Friday, January 29, 2010

Baffle Them with Bull Feathers

Bull Feather Merchants discussed how fighting propaganda wars became the Pentagon’s primary mission during young Mr. Bush’s administration. This piece describes how the ubiquitous warmongery continues to manipulate American and the world into a constant state of armed conflict.

Candidate Obama stepped into a steaming pile of gotcha when he promised to "finish the job" in Afghanistan. He did so in response to heat he was taking for having voted in the Senate against the surge that turned out to be such a "success" and that, as FOX News noted, his presidential opponent "John McCain courageously fought for." The "successful surge" in Iraq has been one of the warmongery’s most successful PR ploys to date.

As official stenographer to the General David Petraeus and former journalist Thomas E. Ricks has artlessly blabbed, "King David" did, indeed, "betray us." Petraeus misled Congress and the public into believing he was trying to create conditions in Iraq "that would allow our soldiers to disengage" when he was actually creating conditions that would support the Pentagon’s Long War, a stratagem that will keep America’s military, especially its Army, engaged in low level, indecisive conflicts against numerically and technologically inferior opponents for 50 years or longer.

To pacify critics of the war, Petraeus artificially reduced violence statistics through bribery and by cooking the figures: Sunnis killed by Sunnis, Shiites killed by Shiites, Iraqis killed by car bombs and people shot in the front of the head instead of the back of the head didn’t count. High-ranking officials at the five-sided echo chamber repeated the "successful surge" mantra at every opportunity, as did Republican politicians and wonks hoping to put McCain in the White House.

The rabid right media amplified the message, and the bovine mainstream media, petrified at the prospect of losing more audience share to AM radio and FOX News hate jockeys, meekly crawled aboard the bandwagon, promulgating brainwash disguised as news. To this day, despite credible and available evidence and testimony that Iraq’s government and security forces are corrupt and incompetent, that political reconciliation is nowhere in sight, that political violence and intimidation is rampant, that attacks still take place at a frequency and intensity that would not be acceptable in any nation we don’t happen to be occupying, the Long War propaganda apparatus continues to tout the "success of the Iraqi surge."

Where Do We Find Such Men?

Much of the war mafia’s conquest of the narrative has been its success in promoting our four-star generals into five star deities. Otherwise hard-nosed media pundits and moderators across the political spectrum turn into blubbering idolaters in the presence of a Petraeus or a Stanley McChrystal. Congressional testimony from these guys should be X-rated: lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman and his hawkish buddies go into states of full blown estrous, and everybody else, mainly the Democrats, are afraid to ask the generals any tough questions for fear of being called a pack of limp-wristed peace pansies.

The Rovewellian rhetoric of the Bush years insisted that the commander in chief was wisely doing what his generals recommended. As any slow child could tell you, that merely meant Bush picked generals that told him what he wanted to hear. When it was time to deflect criticism that we hadn’t committed enough troops to Iraq, the generals in charge said we had plenty of troops. When Bush got desperate after the drubbing his party suffered in the 2006 election, and decided to send more troops to Iraq, he got him a general (Petraeus) who told him he needed more troops.

The myth that our generals are infallible persists even though everything they’ve done proves otherwise. Petraeus’s successes have been a sham; that he’s managed to thrive is a testimony to his genius for self-serving hucksterism. You can’t count the number of times you’ve heard that Petraeus "wrote the book" on counterinsurgency. The only part of legendary Field Manual 3-24 Petraeus wrote was his name at the bottom of the cover letter. (Though we should give the devil his due. Petraeus’s signature is pretty much the only part of the manual that wasn’t plagiarized.)

The Pentagon sold Petraeus protégé McChrystal to the Senate as a counterinsurgency expert. McChrystal’s only real combat command experience involved assassinating suspected bad guys along with whatever civilians happened to be within the frag pattern at Dick Cheney’s behest. Image-makers have toiled Herculean to make Petraeus and McChrystal seem superhuman. Tom Ricks gushed like Joe Lieberman in a 2007 NPR interview as he recounted the spectacle of Petraeus besting teen-age privates in one-arm pushup contests, and McChrystal’s public relations staff made a point of ensuring the world knows that he only eats one meal a day and sleeps just a few hours a night. That should have told everyone paying attention that Petraeus’s military genius consists of penchant for staging flashy displays of chickensh**t and that McChrystal is permanently goofy from the effects of long-term malnourishment and sleep deprivation.

But these two brass-hatted humbugs know how to manipulate the media and baffle Congress and the public with bull feathers, as does Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, whose father was a high profile Hollywood publicity agent. The way they polluted the information environment to mousetrap Obama into going along with the Afghanistan surge was eye-watering. In another era — most notably the Truman administration days — an insubordinate stunt like that would have gotten Petraeus, McChrystal and Mullen transferred to Civilian Command. However, the three amigos currently at the top of the armed forces pile are connected and valued in high places, especially in the defense industry and the Congress, both of which have a vested interest in making the Long War as long as possible.

That’s the most frightening part of the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows politicians to guzzle every last drop of campaign financing that corporations can afford to pour down their throats. The ruling is an all’s-in-free for the military-industrial-congressional-media complex to keep us in never-ending counterproductive wars that we get to pay for.

Originally posted at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bull Feather Merchants

The Pentagon’s Ministry of Truth is harder to kill off than the villain in a summertime horror flick series.

It was during the Navy’s postpartum review of Desert Storm that I first heard "we’re losing the public affairs wars," meaning that we (the Navy) hadn’t gotten enough credit for our carrier and cruise-missile contributions to the air war because the Air Force had a better public affairs program than we did. Thus was born the Navy’s chief of information (CHINFO) program, and things went downhill from there. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier that participated in the Kosovo War (March 24 to June 10, 1999) launched a lot of sorties during the conflict, but not as many sorties as the number of reporters it entertained while conducting combat operations. Key watch officers were actually pulled off duty in the middle of a war to act as tour guides for reporters.

