American Spartan

THE PROMISE, THE MISSION, AND THE BETRAYAL

OF SPECIAL FORCES MAJOR JIM GANT

by Ann Scott Tyson

copyright 2014

( excerpts as book review )

~

Jim fell hard for the desert civilization code and its ethos of Pashtunwali in 2003, while living with the Mohmand tribe and fighting the Taliban alongside them in Konar Province.  He related to their warrior creed as parallel to the life he’d embraced himself as a Green Beret and one he preached to lead his small band of men into battle.  It resonated with the ancient laws abided by the obedient three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae in 480 BCE.  Honor, strength, and loyalty were not empty platitudes to Afghanistan’s tribes; they were as important to tribal members as were water and wheat.  As important as they were to Jim.  As important as Jim assumed they were to the U.S. military establishment.

In 2010, as Jim prepared to return to Afghanistan, he increasingly realized that the only way to stabilize the country was to empower the desert civilizations, the Pashtuns still living in the rugged lands bordering and inside Pakistan.  It was the pursuit of this honor, through physical courage and battling a common enemy, that Jim believed would allow him to become close to the Pashtuns.  To ally with these proud fighters, to befriend them and help them recover their economies while also giving them the power to defend themselves, would not only take the fight to the Taiban but also draw disgruntled Taliban foot soldiers back to their villages…

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Jim viewed the Taliban’s top leaders ~ Islamic extremists such as the one-eyed Mullah Omar ~ as championing a dogmatic, tyrannical movement that by its very nature threatened to dismantle the millennia-old rule by tribal elders.  If the U.S. military were to convincingly help village elders take back their clans, defend their honor and traditions, and return their tribes to the authority of these egalitarian peer councils, the Taliban would be hollowed out and ultimately destroyed.  The men who left the villages to join the Taliban in the turmoil of the civil wars would come back and take their rightful places inside their tribes.  With no foot soldiers, the Taliban would lose power.  The best way to empower the rough-hewn tribes, Jim believed, was with small teams of Special Forces such as his ODA 316, living among them one warrior to another.  Once one tribe was secure, the team would leave and knock on the qalat of the tribe next door and start all over.  It required little manpower or money, but could help Afghanistan begin to change from a war-torn terrorist haven to a more stable U.S. ally…

~

“Why are you Americans here in Afghanistan?” he asked.

“Our country was attacked.  We came here to fight the Taliban and others responsible for this,” Jim replied.  Then he pulled out a laptop and showed Noor Afzhal video footage of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground on September 11.  “My men and I are warriors.  But we are not here to fight you,” Jim said.  “We want to help you.”

Noor Afzhal was visibly moved.  He was silent for a moment, and took a sip of tea.  Then he spoke again to the young American.  “If you can come all the way to Afghanistan from the United States to help us, then why should I not help you?” Noor Afzhal said.  “We don’t want the Taliban here.”  …

~

“If they were doing this all over Afghanistan, the war would be over,” said Drew, the machine gunner.  “This works.  It’s something you have to see to believe.  It’s a different kind of warfare.  Sometimes you use bombs and bullets, and sometimes you need another method ~ relationships.”  …

~

Petraeus had championed the initiative at the top levels of the U.S. and Afghan governments for the past year and a half.  The program had taken off rapidly since Petraeus and his subordinate commanders, Brig. Gen. Miller and Col. Bolduc, launched it in the summer of 2010.  With the U.S. military initially choosing the locations, distributing the weapons, and controlling the pay, U.S. Special Forces teams quickly recruited, armed, and trained thousands of local police around the country by early 2011…

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Hard-core insurgent commander Maulawi Basir… was associated with the strict and violent Salafist strain of Islam…

~

The tribe’s influence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border held major appeal for Jim.  One of the primary goals of his one-tribe-at-a-time strategy was to leverage the tribes to help uproot the insurgent safe havens in Pakistan that were vital to sustaining the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan.  The Mohmand, Safi, and Mushwani tribes all had large populations on either side of the border…

~

But his main message, driven home by his deepening ties with the Safi and Mushwani leaders, was that the tribes held the only key to victory.  He knew it, and the Taliban knew it…

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Often families contained some adult males who were serving in the Taliban and others who worked for the government…

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Afghans living in the high rugged valleys were isolated from the settled towns below.  With no forces to protect them, they had little choice but to provide Taliban fighters with food, water, shelter, and refuge if they needed it, or face beatings or other retribution, and Jalil’s family was no different…

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“When I am up in the Shalay, they say I am working for the government.  When I am down here, they say I am Taliban!” Jalil fumed.  “I just want my family to live safely with no one bothering us.” …

~

Buried in the fine print was an abrupt change of mission for Jim’s team:  Tribe 33 was to close down its base in Mangwel no later than January 15, 2012…

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It described the move as part of the overarching U.S. military transition to the Afghan government and security forces in preparation for the withdrawal of most American forces by 2014…

~

We agreed that as a strategy, pulling out of the Mohmand tribal area and leaving behind the Afghans who had most steadfastly supported the arbakai program from the very first ~ when the risk was greatest ~ made no sense.  It reflected a catastrophic misunderstanding of the importance of the hard-won relationship with the tribe and the advantages of maintaining that tie.  The Mohmands and Manqwel had set the example that other areas and tribes wanted to follow.  The arbakai in Mangwel and the rest of the district were the most powerful security force in the area.  Jim’s bond with the tribe was what created the potential for expanding the arbakai into other areas and winning over former Taliban.  Reaping those benefits required a long-term commitment.   He knew he could not remain in Mangwel forever, but his team had been in the village just ten months.

