As I posited yesterday, Pakistan appears to be putting together a US-style counterterrorism structure. This morning, we see even stronger hints that a full-blown military offensive against the Taliban may soon be launched by Pakistan. Although we have not seen any evidence that they have done so yet, I fully expect Pakistan to include both the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network among their targets in this operation. In fact, the Washington Post article mentions that Pakistan “would ‘not discriminate’ among the TTP, the Haqqani network and other militant groups in North Waziristan, including al-Qaeda”. In return for this offensive, look for Pakistan to get a massive amount of US financial and intelligence assistance. The US also appears to be making a renewed push against the Haqqani network inside Afghanistan and this report from Missy Ryan and Phil Stewart describes that effort while noting that the US wants Pakistan to take on the Haqqanis and any other groups that use Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
These moves by Pakistan and the US make more sense when we see that the US has come to the realization that an ongoing troop presence in Afghanistan is increasingly unlikely. There was significant movement on that front yesterday, with President Obama speaking to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the telephone. From the White House readout of the call:
President Obama called President Karzai today to discuss preparations for Afghanistan’s coming elections, Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts, and the Bilateral Security Agreement.
With regard to the Bilateral Security Agreement, in advance of the NATO Defense Ministerial, President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA, the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning. Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014. At the same time, should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan. Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year. However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission. Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.
The United States continues to support a sovereign, stable, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and will continue our partnership based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. We remain fully supportive of our partners in the Afghan security forces, and we continue to proudly work side by side with the many Afghans who continue to work to ensure the stability and prosperity of their fellow citizens.
Although there is no clear deadline date, this phone call has the hallmarks of a “final warning” to Karzai. If the US doesn’t see movement from him on the BSA soon, look for the zero option of a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan to take place. As noted in the readout, the lack of a signed BSA is causing trouble for NATO, as well. A NATO gathering (called a Defense Ministerial) opened today, but with no BSA in place, Afghanistan planning can’t be done, prompting a very uncomfortable opening press conference for Secretary General Rasmussen.
Update: Reuters is reporting that the 65 prisoners were released on February 13.
Without a single hint of awareness of the irony involved, the US military yesterday released a statement decrying Afghanistan’s decision calling for the imminent release of 65 prisoners held at the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan, stating that the release would be a “major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan”. There are 88 prisoners over whom the US and Afghanistan disagree, but so far only 65 are subject to the current release orders (with the release order for 37 of the 65 dating back to January). Recall that an independent commission, headed by Abdul Shakor Dadras, has been reviewing the status of the prisoners handed over from US control. Despite US bleating that Karzai and Dadras are releasing hardened insurgents bent on returning to battle, it is hardly noted that over 100 of the prisoners have been ordered held over for trial and that the US has not disputed the release of hundreds of others (648 out of 760 reviewed as of January) against whom there was no evidence of crimes.
In their rush to transcribe the complaints from the US military, articles by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times quickly brush over the fact that the results of the Dadras board have been reviewed both by the Afghan attorney general’s office and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, which is the main intelligence agency. In fact, the New York Times doesn’t mention the NDS review at all. From the Los Angeles Times article:
Afghan officials issued a sharp rebuttal, saying the attorney general’s office and the National Directorate of Security – Afghanistan’s CIA – had reviewed the U.S. information and found insufficient evidence to continue to hold the prisoners. “According to Afghan laws there is no information gathered about these detainees to prove them guilty, so they were ordered released,” Abdul Shakoor Dadras, head of the Afghan government committee responsible for the prisoner issue, said in an interview Tuesday.
The New York Times has also posted a document (pdf) purporting to lay out the evidence against the 37 disputed prisoners cleared for release in January. Remarkably, although the military is expressing concern for rule of law, there is a strong reliance on failed polygraph tests in the evidence cited. Of course, polygraph results are so unreliable that they are not admissible in most US states, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the military. Fingerprints and other biometric matches are also cited in the document for some prisoners, but whether these matches are strong or weak is not discussed, even though a court would be very interested in the level at which the match is said to occur. Similarly, evidence of explosive residue is cited for some of the prisoners without any discussion of how conclusive the test result was. Laughably, possession of firearms is cited for many of the prisoners, despite the fact that the country in which they live has been at war for over the last twelve years after the US military invaded.
Back in January, Dadras had this to say about some of the evidence:
Mr. Dadras said in an interview on Monday that he was only being true to Afghan law. He insisted that he had to discard any evidence that was collected without a defense lawyer present, which would appear to include anything in the suspect’s possession when captured. He also said he distrusted evidence collected years after suspects were detained, and was not persuaded when lab analysis found residue from chloride chemical compounds used in explosives. Suspects could have picked up the residue other ways, he said.
