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Luttwak on Steve Coll’s Book and War in Afghanistan

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen”]

I’m a fan of strategist Ed Luttwak who, like Ralph Peters, is known for his bombastic and shibboleth-breaking analysis. I saw this book review by Luttwak in the Times Literary Supplement posted on a listserv to which I subscribe.

War of error

On April 14, 2011, at a meeting in The Hague, I was much impressed by the impassioned speech of Amrullah Saleh, a former Head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and a future government minister. His chief message was that Afghanistan, being poorer, deserved Europe’s help not by way of charity but out of solidarity, because both faced the same struggle against jihadi violence. As it happened, I was sitting immediately to his left on the speakers’ stage, and when it was my turn to speak I reached for his left hand to hold up his gold Rolex watch, declaring my readiness to swap it for my steel Timex, in the name of solidarity. He declined the offer.That is one important thing that readers will encounter in Steve Coll’s Directorate S; money, and lots of it; a torrent from the arrival of the first CIA team in the Panjshir Valley on September 26, 2001 carrying $10 million in cash, which was handed out in bundles “like candy on Halloween”. That 10 million was followed by hundreds of millions and then tens of billions and then hundreds of billions – cash that made a millionaire of every Afghan official you have ever heard of, and often of his brothers, sons and nephews too, in a country where the official minimum wage reserved for those with coveted public sector jobs is $72 – per month. So assuming that Saleh’s gold Rolex was the very cheapest model, he was wearing five or six years of wages on his left wrist.

As it happens, Coll’s book starts in the summer of 2001 with Saleh, not as a symbol of the all-contaminating corruption that appears to doom any American undertaking in Afghanistan but the opposite, as a selflessly dedicated intelligence aide of Ahmed Shah Massoud, whose stalwart resistance in the Panjshir river valley that runs in a north-easterly direction from Kabul was all that prevented the complete domination of Afghanistan by the Taliban, with their highly visible al-Qaeda subordinates, on behalf of their thinly disguised masters, the Pakistani army.

….The diplomatic price the Pakistani army exacted for allowing truck convoys via Quetta or Peshawar was and is immense: the toleration of its nuclear weapons programme and – until Trump came along – the flourishing of its terrorist networks that operate in Afghanistan as well as India. Thus to defend the Afghan government, the US has been funding its deadly enemies via the money given to Pakistan and its army, thereby incidentally solving Pakistan’s religious dilemma, because its conversion to Islamic extremism (in a country that celebrated Ahmadi war heroes in 1965, and as late as 1993 promoted a Catholic to major-general), only prohibits a sincere alliance with non-Muslims. As for the Central Asian routes, across Turkmenistan to Herat, or across Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif, or via Tajikistan to Kunduz, they require Russian consent in practice, even if in theory containers could bypass Russia via the Black Sea to Georgia’s ports and then from Baku to Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan via Caspian ferries.

That is why the United States should never have stayed to fight for Afghanistan after quickly breaking up the al-Qaeda infrastructure in the country very soon after September 11; and that is why it is a very great pity that Trump frittered away his authority before he could order the full and immediate withdrawal he had wanted.

Read the rest here.

In fairness, there are more reasons than mere geography, Afghan corruption and Pakistani perfidy for our lost war in Afghanistan continuing into it’s second generation and nearly all of them are of our own making. If the Taliban went away and Pakistan turned into Switzerland we might continue the war anyway given the degree to which victory and defeat there have become politically irrelevant to our prosecution of the war.

Break it Down Show – Dr. Richard Ledet on Female Empowerment in COIN

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen”]

See the source image Richard Ledet

” We were very unprepared…..There were gender gaps in Pashto [culture] that we only had a surface level understanding of….”

– Dr. Richard Ledet

Pete and Jon at The Break it Down Show discuss the theory, practice and ground truth of female engagement policy and tactics in conflict zones with Dr. Richard Ledet of Troy University. I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to Dr. Ledet speak at Quantico during a Boyd Conference on another subject some years ago.

Tune in and listen here.