Ever since then, the military has put more strategic thought into selling its wars than it has into winning them.

Publicity Hounds

Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) had a short life. The OSI was established shortly after 9/11 as a propaganda tool to drum up support for the so-called "war on terrorism." Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, head of the OSI, envisioned “a broad mission ranging from ‘black’ campaigns that use disinformation and other covert activities to ‘white’ public affairs that rely on truthful news releases.”

News of the proposed scope of the propaganda directorate drew a dreck storm of protest from the mainstream media. United Press International wrote, "If you liked the lie about the murder of Kuwaiti babies after Iraq’s invasion of the oil-rich emirate in 1990, you’ll love the OSI."

Rumsfeld, uncharacteristically, bowed to pressure and shut the program down: Sort of. "If you want to savage this thing, fine, I’ll give you the corpse," he told a press gaggle in November 2002. "There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”

And he did.

Pavlov’s Dogs of War

The demise of OSI gave rise to a rat’s nest of sub-ministries. The embedded reporter program utilized during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom vastly skewed the war coverage to reflect the military’s desired message. Put through an abbreviated form of basic training, the journalists developed something akin to Stockholm syndrome; they identified so closely with their subjects that they lost their objectivity. Some media-savvy senior officers seduced press corps veterans through exclusive access and personal charm, a prime example being the way "Teflon General" David Petraeus seduced once-credible Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks into becoming his chief hagiographer. Ricks’ Petraeus connection got him a job as a tank-thinker with Center for a New American Security, and now all his clueless buddies in big media treat him like he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to national defense. In a February 2009 MSNBC interview, Hardball’s Chris Matthew pitched Ricks an inning’s worth of softballs and concluded by telling Ricks, "You’re going to help us learn." Yikes.

The "spontaneous" toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue by Iraqi civilians after the fall of Baghdad was in reality staged by a U.S. military psychological operations (PSYOPS) team. The military also got liar-for-hire civilian firms to spread covert propaganda in the Middle East, the most notable of which was the Lincoln Group. The civil-military propaganda connection is a particularly virulent aspect of the military-industrial complex.

Reservists who specialize in information warfare when in uniform often work for Pentagon-connected firms like Lincoln and the Rendon Group. Rendon assisted the U.S. military in interventions in Columbia, Haiti, Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere. Rendon also organized the Iraqi National Congress, the propaganda front group formed to encourage Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. The firm has also helped the military screen reporters requesting embed billets to determine whether their prior coverage had cast the military in a positive light.

In April 2008, David Barstow of the New York Times blew the lid off the retired military analysts (RMA) program, the subterfuge in which retired military officers serving as military analysts in the media were fed pro-war talking points by the Pentagon. The analysts were kept in line by threat of loss of access if they didn’t play ball. Most of the analysts had financial ties to military contractors who had vested interests in the policies the retired officers were praising on the air. Former Army colonel (and military analyst) Ken Allard called the RMA program "PSYOPS on steroids."

They’re Back…

The Pentagon’s unrestricted information warfare on the American public didn’t come to a halt with Donald Rumsfeld’s discommodious departure from his cabinet seat. Adm. Mike Mullen, the son of a Hollywood publicity agent, became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Mullen and the rest of the top civilian and uniformed Pentagon brass made public statements that clearly indicated they were not interested in having Barack Obama as their commander in chief. Mullen, Defense Secretary Gates, and Gen. Ray Odierno made no bones about their shock and awe at Obama’s pledge to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq 16 months after he took office. In his glossy propaganda rag, Joint Force Quarterly, Mullen wrote that troops asked him on a daily basis, "‘What if a Democrat wins? What will that do to the mission in Iraq?’" (italics Mullen’s). The article’s title, ironically enough, was "From the Chairman: Military Must Stay Apolitical." Also ironic is that since the election, the article has been removed from the JFQ Web site.

Petraeus, then commander in Iraq, staged an outdoor market shopping spree in Baghdad for Sen. John McCain, the Pentagon’s favored candidate, and a delegation of McCain’s loyal congressional followers. The goal of the campaign stunt was to prove the success of the troop surge in Iraq, a strategy that candidate McCain had endorsed. Initial media coverage parroted Rep. Mike Pence’s remark that Baghdad’s Shorja market was "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana." McCain crowed, "Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today."

Days later, word got out that Petraeus had put over 100 of his troops at risk to provide the security that made the Shorja market seem like such a jolly old lark. Mortified at once again being outed as a political humbug, Straight Talk said the escort was Petraeus’ idea, but "I’ll be glad to go back to that market with or without military protection." He never did, though.

Originally posted at

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mayor of the North Pole

News of Haiti, the Massachusetts special election, the fate of health insurance reform and of Tiger Woods checking into a rehab clinic for his sex addition is drowning out the latest developments in our war Afghanistan and Pakistan, AKA "Af-Pak," AKA "Operation Enduring Blunder."

In October 2001, U.S. Marines and other forces, who terrorism guru Richard Clarke has described as fewer in number than "cops in New York City," drove the Taliban from Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul. Shortly afterward, an interim Afghan government was set up under Hamid Karzai. The Taliban still controlled most of the country. Karzai’s influence was limited to the capital, a development that led to him being dubbed "The Mayor of Kabul."