“The air is contaminated with chlorides, given the fighting; there is bombing and the wind,” Mr. Dadras said.
Returning to the US military statement, they do acknowledge that Afghanistan’s attorney general’s carried out a review of the disputed cases. However, they dismiss that review: Continue reading
Hamid Karzai continues his expert gamesmanship in his dealing with the US, forcing deadline after deadline to be abandoned in the US effort to get him to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond the expiration of the NATO mission at the end of this year. Yesterday, Karzai followed through on his intention to release a number of prisoners who have been at the heart of one of the latest controversies when he gave final orders for the release of a number of them.
Recall that one week ago, Hypocrisy Tourists John McCain and Lindsey Graham were in Kabul to warn of the dire dangers of releasing these prisoners. Almost lost behind the headlines in this latest turn of events is that Karzai and Afghanistan have been true to their words in this process. Last week, their position was to state that the 88 prisoners were designated for release but that the US and NATO could provide any evidence that they have that would call for the prisoners to be sent to trial instead. It would appear that based on the latest evidence, 16 of those prisoners now are slated for trial and only 72 are now slated for release.
The Afghan government said Thursday it will release 72 high-profile detainees, a decision that defies pleas by U.S. officials and deals a massive blow to U.S.-Afghan relations just as the two countries attempt to complete a long-term security agreement.
U.S. officials say the prisoners pose a threat to both Afghan security and American service members based here, claiming their exoneration proves not only the dysfunction of the Afghan judiciary, but also the government’s inability to cooperate on even the gravest matters.
President Hamid Karzai declared Thursday that the evidence against the 72 men — which had been collected by both the Afghan intelligence service and the U.S. military — was insufficient to warrant formal trials, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
The release, which is expected within days, was ordered after a “thorough and serious review of the prisoners,” the statement said.
In an attempt to keep the detainees behind bars, U.S. officials had handed over reams of evidence against them — enough, they said they assumed, to at least justify formal trials.
So while by removing 16 prisoners from the list for release after considering the extra evidence, Afghanistan actually followed through with what they said they would do, word from the US has changed. Recall that last week, I pointed out that the US was claiming that their evidence for the disputed prisoners was enough to send them to trial “or at least to hold them pending further investigation”. I noted that given the number of years at least some of these prisoners have been held, this amounted to a plea to hold the prisoners indefinitely without charge. That language is now mysteriously missing from the US bleating about the harm that will be done by releasing the prisoners.
But that is not the only substantive change from the US side. Graham and McCain were leading the dire warnings to Karzai that releasing the prisoners was likely to lead Congress to cut off the billions of dollars of aid that would otherwise flow to Afghanistan and that even the Bilateral Security Agreement would be endangered.
One tidbit in the long Washington Post profile of Pakistan’s Imran Khan stands out from the standard language describing the former cricket star who has developed a strong enough political movement to control one province. Just over halfway through the article, we have this description of Khan being summoned to a meeting of NATO diplomats after his blockade of the NATO cargo route through the north of Pakistan had become established:
In a blunt signal of the coalition’s unease, about 20 diplomats from NATO countries, including the United States, summoned Khan for dinner in early December at the German ambassador’s residence in Islamabad. According to Khan and others present, the encounter became tense.
“They kept saying, ‘Look, we have nothing to do with it; it’s all the CIA’ ” carrying out the drone attacks, Khan recalled.
Think about that for a minute. The war in Afghanistan is being fought under the NATO banner. Diplomats representing the top countries in that alliance summoned Khan and then lectured him to stop interfering with their supply convoys. They tried to convince Khan that they, as the leaders of the coalition, have no control over John Brennan’s drone strikes inside Pakistan.
But these strikes, of course, are described by the US as serving to protect US troops within the NATO coalition. And the coalition leaders tell Khan that he should stop his blockade of their supplies because they have no control over the drone strikes that have his constituents so upset. In other words, NATO has no control over John Brennan. He makes his decisions on timing and location of drone strikes with no NATO oversight or even input.
Khan instantly saw the absurd depravity of that argument from NATO. The quote from the Post article above cuts the final sentence from the second paragraph. Here is that sentence, which continues Khan’s description of the meeting to the Post:
“I said, ‘Look, you are all coalition partners.’ ”
Khan understands that in a real coalition, the partners would have a say in actions with as much import as drone strikes. But the NATO representatives, who took it upon themselves to lecture Khan about his blockade, had no objection to Brennan being out of their control. Instead, they were using it as an excuse to try to convince Khan to stop obstructing their convoys.
