Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Beyond the Khyber Pass

Here's a sobering thought to those who want to pull out of the unstrategic Middle East, redeploy to Afghanistan and "get" Osama Bin Laden. Yahoo reports: "Attacks on Khyber trucking threaten US supply line".

KHYBER AGENCY, Pakistan - Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating chaos along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for U.S. and NATO forces....

Abductions and arson attacks on the hundreds of cargo trucks plying the switchback road through the Khyber Pass have become commonplace this year. Many of the trucks carry fuel and other material for foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

The heart of the problem is that much of the problem, including Osama Bin Laden, is in Pakistan and not Afghanistan. But Afghanistan's the good war, the approved conflict, the bipartisan consensus effort. And therefore Afghanistan it is. The story continues:

U.S. and NATO officials play down their losses in these arid mountains of northwestern Pakistan — even though the local arms bazaar offers U.S.-made assault rifles and Beretta pistols, and the alliance is negotiating to open routes through other countries.

The most high-profile victim of the lawlessness has been Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan. The 56-year-old was snatched from his Mercedes limousine three months ago while driving toward the border. He wasn't freed until Saturday. Pakistan's government denied it was part of a prisoner swap last week with militants.

A senior government official said Azizuddin's kidnapping was carried out by one of dozens of criminal gangs operating in the region, who then sold the ambassador to the Taliban.

Last year, I noted an American Forces Press Service reported that contingency plans are being prepared to supply coalition forces in Afghanistan if Pakistan is lost. The most important quote from the Press Service report was that "the U.S. military is examining different contingencies for supplying American troops in Afghanistan if supplies can no longer be shipped through Pakistan "because 75 percent of all of our supplies for our troops in Afghanistan flow either through or over Pakistan." This is the unexamined strategic background of Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, reported last year in Breitbart.

Asked whether he would move U.S. troops out of Iraq to better fight terrorism elsewhere, he brought up Afghanistan and said, "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

Earlier this month, Obama drew criticism when he said he would send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists even without local permission, if warranted.

But whether shallow incursions into Pakistan would work at all is questionable. Cross-border raiding by US forces may have been going on for some time. And in fact, the strikes on NATO supply lines may be a function of pressure on the Taliban. The harder one hits the Taliban, the more effort they put into disrupting the NATO supply lines which support the fight against them. In January I wrote: "The Asia Times says that the US has built a base right on the Afghan-Pakistan border for the purposes of raiding into Pakistan, with or without Islamabad's approval. ... The Asia Times article darkly hints that al-Qaeda will redouble its efforts to inflame Pakistan and attack NATO supply lines in order to compensate for its loss of sanctuaries in the tribal areas." The enemy is in the logistical rear of the US effort, but politically that is difficult to acknowledge. It would be as if the US offensive against Germany had to be supplied through a country heavily populated by ardent fascists, but everyone was afraid to mention the possible complications of that fact.

But what would have been madness in decades past is par for the course today. With Washington locked in a game of strategic trivial pursuit, the deadliest sin a politician can be guilty of is to change his mind; say something which may contradict what he may have said six years ago. Thinking has become the ultimate crime; demagoguery the ultimate virtue and a studious avoidance of strategic thought something to be achieved at all costs.

The one central issue that has never been resolved or even officially debated because of political sensitivity is what is the strategic center of gravity of the enemy? Is it the theology of militant Islam? Is is venture capital support for terrorist entrepreneurs? Is it states seeking to develop WMDs? Is it Islam itself?

Neither party seems inclined to give an answer. President Bush has given the impression that the enemy consists of renegades to the "religion of peace". Barack Obama appears to agree -- about the "religion of peace" part -- and seems to suggest the enemy is much as President Bush has described them. Except that they are in Afghanistan and not in Iraq.

Yet no major party has articulated a comprehensive strategy for dismantling the enemy center(s) of gravity. Indeed there is marked reluctance to even describe what these are. But without this strategic context, without a consensus of what the US war aims are, even the most massive redeployment of troops will simply be a showy kind of floundering.

The campaign in Iraq acquired a kind of post-facto strategic importance. Al-Qaeda was roundly humiliated. Iran was threatened by a rival Shi'ite democratic polity. Maybe a Saddam WMD program was aborted. Maybe. But some of these real achievements are retrospective. Maybe God does bless America, because the politicians don't.

