Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Afghanistan Builds International Ties

The Afghan government opened new offices on the 29th of September in New York City, which consisted of an Afghan Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Afghan Consulate General. This symbolizes the establishment of closer ties between Afghanistan and the United Nations. Afghanistan was one of the original signatory nations to the UN Charter on the 26th of June, 1945. Their relationship with the international governing body is historic but following the insurrections, instability and conflict that gripped the nation between roughly 1990 and the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the nation has been decidedly on the ‘outs’ of International Relations.

Accusations of against President Hamid Karzai’s administration and the grueling toll of ISAF personnel killed in the battle to restore stability and wrest power from the tribal militias have worn the credibility of the fledgling government. A Xinhua article quoted the Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta as saying "Unfortunately, the negative coverage of the situation in Afghanistan by international media has overshadowed the many positive trends and developments achieved since the collapse of the Taliban's regime." The opening of these new facilities is symbolic of Afghanistan’s desire to engage more deeply with the international community.


Opening Ceremony: Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the UN in New York

Xinhua- Afghanistan opens new offices of UN Mission, Consulate General in New York

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pakistan, Waziristan and How to Fund a War.

Pakistani military leaders are weighing their options on opening up a large-scale offensive against Taliban militants in the Waziristan region. Waziristan straddles the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and this lawless tribal region is home to the leadership structure and cultural centre of the Taliban militants. While ISAF coalition soldiers battle the Taliban across the border, senior Pakistani Military decision-makers must gauge what effect if any can be produced by their nation’s underequipped and undertrained armed forces in what would doubtless be a brutal and protracted campaign.

Since the death of Beitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban to an American MQ-9 Reaper drone strike in August, there were questions raised in the international community about the ability of the Taliban to operate with even the most basic organization. Mehsud was widely regarded as the ‘glue’ which held together the ‘Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’ forces together and his death was regarded by many as the end, at least for a short while of their military capacities. Recent suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan have raised concerns that the period of disorganization has passed and whether the TTP is going to be a resurgent movement in Waziristan.

The Pakistani army also has the lessons learned in its recent Swat valley campaign. Their soldiers contended with sinking morale, desertion and heavy casualties in the face of typical asymmetrical guerilla tactics, which included roadside bombings with improvised explosive devices and ambushes. Entering Waziristan, unlike the relatively easily contained Swat river valley will involve a massive movement of troops and material, serious dedication to logistics and command and control networks if they are to emerge victorious over an enemy who spends the majority of his time masquerading as a civilian.

The Obama administration meanwhile, has been establishing precedent for the provision of significant military support for Pakistan's war effort. In May, his administration pushed for a Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capability Fund of around $400 million USD. This inflow is going to be ramped up to about $US700 million by 2010. One of the major challenges in funding Pakistan to support its COIN (counter-insurgency) operations is that any military support it receives can also be employed to threaten its long-time adversary, India. With military exchanges between these nuclear powers a prominent factor in modern history and the history of the region, any support given to Pakistan is undoubtedly going to draw criticism from the Indian government.

Reuters India: Interview- Pakistan still considering Waziristan options
Sydney Morning Herald: US to bolster Pakistan's Taliban fight.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Victory or Defeat: Top U.S. General Submits Request for More Troops

Top US General Stanley McChrystal, the top-ranking general in charge of the Afghanistan war has delivered a report to U.S. President Barack Obama's administraton, requesting more troops to combat the Taliban Insurgency. Some analysts expect the request, submitted yesterday, will be for almost 40,000 more personel. (1) With 68,000 American soldiers in country, that would constitute an increase of about two-thirds. McChrystal has previously claimed, in a white-house report on the war which was leaked to the international news media, that failure to provide adequate numbers of well-trained personnel will endanger the success of the entire mission.

The submission of the request comes less than 24 hours after the deaths of five American combat personnel (2) and 18 Taliban militants (3) in separate incidents across Afghanistan. Three soldiers were killed when their Stryker Infantry Fighting Vehicle hit a roadside bomb, another was killed in the same village by hostile fire and one more was killed elsewhere in the country when a US Army patrol came under attack from militants. It is losses like this which makes committing to a surge of troops so difficult for the Obama administration. Few indeed in the American public understand the reason their young men and women are being returned in flag-draped coffins. The truth is that in the short term, surges of troops are likely to produce more casualties statistically, due to the dramatically increased numbers of close, quick contacts with the enemy. In the long run, increased presence in the country, along with a shift towards McChrystal's new operational methods have the potential to create victory.