Who is the one with moral rectitude here? The one who understands how members of a coalition should behave or the one who insists that he needs no oversight on any front for raining down death from the sky?
Last week, we learned that Hamid Karzai’s strong objection to the US continuing to control death squads inside Afghanistan after the NATO mission officially concludes at the end of 2014 seemed likely to scuttle the US and Afghanistan finalizing the bilateral security agreement that is under negotiation. In a further sign that the agreement now appears to be dead, Karzai unleashed some of his strongest criticism of NATO and the US to date in an interview with BBC:
“On the security front the entire Nato exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains because the country is not secure,” he said.
He said Nato had incorrectly focused the fight on Afghan villages rather than Taliban safe havens in Pakistan.
“I am not happy to say that there is partial security. That’s not what we are seeking. What we wanted was absolute security and a clear-cut war against terrorism,” Mr Karzai said of the Nato campaign.
Unsurprisingly, I have already started seeing grumblings about how ungrateful Karzai is. But really, how could anyone honestly expect him to be grateful for “a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life”, when these losses have not achieved the stated mission of security?
Because of these bluntly honest remarks, Karzai also will be attacked by US apologists for his corruption. But his response to the widespread corruption in his government also is sobering and in need of consideration by the chattering classes inside the Beltway:
“Our government is weak and ineffective in comparison to other governments, we’ve just begun,” Mr Karzai said. “But the big corruption, the hundreds of millions of dollars of corruption, it was not Afghan. Now everybody knows that. It was foreign.
“The contracts, the subcontracts, the blind contracts given to people, money thrown around to buy loyalties, money thrown around to buy submissiveness of Afghan government officials, to policies and designs that the Afghans would not agree to. That was the major part of corruption,” he said.
“Goodness”, the chattering class will claim, “we never could have anticipated that all those investments in Afghan security could have turned into opportunities for looting”. Yeah, nobody (and that makes John Sopko and his crew into definite nobodies) could have expected all that money to find its way out of the country and into bank accounts controlled by Afghan bigwigs.
As Afghanistan careens toward presidential elections next April and the end of authorized NATO presence in Afghanistan at the end of next year, we are beginning to see jockeying for position among the same set of militia strongmen who never have been forced to face consequences for the war crimes they committed the last two times Afghanistan was without a government.
Perhaps the most notorious of these war criminals is Rashid Dostum, who is accused of killing up to two thousand prisoners who surrendered as Kabul fell to US forces. Here is McClatchy in 2008 describing Dostum removing evidence of his war crimes:
Seven years ago, a convoy of container trucks rumbled across northern Afghanistan loaded with a human cargo of suspected Taliban and al Qaida members who’d surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord and a key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime.
When the trucks arrived at a prison in the town of Sheberghan, near Dostum’s headquarters, they were filled with corpses. Most of the prisoners had suffocated, and others had been killed by bullets that Dostum’s militiamen had fired into the metal containers.
Dostum’s men hauled the bodies into the nearby desert and buried them in mass graves, according to Afghan human rights officials. By some estimates, 2,000 men were buried there.
Earlier this year, bulldozers returned to the scene, reportedly exhumed the bones of many of the dead men and removed evidence of the atrocity to sites unknown. In the area where the mass graves once were, there now are gaping pits in the sands of the Dasht-e-Leili desert.
Now, Mutaqi said, “You can see only a hole. In the area around it you can find a few bones or some clothes. The site is gone . . . as for evidence, there is nothing.”
The US has done absolutely nothing to see that Dostum faces prosecution for his crimes. In fact, with the recent disclosure of “bags o’ cash” going directly from the CIA to Hamid Karzai, the word is that as Afghanistan’s Chief of Staff of the Army, Dostum is recieving up to $100,000 per month under the program.
Today, we learn that Dostum is running roughshod again. The scene of the crime is once again Sherberghan. It appears that Dostum’s militia has engaged in gunfire with the provincial governor’s security detail. Adding to the confusion surrounding this event is that the provincial governor is a member of the same political party Dostum founded. Further, it appears that Dostum’s militia is also accused of firing on the National Security Directorate.
The last time I addressed the transit of NATO goods through Pakistan, I noted that NATO is now facing similar problems with convoys as goods are removed from Afghanistan to those seen previously while sending supplies to Afghanistan through Pakistan. There was a new incident with a NATO convoy today, and this time it appears that the strike was once again on supplies as they headed into Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass.
