War

As Obama Embraces Multi-Fronted War, He Fires Chuck Hagel

In recent days, the press has reported that President Obama signed an order (or on second thought, maybe it’s just an unsigned decision that can’t be FOIAed, so don’t start anything, Jason Leopold) basically halting and partly reversing his plans for withdrawal.

President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Virtually simultaneously with the decision to permit American forces to be more involved with the Afghan government, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reversed Hamid Karzai’s ban on night raids — and also renamed them “night operations.”

The government of the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has quietly lifted the ban on night raids by special forces troops that his predecessor had imposed.

Afghan National Army Special Forces units are planning to resume the raids in 2015, and in some cases the raids will include members of American Special Operations units in an advisory role, according to Afghan military officials as well as officials with the American-led military coalition.

That news comes after published accounts of an order by President Obama to allow the American military to continue some limited combat operations in 2015. That order allows for the sort of air support necessary for successful night raids.

Night raids were banned for the most part in 2013 by President Hamid Karzai. Their resumption is likely to be controversial among Afghans, for whom any intrusion into private homes is considered offensive. Mindful of the bad name that night raids have, the American military has renamed them “night operations.”

Night operations …. sort of like the tooth fairy?

And now that Obama has made it clear he will spend his Lame Duck continuing — escalating, even — both forever wars he got elected to end, he has fired forced the resignation of the Secretary of Defense he hired to make peace.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse ofPresident Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises.

The president, who is expected to announce Mr. Hagel’s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, made the decision to ask his defense secretary — the sole Republican on his national security team — to step down last Friday after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials said.

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

But now “the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that he initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.

But Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary.

Some great reporting from the NYT, getting all three scoops about Obama’s pivot to war.

I’m just hoping someone is reporting out the really important questions: who will be paying for the resumption of the forever war, and how it will be any more successful than the last 13 years?

Another Iraq Failure by Petraeus: Graft-Ridden Military

Back when the Bush Administration and their neocon operators were most proud of their “accomplishments” in Iraq, their poster boy for this success most often was my favorite ass-kissing little chickenshit, David Petraeus. As the public finally became aware of what a disaster Iraq really was and as Obama moved his focus to the “good war” in Afghanistan, I noted that Petraeus’ name was no longer associated with Iraq once it, and especially Petraeus’ multiple attempts to train Iraq’s military, had failed. Today we have further news on how Iraq’s military came to be in such sad shape that many units simply disappeared when it came time to confront ISIS. It turns out that while he was gaining accolades for training Iraqi troops, Petraeus was in reality creating a system in which Iraqi officers were able to siphon off the billions of dollars the US wasted on the whole training operation:

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.

/snip/

The United States has insisted that the Iraqi military act as the conduit for any new aid and armaments being supplied for a counteroffensive, including money and weapons intended for tribal fighters willing to push out the Islamic State. In its 2015 budget, the Pentagon has requested $1.3 billion to provide weapons for the government forces and $24.1 million intended for the tribes.

But some of the weaponry recently supplied by the army has already ended up on the black market and in the hands of Islamic State fighters, according to Iraqi officers and lawmakers. American officials directed questions to the Iraqi government.

“I told the Americans, don’t give any weapons through the army — not even one piece — because corruption is everywhere, and you will not see any of it,” said Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi of the internal security forces, also a Sunni tribal leader in Anbar Province. “Our people will steal it.”

But don’t look for any of the new billions being spent to put controls on graft into place:

American officials say working with the tribes, and military corruption, is beyond the scope of their mission. “Reducing corruption is not part of the advisers’ role,” said one American official involved in the effort, “and there is no reason to believe that advisers’ presence will reduce corruption.”

Isn’t that just peachy? We know without a doubt that giving weapons or financial support to the Iraqi military is guaranteed to wind up helping ISIS instead of fighting them. And yet Washington insists on throwing another $1.3 billion going down the same shithole.

Part of the reason that this can’t be stopped is that the US side of the graft is so organized and institutionalized. Moving out from just the efforts within Iraq to the entire campaign against ISIS, we see who really benefits:

President Obama is asking Congress for an additional $5.6 billion to fight the militant group. A large share of the money, if approved, would be given to the Pentagon to train and equip Iraqi forces, while a smaller portion would be reserved for the State Department.

/snip/

The big defense companies that manufacture weapons are likely to receive orders to help the military replenish its stocks, analysts said.

That includes Falls Church giants Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, as well as Raytheon and Boeing, said Roman Schweizer, a defense policy analyst with Guggenheim Securities.

/snip/

More broadly however, the budget includes funding requests for operations and maintenance of military bases, as well as classified operations and research and development.

That could potentially boost business for services companies such as Arlington’s DRS Technologies, or contractors that work in the field of intelligence, said James McAleese, founder of Sterling-based McAleese & Associates, a government contracts consultancy.

Ah, but the big goose keeps producing golden eggs for the folks who train Iraq’s military. The article continues:

In the long term, the biggest procurement for services contractors could stem from the $1.6 billion requested for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund, Schweizer said.