Jim and I worked together on a memo that urged Wilson to postpone shutting down the Mangwel base, arguing that it could undermine security in the area and pointing out that the district government was ineffective and corrupt…

~

The Safis had dominated the oft-contested Konar Province for centuries.  An uncompromising and war-driven tribe, they were at the center of the last major tribal uprising against the central government in 1947, the first to fight the Soviets in the Konar in the 1980s and the first to stand up to the Taliban there in the 1990s.  It had taken years, dating back to 2003, for Jim to build his relationship with the Safi elder, Haji Jan Dahd…

~

The U.S. command could not have devised a better way to sabotage the Chowkay mission and alliance with the Safi tribe than by pulling Jim out in this way…

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“They can think whatever they want,” Dan said of his commanders.  “But you know, and I know, and the people we worked with know, we have been honest with our country and tried our level best to win this war that has gone on for eleven years…”

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Linn advised Jim again of the allegations against him: alcohol and drug use, misappropriation of fuel, misuse of government funds, and an inapropriate relationship with me…

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In April, Jim obtained a copy of Lt. Col. Kirila’s complete Article 15-6 investigation into the alleged misconduct by him, Dan, and the rest of his team…

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The investigation contained facts but also many false or inaccurate statements.  It recognized the achievements of Jim and his team, but also created a sensationalized, tabloid picture of Jim’s misdeeds…

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As charges mounted against Jim, Dan and others who had served under him were being drawn into a widening witch hunt by the command in Afghanistan…

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1st Lt. Thomas Roberts… meanwhile, was hailed by the chain of command as a whistle-blower and paragon of moral courage…

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We learned that the qalat in Chowkay had been abandoned by Capt. Fleming and his team about a month after Jim and Dan were pulled out.  After the team alienated the arbakai, who in turn stopped manning the observation points in the high ground, Taliban attacks intensified again on the qalat.  The team lost critical intelligence on the Taliban that Jim had gained through his relationships with arbakai commander Sadiq and others.  Fleming decided occupying the qalat was untenable, and blamed it on Jim by claiming it was in a poor location…

~

One of the documents, found in bin Laden’s quarters, was an English copy of Jim’s paper, “One Tribe at a Time,” with notes in the margins…

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Another document uncovered was a directive from Osama bin Laden to his intelligence chief.  The directive mentioned Jim by name, and said he was an impediment to Al Qaeda’s operational objectives for eastern Afghanistan and needed to be removed from the battlefield…

~

editor

Rawclyde

!

Sheena Time!

~

Whad-a-ya do with a girl like Sheena Johnson?

Kills her dad, loves her mom, makes a bomb

Throws it thru the door of the boy’s locker room

Number one in class, will kick your ass

~

Whad-a-ya do with a girl like that?

I’m living next door, doing a chore

Suddenly there she is in the driveway

Wearing a shredded washrag, calling me a fuckin’ fag

~

My God, what am I supposed to do?

Here’s the girl next door making me her bottom floor

I’m working hard to be to be to be a man

She laughs & dares me to jump outta the frying pan

~

The towers collapse in two-thousand-&-one

There’s Sheena standing there ~ the daughter of a machine gun

Stands there in my driveway as if the Princess of Mars

Enlists in the army & I follow, my eyes full of stars!

~

Afghaneeland

~

Love Story

~~~

Inside Edition

July 1, 2014

~~~

Major Jim Gant was a genuine American hero, a decorated Green Beret. He first met Ann Scott Tyson in Washington, where she was a reporter for one of the nation’s most respected newspapers ~ The Washington Post.

Gant told Inside Edition, “I asked her out to dinner six times before she said ‘Yes.’”

It took just a week for her to know, saying, “When you fall in love with someone, it’s not really a choice you make.”

His timing couldn’t have been worse. Gant was soon deployed to Afghanistan. He grew a beard and adopted traditional Afghan clothing and lived like an Afghan, fighting the Taliban. He was even dubbed, “Lawrence of Afghanistan,” much like that legendary hero of World War I, Lawrence of Arabia.

Gant said, “I studied him and have much admiration and respect for what he did. When people talk about me with the T.E. Lawrence, I’m very honored and humbled.”

For an entire year the major lived in a remote village, commanding a Special Forces unit known as the Spartans, and by his side was the woman he wooed back in Washington—Ann Scott Tyson.

Inside Edition’s April Woodard asked, “Did you break some rules to get Ann there?”

He replied, “I broke a whole lot of rules. There were a lot of rules broke. Vast majority of them was to move the mission forward.”

Remarkable as it seems, she was determined to follow her heart and be with the man she loved. She even lived like an Afghan woman.

She said, “I wore Afghan clothing. I kept my head covered. I wore very baggy clothes.”

Danger was everywhere. Tyson displayed combat courage of her own by going along on missions and filming fierce firefights up close.