279 – Dr. Richard Ledet
5/29/2018 

Female Empowerment – Today we feature some of Pete and Dr. Rich’s work from their overseas time. Today they discuss their academic paper about the ethical pitfalls of female engagement in conflict zones. If you’re interested in the paper, here is an early draft they presented at a conference at Ft. Leavenworth, KS.

The peer-reviewed article will publish in the Journal of Military Ethics in 2018. These things take time, we’ll do our best to update the show notes when the article is officially published.  In the meantime, enjoy Dr. Rich and Pete talking about the pitfalls of working to empower females in conflict zones.

Surveillance

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — gift horse, Trojan horse, back door — take your pick ]
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DoubleQuote!

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Liz Sly, reporting from Beirut:

U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging

An interactive map posted on the Internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use fitness devices such as Fitbit also reveals highly sensitive information about the locations and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity.

Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. [..]

In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around. [..]

The Pentagon has encouraged the use of Fitbits among military personnel and in 2013 distributed 2,500 of them as part of a pilot program to battle obesity.

Unanticipated consequences..

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Amira El Masait, from Rabat:

After Building New AU Headquarters, China Spies on Addis Ababa Facility By Amira El Masaiti

In 2012, the Chinese government “graciously offered” African States a gift and constructed the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. The act of soft diplomacy proved to be a rather self-serving maneuver to spy on the activities and discussions being conducted by leaders of the exclusive continental group.

In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

The glass tower $200 million complex was gifted to the African Union in 2012. The computer systems were fully equipped by the Chinese, allowing them to open an undocumented portal that gives Chinese administrators access to the AU’s computing system. This “backdoor” is an intentional fault put into code to allow hackers and intelligence agencies to gain illicit access to information.

Shoulda looked that gift horse in the mouth..

“Following this discovery, we have taken some steps to strengthen our cybersecurity,” a AU official told Le Monde.

But at least, “The Chinese have nothing to listen to. They have never colonized us. They have supported the struggles of independence on the continent and help us economically today,” an AU official told Le Monde anonymously.

Another official believes that, “They are not alone.” In fact, the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British intelligence agencies (GCHQ) have had their share of surveillance on the AU building, according to documents which were extracted by Le Monde, in collaboration with The Intercept.

Aaah!

Grief and joy in shoes at mosque and church

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — part for whole, what’s that called, synechdoche in Kabul, Houston ]
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Shoes outside places of worship tell two very different tales in these two recent news photos.

Afghanistan

The shoes here are those left behind by worshippers who entered the Shiite mosque in Khair Khana area of Kabul, Afghanistan, which was blown up by ISIS. The death toll was 43 as I am writing this.

As day follows night follows day…

Houston, Texas:

This picture is of shoes donated for those in need of them at Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church, which had taken something of a PR beating after Osteen said it hadn’t been opened as a shelter because the authorities hadsn’t requested it — whereas many Houston area mosques were openws without any official request begind given.

Buzzfeed reported on the resentment of OSteen that may lie behind the criticisms leveled against him on this occasion:

The speed, tone, and volume of criticisms leveled against Osteen and Lakewood Church speak to the seriousness of the flooding crisis in Houston, but also to a larger powder keg of resentment directed at a particular strain of American Christianity — Osteen’s pro-wealth prosperity gospel, and the larger evangelical movement it’s associated with — that many see as failing to be charitable to people who are truly in need.

That’s worth pondering — the backlash in itself is a significant “marker” in the sociology of American religion.

WWJD? — Matthew 6.19-21, anyone? Where’s Osteen’s treasure?

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Sources:

  • TRTWorld, At least 43 dead in Daesh-led attack on Shia mosque in Kabul
  • Buzzfeed News, The Joel Osteen Fiasco Says A Lot About American Christianity
  • ShiaWaves, Dozens of Houston Area Mosques are 24/7 Shelters without being Asked
  • Like father, like son

    Thursday, August 24th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a DoubleQuote in the Wild ]
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    This came up in my feed today —

    Richard Landes was just tweeting –

    Ouch!

    Not like me, not like my sons, btw.

    **

    Or as Baudrillard might say:

    Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream.

    Ouch. Pinch me.


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