The fund would be used to provide training at multiple sites throughout Iraq for approximately 12 Iraqi brigades, according to the White House.

Although the Pentagon has yet to state if it plans to use contractors for training, “history would suggest that when the Army goes somewhere, contractor support follows,” Schweizer said.

So, while Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah continue their tussles over who owns what in Afghanistan’s graft-sharing arrangement, graft-sharing here in the US is politely played out in the Washington process of contracting. And in Washington, we know that the company that makes the biggest investment in congressmembers wins fair and square.

Did Obama’s Beloved “Moderate” FSA Fighters Flee Aleppo?

The Obama Administration continues to hold onto the fantasy that training and equipping a group of “moderate” rebels in Syria will allow threading the gap between the Bashar al-Assad regime that continues to relentlessly attack its own citizens and the ISIS fighters who behead many of the folks in their path. After all, Obama and his minions seem to want us to to think, the “moderates” only occasionally eat a victim’s heart or behead people after posing for photos with John McCain.

The press in Turkey is reporting that Obama’s centerpiece of the “moderate” rebel movement, the Free Syrian Army, has fled the strategic city of Aleppo where battles have taken place since early in the Syrian civil war. The reports say that within the past two weeks, the new leader of the FSA, Jamal Marouf (previous FSA leader Salem Idris was among those in the famous photo with McCain) fled to Turkey where he is being protected. Iranian news is repeating these reports, with stories in both Fars News and PressTV. Both Iranian stories cite this report from Turkey:

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the recognized armed opposition group against the Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has ceased its resistance in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, withdrawing its 14,000 militia from the city, a ranking Turkish security source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 17.

“Its leader Jamal Marouf has fled to Turkey,” confirmed the source, who asked not to be named. “He is currently being hosted and protected by the Turkish state.”

The source did not give an exact date of the escape but said it was within the last two weeks, that is, the first half of November. The source declined to give Marouf’s whereabouts in Turkey.

Wow, so not only did the leader apparently leave, but 14,000 fighters abandoned Aleppo, too? That’s huge. The only Western news story I see so far on this is an AFP story carried by Yahoo News in the UK. The story opens by describing how desperate the refugee problem will be in Turkey if Aleppo has indeed fallen:

Turkey fears another two to three million Syrian refugees could cross its borders if the region of Syria’s second city of Aleppo is overrun either by Islamist extremists or regime forces, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

Turkey is already hosting at least 1.5 million refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict and has repeatedly warned that its capacities are being strained by the numbers.

It takes another sixteen paragraphs or so before getting to the news about Marouf:

Meanwhile the Turkish online newspaper Radikal reported that the chief of the moderate anti-Assad group the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Jamal Maarouf, had fled to Turkey two weeks ago.

There was no confirmation of the report and no further details were immediately available.

But never fear! The article gives us this rosy news as a conclusion:

Media reports said at the weekend that Turkey and the United States have agreed a plan under which some 2,000 FSA fighters would be trained on Turkish soil.

Let’s see, 14,000 troops fled, and now we’re going to train a whopping 2000 to take their place.

Winning!

Study: Fighting Terrorism With Military Almost Never Works

Remember when the George W. Bush campaign and the Republican Party was attacking John Kerry during the 2004 campaign over comments where they construed as him saying that terrorism is a police matter? Here’s a refresher:

Bush campaign Chairman Marc Racicot, in an appearance on CNN’s “Late Edition,” interpreted Kerry’s remarks as saying “that the war on terrorism is like a nuisance. He equated it to prostitution and gambling, a nuisance activity. You know, quite frankly, I just don’t think he has the right view of the world. It’s a pre-9/11 view of the world.”

Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” used similar language.

“Terrorism is not a law enforcement matter, as John Kerry repeatedly says. Terrorist activities are not like gambling. Terrorist activities are not like prostitution. And this demonstrates a disconcerting pre-September 11 mindset that will not make our country safer. And that is what we see relative to winning the war on terror and relative to Iraq.”

The Institute for Economics and Peace, a nonpartisan think tank in Australia, just issued its latest Global Terrorism Index. Buried deep in the report (pdf), on page 56, is this figure in which they summarize data from a RAND Corporation report:

end

The figure summarizes RAND Corporation findings from a study of 40 years of data on terrorist groups and how the terror activities of those groups come to an end. Despite the gargantuan US Great War on Terror with its trillions of dollars wasted and hundreds of thousands of people killed, only seven percent of the time when a terrorist group ends its activities is that due to them being defeated militarily. In fact, since they cease ten percent of the time due to achieving their goals, it can be argued that a military approach alone makes it more likely the terrorists will win than lose. The leading way for terrorist groups to cease their activities is for them to become a part of the political process, at forty-three percent. And gosh, it turns out that Kerry was correct, because police action (which in this study means “policing and intelligence agencies breaking up the group and either arresting or killing key members”) was the cause forty percent of the time when terrorist groups stop using terror. Oh, and adding further to the importance of policing, the report also states elsewhere that homicide accounts for forty times more deaths globally than terrorism.

