Afghan President Hamid Karzai today fired the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. This move comes as a great surprise, as the NDS was credited with thwarting a recent Haqqani network attack on Kabul and a subsequent attack by another group of militants targeting Afghanistan’s Parliament. Complicating the effort to understand Karzai’s move is the fact that he is engaged in a battle with the Afghan Parliament. Karzai made a number of moves today that are sure to anger Parliament even further. Citing border incursions from Pakistan, Parliament voted earlier this month to remove the Defense and Interior Ministers. Today, Karzai reappointed the ousted Interior Minister as Defense Minister while at the same time announcing the firing the head of the National Directorate of Security. Parliament has vowed to support the ousted intelligence chief.
Reuters brings us the basics of Karzai’s moves today:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai filled gaps in two top security ministries on Wednesday as part of a reshuffle forced on him by a fractious parliament, but risked a destabilising row with lawmakers by reappointing a sacked minister.
Parliament, in a rebuff to Karzai, earlier this month voted to remove Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi over deteriorating security, corruption accusations clouding the government and cross-border attacks blamed on Pakistan.
But Karzai appointed Mohammadi, an ethnic Tajik with a strong powerbase in northern Afghanistan, as Defence Minister, while removing spy agency chief Rahmatullah Nabil, charged with countering the Taliban and cutting insider attacks by Afghan police and soldiers on foreign troops.
“Intelligence chiefs cannot serve more than two years. President Karzai called Nabil today and thanked him for his services,” Karzai’s chief spokesman Aimal Faizi told Reuters ahead of the announcement.
We get more on the politics of these moves from Khaama Press:
Afghan lawmakers on Wednesday criticized Afghan president Hamid Karzai for dismissing Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief Rahmatullah Nabeel from his position.
Farkhunda Zahra Naderi Afghan parliament member called Rahmatullah Nabil an effortful person and said neighboring intelligence agencies are behind the decision of president Hamid Karzai to dismiss Rahmatullah Nabeel.
Note the reference to “neighboring intelligence agencies” being behind Karzai’s move to fire Nabil. This is a very thinly veiled reference to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. I had previously noted that there were signs since the new ISI head Zaheer ul-Islam visited the US August 1-3 that important new intelligence information was flowing from ISI to the US. In fact, it seems to me that the sudden intelligence victories by Afghanistan’s NDS could well be explained by this new flow of information from ISI to the US (and then to NDS). Continue reading
Back on August 2, I noted a very interesting development. At a time when the US and Pakistan were holding high-level meetings both in Washington and Pakistan, a terror plot in Afghanistan reported to be in preparation by the Haqqani network was disrupted. This was a surprising development to me because at the time I was predicting that the talks between the new head of Pakistan’s ISI and CIA head David Petraeus would go badly and that the US would launch poorly targeted drone attacks in retaliation, perhaps even while General ul-Islam was in transit back to Pakistan. Instead, there seemed to be a distinct possibility that Pakistan had provided intelligence on movement of Haqqani network members from Pakistan into Afghanistan and that this intelligence allowed the plot to be disrupted before it was carried out.
Once the meetings in Washington ended, no new drone strikes occurred in Pakistan. In fact, another attack plot was thwarted in Afghanistan on August 12. Although this plot was not believed to be at the hands of the Haqqani network, there was evidence that Pakistanis were involved, which again led me to postulate that this plot also was disrupted with the help of intelligence information from Pakistan.
The absence of drone strikes continued and then on August 13 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was interviewed by Lolita Baldor and Robert Burns of AP. As seen in the video excerpt above, Panetta said that he expected Pakistan to launch military operations soon against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As Bill Roggio noted at Long War Journal, this was a shocking development. After opening with “This is absolutely stunning”, Roggio went on to list his reasoning for why the announcement didn’t make much sense. He concluded:
How many times has Pakistan promised to take action in North Waziristan, or claimed to take action there, only to make fools of top US defense officials?
The lull in drone strikes continued.
Did the US lose patience with Pakistan’s promise to launch an operation in North Waziristan? On August 18, the lull in drone strikes ended (don’t bother looking this or any other drone strike up in New America Foundation’s database, as it now appears to have been taken down). And it ended in a particularly ugly way, at midday on the day when the religious feast of Eid al-Fitr would begin at sunset. That strike has been followed up with three others, so that as of Tuesday, there were four drone strikes in as many days. The lull does not match up with Ramadan. Ramadan started on July 20 and The Bureau for Investigative Journalism’s database shows attacks on July 23 and July 29. Instead, that last strike prior to the lull was just before ul-Islam’s meetings in Washington, which started on August 1.