One of the major drawbacks in the war right now is the unwillingness of Afghan civilians to trust Coalition troops. While they recognize ISAF Forces as being capable of providing them with security, they are unwilling to trust them because they know the troops will not be there permanently. When a patrol passes through a town, the local Taliban will lay low for an hour or two not wanting to risk a direct engagement. However, when the patrol passes, life resumes itself exactly as it was before he soldiers arrived. Winning the long-term trust of the Afghan people and convincing them that they will never again be abandoned to the cruelty and brutality of the Taliban is one of the major hurdles that is capable of turning the tide in the conflict.

In an attempt to combat this impression amongst the Afghan public, the Canadian Forces in the region have taken a 'model village' under their protection. (4) The village named Deh-e-Bagh is located in the Dand district and was in a state of relative desolation following decades of seemingly unrelenting war. By training local security forces to construct and man a defensive perimeter around the village and through employing locals in the reconstruction of what was a bombed-out municipal center, the Canadian Forces have demonstrated that civilian loyalty can be reinforced through the provision of security. The settlement has come under attack repeatedly from Insurgent forces, but proper training and support of local security has rendered their attempts at disrupting life in Deh-e-Bagh unsuccessful. This model of troops embedded within the Civilian population, providing security and assistance where needed has been effective in limiting the psychological and physical power of violence and intimidation that are the mainstays of Insurgent tactics.

Coupling this new approach with a significant rise in troop levels within the country, actually has the potential to sow the preconditions for lasting peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The challenge now is to reassure the people of Afghanistan that we are capable of more than just meeting their needs for security in the short term and on a local level. It is of the utmost importance to underscore that Coalition forces will only leave their country once the Insurgency has been uprooted, the Afghan National Army is capable of protecting its own and the fledgeling democracy has proven itself a rock amongst the shifting sands.

1. Voice of America - Afghanistan Troop Request Delivered
2. CBC - 5 U.S. Soldiers killed in Afghanistan
3. Xinhua - 18 Taliban Militants Killed in Afghanistan
4. CNEWS - Taliban Target Canadian 'Model Village'

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kandahar's Innocent - Life as a Woman in Afghanistan's Volatile South

In the dusty streets of Kandahar, a few men sit smoking their water pipes on doorsteps, watching the world. The sound of car horns and diesel motors fills the air as hundreds of cars, pickup trucks and three-wheeled taxis seem to circle endlessly in the crowded streets. Young men carrying bags, apprentices to tradesmen or religious students, walk to buy their lunches and small children tag along after them through the crowds, shouting slogans or asking questions. In the background of the image drift tall, vague shapes, clad head to toe in sweeping garments of sky blue, gold or brown. These ethereal figures are clutching at the hands of their small children or bringing a basket of foodstuffs back from the market. These are the few women who have braved the perils of the world outside their homes. While conditions have steadily improved in the rest of the country, the conditions of life for women within Kandahar, seen by many as the capital of the ‘Pashtun belt,’ have been declining sharply.

In her documentary series ‘Behind the Veil,’ Photographer Paula Lerner went into Kandahar and interviewed women there. Her findings, published this week in the Globe and Mail revealed the stark inequity between women and men, and the abuses of women’s rights that still persist to this day. The women interviewed express desires for education, for security, for opportunity in a world they see as swallowing them whole. Many of those interviewed who are married speak of abuses at the hands of their spouses or their spouses families. Those who are unmarried speak with fear about the prospects since 70-80% of women in Afghanistan face forced marriages(1), even under government legislation aimed at preventing such.

Article 22 [Equality]

(1) Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan are prohibited.

(2) The citizens of Afghanistan -- whether man or woman -- have equal rights and duties before the law.