She said, “We were in one of the most dangerous provinces of Afghanistan. There are images in my mind that will never go away.”

She even bears a tattoo of the Spartan unit. “I am the only woman who has one,” she said.

~~~

~~~

But their strange world of love and war came crashing down when Major Gant’s commanders discovered their romance.

Gant said, “Everything I was as a person, a commander, a Special Forces soldier—it was over in the blink of an eye.”

Instead of Lawrence of Arabia, some started comparing him to the delusional Colonel Kurtz from the Vietnam-era film Apocalypse Now.

He said, “Kurtz references have always been amusing to me.”

Gant was demoted to Captain. He was stripped of his Special Forces honors, and asked to leave the Army.

She said, “They had been doing things, questioning all sorts of decisions. It wouldn’t have taken a whole lot of an excuse to pull him out. That is essentially what happened.”

In the midst of war, this couple found love. Now, in peace, they are finally married.

“Neither of us were looking for a relationship. Neither of us were expecting to fall in love,” she said.

~~~

Ann Tyson & Jim Gant in television interview

~~~

The Washington Post
Jim Gant, the Green Beret
who could win the war in Afghanistan

by Ann Scott Tyson / January 17, 2010

~~~

It was the spring of 2003, and Capt. Jim Gant and his Special Forces team had just fought their way out of an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan’s Konar province when they heard there was trouble in the nearby village of Mangwel. There, Gant had a conversation with a tribal chief — a chance encounter that would redefine his mission in Afghanistan and that, more than six years later, could help salvage the faltering U.S. war effort.

Malik Noorafzhal, an 80-year-old tribal leader, told Gant that he had never spoken to an American before and asked why U.S. troops were in his country. Gant, whose only orders upon arriving in Afghanistan days earlier had been to “kill and capture anti-coalition members,” responded by pulling out his laptop and showing Noorafzhal a video of the World Trade Center towers crumbling.

That sparked hours of conversation between the intense 35-year-old Green Beret and the elder in a tribe of 10,000. “I spent a lot of time just listening,” Gant said. “I spoke only when I thought I understood what had been said.”

In an unusual and unauthorized pact, Gant and his men were soon fighting alongside tribesmen in local disputes and against insurgents, at the same time learning ancient tribal codes of honor, loyalty and revenge — codes that often conflicted with the sharia law that the insurgents sought to impose. But the U.S. military had no plans to leverage the Pashtun tribal networks against the insurgents, so Gant kept his alliances quiet.

No longer. In recent months, Gant, now a major, has won praise at the highest levels for his effort to radically deepen the U.S. military’s involvement with Afghan tribes — and is being sent back to Afghanistan to do just that. His 45-page paper, “One Tribe at a Time,” published online last fall and circulating widely within the U.S. military, the Pentagon and Congress, lays out a strategy focused on empowering Afghanistan’s ancient tribal system. Gant believes that with the central government still weak and corrupt, the tribes are the only enduring source of local authority and security in the country.

“We will be totally unable to protect the ‘civilians’ in the rural areas of Afghanistan until we partner with the tribes for the long haul,” Gant wrote.

A decorated war veteran and Pashto speaker with multiple tours in Afghanistan, Gant had been assigned by the Army to deploy to Iraq in November. But with senior military and civilian leaders — including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command — expressing support for Gant’s views, he was ordered instead to return to Afghanistan later this year to work on tribal issues.

“Maj. Jim Gant’s paper is very impressive — so impressive, in fact, that I shared it widely,” Petraeus said, while McChrystal distributed it to all commanders in Afghanistan. One senior military official went so far as to call Gant “Lawrence of Afghanistan.”

The abrupt about-face surprised the blunt-spoken major. “I couldn’t believe it,” Gant said in a recent interview, recalling how his orders were canceled just days before he was set to deploy to Iraq. “How do I know they are serious? They contacted me. I am not a very nice guy. I lead men in combat. I am not a Harvard guy. You don’t want me on your think tank.”

Gant, who sports tattoos on his right arm featuring Achilles and the Chinese characters for “fear no man,” is clearly comfortable with the raw violence that is part of his job. An aggressive officer, he is known to carry triple the ammunition required for his missions. (One fellow soldier referred to this habit as a “Gantism.”) But he is equally at ease playing for hours with Afghan children or walking hand-in-hand with tribesmen, as is their custom.

As a teenager in Las Cruces, N.M., Gant was headed to college on a basketball scholarship and had no plans to join the military until he read Robin Moore’s 1965 fictionalized account of Special Forces actions in Vietnam. Captivated by the unique type of soldier who waged war with indigenous fighters, Gant decided to become a Green Beret and scheduled an appointment with his father, a middle school principal, to break the news.

