Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, June 18, 2010 8:30 pm

Threat assessment

A relatively small number of our foes are very bright, very dedicated, very competent, very well funded and very dangerous.

But the rest? Not so much:

Their leaders and recruiters can be lethally subtle and manipulative, but the quiet truth is that many of the deluded foot soldiers are foolish and untrained, perhaps even untrainable. Acknowledging this fact could help us tailor our counterterrorism priorities—and publicizing it could help us erode the powerful images of strength and piety that terrorists rely on for recruiting and funding.

Nowhere is the gap between sinister stereotype and ridiculous reality more apparent than in Afghanistan, where it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself. And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks. In Afghanistan, as in many cultures, a manly embrace is a time-honored tradition for warriors before they go off to face death. Thus, many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp or safe house, as the pressure from these group hugs triggers the explosives in suicide vests. According to several sources at the United Nations, as many as six would-be suicide bombers died last July after one such embrace in Paktika.

Many Taliban operatives are just as clumsy when suicide is not part of the plan. In November 2009, several Talibs transporting an improvised explosive device were killed when it went off unexpectedly. The blast also took out the insurgents’ shadow governor in the province of Balkh. …

If our terrorist enemies have been successful at cultivating a false notion of expertise, they’ve done an equally convincing job of casting themselves as pious warriors of God. The Taliban and al-Qaeda rely on sympathizers who consider them devoted Muslims fighting immoral Western occupiers. But intelligence picked up by Predator drones and other battlefield cameras challenges that idea—sometimes rather graphically. One video, captured recently by the thermal-imagery technology housed in a sniper rifle, shows two Talibs in southern Afghanistan engaged in intimate relations with a donkey. Similar videos abound, including ground-surveillance footage that records a Talib fighter gratifying himself with a cow.

A number of takeaways from this:

First, to be able to recognize the real threats, we need to be able to acknowledge the “threats” that really aren’t.

Second, while mythologizing an enemy may be essential to uniting an otherwise ambivalent nation, building up your enemy in your mind into something he isn’t will inevitably result in lives needlessly lost, money wasted and security compromised.

Third, it’s important to understand what maroons we’re up against to rebut effectively the claims of the Idiot-Americans that we must scrap the Constitution to save our country.

There are probably more, but those are the biggies.


Thursday, August 20, 2009 8:47 pm

And it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fightin’ for?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

With al-Qaeda now largely decamped from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the U.S. military there now facing a homegrown insurgency rather than an international terrorist movement and Americans dying in Afghanistan at some of the highest rates since 2001, dday at Hullabaloo observes, “Actually, we have morphed our goals in Afghanistan, from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, without anyone really challenging it.”

Except that, well, someone actually is challenging it:

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

I had no trouble seeing the point of having the U.S. military in Afghanistan to pursue al-Qaeda. That was about as clearly defined and rational a national-security interest involving combat as we’ve had since World War II. But why are we still there? What, exactly, are we attempting to achieve, are we going about it in the right way, and whether we are or not, what is the likelihood of success?

I ask because I honestly do not know.

Saturday, July 11, 2009 8:21 pm

Oh, please, oh, please …

I’ll grant right up front that the odds of this happening at all aren’t great and the odds of its happening to the extent that I would like it to are probably nil. But if you’re a law-and-order conservative, this bit of information about Attorney General Eric Holder should warm the cockles of your heart:

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama’s domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. “I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president’s agenda,” he says. “But that can’t be a part of my decision.”

Do it, Eric, do it. And that prosecutor needs to follow the trail wherever it leads, to Republicans and Democrats alike, to those who carried out torture and those who ordered it and those who could have intervened but instead stood by and let it happen. Document the crimes. Prosecute the criminals. Atone for this national sin.

One other thought, about the political ramifications: Obama’s biggest political problem so far hasn’t been Republicans, although they certainly have been a problem. It has been the disappointment of his own base, who have felt let down by Obama’s failure to embrace not just their own ambitious agenda but even some issues on which Obama himself campaigned (e.g., open government).

That’s even more the case for the Democratically-controlled Congress, whose low approval ratings are directly attributable to the disappointment of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. (Moving to the left isn’t going to make Congress any more unpopular with Republicans than it already is because that would be pretty much impossible.)

In any event, this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human rights and the rule of law. It’s about ensuring that we haven’t walked, and will never walk, away from the honorable standards we set at Nuremberg.

It’s about doing the right thing. Politics be damned.

UPDATE: And while you’re at it, Mr. Attorney General …

After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.

“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.’ ”


UPDATE: Here‘s part of the reason why I don’t think much will come of this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:09 pm

Holy [expletive]; or, is Afghanistan really the right front in the war on terror after all?

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:09 pm
Tags: , ,

This is almost unbelievable:

In one of the largest and most brazen attacks of its kind, suspected Taliban insurgents with heavy weapons attacked two truck stops in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, destroying more than 150 vehicles carrying supplies bound for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

The predawn attack on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar left the grounds of the truck terminals littered with the burned-out shells of Humvees and other military vehicles being transported by private truckers. At least one guard was reported killed.

Early today, a second attack on Western supplies was reported in the same area. A security guard said 50 [cargo] containers had been burned and some vehicles destroyed by rocket fire. …

The bold assault underscored the vulnerability of supplies moving by road through Pakistan. About three-quarters of the supplies bound for U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan — fuel, food and equipment — travel by road through perilous mountain passes after being shipped to the port of Karachi. Afghanistan has no sea access.

To paraphrase Chief Brody in “Jaws”: We’re gonna need a bigger front.

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