Afghan Constitution(2)
Chapter II ‘Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens’

Life has never been easy for the women of Afghanistan. Under the Taliban rule, the oppressive religious garments the burqa and chadri were enforced for moral and religious reasons. Women were forbidden from holding jobs, from going to school and even from leaving the home without their husband’s permission. They were forbidden from seeking medical attention from male doctors, even during childbirth.(3) As the female nurses and doctors who had previously been members of the professional and academic communities had been forced out of work when the Taliban took power, many women died in labour. Even now, following the NATO invasion of the country, an Afghan woman dies approximately every 30 minutes in childbirth. The average life expectancy for women in the country is a shocking 44.(4)

It has been common practice for girls as young as 14 to be married off to men who are two or even three times their age. Families, in fact, expect a degree of compensation for raising daughters to childbearing age, with amounts up to 700,000 Afghanis ($15,000) being demanded of prospective husbands. These paid, arranged marriages have produced two results; first the misconception amongst Afghan men that women, (as they have been purchased) are property and second that they can be treated in whatever manner a husband sees fit. One in every three Afghan women will at some time experience physical, psychological or sexual violence either at home or in their communities.(5)

The Pashtun belt is an enormous tribal zone, where the primary language is Pashto (though many also speak Persian Dari). It straddles the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and it is the region the majority of the Taliban hail from. This is a rural population, and even in the urban center of Kandahar, religious conservatism and traditionalism in thought and deed are upheld as the only ethics. Despite the 2004 Afghan constitution promising equal rights and duties before the law, for both women and men (6) little has been done in the lawless tribal regions, or the conservative cities to redress these wrongs. A goal of eliminating forced and child marriage by 2008 (7) has yet to be realized and recent legislation labeled ‘Shia Family Law’ further erodes the possibilities for true gender equity in the troubled nation. The law essentially permits a husband to pursue sexual intercourse with his wife at any time, forbidding women from refusing to perform their ‘marital duties.’ (8)

The lack of access to education is another major roadblock for the progression of women’s rights. 87% of the country’s women are illiterate, few having completed elementary school before being married off and forced into a life of service to their new husbands. (9) In the recent elections, 35% of women did not believe they were going to be allowed to vote and 18% of husbands stated that they did not intend to permit their wives to do so. (10) These bleak statistics paint a picture of a nation in which democracy is impossible to achieve while half the population is still held ignorant and voiceless. A prominent female politician, Sitara Achakzai who worked to improve the condition of Human Rights in Afghanistan was murdered in cold blood by Taliban while taking a taxi. The Afghan born leader had emigrated to Germany where she married, before returning to Afghanistan to serve as a member of regional parliament in the years leading up to her assassination. The 52 year old was upheld as a symbol of the future Afghan women playing a role in the shaping of their own society and culture. (11)

Prominent Women's rights activist and regional politician, Sitara Achakzai was murdered by Taliban who saw her as a direct threat to the harsh religious order they are trying to enforce in Afghanistan's volatile south.

What will come now, and in the aftermath of the coalition’s war against the Taliban remains to be seen. There are those, perhaps the noblest amongst their sisters who are following a growing trend of women joining the security and police forces, hoping to work for the new government to improve their own nation. These women face the worst forms of violence and abuse, not only domestically, but at the hands of militants who target them specifically to reinforce the point that female participation in law and order will not be tolerated. (12) A resurgence of violence and conservatism has robbed hope from many other women who only a few years ago removed the veil and emerged from their homes to greet the new world of opportunity that awaited them. As public opinion for the costly conflict wanes in the West, it is the women of Afghanistan, young and old who have perhaps the most to lose.

Female Afghan police officers report for training by ISAF personnel. Women are playing a growing role in the long-term security of the nation as many are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of their homeland.

