June 22, 2010

Meanwhile, back in Afg 3: Dahla update

Francoise Ducros of CIDA attempts to put Canadians at ease about the Dahla Dam project, which the Toronto Star has been hound-dogging recently.

For another point of view, see the always-entertaining Tim Lynch, which has the immortal quote (not Tim's):

Two years for engineering studies! Itís a dirt dam with a gate!

Posted by BruceR at 05:59 PM

Meanwhile, back in Afg 2: the Good Guys of Gizab

The WashPost has a "ray of light" piece on Afghanistan.

Gizab, a valley in Daikundi province (although that is disputed) with a majority Pashtun population (also disputed), is apparently steadfastly anti-Taliban. Good for them. People are wondering how to replicate that success, which is a good discussion. Three points.

The obvious fact is this is a place in completely marginal territory for the Taliban, hard up against or in the Hazarajat, the central Afghanistan refuge of the Shia Hazara people, who the Taliban in the past have done every depredation short of hunting for sport. The Pashtuns in this area are economically and socially interlinked with the Hazara, who form the overwhelming majority of the region's population. For them to be anything other than pro-peace given that situation (and the likelihood they'd be running for their lives the moment civil war ever breaks out again) would be surprising. Indeed, if the government can't keep these Pashtuns onside, it's fair to see it couldn't keep any.

Two, the lack of any ISAF or ANSF presence (at ALL) up to this point is notable. The Taliban may simply have had no targets there to pursue. It's a fair first-order approximation to say adding ISAF or ANSF forces to an area increases attacks, because the target set is richer. The discomfiting upshot, however, is that this state of grace can't last: the fact Gizab is in the news all but guarantees both ISAF and the insurgents will pay closer attention to it in future. It shouldn't be a quiet little valley for long as a result.

Finally, if the question is how do you keep the Taliban out in such a place, well the answer seems pretty clear: extrajudicial executions of the suspected insurgents who had kidnapped the leader's relatives, combined with the explicit tying by ISAF SOF personnel of any aid delivery to the valley on them ejecting the Taliban first. In Gizab it worked great, apparently. Leaving aside the likelihood of expanding that concept elsewhere, it could at least give current fans of the Afghan detainee abuse scandal here in Canada pause. In Gizab, they're clearly well past that those sorts of niceties... if that is the only route to victory in Afghanistan, it wouldn't appear to be a route Canadians could ever follow. Not that that's a bad thing.

Look, these issues have been around since long before Joseph Conrad, even if he nailed it. You get into the poorly lit crannies of the world, and some of that darkness is going to get into you. If the Helmand River was navigable that far north, someone would certainly be telling somebody else not to get out of the boat about now. T.I.A., people.

Last point: at the very end of the article, note the reference to "a private militia" from Uruzgan arming the "Good Guys", and the locals pushing the government for more money and arms in exchange for security, and the leader's requests for government salaries for 300 of his men (in a district with a population of 54,000). Dollars to donuts that's the Karzai-family affiliated KAU militia. Could those guys use those weapons some day to keep the Karzai faction in power in Uruzgan? Or could they use them to keep the Hazara off their back if the civil war returns? You betcha.

Posted by BruceR at 05:55 PM

Meanwhile, back in Afg

The McChrystal article, if you haven't read it yet.

Schmedlap has a point. The U.S. commander for Afghanistan is quoted saying the current Afghan policy was a hard sell in Washington at first ("I was selling an unsellable position"), pretends not to know the vice-president, ("Who's that?") and does make some scathing remarks about both Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke. But that's still pretty borderline as far as the whole-military-law-subordination-to-civil-authority sort of thing.

All the other smack-talking is his anonymous aides, a couple of whom, if they are ever exposed, really do need to resign. And it does pretty clearly show that the Obama civilian-military team for Afghanistan (or at least its top three people) is dysfunctional to the point of needing to replace SOMEBODY. But no, it's not *quite* MacArthur-Truman.

UPDATE: A better comparison might be Lincoln-McClellan in the winter of 1861-62. Or maybe FDR-Patton. Or Clinton-Campbell.

UPDATE #2: Just going back to MacArthur-Truman for a minute, it's worth mentioning that was a dual offense. First came the ultimatum to China that might have interfered with an American cease-fire proposal, and then the letter made public two weeks later to the House Minority Leader. So Slate is wrong when it says MacArthur defied "orders to refrain from attacking China" but Bernard Finel is over-the-top when he says this is comparable. In the MacArthur case you're talking very public on-the-record disagreements with the President's policy by the general personally, not anonymous trash-talking by his aides. Permitting a culture of insubordination is bad command practice, but the military offence can only be committed by the speaker themselves, and on that score McChrystal can't be accused based on the evidence to date.

Truman himself defined the criteria best: "I fired [MacArthur] because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."

UPDATE #3: Bernard Finel makes a good argument that this is, in fact, exactly like MacArthur. He downplays MacArthur's March interference with cease-fire feelers; I guess I've previously assumed that was the real reason (Truman later said he should have fired MacArthur when that happened) and the letter to the House Minority Leader the next convenient opportunity. Finel feels that the letter itself was the camelback-breaking straw.

Posted by BruceR at 12:57 PM