Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leaks are part and parcel of a deliberate disinformation and covert wars strategy...

Leaks are part and parcel of a deliberate CIA/DOD/OSP disinformation and covert wars strategy...

WASHINGTON - The 92,000 reports on the war in Afghanistan made public by the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, and reported on Monday by selected international publications, offer no major revelations that are entirely new, as did the Pentagon Papers to which they are inevitably being compared.

But they increase the political pressure on a war policy that has already suffered a precipitous loss of credibility this year by highlighting contradictions between the official assumptions of the strategy and the realities shown in the documents - especially in regard to Pakistan's role in the war.

Unlike the Pentagon Papers, which chronicle the policymaking process leading up to and during the Vietnam War, the WikiLeaks documents relate thousands of local incidents and situations encountered by United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops that illustrate severe problems for the US-NATO effort.

Among the themes that are documented, sometimes dramatically but often through bland military reports, are the seemingly casual killing of civilians away from combat situations, night raids by special forces that are often based on bad intelligence, the absence of legal constraints on the abuses of Afghan police, and the deeply rooted character of corruption among Afghan officials.

The most politically salient issue highlighted by the new documents, however, is Pakistan's political and material support for the Taliban insurgency, despite its ostensible support for US policy in Afghanistan.

The documents include many intelligence reports about Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, the director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's military intelligence agency, in the late 1980s, continuing to work with the Taliban commanders loyal to Mullah Omar as well as the Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar insurgent networks.

Some of the reports obviously reflect the anti-Pakistan bias of the Afghan intelligence service when it was under former Northern Alliance intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh. Nevertheless, the overall impression they convey of Pakistani support for the Taliban is credible to the news media, because they confirm numerous press reports over the past few years.

The New York Times led its coverage of the documents with its report on the Pakistani-Taliban issue. The story said the documents reflect "deep suspicions among American officials that Pakistan's military spy service has for years guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than US$1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants."

The issue of Pakistani "double-dealing" on Afghanistan is one of the Barack Obama administration's greatest political vulnerabilities because it bears on a point of particular political sensitivity among the political and national security elite who are worried about whether there is any hope for success for the war strategy, even with General David Petraeus in command.

One Democratic opponent of the war policy was quick to take advantage of the leaked documents' focus on Pakistan's support for the Taliban. In a statement issued on Monday, Senator Russ Feingold, Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the documents "highlight a fundamental strategic problem, which is that elements of the Pakistani security services have been complicit in the insurgency".

In combination with "competing agendas within the Afghan security forces", Feingold argued, that problem precludes any "military solution in Afghanistan".

Afghan President Hamid Karzai took advantage of the new story generated by the documents to release a statement pointing to Pakistani sanctuaries across the border as the primary problem faced by his government. "Our efforts against terrorism will have no effect as long as these sanctuaries and sources remain intact," said Karzai.

Last February, then director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said what administration officials had privately conceded. Disrupting the "safe havens" enjoyed by the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border, he said, "won't be sufficient by itself to defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan", but it is a "necessary condition" for making "progress" in Afghanistan.

Implicitly admitting its political vulnerability on the issue, on Sunday the White House issued a compilation of statements by senior administration officials over the past 18 months aimed at showing that they had been tough with Pakistan on Afghanistan.

But none of the statements quoted in the compilation admitted the reality that Pakistan's policy of supporting the Taliban insurgency has long been firmly fixed and is not going to change.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed in April 2009 that "elements" of the ISI were "connected to those militant organizations". But he suggested that Pakistani chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, with whom Mullen had developed a close personal relationship, was in the process of changing the intelligence agency.

Mullen essentially pleaded for time, saying that change "isn't going to happen overnight" and that "it takes a fairly significant time to change an organization".

Admitting that Pakistan's fundamental interests in Afghanistan conflict with US war strategy would be a serious - and possibly fatal - blow to the credibility of the Obama administration's strategy of using force to "reverse the momentum" of the Taliban.

To the extent that this contradiction and others are highlighted in the coming weeks as the news media comb through the mountains of new documents, it could accelerate the process by which political support for the Afghanistan War among the foreign policy and political elite continues to diminish.

The loss of this support has accelerated in recent months and is already far advanced. More prominent figures in the national security elite, both Republican and Democratic, have signaled a developing consensus in those circles that the war strategy cannot succeed, paralleling the process that occurred in Washington in 2006 in regard to the Lebanon and Iraq Wars....

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy.
Obama's Afghanistan strategy under siege
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Monday's release by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of classified documents detailing the travails of the United States military in Afghanistan and Pakistan's secret support for the Taliban from 2004 through 2009 comes amid a growing crisis of confidence here in the nearly nine-year-old war.

Coming on top of the steady increase in US and North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO) casualties in Afghanistan - July may yet exceed June as the highest monthly death toll for US and NATO forces since the war began in late 2001 - the unprecedented leak can only add to the pessimism that has spread from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to the heart
of the foreign policy establishment, and even to a growing number of Republicans.