1. UNIFEM Afghanistan: Afghan Women's Statistics
2. - Afghan Constitution (PDF)
3. Wikipedia - The Treatment of Women Under the Taliban
4. UNIFEM Afghanistan: Afghan Women's Statistics
5. UNIFEM Afghanistan: Afghan Women's Statistics
6. - Afghan Constitution (PDF)
7. BBC - Panorama: Afghan Women Fight for Rights
8. Wikipedia- Shia Family Law
9. UNICEF Afghanistan: Afghanistan Statistics
10. The Globe and Mail - Behind the Veil
11. CBC News - Women's Rights Activist Shot Dead in Southern Afghanistan
12. CTV- Female Afghan Police Officers Brave Death Threats

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Emmy Winning Documentary "Talking to the Taliban" Reveals No Simple Solution to Afghanistan's Woes

In the war for the Afghan nation, there are no simple maxims that can easily articulate the scope of the conflict. Nor, are there simple prescriptive solutions by which order can be restored and the people of this relatively small, landlocked state can return to some semblance of normality in their day-to-day lives. In his Emmy Award winning documentary “Talking to the Taliban”(1), which was hosted in interactive video format on the Globe and Mail webpage, Globe reporter Graeme Smith did something that few other western reporters have been willing to do. He candidly interviewed 42 members of the Taliban insurgency in order to try and shed some perspective on the reasons and ideals that drive these tribal warriors to fight. The course of his investigation (mostly taped by an Afghan freelance researcher) reveals the almost incomprehensibly complex nature of the conflict. A thorough viewing of the material Smith presents, and research into the surrounding factors reinforces the perspective that in the struggle to forge a stable state from this fluid tribalism and multitude of geopolitical considerations, there are no easy answers.

For one, Smith’s documentary series reveals that the Taliban are not overly political, nor do they possess any sort of worldview which extends beyond their borders. They see themselves as warriors, fighting a ‘jihad’ against non-Muslims. They do not care who leads their nation (but begrudgingly accept that Mullah Omar, their current de-facto leader is not really up to the job, being himself, not a politician.) Many of the interviewed Taliban admitted that they would accept ‘any government that had an Islamic leader and did not serve the non-Muslims.’ The documentary goes on to reveal that at least the common foot-soldiery have little concept of the locations or cultural structures of other nations outside their own. Few could, for instance, place Canada on a map in relation to the United States, and fewer still knew whether there were any Muslims in Canada at all. This underscores the level of ignorance in the resistance and implies that rather than being complex and conniving architects of a global Jihad, the Taliban are actually little more than illiterate and marginalized country folk who have been hardened by almost three decades of civil war and internecine strife. (2)

The divide between Afghanistan’s Urban and Rural centers, illustrated by images of Kabul, the capital and a small village in the province of Paktia.

One of the major drives behind the primarily ‘rural’ insurgency is the intense and historical urban/rural dichotomy in Afghanistan. In the urban centers are the Western aid organizations, opportunities for education and many people who have come to believe in the ideas of prosperity, liberalism and democracy. For the Taliban, this indicates the spread of values that they would term ‘non-Muslim’, exported by interfering nations, which threaten their traditional way of life. They are fighting then, primarily for the right to live under their own code of laws in the countless small farming villages. This ‘Sharia’ law is a form of Islamic self-government which incorporates the tenets of Islam into all aspects of living, especially as pertains to social codes, family structure and criminal justice. (3)

“In sharia, there are categories of offenses… prescribed a specific punishment in the Quran, known as hadd punishments, those that fall under a judge's discretion, and those resolved through a tit-for-tat measure (ie., blood money paid to the family of a murder victim). There are five hadd crimes: unlawful sexual intercourse (sex outside of marriage and adultery), false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, wine drinking (sometimes extended to include all alcohol drinking), theft, and highway robbery. Punishments for hadd offenses--flogging, stoning, amputation, exile, or execution…” (4)

The famed image of a public execution for a hadd offense, conducted in a stadium in Afghanistan underscores the marginalized nature of women under Sharia law.

Predating the spread of Islam and the implementation of Sharia Law by centuries is the ancient tribal code of the Pashtun people. This pre-literate tradition is handed down orally from generation to generation. Called ‘Pashtunwali’, it calls for amongst other things, men to rise up and take revenge ‘Badal’ to redress wrongs dealt to them or the honour of their families. This often results in blood feuds spanning decades and costing hundreds of lives, born of a simple insult. For the purposes of the current conflict, collateral damages to civilian populations or targets from air-delivered munitions or other heavy ordnance is creating yet another reason for the Taliban to take up arms against the perceived ‘cruel oppression’ of foreign occupation.

