometimes the burden policing  empire. These unpopular conflicts can be lost by the lack of polictical support at home, just as easily as by being defeated by adversaries on the battlefield abroad. President Obama didn’t create American empire or start the war in Afghanistan, but he is now fully immersed in the search for an elegant solution to a very thorny crises in the Central Asian Great Game.

Obama Can Win Afghanistan With Soft Partition & the “Reverse McCrystal Strategy”


Obama Can Win Afghanistan With Soft Partition & the “Reverse McCrystal Strategy”

by Webster Brooks

Today, the Center for New Politics and Policy (CNPP) released its recommendations to abate the Taliban insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan with a new strategy paper called “Obama Can Win Afghanistan with Soft Partition & the Reverse McCrystal Strategy” (RMS). The RMS report highlights recommendations to halt the Taliban’s momentum, reconfigure US/NATO force structure on the ground with 20,000 additional troops, stabilize Afghanistan’s post-election government and maximize vital reconstruction efforts to unleash Afghanistan’s state building efforts. The Reverse McCrystal Strategy provides a framework for President Obama’s efforts over the next 18 months to achieve his central goal of preventing a Taliban takeover and denying al Queda a platform in Afghanistan to launch attacks against the United States. The report was drafted by Senior Fellow Webster Brooks, Director of Brooks Foreign Policy Review; the international affairs arm of the Center for New Politics and Policy. The following summary of the Reverse McCrystal Strategy was released on October 19, 2009 in Washington, D.C.


The critical moment for President Obama to announce a decision on America’s strategy to win the war in Afghanistan is fast approaching. In the ongoing series of White House war councils, debate continues on General Stanley McCrystal’s August report that stated “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12-18 months)….risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”  Over the next 18 months President Obama faces four critical questions: 1) Developing a response to stem the Taliban’s growing influence and putting the insurgency on the defensive, 2) Redeploying U.S./NATO/ANA forces to tilt the battlefield in their favor, 3) Brokering an agreement to form a power-sharing post-election government and 4) Reorganizing state building and reconstruction efforts to create the foundation needed to sustain Afghanistan. The Reverse McCrystal Strategy (RMS) represents the best and most realistic strategy to achieve these objectives in the next 18 months and prepare for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops over the long run (3-4 years). 

The centerpiece of the Reverse McCrystal Strategy calls for redeploying U.S./NATO military and economic power to consolidate Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan into a “maximum safety zone.” Securing these three regions now where 65% of all Afghans live, and linking them to vital reconstruction efforts is the most effective way to diminish the Taliban’s momentum and solidify critical mass around the central government. Supported by 20,000 additional American troops, U.S./NATO operations would shift from conducting “clear, hold and build missions” inside the Taliban dominated Pashtun belt to providing maximum security to Kabul and the 23 identified “median and low-risk” provinces where the Taliban’s presence is minimal but spreading (see map). Recent Taliban advances outside the Pashtun belt suggest that U.S. forces engaging their adversaries from Kunduz in Northeastern Afghanistan to the southern province of Helmand are overstretched and under resourced. General McCrystal’s request for 40,000 to 80,000 troops to pursue the elusive Taliban plays directly into the Taliban’s hit and run strategy. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to maneuver and expand the battlefield, launching surprise offensives in new areas. What is most important now for President Obama and the faltering Afghan government is reversing the Taliban’s momentum by consolidating order, safety and stability over a significant section of Afghanistan. Demonstrating real progress and a model of a viable state is of the utmost urgency. Securing Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan would not only demonstrate tangible success, it would decisively impact the balance of power on the ground.         

The Reverse McCrystal Strategy also calls on U.S./NATO forces to scale back forward operations for one year in the Pashtun belt where the Taliban enjoys real support, superior battlefield knowledge and strategic depth with supporting rear-guard bases in Pakistan. The tactical pullback in the Pashtun belt would be done in conjunction with the mass redeployment to Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan. A “demilitarized zone” and safe transit corridors to-and-from the Pushtun-belt provinces would be established for commercial purposes and safe passage. In addition, US/NATO forces would continue the “limited use” of Drone attacks and Special Forces operations on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border to interdict arms shipments and infiltrating al Queda elements. Redoubled efforts in cooperation with Pakistan’s government to destroy critical Taliban support networks in Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is of critical importance. Concurrent with these changes, Afghanistan’s government would open discussions with Pashtun tribal leaders, parliamentary officials and “willing” Taliban elements over a potential framework for regional autonomy and other national reforms.

