Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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Thius editorial, by Eugene Robinson, was published by the Washington Post, November 13, 2009
The most dreadful burden of the presidency -- the power to send men and women to die for their country -- seems to weigh heavily on Barack Obama these days. He went to Dover Air Force Base to salute the coffins of fallen troops. He gave a moving speech at the memorial service for victims of last week's killings at Fort Hood. On Veterans Day, after the traditional wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, he took an unscheduled walk among the rows of marble headstones in Section 60, where the dead from our two ongoing wars are buried.
As he decides whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Obama should keep these images in mind. Geopolitical calculation has human consequences. Sending more troops will mean more coffins arriving at Dover, more funerals at Arlington, more stress and hardship for military families. It would be wrong to demand such sacrifice in the absence of military goals that are clear, achievable and worthwhile.
And what goals in Afghanistan remotely satisfy those criteria?
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, recently sent two classified cables to officials in Washington expressing what the newspaper described as "deep concerns" about sending more troops now.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, chosen by Obama to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked for perhaps 40,000 additional troops to carry out a counterinsurgency campaign. Armchair Napoleons in Washington, comfortably ensconced in their book-lined offices, insist that Obama must "listen to the generals." But Eikenberry was a four-star general until Obama named him ambassador earlier this year. He commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2006-07. He needs to be heard as well.
In what were described as sharply worded cables, Eikenberry reportedly expressed serious doubts about the willingness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have made his government so unpopular and ineffectual -- and that have allowed the Taliban to effectively regain control of much of the country.
Karzai, you will recall, committed what observers described as widespread, blatant election fraud in "winning" a new term in office. In many parts of Afghanistan, the Karzai government is seen as so weak and corrupt that the Taliban has been able to move in as a lesser-of-two-evils alternative.
It is axiomatic that a successful counterinsurgency program requires a partnership with a reliable, legitimate government. If the Karzai regime is not such a partner, the goal that McChrystal would be pursuing with those extra 40,000 troops will not be achievable.
Obama is also reportedly considering scenarios in which he would send roughly 30,000 extra troops, somehow persuading our unwilling NATO allies to make up the difference, or send about 20,000 troops and modify the McChrystal plan, opting instead for a "hybrid" strategy that's part counterinsurgency, part counterterrorism. I'm skeptical that either of these options sets goals that are achievable, and I'm certain that neither sets goals that are clear.
Following his visits to Dover, Fort Hood and Arlington Cemetery, Obama should focus the attention of the White House and the Pentagon on a question that too often is overlooked: What troops?
Our all-volunteer armed forces have been at war for eight years with no end in sight, serving tours of duty of up to 15 months in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many units have been called to serve multiple tours. By contrast, most Vietnam War soldiers served a single one-year tour.
Fighting two big simultaneous wars with our armed forces stretched so thin has put enormous emotional, psychological and economic stress on military families. The suicide rate in the armed forces has climbed steadily, as has the incidence of stress disorders among veterans. The Pentagon is adept at shuttling its people around and has worked out how to provide the 40,000 troops McChrystal wants. But any new deployment would come at a heavy cost -- a human cost -- far beyond the billions of dollars required to train, equip, transport and maintain the units being sent.
There are reports that Obama has refused to sign off on any plan until his advisers tell him how they propose to end the expanded war they advocate. But this sounds like just another way of saying: Tell me how we're going to fix the mistake we're about to make.
As long as our goals in Afghanistan remain as elusive as they are now, Obama shouldn't be sending troops. He should be bringing them out.
This article, by Richard Lee, was posted to The Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
To Barack Obama:
Let’s have a military buildup! You can show those crazy-ass generals at the Pentagon that you aren’t just a chicken-shit weenie from Harvard.
You gotta do it right, however. Stop waffling about a measly 40,000 or 44,000 troops and do it like you mean it! I know you have never fought for or against anything. (That squabble with the Court Clerk to get your papers filed doesn’t count.) But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep that HOPE and CHANGE thingy going, so we won’t see what is really happening behind the curtain.
Since you don’t have a clue how to go about it, you should go back and dust off the template that the power-drunk cowboy used way back when. Turn to the record of his build-up, covering March 8, 1965, through, say, the end of January, 1966. Yep, that’s right I’m talking about Vietnam (they told me you were smart); don’t let that slow you down, a buildup is a buildup and you can do it in Afghanistan just like Lyndon and Waste-more-land did it back then.
You’ve already got 68,000 troops and an untold number of mercenaries... uh, contractors there so maybe you can forgo the photo op of the Marines stomping ashore like at Da Nang, or maybe you can arrange something like that, it was a good photo. No one will call you on it; the ignorance of the American people knows no limits. Don’t forget to include the Afghani ARVN; they’ll do you a lot of good.
That done, throw caution to the wind, fire anyone who counsels caution, and begin a real buildup!
Expect casualties. Lyndon was told to expect civilian casualties of 25,000 dead, about 68 men, women and children a day, mostly from “friendly fire” and 50,000 wounded. That was an estimate for the one year the generals said it would take to bring the Vietnamese “to their knees” and initiate their surrender; one year, or maybe 18 months at the most. That number was good enough for Lyndon, so don’t let anybody’s numbers scare you. In 1968 there were 85,000 civilians wounded.
Next, establish free fire zones. Once you get all those troops there, they will need some place to fire off all their ordnance. Go to an inhabited area, drop leaflets or have USAID workers visit and tell the population to get on the road and become refugees. Those who are too old or too infirm to go, or who come up with the excuse that Afghanistan is their country and they ain’t going; well, those are Viet Cong... I mean, Tally Band.
What good is a free fire zone if it doesn’t have any targets to shoot at anyway? While you are busy changing “Viet Cong” to “Taliban," change the name “free fire zones” to Specified Strike Zones; those pesky Congressional liberals will feel better about it. It worked when Lyndon did it.
Get an air war going. Crank up the SAC B-52’s, they don’t have anything to do now that the Russians opted out of the Cold War. One B-52 at 30,000 feet can drop a payload that will take out everything in a box five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. You can still call it “Operation Arc Light”; no one will remember that’s been used before.
Don’t forget to let the other planes in on the fun! Fighter bombers can deliver ordnance too. Lyndon, in that first 10 months, got it up to 400 sorties a day, add in the B-52’s and they were able to drop 825 tons of bombs a day. Some even hit their targets.
Drop more than bombs. I hate to suggest a return to Agent Orange. Military science must have come up with better stuff in the last 50 years. If not, then use the leftover Agent Orange, the residual effect is worth it. Not only will those enemy Afghanis (or friendly ones, for that matter) not be able to plant food crops in target areas for decades, but “Taliban fighters” will keep dying from it for years after we’re gone.
During the 10-month Vietnam build-up, specially equipped C-123’s covered 850,000 acres, in 1966 they topped that, “defoliating” 1.5 million acres. By war’s end they’d dropped 18 million gallons of Agent Orange, in addition to millions of gallons of less notorious but still deadly poisons code-named for other colors -- Purple, White, Pink, and more -- over 20% of the south of Vietnam.
To help keep the buildup affordable, take no costly precautions with our own troops; it’s hot in Afghanistan, so let them take off their shirts while spraying. The afflicted Vietnam vets sued the government over it, they won! My brother Tommy was one of them. What did they win? Well, when they die, they get $300.00 from the government. You can forget about the vets anyway when the war is over, that’s S.O.P.
Now, a buildup ain’t all in the air. Howitzers, Long Tom Cannons and mortars expended enough high explosive and shrapnel in Southeast Asia to equal the tonnage dropped from the air.
And it’s not just troop strength that you’ll need to build up. Your friends The Masters of War have probably already told you that. A build-up is troops and MATERIAL. See how Waste-more-land did it, and more or less copy that. Brown and Root are still in business; have a sit down with them; they can help you sort it out.
Build airfields. With hundreds of thousands more troops you will need lots of airfields. Jet airfields are best for business. Lyndon had three in Vietnam before he started, he quickly built five more. So, discount what you have and get cracking! A 10,000 foot runway to start, and then add parallel taxiways, high speed turnoffs, and tens of thousands of square yards of aprons for maneuvering and parking. Use aluminum matting at first; you can replace it with concrete later. You gotta build hangers, repair shops, offices and operations buildings, barracks, mess halls, and other buildings. Don’t stint on the air conditioning!