As we saw in a previous report on the Global Terrorism Index, once again the countries in which the US GWOT is most active are those that have the worst ratings for terrorism. The list is headed by Iraq, with Afghanistan in the second position, Pakistan third and Syria fifth.

Not only are the countries where the US is actively militarily at the top of the index, the timeline of terror attacks provides a very strong correlation for the jump in global terror activity being triggered by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003:

timeline

The timeline seems to suggest that terror attacks were going back down after the 9/11 large event, but then took off after the US invaded Iraq.

Not only should the US learn from this report that the “military only” approach to terrorism is dead wrong, but there are warnings that the US should heed about domestic conditions as well. Here is how the study assesses the risk for future terrorism events:

Using terrorist incidents and events data dating back to 1970 and comparing it to over 5,000 socio-economic, political and conflict indicators, three groups of factors related to terrorist activity have been identified. Countries that are weak on these factors and do not have high levels of terrorism are assessed as being at risk.

The correlations section of this report details the most significant socio-economic correlates with terrorism. There are three groups of factors:

    Social hostilities between different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, lack of intergroup cohesion and group grievances.
    Measures of state repression such as extrajudicial killings, political terror and gross human rights abuses.
    Other forms of violence such violent crime, organised conflict deaths and violent demonstrations.

It sure sounds to me like a lot those boxes get checked when we start talking about what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri.

US Feeding its Addiction to Training Iraqi Military

Political and military leaders in the US are hopelessly addicted to the idea of training an Iraqi military. Never mind that it fails every time a “new” initiative on training is introduced. As soon as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, the only idea that Washington can put forward is train more Iraqi security forces. As soon as genius Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military and banned Saddam’s Baath party, training a new force became central to US activities in Iraq even though Bremer’s move had made it impossible.

David Petraeus, the ass-kissing little chickenshit himself, first led the training effort and was given several Mulligans. He burst on the political scene in 2004, penning an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he spouted fictitious numbers on accomplishments in training and perhaps helped Bush to re-election. He then was hailed again by the press as the perfect leader to train Iraqi forces in 2007, with no discussion of what happened to all those forces he “trained” earlier. And now that Iraqi forces fled their posts in droves ahead of ISIS, the only solution our fearless leaders can imagine is for us to once again train Iraqi forces.

Not only are we getting another fix for our training junkies, but Chuck Hagel is accelerating the effort:

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday the Pentagon will accelerate its mission to train Iraqi forces to combat Islamic State militants, using troops already in Iraq to start the effort while funding is sought for a broader initiative.

The quest for more funding had been announced earlier by Obama:

Hagel’s announcement follows President Barack Obama’s Nov. 7 decision to roughly double the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, adding 1,500 military personnel to establish sites to train nine Iraqi brigades and set up two more centers to advise military commands.

Obama also sought $5.6 billion in funding from Congress for the initiative, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi forces. Officials initially said the funding would have to be approved by Congress before the new effort could begin.

Translating from military-speak, nine brigades in US forces means between 27,000 and 45,000 troops. So Obama wants $1.6 billion to train a few more tens of thousands of Iraqi troops. We have already spent many more billions to train several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi security forces. Several times. Why on earth would anyone think it will go any better this time?

Of course, one bit of information feeding the desire for the junkies is that Iran now openly admits that they have advisors in Iraq helping the military:

A senior Iraqi official lauded Iran’s assistance to Iraq in fighting terrorist groups, including the ISIL, and said the Iranian military advisors played an important role in freeing Jarf Asakhr in the Musayyib district in the North of Babylon province.

“The Iranian advisors were present in the battle ground during the Jarf Asakhr operations and provided excellent counselling to the fighters of popular front,” Governor-General of Karbala province Aqil al-Tarihi told FNA on Sunday.

Stressing that the cleanup and liberation operations in Jarf Asakhr were all carried out by the Iraqi forces, he said, “Iran helped the success of the operations with its useful consultations.”

Late September, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Gholam Ali Rashid announced that Iran’s military advisors were present in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine to provide those nations with necessary military recommendations.

Besides bragging about their advisors in Iraq, Iran is having a lot of fun trolling the US on its misadventures in Iraq. We know, of course, that ISIS has come into possession of large amounts of US-provided weaponry as Iraqi bases have been seized and that there have been reports of US airdrops of supplies and weapons missing their targets. Iran provided this hot take on those developments today:

Iraqi intelligence sources disclosed that US military planes have been supplying the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Takfiri terrorists with weapons and foodstuff under the guise of air raids on militants’ positions.

The Iraqi forces have found out that the US aircraft usually airdrop arms and food cargoes for ISIL militants who collect them on the ground, Asia news agency quoted Iraqi army’s intelligence officers as saying.

“The Iraqi intelligence sources reiterated that the US military planes have airdropped several aid cargoes for ISIL terrorists to help them resist the siege laid by the Iraqi army, security and popular forces,” added the report.

On Saturday, Iraqi security sources disclosed that the ISIL terrorist group is using the state-of-the-art weapons which are only manufactured by the US and each of their bullets are worth thousands of dollars.