The question that must be asked with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan is: what do we hope to achieve? And how does it relate to dismantling the enemy's centers of gravity. It's not enough to say "I will talk to everybody". What will you talk about? It's not enough to say "we will go after the renegades of the Religion of Peace" without describing what the Religion of Peace itself advocates.

But in all likelihood the temporizing will continue. Strategy has become the hostage of the 30-second soundbite. How strange it is that a society as complex and technological as Western civilization has a short-term memory only slightly longer than that of a goldfish.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger Alexis said...

In theory, our forces in Afghanistan could be supplied through Iran, but that won’t happen unless and until the State of Israel learns to keep its mouth shut. I really think most Americans just don’t want to think about the option of liberating Iran.

Our forces could also be supplied through the Russian rail system, but what American president wants to be seen eating Mr. Putin’s humble pie?

One aspect of this general war may be underreported – perhaps a certain level of war weariness comes from an antipathy against Islam. Perhaps one unintentional side effect of decade after decade of Muslim terrorism and now the present war is that many Americans just don’t want to hear about anything having to do with Islam. In essence, it is the desire for a war people never need to think about precisely because the real reason for the war itself is so one never needs to imagine that Islam exists at all.

Perhaps it’s called the “War On Terror” precisely because many people don’t want to think about whom it is we are fighting. By our own cultural standards, our enemy is so repulsive and so cartoonishly evil that it is disquieting to imagine that such specimens of humanity could actually exist. For example, Pushtun customs are utterly nauseating, especially to women.

Denial is not merely an attempt to erase consciousness of the terrorist from the mind (which unfortunately embeds him further into it), but may also be the central war aim of our war – an attempt to deny our enemy his existence. Never mind how members of al-Qaeda deserve to get lined up and shot; there are those who don’t want to face up to the fact that is it necessary to kill them. To kill them is to admit they exist.

Perhaps those with their eyes wide open are those who understand the threat we face and seek victory against it.

Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad

5/20/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Wretchard, I think you are not being honest about the reason for the reluctance to admit the truth of the situation, why policy is a 30 second soundbyte. Though I agree with your other assessments.

It is likely that America's political paralysis is brought on by too much wealth, power, safety, security, so that people think they are all "normal," that all people have and want security and safety, share the same cultural assumptions, and merely more "colorful" versions of Western suburbanites. GWB no less than Obama.

Furthermore, to admit the truth, that we are in a civilizational war with Islam and Muslims, would shatter the hold of the post-War pacifist elites who are "Left" and push them to the sideline. That is why their champion, Obama, men like him (Olmert, Zapatero, Prodi, etc.) and the political organizations and institutions that back them (Media, Academe, Dems, etc.) all try to do the barest minimum possible to pay lip service against AQ. While really wanting a surrender party to Osama.

Why? Because throwing Israel, the Jews, practice of Christianity (which post-War elites hate anyway), and many other surrenders to Islam are far less costly than losing their positions, their power, their "estates" of say, cars and apartments and houses and so on off the public till. Charlie Rangel is a good example, driving luxury cars leased by the Government because "his constituents appreciate it." Better to surrender things that don't matter: ordinary people's freedom, than lose power and money and sex.

Alexis is quite wrong on one respect. Most feminists and women find Muslim sexual practices, including polygamy, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, burquas, and so on quite defensible. They defend it at every turn. Feminists backed the Taliban spokesman's scholarship to Yale, where he has all expenses paid. They found his view that women who were "immodest" by having painted fingernails pulled out "thrilling" and had no objection to him whatsoever at Yale. Quite the reverse, feminists at Yale defended him and his presence at Yale.

Women in the West are engaged in an endless battle for status and power. They could care less about pathetic third world women who are not beautiful, powerful, famous, and fashionable. Status and power in the West rests on the elite "landless gentry" who control institutions denying any Muslim threat, which is why women in the US and Europe are in the forefront of defense of Islamists and their attempts to impose Islamist standards.

No less a fashionable and powerful and "trendy" woman than Cherie Blair "won" British Muslim girls the "right" to be imprisoned in a burqua.

This makes perfect sense as long as you remember that women in the West (in the main) only care about power/fashion/status. A nation of Carrie Bradshaws, in other words.

