Thursday, March 6, 2008

Daniel Byman on Al Qaeda's Future, post-Iraq

Key graph from the august Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog:

Yet today Al Qaeda in Iraq—though not the Al Qaeda core—is on the run. Sunni tribes and “concerned local citizens” groups are killing or arresting many of its cadre and transforming parts of Iraq from sanctuaries to hunting grounds. In addition to improving the chances for a semi-stable Iraq, these blows have tremendous implications for the future of the organization outside Iraq. At the very least, Iraq will be a less useful base for salafi-jihadists to plot attacks in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which they have done for several years now. Iraq will also be less of a draw and training ground for young radicals from the Middle East and Europe, who have flocked to Iraq since the 2003 invasion to fight the United States. Would-be fighters may come to see Iraq as a place where local Sunnis will pursue them mercilessly rather than as the center of the anti-U.S. struggle.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stirrings in South America

Robert Kaplan explains what's really going on between Colombia and Venezuela.

Really Catching Up

Nothing in the space for quite a while. I blame that on simple laziness. Notable press clippings follow:

1. "Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics," Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, 4 March 2008

After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.


Religion had moved abruptly into the Shiite public space, but often in ways that made educated, religious Iraqis uncomfortable. Militias were offering Koran courses. Titles came cheaply. In Mr. Mahmoud’s neighborhood, a butcher with no knowledge of Islam became the leader of a mosque....An official for the Ministry of Education in Baghdad, a secular Shiite, described the newfound faith like this: “It was like they wanted to put on a new, stylish outfit.”

This sentiment sounds a little like Marc Sageman's thesis in his book Leaderless Jihad.

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2. "U.S. Plan Widens Role in Training Pakistani Forces in Qaeda Battle," Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, 2 March 2008.

The United States military is developing a plan to send about 100 American trainers to work with a Pakistani paramilitary force that is the vanguard in the fight against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas, American military officials said.

Pakistan has ruled out allowing American combat troops to fight Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas. But Pakistani leaders have privately indicated that they would welcome additional American trainers to help teach new skills to Pakistani soldiers whose army was tailored not for counterinsurgency but to fight a conventional land war against India.


American officials are also taking a number of other steps to help increase Pakistan’s long-term ability to battle a newly resurgent Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the tribal areas.

At the request of Pakistan’s new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Central Command two weeks ago sent a four-member intelligence team, led by a lieutenant colonel, to work closely with Pakistani intelligence officers in Islamabad. The Americans are helping with techniques on sharing satellite imagery and addressing Pakistani requests to buy equipment used to intercept the militants’ communications, a senior American officer said.

The United States is also helping to establish border coordination centers in Afghanistan just across the Pakistan border, where Afghan, Pakistani and American officials can share intelligence about Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups in and around the tribal areas.


That document, titled “Plan for Training the Frontier Corps,” envisions a combination of Special Forces and regular Army troops working with the Frontier Corps in basic marksmanship, infantry skills and counterinsurgency techniques, Defense Department officials said.

Until recently, the Frontier Corps had not received American military financing because the corps technically falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a nonmilitary agency that the Pentagon ordinarily does not deal with. But American and Pakistani officials say the Frontier Corps is drawn from Pashtun tribesmen, who know the language and culture of the tribal areas, and in the long term is the most suitable force to combat an insurgency there.

American and Pakistani officials acknowledge that it will take several years to build the Frontier Corps into an effective counterinsurgency. American officials say they have seen some Frontier Corps members wearing sandals on patrol and wielding barely functional Kalashnikov rifles with little ammunition.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Catching Up

"From Abu Ghraib to Georgetown: I'm Back Home, But Still in Iraq's Grasp," William Quinn, Wash Post, Nov. 11 (h/t, SWJ).

"Democracy's Root: Diversity," Tom Friedman, NY Times, Nov. 11.

"Lessons from 'Ghanzi Province'," Sarah Holewinski (exec. dir., Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict), Wash Post, Nov. 10.

"Pakistan Strife Threatens Anti-Insurgent Plan," Ann Scott Tyson, Wash Post, Nov. 9 (h/t, SWJ).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Intel-Dump on foreign service officers' "direct assignment" to Iraq: "suck it up folks." Phil Carter hits the nail on the head:

Our nation has been asking an awful lot of its men and women in uniform for several years now, and it's time for the rest of the government to step up. This illustrates the civil-military divide within the federal government itself! Rarely have we seen clearer evidence in support of the statement that "America is not at war; only America's military is at war."

This story raises important issues about our diplomatic corps and its ability to support a global counterinsurgency. In many ways, I think the diplomatic corps is struggling to become more expeditionary, more forward-leaning, and more able to work in crappy places like Iraq. The Army Reserve and Army National Guard are similarly rewriting their "social contract" right now, for better or worse, and it's painful. Reservists used to join with the expectation that they would train one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and deploy only for "the big one" or maybe for a local disaster. Now, Guard and Reserve have been forcibly mutated from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve, meaning they will deploy every 3-5 years by design. Over time, in theory, it will produce a more expeditionary force as people vote with their feet, and people join with the new expectations. But for now, it's producing a lot of pain, both at the stratospheric planner level and at the tactical level.

George Packer on the State Department's "indifference" toward streamlining the visa application process for Iraqis who have helped coalition forces.

At the SWJ blog, LTC Nagl responds to Dr. David Price's Counterpunch piece, which criticizes the "pilfered scholarship" of FM 3-24 and the anthropologists who helped write it.

Lastly, the BBC profiles David Kilcullen (h/t: SWJ).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend Update

The Economist this week on counterinsurgency: leader and brief.

"A True Culture War," Richard Shweder, The New York Times op-ed, Oct. 27

"'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life'," The Washington Post, Oct. 27 (profile of 1-18 IN, 2d BCT, 1 ID)

"A Self-Defeating Hegemony," Francis Fukuyama,, Oct. 26

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Good Reads

"COIN of the Realm" by Colin Kahl, Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2007

"Secretary Gates declares war on the Army brass" by Fred Kaplan,, Oct. 12, 2007

JCS Chairman Mullen visits Sill, Leavenworth and Riley:
NY Times
Phil Carter's Intel Dump - Discussion

"Remember Iraq" Tom Friedman, NY Times, Oct. 24, 2007