“What is important is that the US sends these weapons to only those that cooperate with the Pentagon and this indicates that the US plays a role in arming the ISIL,” an Iraqi security source told FNA.

The source noted that the most important advantage of the US-made weapons used by the ISIL is that “these bullets pierce armored vehicles and kill the people inside the vehicle”.

He said each of such bullets is worth $2,000, and added, “These weapons have killed many Iraqi military and volunteer forces so far.”

Well, gosh. If ISIS has all those sophisticated weapons we originally gave to Iraq, the only answer is to send more of those sophisticated weapons to Iraq and train more Iraqi troops. Who will once again abandon their posts, leaving the weapons for the next opponent to seize…

CIA to Stein: “Sorting Syrian Fighters is Hard!”

Jeff Stein has a fascinating read over at Newsweek. From the url, I’m guessing that Stein titled his piece “Moderate Rebels Please Raise Your Hands”, but his editors eventually went with “Inside the CIA’s Syrian Rebels Vetting Machine“. As Stein notes in his opening, the impossibility of finding “moderate” rebels in Syria who are willing to take up arms against the regime of Bashar al-Assad but who won’t eventually get into committing atrocities or push a radical Islamist view has led to much derision of the US plan. Stein notes efforts by Andy Borowitz and Jon Stewart in that arena, although I have played along too (here and here).

But Stein actually took the time to talk to people who have been involved in the effort. What he found is not encouraging at all:

Behind the jokes, however, is the deadly serious responsibility of the CIA and Defense Department to vet Syrians before they receive covert American training, aid and arms. But according to U.S. counterterrorism veterans, a system that worked pretty well during four decades of the Cold War has been no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East, especially now in Syria. “We’re completely out of our league,” one former CIA vetting expert declared on condition of anonymity, reflecting the consensus of intelligence professionals with firsthand knowledge of the Syrian situation. “To be really honest, very few people know how to vet well. It’s a very specialized skill. It’s extremely difficult to do well” in the best of circumstances, the former operative said. And in Syria it has proved impossible.

Daunted by the task of fielding a 5,000-strong force virtually overnight, the Defense Department and CIA field operatives, known as case officers, have largely fallen back on the system used in Afghanistan, first during the covert campaign to rout the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s and then again after the 2001 U.S. invasion to expel Al-Qaeda: Pick a tribal leader who in turn recruits a fighting force. But these warlords have had their own agendas, including drug-running, and shifting alliances, sometimes collaborating with terrorist enemies of the United States, sometimes not.

“Vetting is a word we throw a lot around a lot, but actually very few people know what it really means,” said the former CIA operative, who had several postings in the Middle East for a decade after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s not like you’ve got a booth set up at a camp somewhere. What normally happens is that a case officer will identify a source who is a leader in one of the Free Syrian Army groups. And he’ll say, ‘Hey…can you come up with 200 [guys] you can trust?’ And of course they say yes—they always say yes. So Ahmed brings you a list and the details you need to do the traces,” the CIA’s word for background checks. “So you’re taking that guy’s word on the people he’s recruited. So we rely on a source whom we’ve done traces on to do the recruiting. Does that make sense?”

There is, of course, a huge problem with this approach:

A particularly vivid example was provided recently by Peter Theo Curtis, an American held hostage in Syria for two years. A U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit that briefly held him hostage casually revealed how it collaborated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, even after being “vetted” and trained by the CIA in Jordan, he wrote in The New York Times Magazine.

“About this business of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra?” Curtis said he asked his FSA captors.

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

But it is even worse. Consider this bit about the details of how the “trace” is carried out:

American embassies around the world are open to just about anybody who wants to sign up for the FSA. “They fill out a form. You get their four-part name, their date of birth, and then their tribe and where they’re from and all that,” the former operative explained. “Their work history, if there is any. Then you take that and run your traces through all your databases—your HUMINT and SIGINT [agency acronyms for information from human spies and National Security Agency intercepts, called signals intelligence]. And then you take certain aspects of that information, and you sanitize it, and you send it by cable to your station in whatever country, and you ask for their traces on this individual, to see if anything comes up.

“The problem with that process,” the former operative continued, “is when you have a person sitting at a computer who doesn’t know how to standardize Arabic names.… They may translate it correctly, but the person typing it in may or may not know how to look for it with all the name variances that might already be in the system.”

That one is just jaw-dropping. I have a hot tip for those folks tasked with tracing. A super-secret piece of software known as Google seems perfectly able to handle searches of names of groups or people. Whenever I Google new names, I often get back hits on variant transliterations without having to feed them into the search separately.

At any rate, though, when I first saw this article flit by last night, I jokingly suggested on Twitter that the CIA needs the Hogwarts sorting hat:

One important point that the CIA is missing, though, is that it seems to me that anyone who is stepping forward to want weapons and other support for the Syrian war has already self-selected to a large extent. And they are much more likely to be Slytherin than Gryffindor.

If the NSA “Won” the War in Iraq, Why Are We Still Losing It?

To Shane Harris’ misfortune, his book, @War, out today, came out on the same day that General Daniel Bolger’s book, Why We Lost, came out.