While the RMS embraces General McCrystal’s call for a shift from defeating the Taliban by force of arms to creating safe havens, it reverses the battlefield deployment and political focus by winning the hearts and minds of two-thirds of Afghanistan’s provinces first. It optimizes opportunities to contain and undermine the Taliban by negating the most compelling factor powering its surge; the prevailing state of chaos across Afghanistan led by an incompetent and corrupt Karzai government and criminal warlords.

By increasing troop levels, resetting US/NATO/ forces and tactically pulling back in the Pashtun Belt, President Obama will gain valuable breathing room to bring America’s allies on side, settle the post-election political governmental crisis and train additional Afghan National Army troops. Whether there is a run-off election or not between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, it is critical that both men participate in a new coalition government. The effort to stabilize Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan will require significant compromise between Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and Turkmen who were the core of the Northern Alliance that helped topple the Taliban in 2001. Many of these forces also supported Abdullah Abdullah in the first round of the presidential elections. For better or worse, as a Pashtun, Hamid Karzai can still be a valuable asset in talks with provincial leaders on instituting various forms of autonomy in Pashtun communities. While the character of the Taliban’s insurgency is Islamic-based, the Taliban has remained a predominately ethnic-Pashtun movement. Increased autonomy may create new vehicles and greater choice to incorporate Pashtun cultural, religious and traditional practices into provincial governance structures, thereby dispelling notions that only the Taliban can fulfill these aspirations. The essential point of autonomy in the Pashtun belt is that increased empowerment at the provincial level will afford Pashtun more choices and resources to exert independence from the Taliban. 

Critics of the Reverse McCrystal Strategy will undoubtedly claim that any pullback-temporary or otherwise- from taking the fight to the Taliban is tantamount to capitulation or surrender. But there is no purely military solution to end the war in Afghanistan. The consensus view is that sufficient damage must be inflicted on extremists Taliban elements to create conditions that will compel moderate and wavering Taliban elements to align themselves with the central government. By creating a safe and viable Afghanistan state in Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan supported by a majority of the Afghan people, the Taliban’s rationale that they are the only force that can restore order will be severely undermined. Containing the Taliban’s advances by a soft partition of the Pashtun belt will halt their expansion and reverse their momentum. Increased efforts with Pakistan to neutralize their rear-guard support bases will bottle the Taliban up in a confined space. Offers of greater autonomy and redefining their relationship to the Afghan government will stimulate more debate among the Pashtun people about where their future interests lie and further undercut support for the Taliban. The Reverse McCrystal Strategy in its initial phase will significantly weaken the Taliban militarily and drain its political support among the Pashtun people. Moreover, RMS can accomplish all these achievements with the lowest possible U.S./NATO casualty rates. With public opinion weakening in America and Europe for the war, tangible success in stabilizing 65% of Afghanistan today combined with minimum casualties is the formula to sustain support for the cause in Afghanistan. If and when US/NATO forces have to move decisively to fully re-engage militarily in the Pashtun belt they would confront a far less formidable adversary.

Prosecuting unpopular wars against insurgencies that cannot be won militarily is sometimes the burden of policing empire. There are no easy options for President Obama in Afghanistan. What is required now is an imaginative approach that breaks with conventional thinking. The Reverse McCrystal Strategy offers both. ******

Obama’s Critics on Missille Defense Shield Cancellation Are Wrong



September 27, 2009

“President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. That’s why I’m committed to deploying strong missile defense systems which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century. This approach is also consistent with NATO’s missile defense efforts and provides opportunities for enhanced international collaboration going forward and we are bound by the solemn commitment of NATO’s Article V that an attack on one is an attack on all.”                                                                                 

Critics charging that President Obama’s cancellation of the missile defense shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic marked capitulation to Russia and weakened Europe’s defense against Iranian and Russian missile attacks are dead wrong. Quite the opposite, the President’s new plan deploys a more potent, high tech, land, sea and space-based system to defend all of Europe and the Caucuses. Obama’s revised “Star Wars” plan is more mobile, less detectable and will be deployed faster than the original plan for ten ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and forward-based X-band missile radar in the Czech Republic. Arguably, the Obama-Gates universal interceptor missile system will put the United States on the cusp of uncontested global military superiority by making itself and its allies highly impenetrable to Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian missile attacks.