Build deep water ports. What? Don’t have an ocean? Kee-rist, what kind of a country are we liberating anyway? Well, you still gotta build ports! Guess you can build them in Kuwait and other countries and truck all the shit through Iraq, they will be pacified by then and welcoming us with open arms and goofy little dances. Pakistan might like one or two, it would be good for business and we can just pay them to be our friend like we do now... only more.
Ports were dredged to 28 feet back then, but the newer boats draw 40 feet. It may be only mud to you, but its gold to the contractors. Half a dozen new ports should get you started.
But wait, there’s more. Four or five central supply and maintenance depots and hundreds of satellite facilities, build them along the lines of the prison gulag you are building in the U.S.
Build thirty more permanent base camps for the new combat and support troops you are sending. Another fifty or so tactical airfields long enough to hold C-130’s. Build two dozen or more hospitals that have a total of nine to ten thousand beds. Be sure there are new plush headquarters buildings for the brass and about four or five thousand staff. Everything has to be connected by secure electronic data systems, secure telephones, two or three hundred communications facilities around the country. Tens of thousands of new circuits will be needed to accommodate the built-up war machine.
You are a smart guy, Mr. President, so I won’t belabor an explanation of each thing. But here is a quick list of bare necessities: Warehouses, ammunitions stowage areas, tank farms for all the petroleum, oil and lubricants, new hard top roads, well ventilated and air conditioned barracks with hot water and flushing toilets (think 6-10,000 septic tanks). Food, not just MRE’s, but for all those REMF’s who will need fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Thousands of cold lockers to store this, and you need to build a milk reconstitution plant, maybe two or three, and ice cream plants.
All this is going to take a lot of electricity, so you will need thousands of permanent and mobile gas-driven generators (better add another tank farm). PX’s, not just for cigarettes and shaving cream, but all the things that the consumer army you will be sending is used to having: video game consoles, blackberries, microwave ovens, computers, slacks and sport shirts (to wear on R&R -- could omit that by having no R&R), soft drinks (better build a bottling plant), beer, whiskey, ice cubes (more generators?). Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, steaks.
Be sure to stock candy, lingerie, and cosmetics to improve the standard of living of the local women. They will also need to buy electric fans, toasters, percolators, TV’s, CD and DVD players, room air conditioners, and small refrigerators.
Movie theaters, service clubs, bowling alleys... will the list ever end? No!
Well, that will get your buildup started. I haven’t even addressed the more and more and more troops the generals will want, that is way too heavy for me!
In re-creating Johnson’s buildup, it will be better to skip over the second week in November, 1965, and all that stuff about the Drang River Valley, that’s just for historians. Close the book when you get to the end of January, 1966. Don’t read through April, with all those dreary reports from Khe Sanh. Don’t read about Tet 1968. Just remember it was the press and the Congress and the people who lost their will that lost that war, and not the stupid blundering generals or the presidents who didn’t give a shit how many they killed on either side.
One last thing: get your architects busy designing the Bush/Obama wall to put opposite ours on the Mall. Maybe you can even have your vets pay for it themselves like we had to.
I go there whenever I am in that stinking city. I sit on the edge of the grass just before sundown and sometimes I talk to the wall. The wall stands silent then; they are still waiting for an answer to the question of why we went to Vietnam. When it gets dark, sometimes the wall talks back. They say a lot of things, but they never say, “God bless my Commander-in-Chief.”
Richard Lee, Vet (Veterans Day, 2009)
This article, by Pauline Jelinek, was poublished by the Sacramento Bee, November 13, 2009
Morale has fallen among soldiers in Afghanistan, where troops are seeing record violence in the 8-year-old war, while those in Iraq show much improved mental health amid much lower violence, the Army said Friday.
Soldier suicides in Iraq did not increase for the first time since 2004, according to a new study.
Though findings of two new battlefield surveys are similar in several ways to the last ones taken in 2007, they come at a time of intense scrutiny on Afghanistan as President Barack Obama struggles to come up with a new war strategy and planned troop buildup. There is also perhaps equal new attention focused on the mental health of the force since a shooting rampage at Fort Hood last week in which an Army psychiatrist is charged.
Both surveys showed that soldiers on their third or fourth tours of duty had lower morale and more mental health problems than those with fewer deployments and an ever-increasing number of troops are having problems with their marriages.
The new survey on Afghanistan found instances of depression, anxiety and other psychological problems are about the same as they were in 2007. But it also said there is a shortage of mental health workers to help soldiers who need it, partly because of the buildup Obama already started this year with the dispatch of more than 20,000 extra troops.
Efforts already under way to get more health workers to the Afghan war could be hampered somewhat by last week's shooting. The psychiatrist charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder was slated to go to Afghanistan. Some of the dead and wounded also were to deploy there to bolster psychological services for soldiers.
The new Afghanistan survey found that individual soldier morale was about the same as previous studies, but that "unit morale rates ... were significantly lower than in 2005 or 2007," said an executive summary of the report that was to be explained in a news conference Friday. The units referred to were mostly platoons of roughly a couple dozen people each.
In Iraq, some 2,400 soldiers in randomly selected platoons filled out surveys from December 2008 through March 2009 and a mental health assessment team went to the warfront for a month starting in late February to analyze the results and hold interviews and focus groups.In Afghanistan, more than 1,500 troops in more than 50 platoons filled out the surveys from April to June, and the assessment team when through the same process from May through June.
Mental health providers also were interviewed in each country.
It's the sixth such survey, a program that was groundbreaking when started in 2003 in that it was the biggest effort ever made to measure the health of troops - and the services they receive - right at the warfront.
The survey was different from previous ones in that it sampled two types of platoons. Some were maneuver units that warfighting groups engaged in combat-related tasks and others were support units such as aviation, engineering and medical elements less likely to have as much direct exposure to violence.
Other findings of the Afghanistan survey included:
Junior enlisted soldiers reported significantly more marital problems than noncommissioned officers, stating they intended to get a divorce or that they suspected their spouses back home of infidelity.
Exposure to combat, long recognized as a strong factor in mental health problems, was significantly higher this year than rates in 2005 and similar to rates in 2007 for the combat units.
Combat units reported significantly lower unit morale in the last six months of their tours of duty, more evidence of the wearing affect of long deployments.
Troops in their third or fourth deployment reported significantly more acute stress and other psychological problems, and among those married, reported significantly more marital problems compared to soldiers on their first or second deployment.
Soldiers on their third or fourth deployment reported using medications for psychological or combat stress problems at a significantly higher rate than those on their first deployment.
It was significantly harder to get behavioral health care this year than in 2005, a finding that may be owing to the fact that troops are spread out at hundreds of posts around the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.
Troops who spent two to four hours daily playing video games or surfing the Internet as a way to cope helped lower their psychological problems, but spending time beyond that - three to four hours - had the opposite effect. Those who exercised or did other physical training decreased their mental problems, regardless of the time spent.
Troops reported more and better training in suicide prevention and other mental health programs the Army has been increasing over recent years in an unprecedented effort to focus on the force's mental health.
The mental health care system in Afghanistan is understaffed based on the Army doctrine of one mental health worker for every 700 troops.
This article, by Victor Agosto, was posted to the Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
President Obama visited Fort Hood today [Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009]. He dropped by Michael Kern's barracks. Michael handed President Obama a letter, saying, "Sir, IVAW has some concerns we'd like for you to address." Obama then dropped his hand and went on to speak to the next soldier. The secret service then took possession of the letter:
In your recent comments on the Fort Hood tragedy, you stated "These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis. It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas. It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil." Sir, we have been losing these brave Americans on American soil for years, due to the mental health problems that come after deployment, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, and often, suicide.
You also said that "We will continue to support the community with the full resources of the federal government." Sir, we appreciate that -- but what we need is not more FBI or Homeland Security personnel swarming Fort Hood. What we need is full mental healthcare for all soldiers serving in the Army. What happened at Fort Hood has made it abundantly clear that the military mental health system, and our soldiers, are broken.
