Event Report: 20 Nov 09 NYC Counterinsurgency–America’s Strategic Burden Featuring Nagl, Kilcullen, Sheehan, Bergen, Coll Among Others

Memoranda

COIN20 Trip Report
COIN20 Trip Report

21 November 2009

Memorandum of Transmittal by Robert David STEELE Vivas

Subject:  Counterinsurgency Conference Overview

Mr. Jason Liszkiewicz, Executive Director of the Earth Intelligence Network (EIN) and resident in NYC, attended the 20 November 2009 conference on counterinsurgency (speakers identified on page two), and provided me with the notes on pages 3-9.  Below is my own exploitation of these notes.

IGNORANT US POLICYMAKERS.  We have policymakers with crippling illusions about how the world is—worst ever—people in policy positions do not understand the problems they are making policy on—Congress is unsophisticated about Afghanistan; Washington-area decision-makers vastly misunderstand the enemy—Taliban is a super-bug  adapting super-fast.  This is NOT about Al Qaeda having a home base.  Congress lacks next of kin engaged.

CORRUPT AFGHAN OFFICIALS. Afghan government officials own 32% of the Palm Islands in Dubai—election was “industrial-strength fraud”—tsunami of cash (US, Saudi, others) drives corruption.  NOTE:  No Afghans on any of the panels.

US LACKS AREA KNOWLEDGE & STRATEGY. We really do not “get” the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India  context, detail, etcetera.  US “strategy” of “ten cities” is a mirror of the Soviet strategy before defeat.  Doctrine is not a substitute for Strategy.  Water (Indus River) is central to Pakistan-India relationship (Kashmir is about water).  Question NOT being asked: how do we do this without a US ground presence?  “Cheap coat of paint” approach to challenges.  “Tactics without strategy is noise before defeat.”  Saudi money, Pakistan-Taliban axis will outlast US money and US ground presence.

COUNTERINSURGENCY MANUAL LACKING. Counterinsurgency manual is not realistic and warps policy debate—the reality of poppy crops is not in the manual, not in the “strategy/doctrine”

UN, AID, NGO OOB NOT WORKNG. UN not working, its role not thought out, shortfalls in specialized everything.  Local corruption and family-political angling for contracts lead to some IED’s intended to block or redirect contract funds.  AID  giving contracts to Americans, not Afghans.  US has no ability to create ministries from scratch.  Civilian capabilities non-existent or not understood by military when they do show up.  No inter-agency planning in part because the civilians have no idea why they are there or what they should do.

LOST IN TRANSLATION. Continue to lack Pashto translators.   More Pashto speakers within NYPD than in all US forces across Afghanistan

EXIT OPPORTUNITIES. Afghan Army most respected institution in country, best fighters but worst policemen.  US ground presence makes things worse.  Solutions have to be Afghan.  Afghan population wants sovereignty and independence.  US troops simply surviving, not campaigning.

On page 10 I provide the “Lessons Learned” from my 1992 study of USMC operations.

Journal: What If We Fail In Afghanistan?

Collaboration Zones, Communities of Practice, Ethics, Key Players, Policies, Reform, Strategy, Threats

What If We Fail in Afghanistan?

Steve Coll The New Yorker November 16, 2009

What would be the consequences of a second Islamic Emirate? My scenarios here are intended analytically, as a first-draft straw-man forecast:

The Nineties Afghan Civil War on Steroids

Momentum for a Taliban Revolution in Pakistan

Increased Islamist Violence Against India, Increasing the Likelihood of Indo-Pakistani War

Increased Al Qaeda Ambitions Against Britain and the United States

Phi Beta Iota: This is a classic status quo “Empire as Usua”l question.  It is not only the wrong question, trying to answer it perpetuates the insanity that begot the problem in the first place.  Steve Coll, author of  Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, is a very smart, very well-connected mandarin with The Washington Post as his home base.   The question that We the People should be forcing the White House and Congress to answer is this:

What If We Stop Spending $1.3 Trillion a Year on War, and Instead

Spend At Least a Third of That on Peace?

We never ask a question we cannot answer. The answer is clear-cut: we create a prosperous world at peace. See the two graphics below the fold.

Continue reading “Journal: What If We Fail In Afghanistan?”

Journal: Washington Post Continues to Die….

09 Terrorism, 10 Transnational Crime, Government, Law Enforcement, Military
Walter Pincus
Walter Pincus

Meet Walter Pincus.  He has “covered” the U.S. Intelligence Community for over two decades.

Fine Print: U.S. Intelligence and Afghan Narcotics

By Walter Pincus

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Click on the story title to read the story.  The entire story is built arouind an Air Force contracting announcement, and everything there-in is taken at face value including the absurd claim electronic processing of Dari information not only allows it to accept locally generated Afghan intelligence but to also return finished intelligence reports in Dari to the Afghan counternarcotics police.

Continue reading “Journal: Washington Post Continues to Die….”