Enlisting in the Army soon after his high school graduation, Gant became a Special Forces communications sergeant and fought in the Persian Gulf War. Later, as a captain, he served combat tours in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and one in Iraq during the height of the violence there in 2006 and 2007.

Intellectually, Gant is driven by a belief that Special Forces soldiers should immerse themselves in the culture of foreign fighters, as British officer T.E. Lawrence did during the 1916-1918 Arab revolt. In Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, Gant relied on his Special Forces training to build close bonds with local fighters, often trusting them with his life.

In Iraq in December 2006, a roadside bomb flipped over Gant’s Humvee twice and left it engulfed in flames, with him pinned inside. Members of the Iraqi National Police battalion that Gant was advising pulled him out. Soon afterward, Gant led those same police in fighting their way out of a complex insurgent ambush near the city of Balad, saving the lives of two policemen and an Iraqi girl while under heavy fire, and deliberately driving his Humvee over two roadside bombs to protect the police riding in unarmored trucks behind him.

Gant earned a Silver Star for his bravery, but he remembers most the goat sacrifice the police held for him that day. “We had just won a great battle. We had several [police] commandos there, with several goats, and they were putting their hands in the blood, and putting their handprints all over us and on the vehicles,” Gant recalled in a 2007 interview. He felt both strange and honored. “It’s something I will never forget,” he said.

Under Gant’s plan, small “tribal engagement teams,” each made up of six culturally astute and battle-tested Special Forces soldiers, would essentially go native, moving into villages with rifles, ammunition and money to empower tribal leaders to improve security in their area and fight insurgents. The teams would always operate with the tribes, reducing the risk of roadside bombs and civilian casualties from airstrikes.

The U.S. military would have to grant the teams the leeway to grow beards and wear local garb, and enough autonomy in the chain of command to make rapid decisions. Most important, to build relationships, the military would have to commit one or two teams to working with the same tribe for three to five years, Gant said.

Such a strategy, he argues, would bolster McChrystal’s counterinsurgency campaign by tapping thousands of tribal fighters to secure rural populations, allowing international troops and official Afghan forces to focus on large towns and cities. Building strong partnerships with the tribes, whose domains straddle Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, could also prove critical to defeating insurgents entrenched in Pakistan’s western tribal areas, he contends.

Adm. Eric Olson, who leads the 57,000-strong Special Operations Command, said in the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly that Gant’s proposal is “innovative and bold” and likely to have “strategic effects.” And in recent congressional testimony, Gates agreed that the U.S. military should step up cooperation with Afghan tribes, saying many security responsibilities are likely to fall on them rather than the Afghan army or police force.

Thorough intelligence analysis should drive the selection of the tribes, Gant said, noting that the U.S. military has already gathered much of the intelligence. “There are 500-page documents breaking these tribes down. You would be shocked how much we know about who is who,” he said.

Gant’s proposals go well beyond the more cautious tribal-outreach efforts underway in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is experimenting with neighborhood-watch-type programs such as the Community Defense Initiative, in which Special Forces teams partner with tribes selected by an Afghan minister. With time running out, Gant believes tribal engagement must be bolder. “We are trying not to lose, not trying to win,” he said. (Gant’s experiences helped shape the CDI effort, and he is currently preparing to return to Afghanistan to implement his vision, according to a senior military official.)

Still, Gant acknowledges that his strategy has risks. The teams would depend on the tribes for their safety. “American soldiers would die. Some of them alone, with no support. Some may simply disappear,” he wrote in his paper on the strategy. Another possibility is that intertribal conflict would break out between two or more U.S.-backed tribes. “Could it happen? Yes. Could it cause mission failure? Yes. Could we have to pick sides for our own safety? Yes,” Gant said. But he believes that if American advisers forge strong ties with the tribes, the chances of such conflicts can be minimized.

Gant’s greatest fear is that the United States will lack the fortitude to back the tribes for the long haul, eventually abandoning them. He, for one, plans to stick with his tribe in Afghanistan, at least to fulfill a personal promise to return to Konar province to see elder Malik Noorafzhal, now 86.

“I am not here to imply that I think I could win the war in Afghanistan if put in charge,” Gant wrote in his paper. “. . . I just know what I have done and what I could do again, if given the chance.”  