You said "We will make sure that we will get answers to every single question about this terrible incident." Sir, one of the answers is self evident: that a strained military cannot continue without better mental healthcare for all soldiers.
You stated that "As Commander-in-Chief, there's no greater honor but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure that the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for." Sir, we urge you to carry out your promise and ensure that our servicemembers indeed have access to quality mental health care. The Army has only 408 psychiatrists -- military, civilian and contractors -- serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world. This is far too few, and the providers that exist are often not competent professionals, as this incident shows. Military wages cannot attract the quality psychiatrists we need to care for these returning soldiers.
We ask that:
Each soldier about to be deployed and returning from deployment be assigned a mental health provider who will reach out to them, rather than requiring them to initiate the search for help.
Ensure that the stigma of seeking care for mental health issues is removed for soldiers at all levels-from junior enlisted to senior enlisted and officers alike.
Ensure that if mental health care is not available from military facilities, soldiers can seek mental health care with civilian providers of their choice
Ensure that soldiers are prevented from deploying with mental health problems and issues.
Stop multiple redeployments of the same troops.
Ensure full background checks for all mental health providers and periodic check ups for them to decompress from the stresses they shoulder from the soldiers they counsel to the workload they endure.
Sir, we hope that you will make the decision not to deploy one single Fort Hood troop without ensuring that all have had access to fair and impartial mental health screening and treatment.
You have stated on a number of occasions, starting during your campaign, how important our military and veterans are to this nation. The best way to safeguard the soldiers of this nation is to provide ALL soldiers with immediate, personal and professional mental health resources.
This interview, with National Security Adviser General James Jones, was published by Spiegel Online International, November 9, 2009
US National Security Adviser James L. Jones talks to SPIEGEL about his skepticism regarding calls for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the chances of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands and President Barack Obama's leadership style. SPIEGEL: General Jones, it's now 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Has the world become a safer place? James L. Jones: Tremendous accomplishments were made over a number of years to bring freedom and democracy to that portion of Europe that was left out of the drive. The events that took place 20 years ago meant for the whole of Europe much more peace and much more opportunity for the citizens that had lived on both sides of the wall. SPIEGEL: But it was not yet the "end of history," as the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama and many others predicted. What is the gravest threat to the American homeland today? Jones: I worry most about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in such a way that they could be acquired by non-governmental organizations, like terrorist groups, especially the radical groups that we know are trying to get these weapons. We're convinced that if they were to get them, they would use them. When a nation state has a nuclear weapon, it's a little bit easier to control the use of it, but for non-governmental groups it's much more difficult. We are obviously worried about North Korea and Iran, but the threat that's hardest to control is the non nation states, groups of individuals who could acquire such a weapon and what they would do. SPIEGEL: Do you assume that some terrorist groups are close to that goal? Jones: We're doing a good job nationally and internationally to make sure that we safeguard that eventuality from happening. SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world, given that the Taliban and al-Qaida are increasing their sphere of influence? Jones: Pakistan is certainly a point of strategic interest for us, for the alliance, and for much of the watching world because of the fact that they are nuclear -- they do have nuclear weapons, and they do have an ongoing insurgency. SPIEGEL: Is it possible that the civilian government and the armed forces could lose control over these nuclear weapons? Jones: It is something that we work on with the Pakistanis regularly. I've been assured that they're doing everything they can to make sure that these weapons are very tightly controlled and secured. SPIEGEL: And you think the generals are assessing the situation realistically? Jones: We are cooperating very closely. We hope that they are successful in combating their insurgencies because since 2006 this has become a real cancer on the border regions. SPIEGEL: The Obama administration is reviewing the strategy for Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is asking for additional troops. Jones: Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me. SPIEGEL: You would know. You're also a general and you were in Afghanistan from 2003 to almost 2007 ... Jones: ... and of course when I was there I asked for more troops. When we started in 2003, we had to develop a plan. So by definition, you have to ask for people. SPIEGEL: And now you support General McChrystal's demand for 40,000 additional troops? Jones: We are in the middle of a process with the president and all of his advisers in assessing the overall situation in Afghanistan. I believe we will not solve the problem with troops alone. The minimum number is important, of course. But there is no maximum number, however. And what's really important in Afghanistan is that with this new administration we insist on good governance, that it be coordinated with economic development and security, and that we have much, much better success at handing over responsibility for these three things to the Afghans. SPIEGEL: To President Hamid Karzai, who has just been reelected after a controversial election? Jones: To the Afghans. And we will put much more emphasis on battling corruption and putting competent and honest people in positions of authority. We will be working with our friends and allies to do that. SPIEGEL: When do you expect a final decision on McChrystal's request? Jones: It will be a decision made by all NATO members, not just the US president. As part of NATO we are one of 28 nations, and we are going to closely follow NATO's discussions of the McChrystal request. It's a NATO request of which the US will do a portion of it, but we think other countries will do their share as well. SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the Germans? Jones: I think that will be for Germany to decide. Germany is the third largest troop contributing nation and it has been at the forefront of developing the Afghan National Police, which is something that Germany can do better than us, because they have the training base and the culture for that kind of police training. In the end NATO will decide as a whole who will be responsible for particular contributions. SPIEGEL: What is the goal in Afghanistan right now -- to win the war? Jones: Our definition of the goal has been to defeat, disrupt, and dismantle the al-Qaida network, which is the one that is the most significant threat to our homeland and to the European homeland. These are people that will stop at nothing. So we pay a lot of attention to where they are and what they're doing. We want those three D's, if you will, to make sure that they cannot come back to Afghanistan and reestablish a platform from which they can organize and equip themselves to do what they did several years ago. On that score, we're pretty successful in Afghanistan. SPIEGEL: But al-Qaida has not been destroyed. The terrorists are now operating from Pakistan. Jones: Unfortunately, there are some safe havens in Pakistan and it looks like the Pakistan army is seriously going after them. There are operations in Swat Valley and now in South Waziristan and we hope that they will continue. We intend to be of whatever help we can to ensure that they try to rid themselves of that cancer that exists between the two countries. SPIEGEL: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently expressed her disappointment in how the Pakistani government is fighting al-Qaida. Do you share her view? Jones: Well, if you had been here in March and asked me the question whether I'm more worried about Afghanistan or Pakistan, I would have said Pakistan because they had this policy of appeasement, which was flawed. I think they recognized it as well. Since March, they have done reasonably well in what they set out to do. We hope they have long-term objectives to go after all insurgents, not just theirs, but after the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaida, and other groups. This is really going to continue to eat at the fabric of their country if they don't. SPIEGEL: In Afghanistan, you were not amused by the Karzai government. Now he's going to be the next president. How unhappy are you with having to deal with Karzai? Jones: I don't think it's a question of happiness. It's a question of legitimacy. We recognize the election was by far not perfect, but in the end, it's extremely important that the Afghans think they have a legitimate president. If the legitimacy is questioned, then that makes it difficult for allies to continue. SPIEGEL: What do you expect President Karzai to do? Jones: We hope from this election will emerge a partner that will do much better in the second five years in the areas of governance, rule of law, economic development and development with the Afghan Security Forces. But we also need a better plan with the allies to gradually turn over responsibility for the country to Afghan institutions and organizations in as short a time as possible. SPIEGEL: When will the US troops be withdrawn? Jones: I don't know when that will be. But I do know that our president and other leaders are very insistent on doing everything that we can to make sure that it happens sooner rather than later. That we can in fact, begin to turn over responsibility to the Afghans. We can't want this more than the Afghans. So, if they want the promise of a democratic society and peace and stability, better opportunities for their children, then this government and all of the governors have to do a much better job than they've done so far. SPIEGEL: Are the United States right now in some kind of negotiations with the Taliban? Jones: No. We've let this electoral process play itself out, and now we will reengage with the government once it's formed. And then we will seriously consider all issues to bring security and stability to Afghanistan, as well as reconciliation and reintegration. SPIEGEL: Afghanistan is famously referred to as the "graveyard of empires." Jones: I know and that's why I say we cannot solve the problems with only military forces. You can keep on putting troops in, and you could have 200,000 troops there and the country will swallow them up as it has done in the past. There are many empires who tried to make Afghanistan a stable and different country, and there have always been neighbors which were not interested in a stable and centralized government. That's why I think it's not a US or European reconstruction program exclusively. We should encourage all of the neighbors to participate. SPIEGEL: Is it difficult to advise the president, Barack Obama? Jones: No, simply because he's a very good student of geopolitics. He understands strategy. He has a very inquisitive mind, and he prepares himself extremely well for all the meetings that he attends. You cannot come to his meetings without being prepared to say something because if you don't say anything, he will call on you. SPIEGEL: How does Obama react if somebody contradicts him? Jones: He actually encourages debate. He wants people to defend their positions. He is willing to listen. SPIEGEL: How do you define your job? Jones: The president can't do everything. So the role of the National Security Council is to identify the strategic issues that the president has to consider. You have to triage the issue, so that he tackles the really hard ones. Then you have to make sure that there's proper preparation of the issues before it gets to him. It starts with working groups, then the deputies of the inter-agency meet, and then the principals -- secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of treasury. I chair that group. And then when it's ready for the president, we have a full National Security Council meeting. And then people give their opinions around the table and then it gets to the point where eventually there's a decision. SPIEGEL: How has being in the White House changed your way of thinking? Are your ideas less like those of a general and more like those of a civilian now? Jones: As a matter of fact, the four years in NATO helped me do that quite a bit because NATO Secure is a political and military job as well. So for me it's not terribly difficult to leave the uniform behind and graduate over to this level, to this different way of looking at things. SPIEGEL: Being a military man, don't you miss having to make tough decisions quickly? Jones: It's more important to make good decisions. We have to ensure that the president is well served by the right process and that we stay at the strategic level. Where other White Houses have gotten in trouble sometimes is when the president gets down to the tactical level. For instance, I started my career in Vietnam when I was 23 years old, and even as a young lieutenant, I could see the influence of the White House in terms of what we were doing on the ground. If you let the president do that, then he's not staying at the level where he should. SPIEGEL: President Obama was elected one year ago. During the last year he has given many great speeches and delivered idealistic messages. Is he about to enter a new phase? Is it now time for delivery? Jones: I think that's right. The first year is your introductory year where you make your speeches, you present yourself, you present an image that you hope the country will embrace and achieve globally. Now the ideas are out there. The tasks are clear. The challenges are visible, and now you have to implement the ideas. SPIEGEL: General Jones, thank you very much for this interview.