That means Harris’ first excerpt, initially titled “How the NSA Sorta Won the Last Iraq War,” came out just days before Bolger’s op-ed today, mourning another Veteran’s Day to contemplate the 80 men he lost. Bolger wants us to stop telling the lie that the surge won the Iraq War.

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Harris’s story, which explains how network analysis and then hacking of Iraqi insurgents — including Al Qaeda in Iraq — helped us to win the surge, relies on that legend.

TAO hackers zeroed in on the leaders of the al Qaeda group. Centering their operations in Baghdad, they scooped up e-mail messages that the terrorists had left in draft form in their personal accounts, where they could be picked up by fellow fighters without having to be sent over the Internet. This was a common trick terrorists used to avoid detection. TAO had been on to it for years.

For TAO, hacking into the communications network of the senior al Qaeda leaders in Iraq helped break the terrorist group’s hold on the neighborhoods around Baghdad. By one account, it aided U.S. troops in capturing or killing at least ten of those senior leaders from the battlefield.

[snip]

For the first time in the now four-year-old Iraq War, the United States could point to a strategy that was actually working. The overall success of the surge, which finally allowed U.S. forces to leave Iraq, has been attributed to three major factors by historians and the commanders and soldiers who served there. First, the additional troops on the ground helped to secure the most violent neighborhoods, kill or capture insurgents, and protect Iraq’s civilians. The cities became less violent, and the people felt safer and more inclined to help the U.S. occupation. Second, insurgent groups who were outraged by al Qaeda’s brutal, heavyhanded tactics and the imposition of religious law turned against the terrorists, or were paid by U.S. forces to switch their allegiances and fight with the Americans. This so-called Sunni Awakening included 80,000 fighters, whose leaders publicly denounced al Qaeda and credited the U.S. military with trying to improve the lives of Iraqi citizens.

But the third and arguably the most pivotal element of the surge was the series of intelligence operations undertaken by the NSA and soldiers such as Stasio. Former intelligence analysts, military officers, and senior Bush administration officials say that the cyber operations opened the door to a new way of obtaining intelligence, and then integrating it into combat operations on the ground. The information about enemy movements and plans that U.S. spies swiped from computers and phones gave troops a road map to find the fighters, sometimes leading right to their doorsteps. This was the most sophisticated global tracking system ever devised, and it worked with lethal efficiency.

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, credited this new cyber warfare “with being a prime reason for the significant progress made by U.S. troops” in the surge, which lasted into the summer of 2008, “directly enabling the removal of almost 4,000 insurgents from the battlefield.” The tide of the war in Iraq finally turned in the United States’ favor.

I didn’t get a review copy of Harris’ book, so I’ll have to let you know whether he grapples with the fact that this victory lap instead led us to where we are now, escalating the war in Iraq again, with ISIL even more powerful for having combined Saddam’s officers with terrorist methods. I’ll also have to let you know why Harris claims this started in 2007, when we know NSA was even wiretapping Iraqi targets in the US as early as 2004, a program that got shut down in the hospital confrontation.

Harris would have done well to consider Bolger’s call for an assessment of this failure.

That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals. What happened? How? And, especially, why? It has to be a public assessment, nonpartisan and not left to the military. (We tend to grade ourselves on the curve.) Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.

Such an accounting couldn’t be more timely. Today we are hearing some, including those in uniform, argue for a robust ground offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq. Air attacks aren’t enough, we’re told. Our Kurdish and Iraqi Army allies are weak and incompetent. Only another surge can win the fight against this dire threat. Really? If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I think we’re there.

That is, if this network analysis and hacking is so superb, then why didn’t it work? Did we not understand the networks that our spectacular tech exposed? Or did we do the wrong thing with it, try to kill it rather than try to win it over? Not to mention, did we account for the necessarily temporary value of all these techniques, given that targets will figure out that their cell phones, the RFID tags, their laptops, or whatever new targeting means we devise are serving as a beacon.

And there’s one more lesson in Harris’ excerpt, one I doubt he admits.

Earlier in the except, he explains in giddy language how the NSA’s hackers broke an insurgent method of leaving draft unsent emails.

Centering their operations in Baghdad, they scooped up e-mail messages that the terrorists had left in draft form in their personal accounts, where they could be picked up by fellow fighters without having to be sent over the Internet. This was a common trick terrorists used to avoid detection. TAO had been on to it for years.

Even while he provides David Petraeus opportunity to do a victory lap for the surge that in fact did not win the war, he doesn’t mention that Petraeus adopted this insurgent technique to communicate with his mistress, Paula Broadwell. Harris also doesn’t mention that the FBI, like the NSA before it, easily broke the technique.

More important still, Harris doesn’t mention that FBI found reason to do so. These techniques — described with such glee — were turned back on even the man declaring victory over them. They didn’t win the war in either Iraq or Afghanistan, but they sure made it easy for President Obama to take out Petraeus when he became inconvenient.

I have no sympathy for Petraeus, don’t get me wrong. But he is an object lesson in how these techniques have not brought victory to the US. And it’s time to start admitting that fact, and asking why not.