~~~

Maj. Gant & Afghanistan children

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One Tribe At A Time

by Maj. Jim Gant

http://www.stevenpressfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/one_tribe_at_a_time_ed2.pdf

~~~

To Thwart The Jihadist Insurgents

I would love to see Sufism in Afghanistan & Hinduism in India get a choke hold on the Wahhabi Movement in Pakistan & kill it.  Peace would be more likely in the region.  This is what I would most cherish after researching, reporting on, and poetically allying myself with Afghanistan for about a year now.

Most of the Christians out of the United States & Europe are getting out of the way & going home.  The Afghan National Army & Police & citizens of Afghanistan stay.  They stay & fight for their freedom & fledgling democracy.  They fight the Wahhabi-tainted & intolerant Taliban.  What’s going to take place in Afghanistan now will be, to say the very least, interesting ~ and, alas, bloody.

The religious connotations of the ongoing Afghanistan War, I believe, cannot be denied.  I believe matters of spirituality cannot be denied anywhere.  But I’ve never been to war as an individual, just a citizen of a nation gone to war.  Being an American, this is a common thing for my countrymen & me.

It will be nice ~ when the Taliban succumb to the efforts for peace & become monks somewhat like they were originally.  I’m sure most people don’t believe this will happen.  But I pray.

Old Timer Chronicle II, this blog, has been covering the Afghanistan War for a wee bit more than a year, from September, 2013, to October, 2014. Some research of the war’s earlier years has been included.  Sufism, a version of Islam popular amongst Afghans, is explored & Hinduism, out of India, is touched upon.  Some of St. Paul’s work represents Christianity on this blog.  Wahhabism, a blood-thirsty perversion of Islam,  can be explored on a link or two.  My favorite TV news commentators, Alex Wagner & Harris Faulkner, dropped by a few times via my shenanigans.

Today Old Timer Chronicle II has 90 subscribers.  It was removed from the wordpress.com forum some time ago.  By whom?  Why?  Maybe the NSA is doing its job protecting U.S. citizens, like myself, from blood-letting Jihadists.

Also, I wrote a narrative verse that consists of forty episodes entitled “Afghaneeland” in this issue of the Old Timer.  I’ve promoted it as Afghanistan’s new Iliad.  That makes me the Homer of Afghanistan.  Ain’t that somethin’?  I’ve never been there.

Among the characters that evolved out of my poetical efforts on this blog, thrives the young Afghan woman, Mamoodia.  She’s an idealistic, unrealistic, but promising, beautiful character, evolved out of Nuristan province.  Now she endures in the world of literature ~ to thwart unscrupulous Taliban ~ forever!

~

Young Afghan Mamoodia pulls an arrow out of her quiver

 ~

https://oldtimerchronicle2.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/a-new-breed-in-the-village

~

Yours truly

Rawclyde

!

How will Taliban Respond to Elections?

Tali
~~~
by Thomas Omestad
U.S. Institute of Peace
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
~~~

As Afghanistan moves toward April 5 elections for president and provincial councils, key questions loom: Among them, just what will the Taliban do to disrupt or distort that nation’s exercise in democratically selecting its leadership, and what might those efforts accomplish?

Two Peace Briefs recently published by the Institute lay out contrasting takes on those questions. Yet taken together, they illuminate an urgent issue that is shrouded by several factors: rapidly evolving circumstances, the internal complexity of the Taliban and the sheer opacity of its decision-making and follow-through. These two pieces offer much for anyone trying to understand Afghanistan’s internal conflict at a critical moment in its history.

U.S. and allied governments are focused on the April political contests as a vital opportunity for the Afghan government to demonstrate its legitimacy as the presidency of Hamid Karzai ends and as foreign military forces fighting alongside the Afghan Army prepare to withdraw. It is to be the first democratic transfer of power from one Afghan president to another, and relative success could provide a boost to the country’s stability as the United States and others end combat operations and Afghan forces take on full security responsibilities.

If Afghanistan can overcome logistical challenges, possible attempts at vote manipulation and Taliban threats and still run generally credible and transparent elections, then the government’s standing among Afghans will be strengthened, as will its position in future peace talks with the Taliban, should they happen.

The general Taliban line has been that elections cannot be allowed as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan and that the United States, in particular, will have a dominant hand in shaping the outcome.

Indications of the violence to come have appeared even two months before the polls open. On February 1, two members of the campaign team of former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates to succeed Karzai, were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the city of Herat.

“The attack came at a critical moment for Afghanistan on the eve of the election campaign,” said a statement issued by United Nations Special Representative Jan Kubis. “This cowardly action constitutes a violent intimidation of electoral candidates and their supporters, and cannot be tolerated.” Kubis called for heightened vigilance in the weeks before the elections and for efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The USIP Peace Briefs, in differing ways, anticipate moves by at least parts of the Taliban to launch violent, election-related attacks.