This article, by Greg Grant, was posted to Military.com, October 26, 2009
Sen. John Kerry told a Washington audience today that Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s call for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign reaches “too far, too fast.” Instead, Kerry called for a more “narrowly focused” counterinsurgency strategy that would dial down U.S. war aims, forge a closer alliance with Afghan ethnic groups that reject the mostly Pashtun based insurgency, reduce the U.S. military effort to just the restive southern and eastern parts of the country and use the power of the U.S. dollar to peel away Taliban fighters motivated more by money than an extremist ideology.
Speaking to a packed house at the Council on Foreign Relations Monday, Kerry lashed out at the Bush administration for its neglect and “gross mishandling” of the war in Afghanistan for nearly eight years and allowing the Taliban to regain a foothold in the country. Fresh from saving the Afghan political process through many hours spent cajoling and convincing Afghan president Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff election, Kerry said a more narrowly defined war there is winnable, but requires a major shift in strategy.
Policymakers and the news media have become overly focused on whether the Obama administration will grant McChrystal his request for more troops, a debate that misses the larger point, Kerry said. Since progress in Afghanistan will only come once people at the village level see real improvements in their everyday lives, what is needed are many more civilian experts in rural development, not tens of thousands more infantry.
Kerry said the “cornerstone” of U.S. strategy should be building an Afghan military and “governance” capacity that is just good enough so that responsibility for the country’s security can be transferred to the Afghan government and American troops can be withdrawn. Success in Afghanistan means transferring that responsibility as soon as possible while also leaving behind a country that cannot again become a safe haven for Al Qaeda. Defeating the Taliban is not a requirement, he said, nor is establishing a “flawless democracy.” Many Taliban fighters can be bought off and he put the number of irreconcilables at no more than 3,000 to 4,000.
While he would back sending “some” additional troops to reverse the Taliban gains and regain the initiative, he said troop levels must be tied to real measures of progress, such as combating the Kabul government’s legendary corruption and demonstrating to the Afghan people that their government has their interests in mind. American commanders must also determine if there are enough Afghan troops to partner with U.S. units. While some assessments say there are 92,000 soldiers in the Afghan army, Kerry said U.S. commanders in Afghanistan said the real number of effectives is closer to 50,000.
There are not enough U.S., NATO and Afghan troops to pursue a population centric counterinsurgency across the entire country, he said, an effort that would require some 600,000 troops, if one strictly adheres to counterinsurgency math. Rolling back the Taliban doesn’t require anywhere near that number of counterinsurgents, he said, as much of the country, particularly in the north and west, are already hostile to the insurgents. Kerry said the military should work more closely with the tribes and build up a tribal intelligence network, particularly among the Pashtuns; he did not say how the military, which has been trying to do just that since 2001, should pull it off.
Kerry said NATO countries must beef up their troop presence and better unify their command structure.
This article, by Glenn Greenwald, was published by Salon Magazine, October 24, 2009
Something very unusual happened on The Washington Post Editorial Page today: they deigned to address a response from one of their readers, who "challenged [them] to explain what he sees as a contradiction in [their] editorial positions": namely, the Post demands that Obama's health care plan not be paid for with borrowed money, yet the very same Post Editors vocally support escalation in Afghanistan without specifying how it should be paid for. "Why is it okay to finance wars with debt, asks our reader, but not to pay for health care that way?"
The Post editors give two answers. They first claim that Obama will save substantial money by reducing defense spending -- by which they mean that he is merely decreasing the rate at which defense spending increases ("from 2008 to 2019, defense spending would increase only 17 percent") -- as well as withdrawing from Iraq. But so what? Even if those things really happen, we're still paying for our glorious, endless war in Afghanistan by borrowing the money from China and Japan, all of which continues to explode our crippling national debt. We have absolutely no ability to pay for our Afghan adventure other than by expanding our ignominious status as the largest and most insatiable debtor nation which history has ever known. That debt gravely bothers Beltway elites like the Post editors when it comes to providing ordinary Americans with basic services (which Post editors already enjoy), but it's totally irrelevant to them when it comes to re-fueling the vicarious joys of endless war.
The Post attempts to justify that disparity with their second answer, which perfectly captures the prevailing, and deeply warped, Beltway thinking: namely, escalating in Afghanistan is an absolute national necessity, while providing Americans with health care coverage is just a luxury that can wait:
All this assumes that defense and health care should be treated equally in the national budget. We would argue that they should not be . . . Universal health care, however desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people." Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year: Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr. Obama put it, "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."
Actually, a recent study from the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance documented that "nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance" in America. Whatever the exact number, nobody doubts that lack of health insurance causes thousands of Americans to die every year. If you're Fred Hiatt and you already have health insurance, it's easy to dismiss those deaths as unimportant, "not fundamental," not a "necessity" to tend to any time soon. No matter your views on Obama's health care reform plan, does it really take any effort to see how warped that dismissive mentality is?
But it becomes so much worse when one considers what we're ostensibly going to do in Afghanistan as part of our venerated "counter-insurgency" mission. In an amazingly enlightening interview with Frontline, military expert Andrew Bacevich explains what that supposedly entails:
I think the best way to understand the term "counterinsurgency" is to understand what the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps today mean by that term. What they mean is an approach to warfare in which success is to be gained not by destroying the enemy but by securing the population.
The term "securing" here means not simply keeping the people safe, but providing for the people a series of services -- effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights. That translates into an enormously ambitious project of nation building. . . .
John Nagl says that in effect we are engaged in a global counterinsurgency campaign. That's his description of the long war.
Now, think about it. If counterinsurgency, according to current doctrine, is all about securing the population, if securing the population implies not simply keeping them safe but providing people with good governance and economic development and education and so on, what then is the requirement of a global counterinsurgency campaign?