Today, Karzai, whose government is rated as the second most corrupt regime in the world by Transparency International, doesn’t even control Kabul. He may as well be Mayor of the North Pole. President Obama, at the prodding of General Stanley McChrystal and the rest of the Long War cabal, has signed on to a major escalation and a long-term commitment to this woebegone war, a war that’s turning into a goat rope more tangled than the Mesopotamia Mistake.

Keystone Konflict

We presently have 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and 30,000 more are on the way. We have significantly beefed up our presence in that country, yet we can no longer even protect Karzai in his capital city. Dexter Filkins of The New York Times reports that on January 18 a team of seven (that’s right, seven) Taliban militants managed to detonate suicide bombs in Kabul’s Pashtunistan Square a mere 50 yards from the presidential palace. The attackers battled it out with not seven nor dozens nor scores but hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police officers and commandos, some of whom were part of "specially formed antiterrorism squads." Filkins says that "Even guards assigned to Mr. Karzai came to join the fighting; it was that close" (italics mine). Five hours after the fight began, "gunfire was still echoing through the downtown." Three soldiers and two civilians were killed, and at least 71 people were wounded, Filkins tells us.

Not all seven of the attackers were slugging it out with the commandos and specially formed antiterrorism squads. It only took five of them to hold out against hundreds of Afghan troops for hours. These would be the same sort of Afghan troops General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, wants to train up 400,000 of for the purpose of conducting counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban. One has to wonder if 400,000 will be enough.

The battle was "notable for the absence of United States soldiers," Filkins notes. One has to wonder where those 70,000 troops of ours were.

After all, at his Senate confirmation hearing in June 2009, McChrystal made a big point of saying that "protecting the people" was central to his counterinsurgency effort, and that "the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence."

Afghan Fire Drill

Ironically, once in place as commander in Afghanistan last summer, McChrystal ordered an offensive aimed at killing the enemy in their safe havens in the southern province of Helmand. And come January 18, none of his 70,000 American troops were protecting many civilians in Afghanistan’s capital.

The "overwhelming majority" of U.S. troops, Filkins tells us, "are deployed in small outposts in the countryside." Apparently McChrystal trusts Afghan troops to protect the capital but not the countryside. A lot of the U.S. troops were too busy to protect the population in Kabul because they were busy trying to finish up the offensive in Helmand Province that McChrystal began last summer. Marine Major General Richard Mills told USA Today that our troops have "taken on the Taliban, the insurgency, right in the heartland and they’ve defeated them." That probably means the Taliban refused to fight a set piece battle with a superior force and went elsewhere to attack undefended areas like they did when McChrystal started the Helmand offensive last summer.

If McChrystal’s penchant for saying one thing and doing another makes you wonder if maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing, you’re not alone. As journalist Gareth Porter has pointed out, the Pentagon sold McChrystal to the Senate as a counterinsurgency expert when in fact he was nothing of the sort. McChrystal made his bones in "King David" Petraeus’s mafia as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive commando outfit that Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker identified as an "executive assassination ring" that answered directly to Dick Cheney’s office.

At his Senate hearing, McChrystal expressed skepticism that the Taliban could be coaxed into breaking its ties with al-Qaeda, even though the Taliban announced it had broken ties with al-Qaeda the previous October. McChrystal needs to catch up. He could probably use more sleep and food, too. Defense secretary Robert Gates, a bureaucratic twit who only thinks what his generals tell him to think, also thinks reconciliation with the Taliban is unlikely. Gates thinks this despite the fact that Karzai has made repeated offers to talk directly to Taliban leader Muhammad Omar, and that Afghan leaders are considering removing Omar’s name from the UN’s list of terrorists.

Meanwhile, plans continue to reconcile with the Taliban by integrating its fighters into Karzai’s security forces. The Taliban converts will probably have to swear an oath of allegiance to Karzai, who just stole two elections to stay in power (if you can call his tenuous control of his capital city "power") and who is less legitimate as head of the Afghanistan state (if you can call Afghanistan a "state") than Omar was before we kicked him off the throne and plopped Karzai on it.

The only rationale for being in Afghanistan at all is to deny al-Qaeda a sanctuary and the only rationale for fighting the Taliban is that they’ll give al-Qaeda a sanctuary. But in early December 2009, the Taliban offered to give "legal guarantees" that that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a sanctuary for attacks on other countries. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have, so far, blown them off. That’s because in return for not letting al-Qaeda or anyone else launch attacks on other countries from Afghanistan, the Taliban want foreign occupation forces to leave. Imagine them not wanting to be occupied by foreign forces. The effrontery!

General Stanley McChrystal and rest of our military and civilian leaders in charge of the Chinese fire drill in Afghanistan are determined to continue a conflict that can’t be won in order to support a despot who can’t be reformed in order to guarantee we have a Long War that can’t be ended. We’re being led over a cliff by a hatch load of certifiable boobies, and the men in white coats with butterfly nets are nowhere in sight.

Originally posted at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The COIN Myth III: Economy of Farce

Parts I and II discussed how our counterinsurgency doctrine’s requirements for a reliable host-nation government, a reliable host-nation security force, and reliable intelligence are impossible to achieve in our present wars. The third and final part of the series focuses on the futility of counterinsurgency itself as a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

Our counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan were doomed by incompetent and corrupt host-nation governments and security forces and an inability to produce reliable intelligence about cultures we have little or no understanding of. Of even greater concern, though, is that our COIN efforts have little or nothing to do with our national security objective of protecting the homeland from terrorism.

A Case of the Creeps

"Mission creep" is the incremental expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals until the mission concludes in catastrophic failure.

The flimsy excuses we were given by the Bush/Cheney administration for the invasion of Iraq were the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program (he didn’t have one) and the not so subtle implication that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks. (He wasn’t. Among the Americans who still fall hook, line, and sinker for the 9/11 ploy is Fox News commentator and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.)