Update: In a post I could have written (though probably not as well), Stephen Walt engages in a counterfactual asking if we didn’t have the dragnet we might be doing better at fighting terrorism. Go read the whole thing, but here’s part of it:

Second, if we didn’t have all these expensive high-tech capabilities, we might spend a lot more time thinking about how to discredit and delegitimize the terrorists’ message, instead of repeatedly doing things that help them make their case and recruit new followers. Every time the United States goes and pummels another Muslim country — or sends a drone to conduct a “signature strike” — it reinforces the jihadis’ claim that the West has an insatiable desire to dominate the Arab and Islamic world and no respect for Muslim life. It doesn’t matter if U.S. leaders have the best of intentions, if they genuinely want to help these societies, or if they are responding to a legitimate threat; the crude message that drones, cruise missiles, and targeted killings send is rather different.

If we didn’t have all these cool high-tech hammers, in short, we’d have to stop treating places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria as if they were nails that just needed another pounding, and we might work harder at marginalizing our enemies within their own societies. To do that, we would have to be building more effective partnerships with authoritative sources of legitimacy within these societies, including religious leaders. Our failure to do more to discredit these movements is perhaps the single biggest shortcoming of the entire war on terror, and until that failure is recognized and corrected, the war will never end.

Did ISAF Joint Command Chief Leak Classified Information on Afghan Troop Capabilities?

Shorter Anderson: "Afghan forces are winning, trust me. I just can't tell you how capable they are."Recall that back on October 30, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction informed us in a quarterly report that the military suddenly has classified its evaluation of the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). One of the key commanders who may have been involved in this classification decision, Lt. General Joseph Anderson, who is the head of ISAF Joint Command, held a telephone briefing yesterday. The attached partial screenshot here shows the rah-rah article that DoD News put out covering the briefing. The headline blares “Afghan Forces Winning, ISAF Joint Command Chief Says” and opens with gushing praise for ANSF:

In the final days of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, the Afghan national security forces are winning and the long coalition effort is taking hold, the commander of ISAF Joint Command said today.

In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters from his headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said that despite these gains, progress remains to be made.

The Afghan national security forces include Afghanistan’s armed forces, national police, border police, local police and members of the National Directorate of Security.

“They are the most trusted government organization in Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “They are trying to provide time and space for this society to grow and reduce the insurgency.”

Ah, but did Anderson go too far? Recall that the evaluation of ANSF capability has been classified. Here is what comes next in the cheerleading article:

He called the Afghan national security forces a hugely capable fighting force that has been holding its ground against the enemy.

Hmmm. Is that a leak of classified information? Saying that ANSF is “a hugely capable fighting force” sure sounds like a statement based on an evaluation of ANSF capability similar to the evaluation that has been classified. Here once again is the SIGAR description (pdf) of the evaluation suddenly becoming classified:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

So ISAF classifies the Regional ANSF Status Report but then unleashes the chief of ISAF Joint Command to make a statement that ANSF is “hugely capable” even though, as SIGAR notes, the public now has no way to have an “informed national discussion” on whether Anderson’s claim has any basis.

I’m sure that leak investigation will get started any century now.

US Military Suddenly Decides to Classify Its Analysis of Afghan Troop Capability

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released the 25th quarterly report (pdf) on US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. We are of course at a major crossroads in US involvement in Afghanistan, as US and NATO combat involvement are being phased out and Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its own security. Some US and international troops will remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year under the new Bilateral Security Agreement, but with Afghanistan in charge it is of utmost importance that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are fully staffed and functional so that they can take on their responsibilities. One of SIGAR’s key roles in its oversight activity through the years has been to collect and review information coming directly from ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, concerning the recruitment, training and subsequent capabilities of ANSF. ISAF ostensibly is a NATO team but is of course dominated, both in command and in personnel, by the US military.

Suddenly, in the final SIGAR report before the current ISAF mission ends and operations move to the new arrangement, ISAF, and more specifically ISAF Joint Command, has decided to classify the reports it prepares on ANSF troop capability. Here is Inspector General John Sopko in his cover letter accompanying the quarterly report:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

It is very difficult to see this move by ISAF as anything more than a blatant attempt to cover up massive failure on the part of the efforts to train Afghan troops to take over their own security functions. This move by ISAF follows previous efforts that also come off as attempts to game the system so that evaluation of the always-claimed “progress” is difficult to impossible. Note in Sopko’s letter that he refers to three different systems by which troop readiness has been analyzed and reported. First, we had the Capability Milestone system, which was replaced by the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the now-classified Regional ANSF Status Report has replaced CUAT.

In March of 2013, I pointed out SIGAR’s frustration with how ISAF was gaming the CUAT:

A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report:

In 2010, SIGAR audited the previous assessment tool—the Capability Milestone (CM) rating system which had been in use since 2005—and found that it did not provide reliable or consistent assessments of ANSF capabilities. During the course of that audit, DoD and NATO began using a new system, the CUAT [Commander’s Unit Assessment Tool], to rate the ANSF. In May 2010, the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) issued an order to implement the new system which would “provide users the specific rating criteria for each [ANSF] element to be reported by the CUAT including leader/commander considerations, operations conducted, intelligence gathering capability, logistics and sustainment, equipping, partnering, personnel readiness, maintenance, communications, unit training and individual education, as well as the partner unit or advisor team’s overall assessment.”