Of the 42 Taliban that are interviewed in Smith’s documentary, 12 state that they themselves have lost close relatives in airstrikes. The prominent effect that civilian casualties as a result of the aerial campaign over Afghanistan, in terms of popular support for the continued presence of foreign troops and diplomats in the country cannot be ignored. A United Nations report indicated that international forces operating in Afghanistan were reviewing their air-warfare doctrines in an attempt to drastically reduce the number of civilian casualties that were tearing away at both Afghan governmental and popular support of the war effort. The American forces, heavily reliant on air-power as the primary method of inflicting desired effects through operational shock have been the most reluctant to reconsider their procedures. In 2009 however, the Americans employed about half as many air-delivered munitions more than a little bit in part because of recommendations coming from within their defense structures and from the international community. (5)

“The United States views this as the tragic but bearable cost of a successful operation against the insurgents, without understanding that the Taliban has deliberately traded the lives of a few dozen guerilla fighters in order to cost the American forces the permanent loyalty of that village, under a code of Pashtun social behavior called Pashtunwali and its obligation for revenge (Badal), which the Army does not even begin to understand or take seriously.” (6)

Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason

Naval Postgraduate School, California

Simultaneous to this, the Taliban also have a strong desire to protect their livelihoods. The creation of a government under Hamid Karzai, that was friendly to western powers, gave an opportunity for westerners to outsource their other war in Afghanistan. This is the opium war, aimed at preventing the cultivation, harvesting and sale of opium poppies and their various derivatives (which have become one of the primary sources of income for many impoverished Afghan farmers.) The Afghan government has begun sending eradication teams around the countryside with combine harvesters and various defoliants who have been engaged in the wholesale destruction of these illicit crops. (7) In ‘Talking With the Taliban’, Smith identifies that surges in violence can be attributed on a local level with almost eerie correlation to the arrival of eradication teams in Afghanistan’s various provinces. As farmers watch their primary source of income destroyed, they surrender themselves to militancy and fall back on traditional resistance ethics, fighting not only for their right to self-government, but also for their livelihoods as well.

United Nations studies on the country have identified additionally that the most dangerous regions, with the fiercest resistance by the insurgency directly correspond to the localized proliferation of Opium cultivation. Smith uses the ‘chicken and egg’ analogy to communicate this conundrum, since it could paradoxically be inferred that the violence is an attempt to protect a source of income and at the same time, that the income facilitates the purchase of arms, equipment, training and personnel for continued acts of violence. This is not an issue for which there will be any simple conclusion. Simply destroying the crops yields resistance in its purest form, and providing viable alternatives, (pistachios, citrus fruit, figs, dates and almonds) (8) will take years if not decades to develop the infrastructure and education necessary for success and sustainability.

Poppy cultivation is not however, the only source of income for the Taliban. A significant amount of money is paid to them from external sources such as fundamentalist Muslim Charities which operate across the Middle-East. When asked in an interview where the money came from that paid for arms and equipment, one Taliban stated that it came from “A man.” When asked where that man got it, he said that he did not know, but that it came across the border. This border is of course the Durand Line, which separates Afghanistan on its eastern edge, from the nation of Pakistan. This line was arbitrarily drafted in an English peace settlement by British diplomat Mortimer Durand in 1893. (9) While in theory, the line demarcates the boundaries of AfghanistanPakistan, it fails to take into account the tribal composition of the divided regions. and neighbouring By far, the largest tribal group in Afghanistan is the Pashtun people, comprising about 42% of the country’s population. The total geographical distribution of the Pashtun tribe extends about 150-200 kilometers across the border into Pakistan, straddling the Durand line. The demarcation of territory by the British did not account for tribal distribution and has therefore caused a political rift affecting the Pashtun peoples.