We successfully achieved the military objective of booting Hussein from power, but we failed to plan for the unintended consequences of an insurgency-style civil war that still rages almost seven years after the staged toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad. There’s every reason to expect that the Pentagon and/or Iraq’s President Nouri al-Maliki will trump up a security-related excuse to keep American troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline prescribed in the status of forces agreement. Gen. Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno, commander in Iraq, is on record – thanks to the Long War camp’s official stenographer, Thomas E. Ricks – as wanting to see a "force probably around 30,000 or so, 35,000" American troops in Iraq through 2014 or 2015.

Bush and the rest of the pro-war jackdaws justified our prolonged involvement in the Mesopotamia Mistake by proclaiming Iraq to be the "central front in the war on terror," but it was never anything of the kind. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was a bastard franchise of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda that may comprise as few as 850 full-time fighters whose importance in Iraq’s insurgency was deliberately exaggerated by the Pentagon’s propaganda directorate during the Bush administration. AQI would never have existed if we hadn’t invaded Iraq and beheaded a regime that managed to keep Iraq’s herd-of-cats society under control, and if we ever do leave Iraq, they have no interest in following us here.

One may be tempted to view our expedition to Afghanistan as being more relevant to our counterterrorism and national security aims, but one would be mistaken. The Afghanistan project has been a cluster bomb since it began in October 2001. The stated aim of Operation Enduring Freedom was to capture Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking al-Qaeda officials and destroy the entire al-Qaeda organization.

We came nowhere near achieving that end. We instead let bin Laden and his top henchmen slip away at Tora Bora (out of kindness, I suppose) and then claimed to have defeated the ruling Taliban. We seated a warlord with ties to the Afghan opium trade, Hamid Karzai, on the Afghan throne, making him, in essence, the "mayor of Kabul." His government has little to zero influence outside of Afghanistan’s capital city; the respected International Council on Security and Development in London says the Taliban have a "permanent presence" in 80 percent of the country.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, "King David" Petraeus’ anointed fellow COINdinista who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, managed to manipulate President Obama into further escalating his war in order to conduct a "well-resourced" and "classic" counterinsurgency operation as described in the field manual FM 3-24, which as we have discussed is a self-defeating doctrine infested with internal fallacies.

Economy of Farce

Our counterinsurgency doctrine, especially the way that we’ve been conducting it, bends virtually every accepted principle of warfare and tenet of operational art over the kitchen table. It especially violates the vital principles of objective and economy of force.

Our two full-bore COIN operations have not eliminated al-Qaeda as a threat to the American homeland, as the recent panty-bomber affair plainly illustrates. Our terror wars aren’t even taking place on the right chunks of real estate. Saddam Hussein had no involvement with 9/11, and the rifle-toting garage band that calls itself al-Qaeda in Iraq mainly consists of disgruntled Iraqis who have no interest in or potential for harming Americans other than the ones presently occupying their country. The 9/11 attackers were not Afghans. Fifteen of them came from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon.

Yet we’re executing nation-birthing operations in support of two of the most corrupt regimes in the world. At the rate we’re going, we’ll be changing Third World despots’ diapers for decades.

The panty bomber was supposedly trained in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, but he isn’t from Yemen, he’s from Nigeria. But lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman says Yemen is now "one of the centers of the fight" on terrorism and that "If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war," and his fellow warmongers say, "Amen, Sister Joe."

Actually, as Joe is aware, Yemen is today’s war. We’ve already deployed "trainers" (Special Ops) and intelligence gatherers (CIA) to the country, and we’ve bombed it with carrier and cruise-missile strikes. Joe and his hawk cronies apparently want a boots-on-the-ground Yemen surge to match the ones we’ve already so foolishly foisted on ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we send a significant number of troops into Yemen, we’ll get our mitts caught in the same old ringer. Yemen is nowhere as corrupt as Iraq or Afghanistan; Transparency International ranks it as the 25th most corrupt nation of 180 rated, as opposed to Afghanistan and Iraq, which are second and fifth, respectively. But Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has the same kind of insurgency problems that Hamid Karzai and Nouri al-Maliki have. He has Shi’ite and Sunni militants in the north and separatist rebels in the south.

We’ll once again be bogged down in someone else’s insurgency for the sake of denying sanctuary to a handful of Islamo-hooligans. Referring to the total strength of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi says there are "maybe" two or three hundred of them.

President Obama’s National Security Adviser James Jones admits there are fewer than 100 al-Qaeda skulking around in Afghanistan, and a senior intelligence official in Kabul estimates there are only 300 al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The 850 al-Qaeda copycats in Iraq don’t present a terror threat to America, so they don’t count if we’re really conducting a war on terror with the purpose of protecting the homeland.

The cost of our wars in Iraq in Afghanistan just topped $1 trillion. We still have in the neighborhood of 115,000 troops in Iraq, who are contributing little to the war on terrorism other than acting as recruiters for the terrorists.

Stan the Man with the plan for Afghanistan envisions an eventual escalation of forces that will include a half million U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops for the purpose of conducting a counterinsurgency campaign that may go on for decades to deny a safe haven to fewer than 400 terrorists.

Military scholars and experts disagree on what exactly the various terms used in military art mean, but nobody would suggest that what we’re doing overseas reflects economy of force.

That’s especially true when one considers that a historical analysis conducted by the RAND Corporation offers inarguable proof that military action is an impotent means of countering terrorism: policing and political solutions account for 83 percent of "victories" over terrorist groups. Military action has only been effective in 7 percent of terrorist case studies dating back to 1968.