Since the implementation of the CUAT, the titles of the various rating levels have changed, as shown in Table 3.3. In July 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns that the change of the title of the highest rating level from “independent” to “independent with advisors” was, in part, responsible for an increase in the number of ANSF units rated at the highest level. GAO also noted that “the change lowered the standard for unit personnel and equipment levels from ‘not less than 85’ to ‘not less than 75’ percent of authorized levels.” In a response to SIGAR last quarter, the IJC disagreed with GAO’s assessment, saying a change in title does not “equal a change in definition.” Since last quarter, the IJC has initiated a CUAT Refinement Working Group to standardize inputs and outputs in the areas covered by the assessments.

But it turns out that the CUAT itself was developed only when SIGAR initiated an audit (pdf) of the Capability Milestone rating system. So, twice, when SIGAR decided to audit the system for evaluating Afghan troop readiness, ISAF responded by developing a totally new system, creating a strong discontinuity in the ability to track Afghan troop readiness over time. And now that we are at the most important moment for Afghan troops to be ready, ISAF decides that any information at all on their readiness is classified, even though they have provided the very same information without classification for years.

When we drill down to the details about the classification that SIGAR provides in the report, we see in footnote 196 (page 94) that they were informed of the classification in response to a data call submitted to IJC on October 3 of this year. Noting this and the arguments that SIGAR provides that aggregate data on Afghan troop readiness should not provide any sort of strategic advantage to insurgents, I submitted the following question to SIGAR: Continue reading

The Warmongers Hang Out the Insular Bumblers

At the risk of being misunderstood as defending Susan Rice, let me explore a couple of things about this article, complaining about her “bumbling” as National Security Advisor.

3,000 words into a 3,500 word article, this sentence — which I believe is the real point of the story — appears.

And the larger question is whether Hagel’s mostly inward focus on budget and morale issues at the Pentagon is the right focus now—instead of helping to project American power abroad amidst spiraling global crises.

That is, the article expresses the viewpoint of a bunch of mostly anonymous people who believe that “projecting American power” (in the form of military presence) is the solution to the multiple crises in the world today, including the Ebola epidemic. Underlying it all is a complaint not only that Obama isn’t projecting enough tanks and planes, but he’s daring to cut DOD’s budget.

Along the way, the article complains that the White House:

  • Did not consult with “the Pentagon” before sending a plan to combat ISIL to Congress (though the White House may have consulted with Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey)
  • Did not alert either Chuck Hagel’s office or “the Pentagon” before asking Congress to withdraw the 2002 AUMF authorizing force against Saddam Hussein but not Islamic terrorists in Iraq
  • Sought Congress’ authorization to use military force in Syria, which led instead to partial CW disarmament by Bashar al-Assad
  • Picked insider Ron Klain to deal with the Ebola crisis that is already being dealt with by CDC

It also complains about Chuck Hagel’s low visibility and the fact he let Dempsey undercut the President’s claims about boots on the ground in Iraq.

Now, I agree with the complaint — if true — that the initial plan sent for ISIL wasn’t sufficiently vetted. It sounds like something the Saudis wrote, which might suggest the Saudis wrote it, which given the Saudi role in fostering ISIL, would be deeply alarming but not at all surprising.

And I agree that the White House appears to run from crisis to crisis like 6 year olds on a soccer field (though I’m not 100% convinced that reflects reality, rather than a response to a political need to appear to be in crisis mode). I even agree there is abundant reason to be skeptical of the Administration’s strategy, though Michael Hirsh doesn’t even consider that they might have one, which seems to overlook hints of an effort to rework the regional structure of the Middle East.

But ultimately, these criticisms serve another purpose: to complain that Obama is not rushing into full-scale war in Iraq and Syria.

To his critics—and I spoke with several for this article inside Obama’s administration as well as recent veterans of it—it’s all a reflection of the slapdash way a president so vested in “ending wars” has embraced his new one.

[snip]

With ISIL still on the move in Iraq and Syria, and the air strikes that Obama announced on Sept. 10 proving to be of dubious effectiveness, many military experts say this is the moment to beef up the U.S. presence with close combat advisers and spotters on the ground who can guide in heavier and more precise airstrikes, as well to provide more U.S. trainers. But the president’s “no boots on the ground” pledge has paralyzed discussion, despite Dempsey’s lonely effort to open the door slightly to the possibility of bringing in such advisers.

There is never the hint of consideration that the solution may perhaps be less military involvement, not more, the last decade of evidence notwithstanding. Nor is there consideration of the possibility that the reason Obama seems so lackadaisical is because he has different goals in Syria than they do, not least to get beyond the election and force the Middle East to start putting some skin in their own security demands.

There’s never the hint of consideration that projection of American power is part of the problem, not the solution.

That’s my general complaint about the article. But I’m also very fascinated by this passage.