Are we called upon to keep ourselves safe? To prevent another 9/11? Are we called upon to secure the population of the entire globe? Given the success we've had thus far in securing the population in Iraq and in Afghanistan, does this idea make any sense whatsoever?
Can anybody possibly believe that the United States of America, ... facing a federal budget deficit of $1.8 trillion ... has the resources necessary to conduct a global counterinsurgency campaign? Over what? The next 20, 50, 80 years? I think [there] is something so preposterous about such proposals. I just find it baffling that they are treated with seriousness by supposedly serious people.
So according to The Washington Post, dropping bombs on, controlling and occupying Afghanistan -- all while simultaneously ensuring "effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights" to Afghan citizens in Afghanistan -- is an absolutely vital necessity that must be done no matter the cost. But providing basic services (such as health care) to American citizens, in the U.S., is a secondary priority at best, something totally unnecessary that should wait for a few years or a couple decades until we can afford it and until our various wars are finished, if that ever happens. "U.S. interests in South Asia" are paramount; U.S. interests in the welfare of those in American cities, suburbs and rural areas are an afterthought.
As demented as that sounds, isn't that exactly the priority scheme we've adopted as a country? We're a nation that couldn't even manage to get clean drinking water to our own citizens who were dying in the middle of New Orleans. We have tens of thousands of people dying every year because they lack basic health care coverage. The rich-poor gap continues to expand to third-world levels. And The Post claims that war and "nation-building" in Afghanistan are crucial while health care for Americans is not because "wars, unlike entitlement programs, eventually come to an end." Except, as Bacevich points out, that's false:
Post-Vietnam, the officer corps was committed to the proposition that wars should be infrequent, that they should be fought only for the most vital interests, and that they should be fought in a way that would produce a quick and decisive outcome.
What we have today in my judgment is just the inverse of that. War has become a permanent condition.
Beltway elites have health insurance and thus the costs and suffering for those who don't are abstract, distant and irrelevant. Identically, with very rare exception, they and their families don't fight the wars they cheer on -- and don't even pay for them -- and thus get to enjoy all the pulsating benefits without any costs whatsoever. Adam Smith, all the way back in 1776, in An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations, described this Beltway attitude exactly:
In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies . . .
Lounging around in the editorial offices in the capital of a rapidly decaying empire, urging that more Americans be sent into endless war paid for with endless debt, while yawning and lazily waving away with boredom the hordes outside dying for lack of health care coverage, is one of the most repugnant images one can imagine. It's exactly what Adam Smith denounced. And it's exactly what our political and media elite are.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to ipsnews.net, October 15, 2009
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (IPS) - A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months.
In a 63-page paper representing his personal views, but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis argues that it is already too late for U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency.
"Many experts in and from Afghanistan warn that our presence over the past eight years has already hardened a meaningful percentage of the population into viewing the United States as an army of occupation which should be opposed and resisted," writes Davis.
Providing the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. McChrystal has reportedly requested "is almost certain to further exacerbate" that problem, he warns.
Davis was a liaison officer between the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan (CFC-A) and the Central Command in 2005, just as the Afghan insurgency was becoming a significant problem for the U.S. military. In that assignment he both consulted with the top U.S. officers and staff of the CFC-A and traveled widely throughout Afghanistan visiting U.S. and NATO combat units.
He also commanded a U.S. military transition team on the Iraqi border with Iran in 2008-09.
In the paper, Davis suggests what he calls a "Go Deep" strategy as an alternative to the recommendation from McChrystal for a larger counterinsurgency effort, which he calls "Go Big".
The "Go Deep" strategy proposed by Davis would establish an 18-month time frame during which the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country. It would leave U.S. Special Forces and their supporting units, and enough conventional forces in Kabul to train Afghan troops and police and provide protection for U.S. personnel.
The forces that continue to operate in insurgent-dominated areas would wage "an aggressive counterterrorism effort" aimed in part at identifying Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. The strategy would also provide support for improved Afghan governance and training for security forces.
Davis argues that a large and growing U.S. military presence would make it more difficult to achieve this counterterrorism objective. By withdrawing conventional forces from the countryside, he suggests, U.S. strategy would deprive the insurgents of "easily identifiable and lucrative targets against which to launch attacks".
Typically insurgents attack U.S. positions not for any tactical military objective, Davis writes, but to gain a propaganda victory.
The "Go Deep" strategy outlined in the paper appears to parallel the shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism being proposed by some officials in discussions in the White House in recent weeks.
After reading Davis's paper, Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the defence intelligence officer for the Middle East, told IPS he regards the "Go Deep" strategy as "a fair representation of the alternative to the one option in General McChrystal's assessment".
Lang said he doubts that those advising Obama to shift to a counterterrorism strategy are calling specifically for the withdrawal of most combat troops, but he believes such a withdrawal "is certainly implicit in the argument".
Davis told IPS he was surprised to hear from one official in a high position in Washington whose reaction to his paper was that what he is proposing in place of the "Go Big" option is still "too big".
Davis said his views on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been shaped both by his personal experiences traveling throughout Afghanistan during his 2005 tour of duty and by conversations with U.S. military officers who have recently returned from Afghanistan.
"Mostly it was guys who've been out there in the field," said Davis. "They have a different view from those who work in the headquarters."
"I think there's a whole lot of folks out there who agree with this," he said.
He was flown out of Iraq for medical treatment in early June after suffering a partial loss of vision, and has been temporarily reassigned to the Defence Intelligence Agency. However, Davis said he was not assigned to work on Afghanistan and did the work on his Afghanistan strategy paper entirely on his own.
Davis said he had received permission from his immediate supervisor at DIA to circulate his personal analysis and recommendations on Afghanistan on the condition that he used only unclassified, open source information.
In the paper, Davis argues that the counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal would actually require a far larger U.S. force than is now being proposed. Citing figures given by Marine Corps Col. Julian Dale Alford at a conference last month, Davis writes that training 400,000 Afghan army and police alone would take 18 brigades of U.S. troops – as many as 100,000 U.S. troops when the necessary support troops are added.
The objective of expanding the Afghan security forces to 400,000, as declared in McChrystal's "initial assessment", poses other major problems as well, according to Davis.
He observes that the costs of such an expansion have been estimated at three to four times more than Afghanistan's entire Gross Domestic Product. Davis asks what would happen if the economies of the states which have pledged to support those Afghan personnel come under severe pressures and do not continue the support indefinitely.
"It would be irresponsible to increase the size of the military to that level," he writes, "convincing hundreds of thousands of additional Afghan men to join, giving them field training and weapons, and then at some point suddenly cease funding, throwing tens of thousands out of work."
The result, he suggests, would be similar to what followed the U.S. failure to reassemble the Iraqi Army after the invasion of March 2003.
Davis also cites "growing anecdotal evidence" that popular anger at the abuses of power by the Afghan National Police has increased support for the insurgency.
He calls for scaling back the increase in Afghan security forces to the original targets of 134,000 Army troops and 80,000 national police. The crucial factor in determining the future of the country, he argues, is not the numbers of security personnel but whether they continue to abuse the population.
If that pattern of behaviour were to change dramatically, Davis says, "the number of Taliban fighters will dwindle to manageable numbers as those presently filling their ranks will no longer be motivated to fight".
Davis challenges two arguments now being made in support of the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan based on the Iraq experience: that a troop surge would help establish security and that the U.S. military can reduce insurgency by replicating the "Sons of Iraq" programme of bringing insurgents into militias that oppose their former allies.
The "surge" in Iraq was successful for a variety of reasons peculiar to Iraq and not duplicated in Afghanistan, Davis argues. And the "Sons of Iraq" was primarily the result of the alienation of the Sunni population by al Qaeda, which trumped Sunni opposition to the U.S. presence.
"[T]here is little to suggest," he writes in reference to the areas where the Taliban has gained power, "that the population as a whole has reached a tipping point whereby they are ready to support the coalition against the Taliban."
Challenging the argument of supporters of a larger war effort that it is necessary to avoid an increased risk of new terrorist attacks, Davis argues that being "myopically focused" on Afghanistan "at the expense of the rest of the world" increases the likelihood of an attack.