5/20/2008 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Ah, where to begin. Ya hit every hot button I got, wretchard.

Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics.

Most things are out of my lane. This topic is not.

I was a civilian logistics augmentee in Kandahar for fifteen months. One of my daily stops was the Container Reception Point. Just about everything that could fit in a container was stuffed into one, put on a container ship, off-loaded at Karachi like all the other containers, and jingle-trucked up the road some 600 miles to Chaman, Spin Boldak, Kandahar and points north.

The jingle truck drivers are mostly Pashtun owner-operators, (not many Punjabis or Balochis) contracted by the transport companies. Sometimes they didn't get paid by the guy who contracted with them and they would get obstreperous
over it with our guys in the yard. The transport companies were supposed to pay the protection bribe to the clans that ran check points on the road, but even when they really did the drivers still got shaken down.

Karachi is OEF's Shuaiba, The Sea Port of Debarkation, and the road from Karachi is OEF's Route Tampa, or Main Supply Route. And none of it is under friendly control, UNLESS you count the Paks as friendlies. This is why Afghanistan has always been an economy of force operation, or secondary effort, or side show. We could not logistically support a large force in Central Asia. Saddam's misfortune was that we could logistically support a large operation in Mesopotamia.

We put up with Musharraf for as long as we did because he had us by the balls. He did do an adequate job of securing the MSR, though. For a while.

OEF has been living on borrowed time since we got kicked out of K2. Lost not only valuable ramp space but an important Class I yard, as well as a railhead connected to the European rail system.

Did I mention that 80% of the Class III comes through Torkham from refineries in the Islamabad region?

Listen to your Loggy Toads


Flat Fuel Bladders at the Tank Farm

5/20/2008 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

I think there's a certain dishonesty on either side of the political aisle, though each of a different kind. But they are rooted in the common desire to maintain "business as usual". Business as usual with the Sauds. Business as usual with the UN, the Euros and the NGOs. No one wanted to revise the establish academic points of view; overthrow the hobbyhorses upon which -- let's be frank -- continued funding depended.

In other words September 11 was a huge inconvenience. I wrote elsewhere that the real problem with 9/11 was not that it happened; it had been happening throughout the world; but that it happened in Manhattan, where it could not be airbrushed away.

Still, seven years and a lot of airbrushes later, we are close to "moving on". And I would be glad to do so, if the enemy would let us. Unfortunately the moment we relax they'll be back. With a nuclear, biological or chemical 9/11.

We've only postponed the crisis. We have very sucessfully evaded facing it head on. Maybe it will work out. Sometimes, as in the case of the Soviet Union, malignancies go into spontaneous remission. They kill themselves. I hope this happens. But then anyone who shares my hope will put far more reliance on In God We Trust than they can publicly admit. I hope it happens. But realistically, I have no basis for that expectation.

5/20/2008 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

When Democrats talk about their dedication to redoubling the effort in Afghanistan, it is good to remember they are lying. It is political considerations, not strategic ones, that cause them to take these positions. Their base does not want to fight in Afghanistan any more than in Iraq. They assume their candidates are lying when they speak that way. That is the safe bet for the rest of us, as well.

Sen. Obama needs to look tough somewhere so he talks tough about Afghanistan. He needs to show that he can stand up to a world leader and so picks a fight with President Bush.

He is practicing for negotiating with our enemies by negotiating with himself on their behalf. So far he's gotten himself to agree to give up missile defense, to rapidly withdraw from Iraq, to pursue energy policies that will make us more dependent on foreign oil, to pursue economic policies that will tank the economy, and to put the mill stone of an "international test" around the neck of our security policies. Oh, and abandon our friends while comforting our enemies and turning over the Persian Gulf to Iran.

All this, and more, he has already pledged to do. Actually negotiating with our enemies might turn out to be an improvement.

Remember what one of the men who knows him best has said: Senator Obama is a politician, and he will do what politicians do. Amen, Jeremiah Wright. Who knows? In the end he might toss Iran under the bus. Especially if they treat him like the "internationalist" schmuck he pretends to be. He has already shown he can forgive anything but a personal slight.