In the first paper, “Electoral Offensive: Taliban Planning for Afghanistan’s 2014 National Elections,” authors Antonio Giustozzi and Casey Garret Johnson note that “the Taliban have more resources and are better organized to disrupt Afghanistan’s 2014 national elections than was the case in any of the country’s last four elections. Still, there are disagreements between insurgent leaders about carrying out a campaign of violence and intimidation.”

Giustozzi, an independent researcher and expert on the Taliban who is associated with King’s College London, and Johnson, a senior program officer at USIP, offer a fascinating glimpse into Taliban thinking on the election that is based on more than 50 interviews last spring with Taliban foot soldiers, subcommanders and leaders. What they reveal is more internal disagreement—suggestive of widely varying levels of anti-election activity—than might be expected.

One group of Taliban led by Akhtar Mansur and tied to the Quetta Shura leaned toward a more conciliatory approach, at least for a period of time, Giustozzi and Johnson say. Some Taliban even met with Afghan government figures “to discuss allowing the polls to go forward.” However, disrupting the election is favored by Taliban military commander Zakir and the Peshawar Shura, the authors say. Their research indicates that the Peshawar group is more unified in its stand against elections and better funded.

The Taliban have created a network of so-called “electoral commissions” in part to convince influential elders not to vote in elections. However, in at least some areas, Taliban operatives bought rather than destroyed voters’ cards, copied them and returned them to elders with instructions to wait for orders, according to the Giustozzi-Johnson paper. That leaves at least the possibility that Taliban in some areas will seek to influence instead of undermine elections.

Adding further uncertainty, fighters in some areas might cut local deals with candidates or power brokers in which the Taliban refrain from election attacks. That sort of bargaining has occurred in past elections, they say.

In general, “the prospect of disruption is particularly worrying because Taliban influence is greatest in the Pashtun south and east. The suppression of turnout in Pashtun areas could lead to an indefinite suspension of the polls or an outcome seen as illegitimate by those unable to vote,” the authors say. Attributing attacks to particular Taliban factions will also be difficult, in practice.

The second Peace Brief, “The Taliban’s View of the 2014 Elections,” observes that the Taliban publicly reject the legitimacy of the elections and have ordered their disruption—but have also “left field commanders with wide discretion on how to go about doing so.”

This piece is written by Michael Semple, a visiting professor and conflict specialist at Queen’s University Belfast, and draws on interviews with Taliban conducted between November and January.

Semple concludes that within the Taliban there is “no scope for any faction to cooperate” with the election process, though many follow the political races and comment on them in ways similar to the political class in Kabul. And, he argues, whatever intensity of violence emerges prior to the election, it is unlikely to “derail the overall process.”

The Taliban movement is hierarchical, with Mullah Omar retaining supreme authority. At all levels, Semple notes, Taliban say they are “boycotting” the elections.

But counter to the hierarchical tendency, the movement also functions like “a fraternity [which] means that local commanders and officials can use a high degree of discretion in choosing how they will conduct this opposition [to the elections],” Semple explains. That flexibility, or variation, in how the contests are opposed is a point of agreement with Giustozzi and Johnson. This aspect of Taliban structure will mean significant uncertainty about the scope of anti-election activity, probably up to the last moment.

Indeed, Semple says that some Taliban field commanders in eastern Afghanistan “expressed dissent” about general guidance to proceed with disrupting the elections, reportedly because they depend upon “maintaining local popular consent” to operate in some areas and attacks on civilians would undermine that. At the same time, in some provinces such as Ghazni, Afghan media have described cases of Taliban targeting civilians who have registered to vote. Such violence, Semple says, did not succeed in derailing the national voter registration campaign, in which 3.4 million additional cards were handed out last year.

He also refers to “rifts between pragmatists and hardliners” within the movement over whether to plan attacks on provincial council candidates.

Semple suggests that a 25 percent rise in violent incidents during the election period over what would have happened anyway is a “realistic” expectation. “Groups in the provinces will carry out more attacks than they would have otherwise, but the increase in violence will be less dramatic and widespread than hoped for by Taliban hardliners or predicted by their propagandists,” Semple writes.

Voting would likely be reduced in the rural south, southeast and east and generally in Pashtun areas, where the Taliban has more influence.

Semple believes that “the most significant impact of Taliban pressure” ultimately may not be the mayhem they unleash but rather the opportunities for electoral fraud they creates. How? The threat of Taliban attacks “will help create a category of stations which are difficult to monitor and inaccessible to voters and polling agents.” Any efforts to commit large-scale voting fraud, he argues, are likely to be concentrated in those areas.