It has been therefore in the best interests of the Pakistani state, Smith goes on to say, to ‘fuel’ the insurgency in Afghanistan. This appears to be an attempt to keep the country so destabilized that a coherent policy on the Durand line and the re-unification of the Pashtun peoples is of minimal importance to the Afghan government when faced with more pressing internal security concerns. Pakistan is engaged on both sides of its northern region in disputes over territorial and cultural borders, on one side with Afghanistan in Pashtun Pakistan and on the other with India in the region of Kashmir. Loss of both of these regions would substantially reduce the size and status of the nation of Pakistan, and there is a vested interest in maintaining sovereignty over both these contested zones. This is not to say the Pakistani government is directly complicit with the insurgents, but elements, specifically within the Pakistani intelligence community (ISI) are known to have supported the Taliban’s rise to power in 1994. (10)

"Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI,"(11)

US General Stanley McChrystal

Confidential Assessment Report

It is adherence to tribal loyalty that drives the internal strife as well; “Talking With the Taliban” indicated that of the 42 insurgents who were interviewed for the documentary, only five of the insurgents identified themselves as members of the tribes whose members form the Afghan government. The vast majority of the fighters which agreed to speak were from the marginalized tribes who have little to no say in the governance and administration of internal affairs in Afghanistan. All of the fighters were from the sub-tribes which comprise the Pashtun ethnic group. This lack of representation, (and ethnic division by the Durand line) Smith concludes, fuels feelings of animosity towards the ruling tribes and disenfranchisement with a political process many of the Taliban do not feel represents their cultural, linguistic or ethnic heritage. A huge part of the instability which currently wracks the Afghan state is rooted in these internecine tensions.

This wealth of information obtained through Graeme Smith’s direct-dialogue with the Insurgents supports the conclusion that there is no simple band-aid solution which will bring a swift end to internal strife in Afghanistan. The presence of international troops aggravates on one hand, the ability of the Afghan government to administer internal affairs because they are seen to be working as ‘lap dogs’ of the global ‘non-Muslim’ community. The counterpoint to this is of course that withdrawal from the region would make the Afghan Government’s job almost impossible, as the fledgling democracy possesses little in the way of competent personnel and equipment to enforce internal security. Security and stability are of course the prerequisites for ‘peace, good government and the rule of law.’ Perhaps it is that the possible solutions to three decades of civil war and unrest lie beyond the Afghan borders entirely, in Pakistan, neighbouring India and perhaps to no small degree with the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran. The key for western policy-makers and diplomats is to draw the nations, tribal groups and leaders who have a hand in this small nation’s instability together and engage in a process that includes restitution, pacification, redressing historical wrongs and establishing a common ground between the desires of Fundamental and Moderate Islam. As for the western military personnel currently in the nation, the continued provision of security both active and supportive, attempts to eliminate the insurgency’s material means and distribution of aid and assistance to civil agencies is the only mandate that can under present conditions, be successful.


1. "Talking to The Taliban"

2. 'Afghanistan' - Wikipedia

3. GlobalSecurity.Org: 'Sharia Law / Penalties'

4. Council on Foreign Relations: "Islam: Governing Under Sharia"

5. USA Today: Airstrikes in Afghanistan Drop by Almost Half

6. US Responses to the Global Security Environment (PDF)

7. "Helmand Poppy Farming Falls by a Third"

8. FAO of the United Nations: "Promoting Alternatives to Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan"

9. 'Durand Line' - Wikipedia

10. HRW.Org: "Crisis of Impunity - Pakistan's Support of the Taliban"

11. UPI Asia: "Pakistani Support to Insurgents Cited"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Afghanistan: The Trivial Approach

Senior policy makers in the west are beginning to reconsider the method of strategic implementation that has been seen so far in the nation of Afghanistan. They are discussing a so called 'third way' for the nation. This involves internal restructuring and approaching militants with an attitude far more in line with 'reconciliation' than previous aggressive policy. By offering viable alternatives to the impoverished and disenfranchised elements in Afghan society, the Coalition is hoping to encourage disarmament.