The present level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, he writes, will "make it more likely that terrorist organizations will take advantage of the opportunity to plan and train elsewhere for the next big attack."
This article, by Syed Saleem Shahzad, was published by the Asia Times Online, October 15, 2009
ANGORADA, South Waziristan, at the crossroads with Afghanistan - A high-level meeting on October 9 at the presidential palace between Pakistan's civil and military leaders endorsed a military operation against the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda in the South Waziristan tribal area - termed by analysts as the mother of all regional conflicts.
At the same time, al-Qaeda is implementing its game plan in the South Asian war theater as a part of its broader campaign against American global hegemony that began with the attacks in the United States of September 11, 2001.
Al-Qaeda's target remains the United States and its allies, such as Europe, Israel and India, and it does not envisage diluting this strategy by embracing Muslim resistances on narrow parameters. In this context, militant activity in Pakistan is seen as a complexity rather than as a part of al-Qaeda's strategy.
Militants have been particularly active over the past few days. Last Thursday, a car loaded with explosives rammed into the compound wall of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, killing at least 17 people. Then on Saturday, militants staged an audacious attack on the the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, the twin city of the capital, Islamabad. On Monday, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in market town in the Swat Valley region, killing 41 people and injuring 45 others.
Pakistan is at critical juncture, with the armed forces gathered in their largest-ever numbers (almost a corps, as many as 60,000 troops) around South Waziristan to flush out the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban (PTT), al-Qaeda and their allies from the Pakistani tribal areas.
In these tense times, Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda leader who, according to American intelligence is al-Qaeda's head of military operations and whose death they wrongly confirmed in a recent US Predator drone attack in North Waziristan, spoke to Asia Times Online.
He invited this correspondent to a secret hideout in the South Waziristan-Afghanistan border area, where drones regularly fly overhead.
This is Ilyas' first-ever media interaction since he joined al-Qaeda in 2005. He is a veteran commander from the struggle with India over divided Kashmir.
In the past few months, the militants have appeared to be on the back foot. A number of leading figures have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan, including Osama al-Kini, a Kenyan national and al-Qaeda's external operations chief; Khalid Habib, the commander of the Lashkar al-Zil or the Shadow Army, al-Qaeda's fighting force; Tahir Yuldashev, leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; PTT leader Baitullah Mehsud, and several others.
The Pakistani Taliban have also been given a bloody nose by the military in tribal and urban areas. Negotiations were also underway to strike peace deals with some Taliban commanders in various Afghan provinces.
Then last week at least nine US troops along with several dozen Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel were killed in a raid on an outpost in Nuristan province, besides the abduction of over 30 ANA officers and soldiers by the Taliban.
This attack was complemented by a series of other attacks on North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases across the southeastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, forcing top US General Stanley McChrystal to pull out all troops from isolated posts in remote areas in these provinces to relocate them in population centers.
This created immense space for the Taliban to operate freely, meaning that if Pakistan conducted operations in South Waziristan, the militants could easily move across the border to find sanctuary.
The attacks over the past few days have also shown that the militants are still capable of striking important targets almost at will. They also mean a redesign of the war theater in which Pakistan will have to relocate its troops from the eastern front (India) to the western front (Afghanistan), as the Taliban are now the number one enemy.
Washington plans to send at least another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan while India will complement these efforts with its intelligence and military expertise against the common enemy - Muslim militant groups. The upcoming battle
Ilyas Kashmiri gave his views on what the upcoming battle will look like, what its targets will be, and how it will impact the West in relation to the destabilization of a Muslim state such as Pakistan.
The contact with Asia Times Online began with a call from the militants on October 6, inviting this correspondent to the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. No reason was given. The next day, I traveled to Mir Ali, a town that has been heavily attacked by drones over the past year. After over seven hours of continuous traveling, I was received by a group of armed men who transferred me to a house belonging to a local tribesman.
"The commander [Ilyas Kashmiri] is alive. You know that the commander has never spoken to the media before, but since everybody is sure of his death as a result of a drone attack [in September], al-Qaeda's shura [council] decided to make a denial of this news through an interview by him to an independent newspaper, and therefore the shura agreed on you," a person whom I knew as the key person in Ilyas' famous 313 Brigade told me as soon as I reached the safe house. The brigade, a collection of jihadi groups, fought for many years against India in India-administered Kashmir.
"You will have to stay in this room until we inform you of the next plan. You can hear the voices of drones above your head, therefore you will not leave the room. The area is full of Taliban, but also of informers whose information on the presence of strangers in a house could lead to a drone attack," the man said.
The next day, I was transferred to another house at an unknown location, about three hours away. During this time I was accompanied at all times by an armed escort. I was not allowed to speak to them, and they could not communicate with me. This is al-Qaeda's internal world. Finally, in the early morning of October 9, a few armed men arrived in a white car.
"Please leave all your electronic gadgets here. No cell phone, no camera, nothing. We will provide you pen and paper to write the interview," I was instructed. After several hours of a very uncomfortable journey, passing down muddy tracks and through mountain passes, we reached a room where Ilyas was supposed to meet us.
After a couple of hours, suddenly the sound of a powerful vehicle broke the silence. My escort and the men already present in the room rapidly took up positions. They all wore bullet pouches and carried AK-47s.
Ilyas made his entrance. He cut a striking figure, about six feet tall (1.83 meters), wearing a cream-colored turban and white qameez shalwar (traditional shirt and pants), carrying an AK-47 on his shoulder and a wooden stick in one hand, and flanked by commandos of his famous diehard 313 Brigade.
Ilyas now sports a long white beard dyed with reddish henna. At the age of 45 he remains strongly built, although he carries the scars of war - he has lost an eye and an index figure. When we shook hands, his grip was powerful.
The host immediately served lunch, and we sat on the floor to eat.
"So, you have survived a third drone strike ... why is the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] sniffing around you so much? I asked.
The question was somewhat rhetorical. He is one of the most high-profile al-Qaeda commanders, with a Pakistani bounty of 50 million rupees (US$600,000) on his head. His position is defined differently by various intelligence and media organizations. Some say he is commander-in-chief of al-Qaeda's global operations, while others say he is chief of al-Qaeda's military wing.
If today al-Qaeda is divided into three spheres, Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly the symbol of the movement and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri defines al-Qaeda's ideology and broader strategic vision. Ilyas, with his unmatched guerrilla expertise, turns the strategic vision into reality, provides the resources and gets targets achieved, but he chooses to remain in the background and very low key.
His bases and activities have always remained shrouded in secrecy. However, the arrest of five of his men in Pakistan earlier this year and their subsequent grilling helped lift the veil. Their information resulted in CIA drone strikes against him, the first in May and then again on September 7, when he was pronounced dead by Pakistani intelligence, and finally on September 14, after which the CIA said he was dead and called it a great success in the "war on terror".
"They are right in their pursuit. They know their enemy well. They know what I am really up to," Ilyas proudly replied.
Born in Bimbur (old Mirpur) in the Samhani Valley of Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 10, 1964, Ilyas passed the first year of a mass communication degree at Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. He did not continue due to his heavy involvement in jihadi activities.
The Kashmir Freedom Movement was his first exposure in the field of militancy, then the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI) and ultimately his legendary 313 Brigade. This grew into the most powerful group in South Asia and its network is strongly knitted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. According to some CIA dispatches, the footprints of 313 Brigade are now in Europe and capable of the type of attack that saw a handful of militants terrorize the Indian city of Mumbai last November.
Little is documented of Ilyas' life, and what has been reported is often contradictory. However, he is invariably described, certainly by world intelligence agencies, as the most effective, dangerous and successful guerrilla leader in the world.
He left the Kashmir region in 2005 after his second release from detention by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and headed for North Waziristan. He had previously been arrested by Indian forces, but he broke out of jail and escaped. He was then detained by the ISI as the suspected mastermind of an attack on then-president Pervez Musharraf, in 2003, but was cleared and released. The ISI then picked Ilyas up again in 2005 after he refused to close down his operations in Kashmir.
His relocation to the troubled border areas sent a chill down spines in Washington as they realized that with his vast experience, he could turn unsophisticated battle patterns in Afghanistan into audacious modern guerrilla warfare.