~~~

U.S. Institute of Peace

http://www.usip.org/category/countries/afghanistan

~~~

Art courtesy of Ian Boa

http://www.ianboe.com/IB.html

~~~

Martial Integrity

A-10

~~~

by Rawclyde!

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With the Republicans led by the nose by the Taliban Tea Party & the Democrats on a homosexual promotion binge, the United States has one last hope of assembling a little martial integrity.  This hope lay in Afghanistan.  Sell the A-10 Warthog Fleet to the Afghan National Army (ANA).

My hunch is that’s what the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has in mind.  I hope he’s not too timid to pull it off.  Lately Hagel has been talking about downsizing the military and in doing so, eliminating the Warthog aeroplane fleet.  If this comes to be, we can sell the fleet for one dollar or so to the Afghan National Army who, with us leaving the premises, is in dire need of air support against the Taliban enemy out of Pakistan.  It could make the difference in the war.

Instead, it looks like Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and Barack Obama, the U.S. president, are abandoning the ANA, which is a pity, a shame, and very possibly a mortal sin.  It looks like this is why MSNBC, the Democrat channel on American TV, has only been blathering about queers & a tub of lard in New Jersey & ignoring the Afghanistan War.

Maybe its too late for martial integrity.  Maybe it’s all in Pakistan.  Sometimes my personal paranoia taints my perspective.  Sometimes I don’t see too straight.  But, also, I am occasionally right on target.

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U.S. & Iran Face Same Enemies

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by Thomas Erdbrink

New York Times

January 6, 2014

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TEHRAN — Even as the United States and Iran pursue negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program, they find themselves on the same side of a range of regional issues surrounding an insurgency raging across the Middle East.

While the two governments quietly continue to pursue their often conflicting interests, they are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The United States, reluctant to intervene in bloody, inconclusive conflicts, is seeing its regional influence decline, while Iraq, which cost the Americans $1 trillion and more than 4,000 lives, is growing increasingly unstable.

At the same time, Shiite-dominated Iran, the magnetic pole for the Shiite minority in the region, has its own reasons to be nervous, with the ragtag army of Sunni militants threatening Syria and Iraq, both important allies, and the United States drawing down its troops in Afghanistan.

On Monday, Iran offered to join the United States in sending military aid to the Shiite government in Baghdad, which is embroiled in street-to-street fighting with radical Sunni militants in Anbar Province, a Sunni stronghold. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he could envision an Iranian role in the coming peace conference on Syria, even though the meeting is supposed to plan for a Syria after the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally.

To some, the Iranian moves reflect the clever pragmatism of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, aimed at building their country into a regional power. To others critical of the potential reconciliation, the moves are window dressing aimed at lulling the West into complacency while Tehran pursues nuclear weapons and supports its own jihadists throughout the region.

Yet even Iranians outside the reformist camp see the shared interests as undeniable. “It is clear we are increasingly reaching common ground with the Americans,” said one of them, Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “No country should have an eternal enemy, neither we nor the United States.”

With Iran as an island of stability in a region plagued by violent protests, sectarian clashes and suicide bombers, there are not that many options left for Washington, experts here say.

“We face the same enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent Iranian reformist journalist who closely follows the Arab world. He recalled how Iranian intelligence operatives gave reliable information to American Special Forces troops battling Iran’s enemy, the Afghan Taliban, in 2001.

While the Obama administration acknowledges that Iran has the potential to be an influential player on regional issues from Afghanistan to Syria, senior officials have said they are keeping their focus tightly on the nuclear negotiations. Cooperation on any other issues, they said, hinges largely on coming to terms on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration has concluded that Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif have been empowered to negotiate on the nuclear program, but officials said it remained unclear whether their policy-making authority extended to regional issues like Syria. There, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps holds vast influence through its Quds Force, and it is supplying weapons to Hezbollah in an effort to prop up President Assad’s government.

The thaw in relations extends back almost a year, with the two countries making overtures long thought impossible, deeply angering Washington’s closest regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

As early as last spring, a series of secret talks in Oman and Geneva laid the groundwork for re-establishing relations, cut over three decades ago after Iranian students took American diplomats hostage in revolutionary Tehran.

In September came the agreement — credited to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia but fully backed and partly engineered by Iran — to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. Not long afterward, President Obama and Mr. Rouhani held a historic phone conversation, and in late November the United States and other world powers struck a temporary nuclear agreement with Iran, the first in 10 years.

Iran has been presenting itself as the voice of reason, pointing at the extremely graphic videos of beheadings and other executions produced by some of the insurgent groups in Syria, while Mr. Rouhani wished a happy new year to all Christians on his Twitter account.

“Now extremists are once again threatening our security, and as in 2001, both countries will cooperate with each other in Iraq, and potentially elsewhere, too,” Mr. Shamsolvaezin said. “This is the beginning of regional cooperation.”

The thaw presents dangers to Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani, who will remain vulnerable to criticism from conservatives in both countries. Mr. Kerry’s invitation on Sunday for Iran to join “on the sidelines” of the Geneva conference was angrily rejected by Iranian hard-liners.

“The Americans are confessing Iran stands for peace and stability in this region,” said Hamid Reza Tarraghi, a hard-line political analyst, with views close to those of Iran’s leaders. “But when they invite us for a conference on Syria we are ‘allowed’ to be present on the ‘sidelines.’ This is insulting.”

Even Mr. Zarif rebuffed Mr. Kerry, saying that “everybody must be unified in order to fight the terrorists,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

But Tehran’s full participation in the conference would seem to present even deeper problems, in that the talks are aimed at planning for a Syria after Iran’s longtime ally, Mr. Assad, has stepped down.

Critics of United States policy say that the Obama administration is strengthening Iran at the expense of traditional allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel. They say that Iran has not cut back on its support of its regional allies, like Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group in Lebanon, and Mr. Assad, and is deeply involved with Iraq’s Shiite government.

Moreover, they say, a final nuclear agreement with Iran, should it be reached, would relieve Iran of crippling economic sanctions, reviving its economy and giving it more resources to spread its influence in the region, while depriving the West of diplomatic leverage to restrain Iran.

Analysts of Iran say that Tehran is pursuing a clever strategy, using the United States to undermine its greatest regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

“Cooperating skillfully with Russia, Iran has managed to change the game both in Iraq and in Syria,” said Hooshang Tale, a Tehran-based nationalist activist and a member of Parliament before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “If we play our cards well, we will end up outsmarting both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

He and others note that Iran has managed to keep Mr. Assad in power and wields considerable influence over its neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan. Rightly or wrongly, they view their regional enemy Saudi Arabia as being on the verge of collapse, saying in Friday Prayer speeches and in televised debates that the kingdom is ruled by old men who have lost their way.