"Instead of giving local fighters - many of them hired guns and destitute farmers - the choice of 'fighting or fleeing,' they should be given a 'third option' of surrendering and reintegrating with society."(1)

The translation of this 'third option' is in essence, the adoption of a common-sense approach to combating militancy by striking at its core sociological root. Militancy as a social phenomenon evolves from desperation, poverty and disenfranchisement. It is a commonly held notion that in order to prevail over an enemy, one must strike at their 'Center of Gravity' (Take, for example the King in Chess). The center of gravity is of course, not always a physical entity or concrete structure readily identifiable. Often, (especially as is the case in the 4GW paradigm (Fourth Generation Warfare) the Center of gravity exists as a spiritual, intellectual or ideological center.(2) In order to effectively combat a foe who is operating at an idea-driven level, one must employ ideas that strike first at the decisive points. (Following the chess example, the other pieces). The linear model created when plotting a course through the decisive points either by elimination or negation is referred to as the 'Line of Operations.' Simply put, NATO policy makers are realizing more and more the psycho-sociological alternatives to attacking these decisive points (armies, militias, strong houses, madrassas and other bastions of fundamental militancy.)(3)

The latin root of the word 'Trivia' (as in Trivial Pursuit) is rooted in the three fundamental subjects originally taught in academic centers for hundreds of years. These 'Trivia' (latin for Three Ways' are Rhetoric, Logic and Grammar. Hitherto, policy has not been short of rhetoric and grammar, but the logical development of coherent strategy to combat the root causes of militancy in Afghan society has been obscured by other priorities.

There is nothing wrong with simply engaging a foe wherever he stands, employing Maneuver Warfare to gain decisive tactical advantage in the engagement and hopefully within the theatre. However, failure to address the root cause as to why the foe is deciding to stand (and die) where he does, does little to prevent others from returning and standing in the same place. This is not really a matter for the warriors. Our men and women are performing an admirable job under adverse conditions. What we need now is a different approach, founded on long-term thought, emphasizing sustainability and operations beyond the scope of tactical or operational level engagement.

"The allies tried that between 2005 and 2007 with the Program Takhim-E-Sohl, which encouraged fighters to lay down their weapons in exchange for offers of money and jobs, but the Afghan-led initiative was so rife with corruption the program collapsed and international cash dried up.

Officials say it's time for a better, more stringent national program to lure moderate Taliban away from the more hard-core elements of the insurgency.(4)

There are elements in western government who question the potential the mission has for success. This is propelled largely by the seemingly ineffective approach by Coalition forces to stem the rising tide of violence and the widespread proliferation if improvised explosive devices, which have claimed hundreds of personnel. The insidious nature of the Taliban's IED tactics are such that schools specifically for the purposes of training individuals in the construction and deployment of these lethal pyrotechnics have sprung up both within Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.(5)

“...they are not just springing up fully formed, spontaneously. If you are going to lay an IED that defeats the ability of Canadian, British and American troops to detect it, you have been trained by a bomb-maker at a bomb-making school and those schools, to a very large extent are still outside of Afghanistan in the sanctuary of Pakistan,” (6)

This necessitates by default a 'widening' of the scope of the mission in the short term, and increased coordination between Afghan, Coalition and Pakistani Military and Security personnel who are dedicated to combating the insurgency. Since these individuals constructing and detonating IEDs have been formally trained in this aptitude, it is not unfeasible to consider that they could be retrained into a number of other mechanically skilled professions. It is the ability of Coalition forces to lay the groundwork for and effectively implement programs in Afghan society dedicated to creating and maintaining sustainable employment that will inevitably turn the tide of the war.(7)
People as a general rule speak the language of politics and bloodshed only so long as they do not have the necessities of life, food, community, employment and others.

Those who possess and employ arms and tactics seldom continue doing so when offered things like permanent employment, higher education, government jobs. I'll call that the 'pension effect'. Hitherto the drive in Afghan militancy has been to possess arms, exert power and maybe one day come away with enough in arms, equipment or drugs of salable value to 'retire' and either leave the country or hire henchmen. It is these ambitions (along with the religious and cultural values) which have been responsible for swelling the ranks of the insurgency with landless farmers and the uneducated peasantry.

The unfortunate case with Afghanistan is that there is no potential for returning to a status quo ante bellum, because decades of perpetual conflict both internal and against various imperial occupations has left the nation one of the most fragmented on the planet. However, by offering a viable alternative to these disenfranchised individuals, the coalition and Afghan Government can greatly reduce the support from the insurgency. They can eliminate support from moderates driven to militancy by desperation which will leave only the truly 'hard line' supporters of the violent, antisocial ideology.