Ilyas' track record spoke for itself. In 1994, he launched the al-Hadid operation in the Indian capital, New Delhi, to get some of his jihadi comrades released. His group of 25 people included Sheikh Omar Saeed (the abductor of US reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002) as his deputy. The group abducted several foreigners, including American, Israeli and British tourists and took them to Ghaziabad near Delhi. They then demanded that the Indian authorities release their colleagues, but instead they attacked the hideout. Sheikh Omar was injured and arrested. (He was later released in a swap for the passengers of a hijacked Indian aircraft). Ilyas escaped unhurt.
On February 25, 2000, the Indian army killed 14 civilians in Lonjot village in Pakistan-administered Kashmir after commandos had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two Kashmirs. They returned to the Indian side with abducted Pakistani girls, and threw the severed heads of three of them at Pakistani soldiers.
The very next day, Ilyas conducted a guerilla operation against the Indian army in Nakyal sector after crossing the LoC with 25 fighters of 313 Brigade. They kidnapped an Indian army officer who was later beheaded - his head was paraded in the bazaars of Kotli back in Pakistani territory.
However, the most significant operation of Ilyas was in Aknor cantonment in Indian-administered Kashmir against the Indian armed forces following the massacre of Muslims in the Indian city of Gujarat in 2002. In cleverly planned attacks involving 313 Brigade divided into two groups, Indian generals, brigadiers and other senior officials were lured to the scene of the first attack. Two generals were injured (the Pakistan army could not injure a single Indian general in three wars) and several brigadiers and colonels were killed. This was one of the most telling setbacks for India in the long-running Kashmiri insurgency.
Despite what some reports claim, Ilyas was never a part of Pakistan's special forces, nor even of the army. Nearly 30 years ago when he joined the Afghan jihad against the Soviets from the platform of the HUJI, he developed expertise in guerrilla warfare and explosives.
Within just months of arriving in the Afghan war theater in 2005, Kashmiri redefined the Taliban-led insurgency based on legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap's three-pronged guerrilla warfare strategy. For the Taliban, the main emphasis was to be placed on cutting NATO's supply lines from all four sides of Afghanistan, and carrying out special operations similar to the Mumbai attack in Afghanistan.
Over the years, Ilyas has deliberately adopted a low key presence in the militants' hierarchy. His attacks are just the opposite, although he never issues statements or claims responsibility for any operation.
His 313 Brigade is believed to be the main catalyst of high-profile operations such as the one in Mumbai and others in Afghanistan, as well as al-Qaeda's operations in Somalia and to some extent in Iraq.
"Do you believe that the upcoming South Waziristan operation will be the 'mother of all operations' in the region, as some analysts say," I asked after we had finished lunch and I was alone with Ilyas and his trusted confidant.
"I don't know how to play with words during an interview," Ilyas responded. "I have always been a field commander and I know the language of battlefields. I will try to answer your questions in the language I am familiar with. (Ilyas spoke mostly in Urdu, mixed with some Punjabi.)
"Saleem! I will draw your attention to the basics of the present war theater and use that to explain the whole strategy of the upcoming battles. Those who planned this battle actually aimed to bring the world's biggest Satan [US] and its allies into this trap and swamp [Afghanistan]. Afghanistan is a unique place in the world where the hunter has all sorts of traps to choose from.
"It might be deserts, rivers, mountains and the urban centers as well. This was the thinking of the planners of this war who were sick and tired of the great Satan's global intrigues and they aim for its demise to make this world a place of peace and justice. However, the great Satan was full of arrogance of its superiority and thought of Afghans as helpless statues who would be hit from all four sides by its war machines, and they would not have the power and capacity to retaliate.
"This was the illusion on which a great alliance of world powers came to Afghanistan, but due to their misplaced conceptions they gradually became trapped in Afghanistan. Today, NATO does not have any significance or relevance. They have lost the war in Afghanistan. Now, when they realized their defeat, they developed an emphasis that this entire battle is being fought from outside of Afghanistan, that is, the two Waziristans. To me, this military thesis is a mirage which has created a complex situation in the region and created reactions and counter-reactions. I would not like to go into the details, to me that was nothing but deviation. As a military commander, the reality is that the trap of Afghanistan is successful and the basic military targets on the ground have been achieved," Ilyas said.
I responded that the relocation of 313 Brigade from Kashmir was itself proof that foreign hands were involved in Afghanistan.
"The entire basis of your argument is wrong, that this war is being fought from outside of Afghanistan. This is just an out-of-context understanding of the whole situation. If you discuss myself and 313 Brigade, I decided to join the Afghan resistance as an individual and I had quite a reason for that. Everybody knows that only a decade ago I was fighting a war of liberation for my homeland Kashmir.
"However, I realized that decades of armed and political struggles could not help to inch forward a resolution of this issue. Nevertheless, East Timor's issue was resolved without losing much time. Why? Because the entire game was in the hands of the great Satan, the USA. Organs like the UN and countries like India and Israel were simply the extension of its resources and that's why there was a failure to resolve the Palestinian issue, the Kashmir issue and the plight of Afghanistan.
"So I and many people all across the world realized that analyzing the situation in any narrow regional political perspective was an incorrect approach. This is a different ball game altogether for which a unified strategy is compulsory. The defeat of American global hegemony is a must if I want the liberation of my homeland Kashmir, and therefore it provided the reasoning for my presence in this war theater.
Ilyas continued, "When I came here I found my step justified; how the world regional powers operate under the umbrella of the great Satan and how they are supportive of its great plans. This can be seen here in Afghanistan." He added that al-Qaeda's regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.
"The RAW [India's Research and Analysis Wing] has detachment command centers in the Afghan provinces of Kunar, Jalalabad, Khost, Argun, Helmand and Kandahar. The cover operations are road construction companies. For instance, the road construction contract from Khost city to the Tanai tribe area is handled by a contractor who is actually a current Indian army colonel. In Gardez, telecommunication companies are the cover for Indian intelligence operations. Mostly, their men operate with Muslim names, but actually the employees are Hindus."
"So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?" I asked.
"That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future," Ilyas replied.
"Even against Israel and the USA?" I asked.
"Saleem, I am not a traditional jihadi cleric who is involved in sloganeering. As a military commander, I would say every target has a specific time and reasons, and the responses will be forthcoming accordingly," Ilyas said.
As I noted Kashmiri's answers, I thought of how several years back he was the darling of the Pakistani armed forces, their pride. The highest military officers were proud to meet him at his base in Kashmir, they spent time with him and listened to the legends of his war games. Today, I had a different person in front of me - a man condemned as a terrorist by the Pakistani military establishment and their biggest wish is his death.
"What impressed you to join al-Qaeda?" I asked.
"We were both victims of the same tyrant. Today, the entire Muslim world is sick of Americans and that's why they are agreeing with Sheikh Osama. If all of the Muslim world is asked to elect their leader, their choice would be either [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar or Sheikh Osama," Ilyas said.
"If it is so, why are a section of militants bent on war on Muslim states like Pakistan? Do you think this is correct?"
"Our battle cannot be against Muslims and believers. As I have mentioned earlier, what is happening at the moment in the Muslim world is a complexity due to American power games which have resulted into reactions and counter-reactions. This is a totally different debate and might deviate me from the real topic. The real game is the fight against the great Satan and its adherents," Ilyas said.
"What turned you from the most-beloved friend to the most-hated foe in the eyes of the Pakistani military establishment?" I asked.
"Pakistan is my beloved country and the people who live there are our brothers, sisters and relatives. I cannot even think of going against its interests. It was never the Pakistan army that was against me, but certain elements who branded me as an enemy to cover up their weaknesses and to appease their masters," Ilyas said.
"What is 313 Brigade?" I asked.
"I cannot tell you, except war is all tactics and this is all 313 Brigade is about; reading the enemy's mind and reacting accordingly. The world thought that Prophet Mohammad only left women behind. They forgot there were real men also who did not know what defeat was all about. The world is only familiar with those so-called Muslims who only follow the direction of the air and who don't have their own will. They do not have their own minds or dimensions of their own. The world has yet to see real Muslims. They have so far only seen Osama and Mullah Omar, while there are thousands of others. Wolves only respect a lion's iron slap; lions do not impress with the logic of a sheep," Ilyas said.