The only way our counterinsurgency doctrine relates to economics is as a way to justify conducting endless small conflicts in support of the Pentagon’s Long War doctrine as a fuzzy excuse for maintaining a large Army in the face of economic challenges.

And the economic value of the Long War is the perfect excuse to kill health reform and education reform and Social Security and Medicare and every other "social program" in the federal budget except for the biggest social program of all: the military-industrial complex.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The COIN Myth II: Searching for Human Intelligence

Part I noted that two key requirements of our counterinsurgency doctrine – a legitimate host-nation government and a competent, trustworthy host-nation security force – will never be accomplished in Iraq or Afghanistan. Part II will illustrate the lack of reliable intelligence in our woebegone wars.

The counterinsurgency field manual that Gen. David Petraeus supposedly wrote but really didn’t says, "Counterinsurgency (COIN) is an intelligence-driven endeavor." That’s bad news for us, because our intelligence systems in both Iraq and Afghanistan can best be described as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. meets Inspector Clouseau.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) recently published a report titled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. The authors, who include Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, tell us that the intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan "is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate in."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, says, “Our senior leaders – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, Congress, the president of the United States – are not getting the right information to make decisions with."

As tragic as the incident was, one can’t help but view the suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA agents and wounded six others on Dec. 30 as a prime example of what Flynn and McChrystal are talking about. It’s been amusing listening to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough echo the latest spin from his "inside sources" at the CIA’s excuse division, inside sources who have been telling the open media the same fables they’ve been telling Joe.

It’s what they always feared, Joe says, a double agent gaining their trust and turning on them, but the narrative of the bombing changes as fast as the reasons we invaded Iraq changed during the Bush administration.

It’s not entirely clear who the bomber, a Jordanian named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was actually working for, or if he was a double agent or a triple agent or a quadruple agent or just somebody who got mad at the Americans.

When the story broke, al-Balawi was an Afghan National Army soldier who walked into a gym facility and triggered his bomb, and the Taliban were the culprits behind the plot (the Taliban took credit for the bombing).

By Jan. 4, unnamed "Western intelligence officials" had told NBC that al-Balawi was a Jordanian doctor who had been a double agent for al-Qaeda. On Jan. 5, the Associated Press reported that unnamed "terrorism officials" said al-Balawi was a "suspected Jordanian double agent."

Al-Balawi was a known al-Qaeda sympathizer who had posted numerous posts on the Web that supported the terror group, the terrorism officials said. So the Jordanians slapped the cuffs on the good doctor and locked him up, then coerced him into helping them and their CIA buddies to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man. Jordan had gotten thick with the CIA by torturing prisoners the agency had rendered into their country illegally. Now Jordanian intelligence is trying to wash its hands of the whole affair, mainly, one imagines, because al-Balawi also managed to kill his Jordanian handler Ali bin Zaid, a member of Jordan’s royal family who Jordanian intelligence claimed was involved in "humanitarian work."

One of the CIA agents killed was said to be one of the agency’s most knowledgeable experts on al-Qaeda. You’d think an al-Qaeda expert would have known al-Balawi was an open al-Qaeda sympathizer and would have insisted that he be searched upon entering the compound regardless of what a super guy the Jordanians said he was. But no.

The Keystone Kops factor in the narrative continued to snowball. On Jan. 7, Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London reported that unnamed "U.S. intelligence officials" believed the bombing was planned by Osama bin Laden’s "inner circle."

Then, lo and behold, a posthumous video showed up on Jan. 9 in which al-Balawi said the bombing was revenge for the Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in August in a CIA drone attack. In the video, al-Balawi is sitting with Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, Mehsud’s successor.

CIA director Leon Panetta has rejected charges that the bombing deaths were the result of poor tradecraft, but CIA veterans disagree. One former field officer said of the incident, "Is it bad tradecraft? Of course.”

“The tradecraft that was developed over many years is passé,” says another veteran CIA field officer. “Now it’s a military tempo where you don’t have time for validating and vetting sources. … The espionage part has become almost quaint.”

We hear from various voices in the warmongery that the bombing proves how much the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda are in cahoots, but all it proves is that we don’t have a clue what’s going on in that region and that we probably never will find truly reliable human intelligence (HUMINT) sources in that part of the world. You can count the number of people who both speak the local languages and can pass a background security check on the fingers and toes of a rattlesnake.

Lack of good HUMINT isn’t the only thing that has our intelligence agencies stymied. Spy drones flying over Afghanistan are providing more raw video information than we can keep up with. According to the New York Times, a group of "young analysts" stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and elsewhere watch every second of the live footage, but only a small fraction of the archived video has been retrieved for further analysis. The Air Force plans to add 2,500 new analysts to help handle the volume of data. One has to wonder where the Air Force plans to find 2,500 trained imagery analysts and how young they will be.

I’m willing to concede that the CIA and the rest of our intelligence apparatus in Af-Pak seem like bumblers only because their task is an impossible one. But that only serves to point out that the overall mission – counterinsurgency – is being doctrinally driven by something that’s impossible to achieve, thereby making the counterinsurgency itself a mission impossible.

In Part III: Mission creeps and economy of farce.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The COIN Myth

The U.S. military’s fabled counterinsurgency field manual (FM 3-24) is an authoritative-sounding 281-page volume of balderdash. Even the legend of its origin is a fabrication. Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of forces in Iraq and now in charge of Central Command, supposedly "wrote the book," but the book was actually hammered together from plagiarized material in 2004 by Dr. Conrad Crane and others at the Army War College.

This was during the time frame that "King David" Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, a tour during which he lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols and other combat equipment that without question wound up in the hands of militants. The part of the manual Petraeus "wrote" was his signature on the manual’s endorsement letter when he was in command of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center in 2006.