One of the other major concessions is that NATO strategists are legitimately discussing whether or not it would be better to have elders in the districts function as both municipal leaders and a sort of self-sufficient judiciary. While this does leave policy analysts with questions about the return of internecine conflict between tribal groups and ethnic populations, it certainly seems to be what the Afghan people themselves desire.(8)

"At the same time, the countries are discussing the idea of empowering local district councils to, among other things, mediate disputes - much the same way they did for centuries before the Soviet occupation upended the social order.

Much of the appeal of the Taliban, especially in rural areas, can be found in their ability to swiftly - sometimes brutally - arbitrate disputes among residents as opposed to the muddled Western-based national justice system."(9)

These transitions are not intended occur on a short timeline. This strategic policy will doubtless undergo countless revisions before the NATO countries participating in the Coalition arrive at a coherent and unanimous accord. More than likely, the winter months will be a flurry of political activity as each nation inspects the scope of its own contribution and high-level talks continue aimed at creating a stable future for the nation of Afghanistan.

"The new strategy could be rolled out by next spring, just before the annual fighting season..."(10)


The Operational Art: Canadian Perspectives: Concepts and Context
(pub. 2005)

The Canadian Press

The Globe and Mail

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Saleh ali Saleh Nabhan, Al Qaeda Operative Killed in Somalia

An air strike yesterday by an American Special Forces helicopter in the nation of Somalia killed an important Al Qaeda member.(1) The Kenyan born terrorist had been linked previously to embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya which killed or wounded thousands. The attack was on a car that was traveling near the Somalia/Kenya border. The helicopter had been dispatched from an offshore American warship.

This represents a significant development for the war on terror, as US forces chop yet another head from the body of the hydra. The fact that the targeted killings of senior terror-cell members is still ongoing demonstrates that the US is still actively engaged in identifying and locating those responsible for threatening their citizens, soldiers and ideals both at home and abroad. Nabhan was quoted by a senior official as being an integral player in Al Qaeda's East Africa operation. The attack was signed off on by President Obama, and is being hailed as another coup for the forces of freedom and democracy in a lawless world. Needless to say, other top Al Qaeda members and representatives ought to be reconsidering the extent, visibility and security of their continued participation.

Saleh ali Saleh Nabhan
Born April 4, 1979 in Mombassa, Kenya. Dead September 14, 2009 near Baraawe, Somalia

1 CNN.Com- "Key Al Qaeda Operative Killed in US Strike, Somalia Says"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Surge of Violence in Afghanistan Results in Numerous Casualties

An escalation of violence in the Nation of Afghanistan this week has left 48 people dead. The series of attacks, counter-attacks and military operations claimed the lives of Taliban militants, civilians and local security forces. 11 Militants were killed in night-time raids in the province of Kunduz. The raids netted amongst other things, bomb making supplies and rocket propelled grenades, weapons that are responsible for the bulk of NATO ISAF casualties in the region. Elsewhere in the country, six civilians were killed in the explosion of an improvised explosive device and suicide bombers staged a suicide attack on the Afghan government's intelligence headquarters which killed an officer. (1)

Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, return to their forward operating base after a night-time patrol in Zerok District, East Paktika province in Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 11, 2009.
(AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh)

The visible surge in violence follows in the wake of the recent Afghan National Elections, the controversial results of which are still being tabulated. The ongoing violence underscores the delicate balance of power in the region, with the Taliban operating freely both in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan. An incident of 'blue on blue' fire was reported when a US soldier was shot by an Afghan colleague he was actively training. The Afghan policeman was reportedly aghast at the US soldier drinking water in front of locals who were participating in the month-long fast of Ramadan which forbids eating and drinking between dusk and dawn. The assailant was shot and seriously wounded by US forces in retaliation.

Thus far, the year of 2009 represents the bloodiest to date (2) with several thousand dead, a number which includes 340 Coalition (3) personnel.

1. The Associated Press - By RAHIM FAIEZ and NOOR KHAN
2. - By Ben Farmer
3. iCasualties