The Washington Post (headline and link below) purports to explain how the CIA fell victim to a series of miscalculations that make it vulnerable to the devastating attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman, a CIA base in Khost Province, Afghanistan, but it does not pass the smell test. Of course, coming from the Washington Post, we should not be surprised if it emits the oder of a CYA leaking operation by an agency or agencies of the US government. The report is nevertheless revealing, because it goes to the heart of the strategic confusion that originates in the US Government’s simplistic conflation of the goals of the Pashtun tribal chieftains and warlords (e.g. Mehsud/Haqqani clans), nationalist insurgents (e.g., Afghan Taliban), and those of the Paki military’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI, including those related to the Kashmir Question) with those of an amorphous al Qaeda in a strategy now known as the AFPAK strategy.
It appears that most of the information in the Post’s report comes from Jordanian intelligence (GID) and CIA sources who are anxious to preserve a special relationship between GID and the CIA. Note particularly how a tone of threat inflation permeates its discussion al Qaeda’s intelligence abilities, especially how difficult is to penetrate the inner circles of al Qaeda. This sounds a little like the hoary portrayals of the omniscient, centrally-directed, all-powerful Soviet KGB that we were subjected to during the Cold War. After over eight years of a so-called long war on terror and the expenditure of more than one trillion dollars in the targeting of al Qaeda (which is alleged to be the central objective of the war, be it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia), the continued existence of al Qaeda is embarrassing, and perhaps can only be explained to a fear-numbed, tired public by assigning al Qaeda solomon-like intelligence and attack capabilities.
According to the Post report, the GID sent Dr. Balawi, the Jordian suicide bomber, to Pakistan to get inside al Qaeda’s inner circles. Note, however, the relative absence of any discussion of Pashtun networks or the Pakistan Army’s notorious ISI organization. Citing CIA/GID sources, the Post intimates the CIA was subjected to a sophisticated bait and switch operation by al Qaeda, wherein Balawi provided high quality “actionable” intelligence to convince the CIA that Balawi as reliable double agent who has inserted himself into al Qaeda. Yet according to a large number of news reports over the last two years, almost all of the targeting has been against Pashtun targets in border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly in North and South Waziristan. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these so-called decapitation attacks on Pashtun leadership targets over the last two years failed to hit their designated targets, but have killed hundreds of innocent men, women, and children, thus enraging an ever growing number of Pashtuns.
This line of thinking begs some questions: What kind of actionable intelligence was Balwai providing? Was it directed at al Qaeda or a variety of Pashtun clan chieftains or warlords? And who was feeding Balawi the targeting intelligence? Or more precisely, given the internecine character of the Pashtun culture, its vendetta code of honor, and the conflicting goals of the various insurgent/criminal groups, what group or alliance of convenience was providing the targeting info that the CIA/GID believed to be confirmation of Balawi’s bona fides?
The intrigues implicit in these questions are the same as those that bedeviled Alexander the Great (330-327 BC), the British in the 19th Century, and the Soviets in the 20th Century; and they suggest an alternative hypothesis to the FOB Chapman capejob: Namely that wily Pashtuns may have viewed a self-starting Arab Salafi Jihadi, like Balawi, as manna from heaven that would enable them to infiltrate FOB Chapman, the source of so many drone attacks on Pashtun targets. The CIA went for a red cape constructed by one or more groups of Pashtuns (possibly with help from the Paki Army’s ISI), who knowingly exploited US (and Jordanian?) obsessions with al Qaeda as a weakness to be used in getting revenge for the killings of a few Pashtun chieftains (like the elder Baitullah Mehsud), not to mention the hundreds of innocent Pashtun civilians who are deemed to be acceptable collateral damage by the “strategists” designing the drone war on Pakistani extremists.
The bottom line is that we still don’t know what happened at Forward Operating Base Chapman beyond the first order effects of the killings, and the Post report does little to clear the cobwebs. Yet understanding motives that led the disaster at FOB Chapman is inextricably tied up with understanding the strategic and grand strategic ramifications of President Obama’s increasing reliance on a decapitation strategy in AFPAK To date, this strategy has yielded few dividends at an increasing cost: A bankrupting war with no end in sight, because the few leaders we have killed have been easily replaced, and their martyrdom, coupled with a culture that makes it a matter of personal honor to seek revenge for the killing of hundreds of innocents, is generating an increasing flood of recruits. On the other hand, blaming the attack on al Qaeda, and by extension, evoked the fears generated by 911, has the effect of directing attention away from an intractable strategic and grand strategic debacle of our own making.
In Afghanistan attack, CIA fell victim to series of miscalculations about informant
By Peter Finn and Joby Warrick Saturday, January 16, 2010; A01