The office of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was taken by surprise as well last July, when national security adviser Susan Rice sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner requesting a withdrawal of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in 2002 to enable U.S. military action in Iraq. This letter came after Mosul, a key northern Iraqi city, had already fallen to ISIL and the scale of the threat was becoming clear. The letter was never acted on, and in fact the AUMF that Rice wanted withdrawn is now part of the very authority the administration says it is operating under, along with the 2001 AUMF against al Qaeda. The Pentagon was not given a heads-up about that letter either, according to multiple sources. “We didn’t know it was going over there, and there were significant concerns about it,” said the senior defense official. “We had these authorities to go into Iraq under the 2002 AUMF, which is what she wanted repealed. We believed the authorities were still needed.”

“The authorities were still needed”?? Two and a half years after we withdrew troops from Iraq?

Before I explain my interest in the passage, consider this response from a guy who was Special Counsel to DOD while the Iraq War AUMF was being drawn up, and later interpreted the scope of that AUMF while Assistant Attorney General at OLC, Jack Goldsmith.

Of course we now know that DOD was right, since the administration is now relying on the 2002 AUMF in its uses of force against the Islamic State.

In context, Goldsmith makes an enormous logical leap. That we need some kind of authorization if we’re going to go back to war in Iraq in no way means we need an AUMF crafted — at least as far as those of us who weren’t privy to the process are concerned — to fight an entirely different war. Nothing about Obama’s subsequent decision to go to war suggests we need that AUMF — and almost every observer who wasn’t involved in crafting and interpreting that AUMF disagrees about its applicability in this case.

But Hirsh’s “senior defense official” source seems to be saying something even more. In July 2014 DOD believed “the authorities” provided by Congress in 2002 to fight Saddam “were still needed.” Not, “would be needed” if we put all the boots on the ground this article seems to endorse. But “were still needed.”

That leads me to suspect the entirely unsurprising hypothesis that DOD never stopped relying on (or had already resumed relying on) the AUMF for … something.

It’s not out of the question, for example, that whatever JSOC forces that were part of CIA’s boots on the ground that started at least by June 2013 were “relying” on the totally inapt 2002 AUMF. It’s possible that, even when JSOC gets “sheep-dipped” into CIA ops, it still likes to have an AUMF lying around so it can claim that its un-uniformed soldiers operating off of a battlefield are entitled to the same combatant’s privilege they would be if they wore a uniform on a recognized battlefield.

Or it could be DOD never really pulled all its troops from Iraq. Because someone has to manage the contractors after all. There were reports, for example, as ISIL advanced on Kirkuk, that we’ve always had troops there.

If either is the case, I can see how DOD might react badly to these lines from Rice’s letter asking to have the AUMF withdrawn.

As the President unequivocally stated in late June, “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq,…”

[snip]

With American combat troops having completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2011, the Iraq AUMF is no longer used for any U.S. government activities and the Administration fully supports its repeal. Such a repeal would go much further in giving the American people confidence that ground forces will not be sent into combat in Iraq.

After all, if ground forces already were in Iraq, and if DOD works under the assumption that its covert special forces obtain combatant status from these AUMFs lying around, it would explain why they were so cranky that Rice moved to withdraw it.

But there must be some explanation, because unless it was in use in July, months before Obama overtly started engaging ISIL in Iraq, there’s no basis for DOD to complain.

It sure seems like the Iraq AUMF has been secretly redefined (maybe even was when Goldsmith was still at DOD), just like the 2001 AUMF.

 

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @Re_Newsit Ugh. That's brutal.
3mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Give Chris Christie credit; his life hero Bruce Springsteen will always know he is a piece of trash, but the Assata Shakur thing was smart.
9mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV Sulu claimed this blanket when daughter left after Thanksgiving. There might be an argument tomorrow when she's back. http://t.co/hegBYZQw0J
10mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz This is insulting to Matt Hasselback
27mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @OKnox Fair enough. Heck, I will pall around with Christie if he can give the Cardinals enough offensive bulk to beat the Squawks tonight.
30mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @OKnox So, last anybody saw you (at least on teh Twitters), you were palling around with Christie. Now 'Boys up by 28. Deal with the Devil?
41mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Welp, #HasPatLynchLandedYet? Cause if Justine Sacco is out of a job and a belligerent jackass like Lynch still has one, the world is screwed
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Apparently I have a fever. Or meh TeeVee is malfunctioning. Cause otherwise the world has ended and the Cowboys are up by 28. cc: @OKnox
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Does anybody know where the game for NFC Norske Division is next weekend? Might be helpful to know. Also, anybody know who Packers' QB is?
3hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @msnbc: Chris Christie asks Obama to demand the extradition of Assata Shakur: http://t.co/nUk4gPtKFf (Getty) http://t.co/e7EEaXrydl
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@kevinjonheller Only a Cowboys fan would ever even deign to equate a Lions QB w/Brett Favre. Even @emptywheel wouldn't do that silly stuff.
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JimWhiteGNV Bucs should have thought twice about starting Scrawny Armed Josh McCown.
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