AP puts the death toll from today’s strike at four, but both Dawn and BBC say six have been killed. The most striking aspect to the attack, though, is that both AP and BBC report that the attackers wore local police uniforms. Further, local authorities were the ones who relayed this information to the news organizations. From the AP report:
Militants dressed as policemen and armed with assault rifles and rockets attacked a NATO convoy in Pakistan carrying supplies Monday for the U.S.-led coalition in neighboring Afghanistan, killing four people, officials said.
In Monday’s attack, the militants emerged from the mountains and lobbed rockets at the NATO trucks, setting fire and completely burning two vehicles, said local official Iqbal Khan.
The militants wore local police uniforms and the four dead included truck drivers and their assistants, he said.
The attack took place in the Jamrud area of the Khyber tribal region, through which runs the main route into Afghanistan for the supply trucks. The trucks’ journey often begins from the southern port city of Karachi.
Government official Jehangir Azam told DunyaNews TV that around 15 heavily armed militants were involved.
BBC adds to the size of the group carrying out the attack and places the attack into context for recent similar events:
Officials say that between 15 to 20 men dressed in local police uniform fired at the lorries, killing the drivers and some of their helpers.
Violent attacks against Nato supply trucks are not uncommon in the Khyber region, says the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad.
Over the last few months, at least 10 people have died and more than 15 trucks have been damaged in similar attacks, our correspondent adds.
The AP story noted further that the materials being transported included an ambulance.
The use of local police uniforms is especially striking to me. With Pakistan’s government transition continuing and the new government moving within 24 hours to summon the US envoy over Friday’s drone strike, the question becomes whether local police themselves were involved in the attack or if they at least provided uniforms and weapons to the attackers.
The fate of convoys both entering and leaving Afghanistan will be worth watching closely in the near term to see if these attacks accelerate or if more evidence of local police involvement emerges.
In a complete repeat of the process the Obama administration used to get NATO to be the entity to propose extending the mythical 352,000 Afghan National Security Force size through 2018 instead of letting it drop by a third in 2015, yesterday saw NATO “announcing” that the training of ANSF would extend post-2014 and that Germany and Italy would participate in this training. This mission is clearly guaranteed to succeed because it has the nifty new name of “Resolute Support” and is even the subject of the slick video above that NATO released for the roll-out of the surrounding propaganda campaign:
The United States has agreed to lead a training mission in Afghanistan after 2014 that will include troops from Germany and Italy and will operate under a new NATO mandate, officials announced Wednesday.
U.S. troops would be based in hubs in the east and south, Taliban strongholds where the Afghan army is likely to face a deadly insurgency for years to come. Germany has pledged to keep troops in the north and Italy in the west, an arrangement that would mark a continuation of the current force structure, albeit with far fewer troops.
However, there still is no underlying agreement that will authorize US trainers to be in Afghanistan after 2014 with full criminal immunity:
Officials did not specify how many troops the mission, called Resolute Support, would include. They declined to say whether it would include a counterterrorism mission, one of the capabilities that the Obama administration has expressed interest in keeping after the mandate of NATO’s current troop contingent, the International Security Assistance Force, expires.
“The new mission will not be ISAF by another name,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “It will be significantly smaller.”
The White House has been reluctant to specify how many troops it would be willing to keep in the country because it has yet to sign a security cooperation agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That has made U.S. allies reluctant to make their own commitments to continue pouring money and troops into a deeply unpopular conflict.
It’s nice to know that we have the toughest detail of naming the mission out the way so that we can now get down to the minor details of criminal immunity, force size and full combat activity for US troops under the rubric of “counterterrorism”. What could possibly go wrong with this terrific new effort?
It might also be noted in parting that Rasmussen claimed Afghan Special Forces as the “bedrock” of the post-2014 effort. From what I have been able to find, those “special forces” have a whopping twelve weeks of extra training, compared to 14-18 months of extra training for US Special Forces.
When we last heard from General Joseph (We Are Winning in Afghanistan, We Really Are!) Dunford, he was showing total incompetence in terms of budget awareness in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had announced on March 28 that DoD was $7 billion over budget in Afghanistan. By the time Dunford was asked about the over-budget situation during the hearing on April 16, Mike Lee stated that the overage had grown to $10 billion. Despite being in charge of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Dunford professed complete ignorance of the over-budget situation. That is a stunning lack of situational awareness for someone who is supposed to be in charge. After bumbling on a bit, Dunford did promise to eventually get back to Lee on the budget issue.