Review: Ghost Wars–The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Paperback)

Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Intelligence (Government/Secret)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Copy Easier to Read, but Substance is Same: Superb,

April 19, 2005
Steve Coll
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links including books since published.

On balance this is a well researched book (albeit with a Langley-Saudi partiality that must be noted), and I give it high marks for substance, story, and notes. It should be read in tandem with several other books, including George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times and the Milt Bearden/James Risen tome on The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB.

The most important point in the book is not one the author intended to make. He inadvertently but most helpfully points to the fact that at no time did the U.S. government, in lacking a policy on Afghanistan across several Administrations, think about the strategic implications of “big money movements.” I refer to Saudi Oil, Afghan Drugs, and CIA Cash.

Early on the book shows that Afghanistan was not important to the incumbent Administration, and that the Directorate of Operations, which treats third-world countries as hunting grounds for Soviets rather than targets in their own right, had eliminated Afghanistan as a “collection objective” in the late 1980’s through the early 1990’s. It should be no surprise that the CIA consequently failed to predict the fall of Kabul (or in later years, the rise of the Taliban).

Iran plays heavily in the book, and that is one of the book’s strong points. From the 1979 riots against the U.S. Embassies in Iran and in Pakistan, to the end of the book, the hand of Iran is clearly perceived. As we reflect on Iran’s enormous success in 2002-2004 in using Chalabi to deceive the Bush Administration into wiping out Saddam Hussein and opening Iraq for Iranian capture, at a cost to the US taxpayer of over $400 billion dollars, we can only compare Iran to the leadership of North Viet-Nam. Iran has a strategic culture, the US does not. The North Vietnamese beat the US for that reason. Absent the development of a strategic culture within the US, one that is not corrupted by ideological fantasy, Iran will ultimately beat the US and Israel in the Middle East.

The greatest failure of the CIA comes across throughout early in the book: the CIA missed the radicalization of Islam and its implications for global destabilization. It did so for three reasons: 1) CIA obsession with hard targets to the detriment of global coverage; 2) CIA obsession with technical secrets rather than human overt and covert information; and 3) CIA laziness and political naiveté in relying on foreign liaison, and especially on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Both Admiral Stansfield Turner and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski come in for criticism here. Turner for gutting the CIA, Brzezinski for telling Pakistan it could go nuclear (page 51) in return for help against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Although the book does not focus on Bin Laden until he becomes a player in Afghanistan, it does provide much better discussion of Bin Laden’s very close relations with Saudi intelligence, including the Chief of Staff of Saudi intelligence at the time, Bin Laden’s former teacher and mentor. There appears to be no question, from this and other sources, including Yossef Bodansky’s book Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America and David Kaplan’s US News & World Report on Saudi sponsorship of global terrorism, that Bin Laden has been the primary Saudi intelligence agent of influence for exporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism to South Asia, the Pacific Rim, Africa, Europe, Russia, and the US. CIA and the FBI failed to detect this global threat, and the USG failed to understand that World War III started in 1989. As with other evils, the US obsession about communism led it to sponsor new emerging threats that might not otherwise have become real. However, the book also provides the first documentation I have seen that Bin Laden was “noticed” by the CIA in 1985 (page 146), and that Bin Laden opened his US office in 1986. It was also about this time that the Russian “got it” on the radical Islamic threat, told the US, and got blown off. Bob Gates and George Shultz were wrong to doubt the Soviets when they laid out Soviet plans to leave Afghanistan and Soviet concern about both the future of Afghanistan and the emerging threat from Islamic terrorism.

The middle of the book can be considered a case study in how Pakistani deception combined with American ignorance led us to make many errors of judgment. Some US experts did see the situation clearly–Ed McWilliams from State (“Evil Little Person” per Milt Bearden) comes out of this book looking very very smart.

The final portions of the book are detailed and balanced. What comes across is both a failure of the US to think strategically, and the incredibly intelligent manner in which Bin Laden does think globally, strategically, and unconventionally. Bin Laden understands the new equation: low-cost terrorism equals very high cost economic dislocation.

Side note: CIA provided the Islamic warriors in Afghanistan with enough explosives to blow up half of New York (page 135), and with over 2000 Stinger missiles, 600 of which appear to remain in the hands of anti-US forces today, possibly including a number shipped to Iran for re-purposing (ie London, Dallas, Houston)

One final note: morality matters. I am greatly impressed with the author’s judgment in focusing on the importance that Bin Laden places on the corruption of US and Saudi Arabian governments and corporations as the justification for his jihad. Will and Ariel Durant, in “The Lessons of History,” make a special point of discussing the long-term strategic value of morality as a “force” that impacts on the destiny of nations and peoples. The US has lost that part of the battle, for now, and before we can beat Bin Laden, we must first clean our own house and demand that the Saudi’s clean theirs or be abandoned as a US ally. Morality matters. Strategic culture matters. On these two counts, Bin Laden is winning for now.

Other books that augment this one:
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander
First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism
Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil

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