There’s nothing new in the military about generals taking credit for the hard work of underlings, of course, especially when the general in question is a fast-rising self-promotion genius like "Teflon General" Petraeus. And plagiarism is so common in military publications that it’s the norm, not the exception. Like I used to say in my active-duty days, if you really think the brass want you to think out of the box, you’re out of your mind. Military doctrine is loaded with copy-and-paste palaver that goes back decades, sometimes more than a century, reflecting the expert perspective of experts who died so long ago that nobody can tell you who they were. That way, nobody swings in the wind for having an original idea that doesn’t work out.

That’s much of the reason we nearly always execute tactics and strategies that apply to wars other than the ones we’re actually fighting. Our present counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is a perfect example. It is inadequate in many ways, but four aspects of it are particularly at odds with today’s conditions on the ground.

Bastard Stepchildren

The COIN manual states, "The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government."

We have clearly failed to meet this objective in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and we’re not likely to achieve it in either country unless we stick around with a six-digit troop presence long enough to influence the local gene pools.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-controlled government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is a catastrophe. As Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team chief Col. Timothy Reese recently noted, "The ineffectiveness and corruption of [Iraqi government] ministries is the stuff of legend." The anti-corruption campaign is a farce, nothing more than a Maliki campaign tool. Iraq’s government is failing to improve its electrical infrastructure and its oil industry. There has no progress in resolving the Kirkuk situation. Sunni militiamen are not being transitioned into government service as promised. Sunni reconciliation is "probably going backwards." Political violence and intimidation is "rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions." A recent study by Transparency International rates Iraq as the fifth most corrupt country in the world. That makes it almost as corrupt as Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the second most corrupt country in the world, surpassed in this category only by Somalia, a country that can hardly be said to have a government at all. Though Afghan President Hamid Karzai held on to power by stealing two elections, the Obama administration tripped all over itself in declaring him the "legitimate" leader of Pakistan. Karzai is a former warlord who has blood ties to the Afghan opium industry. Obama has told Karzai better clean up his act, to begin a "new chapter," but if our president really believes Karzai’s going to change, he needs to step away from the hookah.

Army Training, Sir

The COIN manual emphasizes the need to use host nation forces in a variety of roles, either as the "hold" force in a clear, hold, and build strategy; as part of a "combined force"; or as the main force supported in a "limited" degree by U.S. forces. The problem with the theory is that it assumes a certain level of competence and integrity, or at least a potential to become competent and integral, on the part of the host nation forces, virtues we see little of in the security forces of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Col. Reese notes of Iraq’s army that, "If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past." Corruption in the officer corps, he says, is "rampant," as are cronyism and nepotism. Laziness is "endemic," and lack of initiative is "legion." Reese describes the "ineffectiveness" of Iraq’s army and national police force as "near total."

Mohammed Hussein, the Iraqi head of the newsroom of the New York Times Baghdad bureau, laments, "Some will probably say that the government got rid of the sectarian violence … [but] after six years we have the same results as if there were still a sectarian war going on: Iraqis are being killed in cold blood."

Worse news: it looks like Iraq’s police and army have been infiltrated by militants. Maliki himself revealed that more than 45 members of his security forces were involved in the December Baghdad bombings that killed 112 people.

Speaking of untrustworthy, Afghan forces are a full-blown Wild West show. In a recent confrontation between Afghan and Western troops, an Afghan soldier, who was refused access to a landing pad where a helicopter was about to set down, raised his rifle and started squeezing the trigger, wounding two Italian soldiers and killing an American Army combat medic. When U.S. company commanders meet with their Afghan counterparts, they wear body armor and helmet, and an armed security detail tags along.

David Wood of Politics Daily describes numerous other accounts of Afghan forces attacking and killing or wounding U.S. and NATO forces.

When it comes to combat, the Taliban routinely kick the uniformed Afghan forces’ teeth in. The hapless Afghan army commanders complain that the police are on the Taliban’s payroll. The police and the Taliban are "from the same area" says Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahmani. "They collude with each other."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, says that mission success “will require trust-based, expanded partnering" with the Afghan army and police force.

It sounds like Stan the Man needs to step away from the hookah, too.

In Part II: The search for intelligent life in our intelligence apparatus.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Old Blackwater Keeps on Rollin'

You know about those five Blackwater guards who shot up 17 Iraqis in Sept. 2007 for no apparent reason and who recently got their case dismissed by a federal judge on a technicality? Well, the U.S, prosecutors knew their case would go down like the Hindenburg from the get go. (Blackwater has officially changed its name to "Xe" but everybody still calls it "Blackwater," so we will too.)

The prosecutors based their case on statements the Blackwater guards had made in an initial report on the massacre. As government contractors, the guards were required to make those statements. The Constitution protects defendants from having to testify against themselves, so the statements in the required report couldn’t be used in a prosecution. But the prosecution built its case around the statements anyway.

Less than two weeks after the bloodbath occurred, lawyers at the State Department cautioned that the prosecutors might be poking the pooch by basing their case on the mandatory statements. Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington, in handing down his decision to throw the case in the dumpster, said the prosecutors had failed to take "common sense precautions" to avoid the self-incrimination problem.

One can’t help but wonder if the prosecutors failed to apply common sense on purpose. The prosecution team, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl of the District of Columbia, "purposely flouted" repeated warnings of a Justice Department "taint team" not to rely on compelled statements from the guards, Judge Urbina wrote.

Kenneth Kohl worked for the Bush administration’s Justice Department, which primarily existed to define anything Dick Cheney wanted to do in Bush’s name as "legal." Blackwater founder and ex-Navy Seal Erik Prince is a wealthy, fundamentalist Christian Republican who comes from a powerful Michigan Republican family. Prince was a member of the Bush/Cheney ‘04 Organization in Arlington, Virginia, and has been a generous contributor to GOP candidates and organizations.