It would appear that even if he has gone back and looked over his own money management failures, Dunford has looked no further than the DoD budget. The New York Times posted a story yesterday based on an interview with him, and Dunford made another statement that is mind-boggling in terms of its lack of awareness of budget realities for the region. Recall that back in February, NATO defense ministers proposed that instead of allowing Afghan National Security Forces to drop by about a third after the end of 2014, the full force size of “352,000″ (that’s in quotes because I think the SIGAR audit is going to finally destroy the 352,000 force size myth) should be maintained through at least 2018. My response to this suggestion was that it appeared to be a $22 billion bribe being offered to Afghan authorities in return for their agreeing to a Status of Forces Agreement that would grant criminal immunity to US forces remaining after the end of the official NATO mission at the end of 2014.
In the interview with the Times, Dunford continued his previous agreement with the concept of extending the time frame for the larger ANSF force size, but then made a suggestion that is stunningly stupid regarding how the extended force size should be funded:
He has concluded as well that plans to reduce the number of Afghan security forces — the army and police combined — to 228,000 after 2015 from the current target level of 352,000 are not realistic, given the threats in the country. “The consensus now both from the Afghans and certainly from us is that we ought to sustain that for some period time to come,” said General Dunford, referring to the 352,000 head count.
What is less clear is how such a force could be paid for. The international community, led by the United States, has agreed to pay roughly $4.1 billion in aid per year for the Afghan security forces after 2014, based on estimates of what a smaller Afghan security contingent would cost. If the Afghans want to keep a larger force, they will either have to field a cheaper army and police force or come up with more money themselves to pay for it. General Dunford suggested that the Afghans could economize, although he did not give examples of where they might find the savings.
That’s right. A totally dysfunctional, stunningly corrupt government should just somehow “economize” and find an additional $22 billion to fund a mythically large defense force.
Oh, and just like his own war effort in Afghanistan that has been mis-managed into a huge budget deficit, if Dunford only read the New York Times, he would be aware that the IMF has found Afghanistan’s government to be facing a serious budget shortfall:
The Afghan government is supposed to cover less than half its own bills this year, yet achieving even that modest goal is proving an unexpected challenge, Afghan and Western officials said.
A confidential assessment of Afghan finances by the International Monetary Fund said the potentially severe cash crunch was caused by widespread tax evasion abetted by government officials, the increasing theft of customs revenues by provincial governors and softening economic growth.
The I.M.F. assessment, which has not been publicly released but was described by American and European diplomats who were recently briefed on its findings, estimated that Afghan revenue in the first quarter of the year was roughly 20 percent to 30 percent short of an informal target the fund had set for the government.
Yeah, sure. With revenues already 20 to 30 percent short of projections, that’s a government that can just poke around a bit and find another $22 billion in the SOFA.
A central tenet of DoD dogma regarding withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan rests on Afghan National Security Forces reaching a force size of 352,000 and taking over full responsibility for security in the country as US forces leave at the end of 2014. There are multiple problems surrounding the myth of ANSF force size of 352,000. As reported last quarter by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the “official” force size reported by DoD relies on self-reporting by Afghanistan and can not be validated. Further, NATO ministers proposed back in February that financial support for the 352,000 size should be extended through 2018, rather than allowing the force size to drop by about a third at the end of 2014. I equated this offer to dangling an extra $22 billion in front of Afghan government officials for embezzling in return for a grant of criminal immunity for US forces remaining behind after the official withdrawal.
SIGAR released its latest quarterly report yesterday (pdf), covering the first quarter of 2013, and we see that the problems surrounding the myth of 352,000 ANSF force size persist and show no prospect of improving.
From the report, we see that even with Afghanistan self-reporting in an unvalidated way, and with US goals clearly known, force size falls short of the goal:
Although the reported force size is only about 5.5% below the goal, it seems remarkable that Afghan officials developing their own numbers in a non-validated way were not able to reach the goals that are clearly known to them.
This process of developing the ANSF has drawn the largest portion of US funds that have been allocated to Afghanistan. Here is how funds have been allocated since the beginning of the Afghan war:
As of March 31, 2013, the United States had appropriated approximately $92.73 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002. This total has been allocated as follows:
• $54.27 billion for security
• $22.97 billion for governance and development
• $6.39 billion for counter-narcotics efforts
• $2.43 billion for humanitarian aid
• $6.66 billion for operations and oversight
Of all the funds allocated to Afghanistan by the US, over half have gone to developing ANSF. Here is how security money breaks down from 2005 to the present time:
Note that since the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year, we have provided nearly $14 billion in salaries for troop sizes that are self-reported in a non-validated system and therefore ripe for embezzlement. Further, another $13.8 billion was provided for “equipment and transportation” of ANSF, which would also seem a good source for corruption. That is a huge amount of money and it appears to be very poorly spent, given the lack of preparedness for ANSF.
SIGAR calls DoD into question on its claims that the 352,000 ANSF force size has been met: Continue reading