Appearing with President Obama at the September 17 announcement, Defense Secretary Gates stated that “We have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors in northern and southern Europe that in the near term provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others.” Given that Iran is nowhere close to fielding long-range missiles, Gates reference to “others” was obviously directed at Russia. Gates outlined the new plan that will deploy Aegis class warships equipped with SM-3 mobile missile interceptors that can be moved from one region to another. The U.S. has fifteen destroyers and three cruisers equipped with the Aegis combat system which is being developed into a worldwide, sea based, rapid deployable missile shield structure. These new capabilities are being coordinated with Norway, Spain, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Indeed, in February 2008, the USS Lake Erie, an Aegis class guided-missile cruiser, shot down an American satellite in space in its testing phase.  Further, Gates said Phase 2 of the universal interceptor missile system will include “upgraded land-based SM-3s” by 2015.

In addition to deploying the universal interceptor missile system, the Obama Administration and NATO are upgrading the integrated European Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) with current Patriot and Nike Hercules components.  MEADS will include forward-based X-band radar, 360 degree surveillance radar, missile launchers and next-generation Patriot interceptor missiles. MEADS will be interoperable with other defense systems, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and the Aegis sea-based missile defense systems. Obama has requested and will receive $600 million in funding from Congress for MEADS in the next fiscal year. Doubters concerned about President Obama’s commitment to missile defense should also take comfort in the August announcement of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency that its modified Boeing 747-400F airplane was successfully deployed with a laser weapon that “found, tracked, engaged and simulated an intercept with a missile seconds after liftoff.’ This fall the first live attempt to bring down a ballistic missile will be tested. As for the “defenseless” Czech Republic and Poland, the Pentagon has already opened talks with both countries about hosting a land-based version of the SM-3 missile interceptors and other components of the system. American plans call for 96 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles in Poland, capable of selecting targeting and homing in on the warhead portion of an inbound ballistic missile. 

Obama’s detractors that claim Poland and the Czech Republic were betrayed in exchange for Russian support for sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program should think again. It’s true that Russian President Medvedev applauded President Obama’s decision to “cancel” the missile defense shield system. After all, he’d look foolish criticizing what Russia had so publicly demanded. On September 22, Medvedev also suggested Russia would consider supporter tougher sanctions against Iran. But behind the walls of the Kremlin there are growing concerns about Russia’s encirclement by the U.S./NATO buildup of a global missile interceptor system. Moscow has seen this movie before. President Reagan’s original Star Wars plan set off a run of defense spending in the USSR that contributed significantly to the economic hollowing out of the Soviet state. When Russia responded to the Poland-Czech Republic missile defense shield by threatening to place Iskander ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad on Poland’s border, it evoked a sense of an escalating Cold War buildup. If Russia ultimately supports damaging sanctions against Iran it won’t be because they feared ten fixed-site land based missile interceptors and a radar installation outside of Prague; Putin and company have a larger strategic problem to counterbalance.  

It must also be said that after all the rhetoric about the Polish and Czech people being abandoned to the Russians, surveys consistently demonstrate that a majority of Poles opposed the stationing of American missiles inside their borders. In the Czech Republic, over two-thirds of the public opposed the basing of the interceptor missile radar. For those who are still not clear about President Obama’s capacity for flexing American military might, he defended his vision of the Star Wars 2 universal missile interceptor system by saying, “President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. And that’s why I’m committed to deploying strong missile defense systems which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century. This approach is also consistent with NATO’s missile defense efforts and provides opportunities for enhanced international collaboration going forward and we are bound by the solemn commitment of NATO’s Article V that an attack on one is an attack on all.”  Commenting on the new missile defense system the conservative Wall Street Journal recently stated that “Never has Ronald Reagan’s dream of layered missile defenses – Star Wars, for short – been as close, at least technologically, to becoming realized.”

America’s military buildup of ground forces and the largest CIA station in Afghanistan and its aggressive push to place military installations across Central Asia are exerting enormous pressure on Russia, China and Iran. In the final analysis, President Obama will not be able to stop Iran’s drive to master the uranium enrichment cycle or develop a nuclear weapons program. What we witnessing now with the deployment of Obama’s Star Wars 2 missile defense system is a rapid buildup to contain the emerging Eastern Axis in Tehran, Beijing and Moscow.