“We are worried for Saudi Arabia, which seems weak and potentially unstable,” said Mr. Shahmohammadi, the former adviser, who heads an institute that promotes dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites. “Even we, as their competitor, see all the horrible consequences if things go wrong there.”

On Tehran’s streets, where people tend to see much of the region as distant lands filled with mayhem and unrest, many Iranians welcome every step that brings Iran and the United States closer together.

“The U.S. stands for progress, for work, a future, new cars and a better life,” said Mohammad Reza Barfi, an auto mechanic. “I’d rather have peace with the U.S. than with any regional country. What do they have to offer?”

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The Afghanistan We Are Leaving

desks-anyone ~ faded

No desks.  No school.  Never the less, don’t be late for class!

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by Dawood Azami

BBC World Service

17 December 2013

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UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that British troops will return from Afghanistan having accomplished the main aim of their mission – to achieve a basic level of security.

But how secure is Afghanistan, and what shape is the country in?  BBC World Service reporter Dawood Azami takes a look at the challenges Afghanistan faces today.

Security

Security remains the country’s biggest test.

It is true that al-Qaeda has been driven out of Afghanistan and it doesn’t have any sanctuaries inside the country. But the Taliban are still a potent force – they are active in many parts of Afghanistan and even control a few districts in the south and east, including Helmand province where British forces have been based.

The international community has helped raise and train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) that now number almost 350,000.

But since the handover of security responsibilities from Nato to Afghan forces in June 2013, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) have seen a dramatic rise in casualties – raising questions about the sustainability of the Afghan forces.

While Afghan officials are largely confident about the capabilities of their troops, they have complained about the lack of proper equipment, especially heavy weapons, as well as about not having “a proper air forces with enough trained pilots and aeroplanes”.

Civilian casualties from the armed conflicts remain high, with the United Nations reporting that more than 2,700 civilians have been killed and nearly 5,000 injured – the majority by armed groups – in the past year alone. And there have been reports of abuse by the Afghan Local Police (ALP).

Many people, especially in the south and east, also complain about Nato’s night raids and house searches.

The high cost of maintaining the Afghan security forces is another major challenge – one estimated to reach about $5bn (£3.3bn) a year.

Without continued international financial assistance, the Afghan government would not be able to afford such a force on its own.

A number of western countries, including the US, UK and Germany have signed strategic partnership agreements with Afghanistan, committing themselves to training Afghan forces after 2014.

But the US and Afghanistan are still discussing a separate security accord which would allow a number of US combat forces to remain in the country. The outcome of that deal is expected to determine whether other countries decide to keep any soldiers or trainers in Afghanistan.

Drugs

Drug production has increased in many areas of Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001.

Afghanistan now produces some 90% of the world’s opium.

Despite years of international efforts to curb drug production in the country, a 2013 UN report found that opium growing has reached a record level, with more than 200,000 hectares under cultivation for the first time.

The drug economy is funding the insurgency and the Taliban reportedly receive an estimated $100m (£66m) annually from taxing poppy farmers and drug traders.

The drug trade also fuels official corruption and has intensified a domestic addiction crisis in the country which now has more than a million addicts.

Economy

Afghanistan has received tens of billions of dollars in aid over the past 12 years. The country has seen a great deal of development and life has improved for millions of Afghans.

Thousands of kilometres of new roads have been built and the health sector has progressed with clinics built in even remote districts.

Thousands of new schools have also been built where millions of boys and girls are receiving education.

A number of towns and cities have seen so much development that in the words of an Afghan, “even their maps have changed”.

Afghans are now connected to each other and the rest of the world via telephone and the internet.

Some 20 million mobile phone subscriptions have been set up in a country of 30 million people. The mobile telecommunications sector is a major driver of the economy and is the largest taxpayer and the biggest non-governmental employer, aside from subsistence agriculture.

But Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world. There are still places in the country which have not felt the benefits of international aid.

Many children are still deprived of education and do not have access to basic facilities such as clinics and clean water.

Afghans in general say that a lot of aid money has been wasted and that the international community should have invested in major infrastructure projects such as building dams, housing schemes and industrial zones.

Overall, the Afghan economy is largely dependent on foreign aid and drug income.

Institutions

Afghanistan’s institutions were destroyed in the two decades of war that preceded the US-led invasion.

The process of institution building has had tangible success and the country has functioning institutions in the capital, Kabul, as well as in provinces and most districts.

Afghanistan is back on the international stage, with diplomatic missions in some 70 countries and representation in most international organisations.

But there are problems with a lack of governance or bad governance in many parts of the country.

The Berlin-based institute, Transparency International, put Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia in the last place in its 2013 corruption index.

Afghan officials say they are committed to tackling corruption, which they say exists largely in the services sector. They also point to “the big corruption” that they say takes place in awarding international contracts.

Peace Process

Realising that the war in Afghanistan has reached a “stalemate”, the Afghan government and its international backers started a peace process in 2010.

The main parties in the Afghan peace process are the Afghan government and its High Peace Council, the US and the Taliban – but none of them agree on the terms and conditions of talking to each other.

There have been meetings and contacts between different parties over the past two years. But efforts to launch a formal peace process have not been successful so far.

In June this year, the Taliban opened an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

It was the first time that the Taliban had a known address and authorised representatives who could openly talk.

But the office was closed soon after, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai reacting angrily to the Taliban opening their post with their flag and plaque bearing an inscription of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the name the Taliban government used when they came to power in the 1990s.

Contact is being made with individual Taliban members and leaders, but the process exists only in name and no major breakthrough has been made so far.

The Taliban say they will keep fighting as long as foreign forces are present in Afghanistan.

Human Rights

Afghans in general are anxious about the achievements of the past decade as the 2014 deadline for withdrawing international combat forces looms.

The country has an active civil society and a vibrant media with dozens of national and provincial television stations.

But freedom of expression and access to information are two of the many challenges journalists still face.

Women have the right to work and are members of the National Assembly and provincial councils.

Rule of law and access to justice is one of the biggest challenges despite some government efforts to improve the situation.

And violence and discrimination against women has been a big issue.

The ongoing conflict has prompted more families to flee their homes, with an estimated half a million people still displaced within the country living in informal settlements with inadequate shelter.

Around three million refugees remain outside the country, mainly in Pakistan and Iran.

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