What hope was generated by President Barack Obama's appointment last month of General David Petraeus, whose counter-insurgency (COIN) tactics are widely credited with curbing Iraq's rapid descent into all-out civil war three years ago, to command US forces in Afghanistan has largely dissipated as a result of the steady flow of bad news - of which the WikiLeaks document dump and the weekend capture by the Taliban of two US seamen in a remote part of the country were only the latest examples.

Even before the latest events, key figures in the foreign policy elite were breaking with the prevailing consensus of just a few months ago: that Obama's strategy of combining classic COIN military tactics - notably, prioritizing the protection of the population - with building the capacity and extending the reach of the central government through a "civilian surge" could indeed reverse the Taliban's momentum and force them to sue for peace.

In one widely noted column published by Politico in mid-July, Robert Blackwill, a senior national security official in the administrations of both George H W and George W Bush, called for "partitioning" Afghanistan between the Taliban's stronghold of the mostly Pashtun south, and the multi-ethnic northern and western parts of the country where the US and like-minded nations would continue to base a sizeable force.

"Such a de facto partition would be a profoundly disappointing outcome to America's 10 years in Afghanistan," wrote Blackwill, who dismissed concerns that such a move risked creating a "Pashtunistan" that could threaten the territorial integrity of Pakistan, in another column in the Financial Times last week. "But, regrettably, it is now the best that can be realistically and responsibly achieved."

At the same time, Richard Haass - like Blackwill a key official in both Bush administrations and president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations for most of the past decade - offered a variation of that stratagem which he called "decentralization", in last week's Newsweek cover story, entitled "We're Not Winning. It's Not Worth It."

Under Haass' vision, Washington would reduce its efforts to build up the central government and the Afghan army and security forces. Instead, it would provide "arms and training to those local Afghan leaders throughout the country who reject al-Qaeda and who do not seek to undermine Pakistan", including Taliban leaders willing to accept those conditions, while maintaining sufficient US forces at the ready to enforce them.

While fighting would likely continue in Afghanistan for years, Washington could reduce its troop levels there significantly, according to Haass.

While Haass has for some time been skeptical of Obama's nation-building strategy in Afghanistan, other influential supporters of the effort are also calling for major adjustments in policy.

In the New Republic, Steve Coll, a veteran regional expert who also serves as president of the New America Foundation, implicitly took Haass and Blackwill to task, suggesting that their approach would essentially abandon the south to the Taliban and the rest of the country to local warlords.

Instead, he called for Washington to follow the strategy followed by the last communist ruler of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah, after the Soviet collapse when he sought - albeit unsuccessfully - to forge the broadest possible alliance against the Islamist mujahideen insurgency.

Washington must now - hopefully, with President Hamid Karzai's cooperation - work to reinforce "a national consensus to prevent the Taliban or any other armed faction from seizing power as international troops gradually pull back from direct combat," according to Coll, who argued that, under current circumstances, "the Afghan body politic is in increasing danger of fissuring," very possibly into civil war as US and NATO forces withdraw.

While the urgency with which these alternative strategies are being floated reflects the foreign policy elite's disunity over what is to be done, recent polls suggest that public confidence in the current strategy is in steady decline.

Growing - although hardly overwhelming - majorities believe that the Afghan war, currently funded at about US$100 billion a year and which last month took the lives of 102 NATO soldiers, has not been worth the cost. Much larger majorities believe the war is either stalemated or being lost.

Public disillusionment is increasingly reflected in the US Congress where a $37 billion emergency war bill has been held up for nearly a month amid doubts about US strategy, doubts that even Petraeus appears unable to dispel.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, whose loyalty to Obama's foreign policy in general and Afghanistan strategy, in particular, has been much appreciated by the White House, has become increasingly uneasy in recent weeks.

He will hold hearings this week on the administration's policy toward possible negotiations between Karzai and the Taliban, one of the areas on which the administration - and its NATO allies - appear to be in considerable disarray.

That unease was evident Monday after the WikiLeaks release.

"However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan," Kerry said in a prepared statement. "Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent."

The committee's ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar, who supported Obama's decision last November to increase US troops levels to 100,000 by this autumn, has also expressed growing doubts about where the strategy is headed. He warned last week that Washington could continue "spending billions of dollars each year without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion".

And while most Republicans remain hawkish on Afghanistan, severely criticizing Obama's decision to set a July 2011 deadline for beginning the drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan, some in their rank and file, including several figures associated with the populist "Tea Party" movement, are calling for an earlier date.

Indeed, when the controversial Republican Party chairman Michael Steele argued that Afghanistan was Obama's "war of choice" and suggested that it was being waged in vain, calls for his resignation by party hawks were rejected by a number of right-wing activists.

"America is weary," Representative Jason Chaffetz told Newsweek. "We're fast approaching several decades [of war] and we are broke but no end in sight."