As the shadows of darkness emerged, the conversation ended. The next day, a curfew was to be imposed in North Waziristan in preparation for the grand operation in the region, and I had to leave the area. Ilyas also needed to move to a new destination, as he does on a regular basis to hide from the eyes of Predator drones.
This article, by Larry Ray, was published by the Rag Blog, October 4, 2009
Forty three years ago as a young civilian correspondent and documentary filmmaker, I stepped off the plane in Saigon knowing nothing about the history of that country or its people, and little or nothing about why Americans were fighting and dying there. I had come to see the war of my time.
As a U.S. Navy veteran and young news anchor for a South Texas regional TV station it seemed a given that we were there to fight godless communism and that we were the good guys.
It was 1966 and WWII had been over for 21 years and hostilities in Korea had ceased in 1953. But Americans still saw our military and patriotism as Johnny marching home again to ticker tape parades. We had whipped the Nazis and the Japs, and fought the North Koreans and commie Chinese to a draw. Clearly American might was not to be messed with.
But by 1966 America's claim of winning an honorable peace in South Vietnam was being seriously challenged by seasoned journalists in both Saigon and Washington D.C.. About the time I arrived, Morley Safer filed his story showing our Marines using a zippo lighter to set fire to thatch roofed homes in a rural village on a "search and destroy" mission. His was perhaps the first story that Americans saw that suggested America was facing bleak prospects of victory. We damn sure were not winning hearts and minds.
After a few months of sitting through bogus U.S. military press briefings which we called the "five o'clock follies," and working with seasoned reporters from around the world, my Boy Scout naiveté disappeared. After a year of the outright lies and misrepresentations in Pentagon and White House press releases about things I had seen with my own eyes, my naiveté turned to a frustrated, simmering anger. An anger that was ultimately taken to the streets across America just a few years later.
Since the Vietnam War, accredited correspondents have no longer been allowed to freely move about and report on our wars. Reporters are now "embedded" within military units under their control and influence.
The parallels between America's disastrous involvement in Southeast Asia and our costly and ill-advised involvement in the Middle East have fired up that frustration and anger anew. This time opposition by the average American to requests for more troops in Afghanistan is getting louder before the new call for 40,000 more troops has even been approved.
Our involvement in Vietnam started in 1950. General Eisenhower's decision to send military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army was the start of a massive buildup of American troop strength which reached a high of 543,482 in 1969. In the early years in Vietnam the Pentagon was still using a set-piece, WWII battle mentality, and Communism was our new political devil. And this was a hot, sweaty jungle war with no front lines.
Very few Americans spoke or understood the sing-songy monosyllabic Vietnamese language. The history and dynamics of a very old country that had been at war in some form or another for more than a thousand years was lost on those tasked with guiding America's efforts there.
The fiercest battles were being secretly waged between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State. The State Department's political and diplomatic findings were muzzled and marginalized. We bombed Hanoi while increasing numbers of young draftees and regular American troops were being slaughtered as they fought fiercely in unforgiving conditions for a cause they did not understand. Almost twice as many Vietnamese, insurgents as well as civilians, died from our bombs and bullets.
America's strong belief in the efficacy of power reasoned that if bombing our way to peace was not working, there was no need to consider diplomacy or a new approach. Clearly we only needed to drop more bombs, send in more troops and the enemy would finally give up. And that is just what we did. The generals called for increasing the enemy body count to achieve peace and allow us to return home with honor. And our politicians went right along with that reasoning.
We failed to appreciate that we were in the middle of a very old private fight between North and South. Intelligence showed early on that a majority in the South was ready for peace, even a communist style of peace, and most of all wanted the "long noses" who they saw as raining destruction down upon them to be driven out of their country. In Vietnam there ultimately was no victory and no honor for America. Today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous and an important trading partner with the USA, just like our top trading partner, communist China.
The military might mentality was challenged early on by president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 bucked extreme pressure from the Pentagon and within his own White House, and refused to order combat troops into Vietnam, limiting our presence there to military advisers. JFK listened not only to his top military brass, but also to his State Department, particularly undersecretary George Ball who predicted pretty much what eventually happened, except reality was worse than what he envisioned. After JFK's death his order halting combat troops was reversed by President Johnson, driven more by domestic politics than military necessity.
In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed, 155,192 were wounded or missing. The touted "domino effect" where all Southeast Asia would topple country after country to communism if we didn't win in Vietnam now is easy to see as so much expedient political hysteria.
The story is, of course, much more complex than this, but the bare bones are that politicians and military leaders refused to listen to the State Department and other foreign service experts who laid bare the corrupt leadership of South Vietnam, and pointed out that this was a long simmering internal war of insurgency with strong nationalistic roots. The actual communist Chinese or Soviet Russian interest in and backing of the war was extremely limited.
Our desire to strike back after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, combined the totally inept leadership of the George W. Bush administration with, once again, expedient political hysteria. First we launched an inadequately planned and then insufficiently supported attack upon al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda top officials escaped to protective sheltering by tribal supporters who had seen their country invaded by the British, the Soviet union, and now American and NATO troops.
Then, with political misinformation, outright lies, a cowed press and a Congress that asked few questions, our government launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks on the USA. This mad neo-conservative misadventure has had a massively destabilizing effect upon the Middle East and has bred more hatred for the USA and our military in the Arab world.
It has also unnecessarily stressed our military's ready troop strength and equipment readiness with 4,300 U.S. troops killed and more than 30,000 wounded and injured as of September 2009. Cost of the Iraq war is expected to surpass the $686 billion present day dollar value cost of the Vietnam war by year's end.
One of President Obama's first actions after taking office was to make good on his promise to get us out of Iraq, and that is now underway. Though the dynamics, politics, religion and leadership are totally different from Vietnam, Iraq, like Vietnam, will ultimately reach its own destiny without the forceful imposition of American ideas and politics upon its ancient culture. We eliminated its despotic leader, but its people still must sort through complex religious and ideological differences on its own and they may or may not decide to remain some sort of democracy.
Afghanistan is an even older and thornier problem. And one that cannot be bombed into submission. Afghanistan was first invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The tribal warlords have never been successfully subdued. No "surge" of military troops will somehow completely overpower the zealotry of religious belief. Imagine foreign troops invading America trying to subdue and forcibly control ultra-orthodox elements of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church, because they saw them as bad for the American people.
Afghanistan has never had organized, cohesive governance and is today just a fragile step away from becoming a failed state like Somalia. That is why it was an ideal location for Bin Laden to train his al Qaeda fighters. The American figurehead Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has become a real problem for the U.S. as well as NATO. We had hoped, with our backing, he could somehow unify the disparate tribes flung through the mountains and badlands into a proud democracy.
But such dreams have been jarred by the reality of a Karzai-rigged national election with rampant vote tampering and voter intimidation. Karzai is no better than the warlords we want him to pull together. Karzai has now distanced himself from his American minders and has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Now we want to send in a massive number of new troops and equipment to somehow again "win hearts and minds" and drive out the Taliban with brute force.
While the Taliban have no designs upon terror against America or any of the other NATO nations now with troops in the country, they operate as brutal criminals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. An increased armed American presence there is a daily irritant to Afghans, as well as neighboring rogue areas of Pakistan caught between foreign troops who often cannot tell the difference between peaceful civilians and the Taliban.
Once more we are fighting a war where troops do not speak the language or understand the people and are tasked with fighting often in 130º heat. The goal of preventing Afghanistan from again becoming an al Qaeda terrorist training ground cannot be accomplished by bombing the country into submission. This is a complicated political, diplomatic and sociological challenge.
President Obama, in office less than a year, just like JFK, must soon make a decision regarding the politically charged prospect of approving or disapproving more troops being called for by a top military general. I hope he is aware of the assessment of others who have tried to subdue this ragged country:
“Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson . . . It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force. We should have helped the people of Afghanistan in improving their life, but it was a gross mistake to send troops into the country.”– Retired Red Army General Boris Gromov