5/20/2008 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

What an insult to goldfish! :-)

5/20/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

I have said it before and I will say it again. Afghanistan does not matter, or at least most of it. As long as the head guy in Kabul is not giving us the finger when we say we are going to bomb the hell out of Baka Whacko or whatever it does not matter. If the Pashtun are P.O.ed about not having their own man in Kabul it does not matter. As long as we can get a terrorist camp in our sights and not have to spend a couple of hours finding the President to ask him if it is Okay to turn it into a big smoking hole it does not matter. And as long as the White House is not calling people to tell them that they better get their cousin Prince Bunchanookie out of that camp before it gets blown up, it does not matter.

Afghanistan is valuable to the Left because it fits their “it’s all just a law enforcement problem” approach and - because it gives them a chance to look tough about something that does not matter.

Afghanistan is never going to be the kind of place where people in their national costumes can dance on that hilltop singing about Coke. Never has been , never will be.

5/20/2008 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Quit putting words into my mouth, whiskey. It is not only untruthful for you to put words into my mouth, but it is rude. I referred to women, not feminists. Feminists often act more like overgrown girls than like women.

There is a key difference between married women with children and single women without children. When a woman has a child, key hormones switch on and utterly change her psychology. While a single woman of child bearing age may see an invading barbarian as a potential mate, an post-menopausal woman with grown children will see an invading barbarian as a threat against her children, particularly any son she may have.

Mothers have a protective maternal instinct, and they vote according to that instinct. Does anybody ever wonder why married women vote far more conservatively than single women? Ever heard of “9-11 conservatives”, who are otherwise liberal people (especially women) who vote against the terrorists and their appeasers every time? Anybody who thinks an old woman with a maternal instinct acts no differently than a young woman who has never gotten pregnant simply does not understand the real world.

5/20/2008 08:44:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Alexis, I take issue with your statement that politically, women find Islam and Islamists and Jihad distasteful. I do not find that supported by any evidence, quite the reverse.

The View, Oprah, the huge amount of female support for Obama in the media and among professional women, all contradict that viewpoint (that women find Islam and Islamism distasteful).

While feminists may not represent all women, it's safe to say that they represent the vanguard of female thinking. Certainly the View does not ever present an anti-feminist viewpoint. Whoopi, Joy Behar, Barbara Walters, and the other one all have gone on at great length (to considerable female applause I might add) that GWB is the fount of all evil and Muslims merely demand "respect." That lashing the middle aged female teacher in the Sudan for her class naming a teddy bear Mohammed was justified. And so on. Whoopi made that very point to great applause from post-menopausal women.

When Susan Faludi makes the political argument that 9/11 marginalizes women, because they are not firemen, nor soldiers, etc. it finds great applause in the media and among women in general. Largely because it is true, women have lesser influence because the trade-offs for day-care vs. bombers becomes immediate.

You cannot argue that feminists making these arguments suffer unpopularity among women.

The ladies of the View certainly all find GWB a greater menace than Osama and have said so explicitly to applause (from their nearly all middle aged female audience).

I agree that married white women vote more conservatively than their unmarried peers. However, they are going the way of the passenger pigeon. Already births in the US approach 35% illegitimacy rate, suggesting that Britain's 50% is well within "dubious achievement" grasp. Single motherhood is the norm in the Black community, and becoming the norm in the working class white community. Only middle/upper class whites get and stay married (if you believe Hymowitz and Kurz's writings on this subject).

I do not see any evidence whatsoever in a divide in beliefs and political actions between young women say 18-26 and women 27-45. All polling data available suggests both groups oppose military action equally strongly, want negotiations with Iran and AQ, a complete end to any effort to fight Islamists, and a return to the feminine power of PC, Multiculturalism and Lawfare which generally empowers women.

I would not characterize either group as "Code Pink" but much of Code Pink's attitude if you are fair is held by most women: "soft power" of "negotiating" and using social approval, PC, "rule of law" etc. by some nebulous "higher authority" and variations of status-mongering (only the cool/fashionable people do "policy A") etc.

Women DO face a huge political threat: end of PC/Multiculturalism and status-mongering which employs a great many of them (often as "Diversity consultants" etc.) in fighting Islamism, and don't see much of a threat. Nor do they care one whit about Muslim women at home or abroad. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali found out to her sorrow.