And five of his employees just got away with murder because of a foul up by a Bush administration Assistant U.S. Attorney that could have been easily avoided.

Spies of Fortune

Two of the seven "CIA officers" killed in Afghanistan on Dec. 30 were Blackwater contractors. The CIA considered the Blackwater mercenaries to be CIA officers. A former top CIA officer says that the agency and Blackwater have developed a "brotherly relationship" and that the mercenary group has become "an extension of the agency." One has to wonder if these spies of fortune had to take an oath of office, or if they were subject to the same rules and laws as real CIA agents. I doubt it. Mercenary security guards like the ones who just skated in federal court are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as the Baghdad slaughter case Judge Urbina just threw out clearly illustrates.

The bomber who killed the CIA folks in Afghanistan was being courted as an intelligence source, and was invited on base and was not searched. It’s both ironic and disheartening to realize that eight years and change into the Af-Pak project our intelligence apparatus there is still so broken, despite its brotherly relationship with mighty Blackwater, that seven CIA agents got blown away by someone they thought they could trust. The narrative, dictated by the CIA, originally blamed the Taliban for the bombing (the Taliban took credit for it). Later, the bomber became a "double agent," for al-Qaeda. The latest twist has the Associated Press telling us the bomber was actually working for Jordanian intelligence, that the Jordanians coerced him into trying to penetrate al-Qaeda for them. I can’t wait to see whom gets blamed next. This is starting to sound like a satiric spy novel by Graham Greene or John Le Carre, isn’t it?

In that vein, an unnamed U.S. intelligence official told news agencies that "This attack will be avenged through successful, aggressive counterterrorism operations.” Given the way our intelligence agencies have performed from the skivvy bomber affair clear back to missing the signs that Iraq was about to invade Kuwait, the vengeance for the Afghanistan bombing is likely to resemble the vengeance we took on Saddam Hussein for having nothing to do with 9/11: The CIA will hire Blackwater to fly its remote controlled zeppelin (yes, they really have one) over Yemen and carpet bomb it.

In 2004 the CIA, then headed by Porter Goss, hired Blackwater contractors as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top al-Qaeda operatives. This was the program that Dick Cheney told the CIA to withhold from Congress for seven years. Cheney told the spy agency it didn’t need to inform Congress of its activities because it already had authority to kill al-Qaeda leaders. As with so many other sins of the Bush era, Dick Cheney had no legal or constitutional authority to make this kind of decision or issue orders to the CIA. The vice president is president of the Senate, and that’s all, folks. He doesn’t even get to vote on legislation unless there’s a tie.

The story on this program gets fuzzy. Leon Panetta, current director of the CIA, supposedly canceled the program before he told Congress in June that it had ever existed.

Blackwater supposedly contributed planning, training, and surveillance to the program, and in August 2009 the New York Times reported that the program never really got underway because of "logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles."

Pavlov’s Dog of War

Current and former CIA officials told the NYT in August that the spy agency did not issue Blackwater employees with a "license to kill," but hired it merely to collect intelligence, carry out surveillance, and train for "possible missions."

But lo and behold, a Dec. 10, 2009 Los Angeles Times article reported that "Staffers with [Blackwater] sometimes operated side-by-side with CIA field officers in Iraq and Afghanistan on missions to kill or capture insurgents, according to a former government official and a source familiar with the operations."

A Dec. 11 piece in the New York Times reported that Blackwater personnel participated in so called "snatch and grab" operations and provided security for extraordinary rendition flights.

A former senior Blackwater executive confirmed to The Nation in Nov. 2009 that Blackwater also provides personnel to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the assassination squad formerly commanded by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and that reported directly to Cheney’s office.

A January 2010 Vanity Fair article on Eric Prince was even more revealing. For the past six years, Prince has been leading a double life: one as Blackwater’s CEO and chairman who raked in more than $1.5 billion in government contracts from 2001 to 2009, the other as a CIA asset, "helping to craft, fund, and execute operations ranging from inserting personnel into ‘denied areas’ — places U.S. intelligence has trouble penetrating — to assembling hit teams targeting al-Qaeda members and their allies."

Blackwater also hires former special-forces commandos and CIA agents. As Vanity Fair author Adam Ciralsky puts it, to get his "jobs done — protecting, defending, and killing, if required — Prince has had to employ the services of some decorated vets as well as some ruthless types, snipers and spies among them."

Blackwater represents the very worst of what Dwight Eisenhower warned would become the "unwarranted influence" of the military-industrial complex. Prince hires former government operators to fill contracts to do work for the government that they would have done on active duty for less pay. Oh yeah, and Prince is a GOP big shot who contributes a lot of money to the party and its candidates and is himself a vetted CIA asset. Interests don’t get any more conflicted than that.

To make things even more frightening, Prince is said to be a Gordon Liddy-class right-wing nutcase. On top of that, in August, two former Blackwater employees filed sworn statements in federal court connecting Prince to behavior ticks that range from illegal-arms sales to wife swapping to murder.

It may well be that America — the country that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined — can no longer wage the kinds of wars we’re now fighting without the help of Prince and his crew and their type. As former chief of staff to Colin Powell Lawrence Wilkerson says, "We’ve outsourced nearly everything." On the use of mercenary Special Forces and covert intelligence operators, Lawrence says. "Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around [congressional] constraints." Use of mercenary outfits like Blackwater provides "plausible deniability" to the military and intelligence agencies for deeds they aren’t supposed to be doing.