This sequence of events suggests to me that if there was indeed a time of increased cooperation in which ISI shared intelligence on movement of militants from the tribal areas into Afghanistan for attacks in return for no drone strikes occurring, this agreement has now fallen apart. The intense rate of drone strikes once they re-started is typical of US actions when retaliation is desired. It would not be surprising, then, for the next attack by militants moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan to be successful instead of being disrupted before it can take place.
It appears that I am not alone in thinking we are again at a low point in US-Pakistan relations. Former Pakistani envoy to the United States Hussein Haqqani suggested yesterday that the US and Pakistan should “divorce”. This latest outbreak of drone attacks could then be seen as the US serving notice of separation.
Just because I happened to read one post and point out a small error before going on a beach walk, Marcy had a hard time believing I really did go on vacation last week. While I was gone, one of the topics I usually track carefully went completely out of control. The rate of green on blue attacks in Afghanistan spiked dramatically, with today’s nonfatal attack bringing the total to five attacks in the past week:
An Afghan policeman opened fire on NATO forces and Afghan soldiers Monday morning in the fifth apparent attack in a week by Afghan security forces on their international partners. The U.S.-led military coalition says none of its service members were killed.
At least seven American service members have been killed in the past week by either their Afghan counterparts or attackers wearing their uniforms.
Notably, NATO is unable to deviate from its current script of claiming the attacks are all “isolated incidents” and that we should consider just how large the Afghan forces are becoming due to our superior recruiting and training:
Coalition officials say a few rogue policemen and soldiers should not taint the overall integrity of the Afghan security forces and that the attacks have not impeded plans to hand over security to Afghan forces, which will be 352,000 strong in a few months.
But the same AP article doesn’t seem to buy the NATO spin:
A recent rash of “green-on-blue” attacks, in which Afghan security forces or attackers wearing their uniforms turn their guns on the coalition troops training them, has raised worries about a deterioration of trust between the two sides as well as the quality of the Afghan police and soldiers who will take over full security responsibility for fighting the Taliban when most international troops leave by the end of 2014. It also raises renewed worry that insurgents may be infiltrating the Afghan army and police despite heightened screening.
When AP wire stories begin to describe the problems with Afghan force training in terms of “deterioration of trust” and express concerns about the “quality of Afghan police and soldiers” while also pointing out infiltration by insurgents, it is clear that the Obama administration and NATO are losing their propaganda campaign in which they continue to insist that everything is just fine in Afghanistan and that progress toward the hand-off of security responsibility in 2014 is on schedule.
But the spike in green on blue attacks isn’t the only bad news in Afghanistan. In addition to attacking NATO forces, infiltrators in the Afghan police force are killing fellow policemen and defecting in large groups. Also, local officials in Afghanistan continue to be targeted in attacks.
Slightly Better News
On another front, more evidence is accumulating on improved relations and information sharing between the US intelligence community and Pakistan’s ISI. Continue reading
As I mentioned on Tuesday, the head of Pakistan’s spy agency is in the US for meetings with the CIA and other US intelligence interests. Those meetings started yesterday and appear to be slated to go through tomorrow. I had predicted that if the meetings, and particularly the discussions regarding the Haqqani network, don’t go well, we will see a poorly targeted drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal area within the first day or two after the meetings conclude. Developments today, however, point in the opposite direction, with it looking as though perhaps the ISI has decided to share intelligence on the Haqqani network.
There is word today out of Kabul that a pre-dawn raid has disrupted plans for a major attack by the Haqqani network. Wire services are attributing the raid to Afghan security forces, but as I have pointed out more than once, there is a definite push by the US to over-state the capabilities of Afghan forces so that the best possible spin can be kept on US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. It seems likely that the US had a large role in the raid but is pushing the story that Afghan forces pulled it off on their own.
Here is the Reuters story on the raid:
Afghan security forces killed five insurgents and wounded one during a pre-dawn raid in Kabul on Thursday, with authorities saying they had thwarted a mass attack and captured intelligence pointing to the militant Haqqani network.