5/20/2008 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

The USA has no significant strategic interests in Afghanistan. There are there only because of 9/11.

The only reason the USA still has significant presence is because it is touted as the good UN approved war against militant islam. As opposed to the bad illegal war in Iraq.

Afghanistan is unwinnable and everybody knows it. However this is a problem restricted to the region.

The USA has retaliated appropriately for 9/11, the Taliban has been removed from power. The USA should leave and concentrate on the real prize Iraq.

5/21/2008 02:17:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

Speaking of logistics. What would happen if there was a one month tamp down on ground supply accompanied by a spate of cargo aircraft shoot downs?

5/21/2008 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Caucasian Persuasion said...

Obama's plan to disarm America:


5/21/2008 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger mercutio said...

wretchard wrote:

"The question that must be asked with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan is: what do we hope to achieve? And how does it relate to dismantling the enemy's centers of gravity?"

Cannoneer makes the point that Saddam had the misfortune to be a target in a war we could logistically support.

One of GWB's rationales for the Iraq invasion was establishment of a democracy in the Middle East, i.e. Muslim country. Fantasy? Maybe. But if he is successful, the countermeme begins, backed by considerable amounts of petrodollars. The Iraqis, having gone through several ideological generations in five years, seem ready to go with the flow . . . the oil flow, that is.

I suspect we'll see GWB draw down a large number of troops right after the Iraqi election, taking a prop out from under Sen. Obama's campaign. We'll see GWB increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, since Sen. Obama says that's where we should be putting our efforts. These outcomes will be a very nice "check" move on the domestic and international chess board.

But Afghanistan probably isn't tenable. Unless . . .

5/21/2008 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger RAH said...

This is a war against those groups that espouse anti US actions. Al Qaeda is one of those groups, Taliban is another, and Baitullah Mehsud is one of the clan’s warrior chieftains that are attacking the supply convoys in the Khyber tunnels. The problem is that various groups keep cropping up and US forces have to learn the players and then track them down and eliminate them. It is really like tracking various gangs or criminal groups and the players often switch groups or start another group.

The various groups that attack installations and towns in Afghanistan are targeted, since most tracks through Pakistan we have to get intelligence on the identities of the members of these groups and then ambush them when they are on the move. Some times that is offering bait like convoys and then capturing the attackers. The goal is to diminish the power of these groups so that new groups will not emerge and that they will stop attacking our allies and innocent civilians and US forces.

The other goal is to delegitimize the ideology of these militant groups. That has been successful in Iraq by the brutal criminal methods these militants groups used to enforce their power on the locals. Very similar to the intimidation tactics that Mafia thugs use to keep locals in line. But these Islamic thugs use even more brutal tactics.

The war of ideology is against Wahabist Islamic doctrine. However since the Saudi royal family is spreading that and they are an ally, we have not clarified this goal. I don’t think that the State Department has allowed themselves to even enunciate this idea that we should stop all Islamic studies programs since they are paid by the Saudi and are of the Wahabist school.

So the goals differ in different locations. In Iraq it is eradication of the thuggish elements whether they are Sadrists or Al Qaeda. Once they are eliminated then reconciliation of the Sunni and Shia and open the barricades and allow trade to flourish. Allow the main gov’t structure a workable arrangement of power between regional, local and nation parts of governments.

The overall goal is to diminish the appeal of the Wahabist and Al Qaeda doctrines and theology. Not to demonize the entire Islam religion. The only way to war upon Islam is to eliminate it followers which are over a billion strong. That is morally contemptible. The other goal is to make it too costly for groups to attack America and it’s allies. To allow a minimum of civil rights for females and children.

5/21/2008 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Someone needs to create a "pixie dust chip" --- a solid state transponder IFF small enough that it could be released in a cloud by a small drone over a bunch of hostiles, then used as a tracking/homing system.

Send out a pulse, get fifty pulses back, track'em like tagged badgers in Yosemite.

The chips could be so small they would blend in with the dust and sand, get in their hair, in their ears, in the folds of clothing, and could be manufactured to avoid square edges and corners.

I guess you'd have to hose down the friendlies every night. Or deactivate'em with a signal.

Maybe they'd even taste good sprinkled on breakfast cereal.

5/30/2008 10:11:00 PM  

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