Adding to that deniability, much of Blackwater’s efforts were financed "off the books." Prince provided the funds up front and the government reimbursed him later. Further distancing government troops and agents from dirty deeds, Blackwater operatives performed on an "ad hoc" basis in roles not specified in their contracts. (One of Blackwater’s favorite non-denials, as delivered by spokesmodel Mark Corallo, goes, "Blackwater was never under contract to participate in covert raids with CIA or Special Forces troops in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else." So the legal and moral standard has become that we can’t hold a contractor responsible for anything it did that it didn’t do under contract, I guess.

If we need the likes of Prince to fight our wars, it’s time we took a hard look at why we’re fighting the kinds of wars that require the likes of Prince before what’s left of our national soul vanishes like a wet wicked witch.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Next Quagmire

Non-G.I. Joe Lieberman, Dick Cheney’s fellow Vietnam-era draft dodger turned warmonger, said on the Dec. 27 edition of Fox News Sunday that "Yemen is now one of the centers of that fight." It’s difficult to tell from reading the transcript of the interview between Joe and Chris Wallace what exactly Joe means by "that fight." Does he mean the fight against al-Qaeda, or the fight the military-industrial-congressional complex is waging to ensure that we have a Long War of 50 years’ duration or more?

"If we don’t act preemptively," Joe warned, "Yemen will be tomorrow’s war. That’s the danger we face." Yet, as Joe acknowledged, we already have a "growing presence" in Yemen: "Special Operations, Green Berets, intelligence [i.e., CIA]." We have also carried out carrier-based and cruise missile air strikes on Yemen, so Joe obviously has something more robust in mind, like a Yemen surge.

The U.S. Army, including its head honcho, "King David" Petraeus, will be all in favor of that. What better excuse to make the Army an even bigger force than we’re already making it by entangling ourselves in another boots-on-the-ground quagmire we can never extract ourselves from?

"Conservative of the Year" Dick Cheney accused the Obama administration of "trying to pretend we’re not at war." I think it’s safe to say that the Obama administration is well aware that we’re at war – two wars, in fact, that the Cheney administration stumbled into, couldn’t win, and kept going long enough to dump into their Democratic successors’ laps.

If you treat Pakistan as a separate country from Afghanistan, like the rest of the world does, we’re in three wars. We’re in four if you consider what we’re already up to in Yemen, five if you tack on the villages we’ve blown the smithereens out of in Somalia. And if you count our involvement of one sort or other in every whack-a-do the Israelis pull, you’ll lose count of how many wars we’re in.

If we surge in Yemen, we’ll have to conduct counterinsurgency operations, of course, because that’s what takes the most troops and the most time and costs the most money and has the least effect on the supposed objective of disrupting international terrorist networks.

Lieberman says we have a good relationship with the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has in essence been president of Yemen since 1978. Some say Saleh played a role in the plot to assassinate the previous president, Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who in turn was leader of a coup that overthrew the regime of President Abdul Rahman al-Iryani in 1974. So Saleh is just the kind of enlightened guy we want to cuddle up with.

Joe apparently thinks our "good relationship" with Saleh is a portent of successful escalated military operations in Yemen. Joe must have forgotten the great relationship we’ve had with Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, who just stole two elections and who runs the second most corrupt country in the world. The most corrupt country is Somalia, which doesn’t actually have a government at all but which is another country Bill Kristol and the neocons want to invade. What better place to nation-build than in a country that isn’t a nation?

We were sleeping-bag buds with Gen. Perez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president and virtual military dictator, until he stepped down in the face of impeachment charges in 2008. We were cordial with the follow-on president, Asif Ali Zardari, until Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani stripped Zardari of his powers and reestablished the military as Pakistan’s permanent ruling establishment. As recently as July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ruled out the possibility of a military government coming back into power in Pakistan. Now that Zardari is facing criminal charges and is little more than a figurehead, Hillary appears to be cutting dope deals with Kayani.

We were thick as thieves with Saddam Hussein for decades and backed him during the nearly nine-year long Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), even after one of his jets destroyed the USS Stark with two Exocet missiles.

Yemen’s Saleh, no matter how far he lets us run our hand up his thigh, has a tentative hold on his country. He has Shi’ite and Sunni rebels in the north, separatists in the south, and, of course, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who may or may not be operating in connection to Osama bin Laden’s al -Qaeda, the one we’re supposedly fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However AQAP is or isn’t related to bin Laden’s bunch, it’s the least of Saleh’s worries. There are "maybe hundreds of them" says Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, "200, 300…."

For the sake of going after two or three hundred Islamo-fabulists who brag about failed terror attempts like the one where the rich Nigerian kid’s underpants failed to blow up on an airplane bound for Detroit, lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman and his fellow Long Warriors in Congress and the Pentagon would like to stick American troops in the middle of another civil war we won’t be able to dig them out of for many, many years.

And then, to paraphrase Howard Dean, it’s on to Nigeria, and Somalia, and we’re going to Sudan, and Ethiopia, and Eritrea, and Syria, and then on to Lebanon, and then all the way to Iran…Yahoo!

Historical analysis shows that military action is by far the least effective means of combating terrorism, the most effective solutions being policing and political action. In July 2008, analysts at the RAND Corporation recommended that we "minimize the use of military force" in our efforts against terrorism, and that the most effective way to counter terrorism is with "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all."

Yet we continue to enlarge our military footprint throughout the Muslim world, a course of action that produces more new terrorists – like the rich kid with the skivvy bomb that didn’t go off – than it captures or kills. Of course, there’s no better way to sustain a Long War than by making your enemies multiply.

In his weekly Saturday radio address on Jan. 2, Obama vowed retribution against al-Qaeda for the Christmas bombing attempt.

Anything to get Dick Cheney off his back, I guess.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.