Soldiers from Afghanistan’s spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), launched the raid just after midnight, entering a single-story house compound on the fringes of Kabul which the insurgents were using as a base.
“They planned mass attacks in different parts of Kabul disguised in burqas,” the NDS said in a statement, referring to the head-to-toe covering worn by many Afghan women and sometimes used by insurgents to evade detection.
With that raid occurring in the very early hours of this morning, statements coming out of the meeting later this morning between the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and Pakistan’s army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, take on added significance. From the Express Tribune:
The US commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that “significant progress” was being made in improving cooperation with Pakistan, after his first visit since Islamabad ended a blockade on Nato supplies.
The talks between General John Allen and General Ashfaq Kayani focused on improving security along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and cooperation between Afghan, Pakistani and Nato troops, said a statement released by both sides.
“I look forward to these visits and am pleased with the upward spiral in our relationship they represent,” Allen said.
“We are making significant progress toward building a partnership that is enduring, strategic, carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of the region.”
A bit later in the article we have this:
US officials have called repeatedly on Pakistan to move against the Haqqani network whose leaders are based on Pakistan’s side of the border.
Did the ISI provide information that allowed the Haqqani network team in Kabul to be found? That would certainly explain the optimism that Allen is voicing after today’s meeting. However, obtaining intelligence on a forward operating team is nothing compared to the real goal the US wants, which is actionable intelligence on the leaders of the Haqqani network. It still seems very unlikely the ISI would hand over information on the Haqqani leaders, so perhaps their “compromise” position will be rein in the network and prevent them from carrying out attacks in Afghanistan until after the US departs. Such a position by the ISI might even achieve their goal of reducing drone strikes in the tribal regions by the US if it becomes clear that Haqqani network forays into Afghanistan have been reduced dramatically.
On the same day that the US and Pakistan formally signed the agreement reopening the NATO supply routes through Pakistan, a piece profiling the US-Pakistan relationship in the New York Times provides further evidence supporting the idea that the US sometimes uses drone strikes as a tool for political retaliation. The retaliatory strikes previously have been stepped up to almost one per day when a particular point is being emphasized.
The entire Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt piece in today’s Times is worth reading, but I want to focus on the evidence they provide for drone strikes as retaliation. The piece focuses on the Haqqani network and how the perceived ties between them and Pakistan’s ISI complicate the US-Pakistan relationship. At one point in the article, the discussion moves to contingencies the US has considered about what the US would do if the Haqqani network manages to inflict a significant blow against US forces in Afghanistan:
But a new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, one senior official said.
American officials recently considered what that could mean. Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.
The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.
Gosh, “a flurry of intensified drone attacks” sounds very familiar. That is exactly what happened last May when Zardari’s visit to the NATO summit in Chicago did not produce the agreement for reopening the supply routes. Retaliatory strikes started almost immediately, with at least four strikes coming within a span of six days.
With the understanding that the US views drone strikes as a retaliation tool, we can watch this week’s visit to Washington by new ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam. Islam will visit with David Petraeus and others Wednesday through Friday of this week. Drones are expected to be on the agenda for the meetings:
Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was appointed in March, “will visit USA from 1st to 3rd August. This will be a service-to-service bilateral visit,” the statement said.
“He will meet his counterpart General David Petraeus, director CIA.”
The short statement gave no other details, but a senior Pakistani security official earlier told AFP that the pair would discuss counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing.
Islam would also demand an end to US drone attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and again ask for the means for Pakistan to carry out the attacks instead, the security official said.
The US has made it clear multiple times that it will not give up on carrying out drone strikes and that it does not trust ISI enough to bring them closely into the loop when choosing targets or timing for strikes. It seems very likely to me that the US will carry out a strike within the first day or two after the meeting ends, just to send the message to the ISI that the meeting has changed nothing in how the US will operate. If the strike is as reckless as the one that killed a group of 40 who turned out to be mostly civilians on the day after the release of Raymond Davis, then the US could be accused of letting the need for political retaliation move it all the way to blind rage. Another hint in the Times piece tells us that Haqqani leader “Sirajuddin Haqqani surrounds himself with civilians — often women and children — at his base in the town of Miram Shah”. Will the US decide to allow some “collateral damage” to women and children in an attempt to take out Sirajuddin Haqqani as Islam returns to Pakistan from his meeting with Petraeus?