Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Hearts, minds, and revenge: local resistance to the Afghan insurgency

From the Long War Journal:

On the blustery Sunday afternoon of Feb. 8, 2009, a frenzied mob of angry Afghan villagers from the Dara-e-Noor district of eastern Nangarhar province joined provincial police forces in the hunt for Taliban assassins responsible for gunning down a highly respected local elder -- Qazi Khan Mohammed (known affectionately among locals as Malik Baba) -- who had also served as the secretary of the Nangarhar Provincial Council. The vigilante posse pursued the attackers and eventually cornered the Taliban hitmen, forcefully tethered the pair to a tree, and proceeded to kick and punch them to death.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Offtopic: White's Definition of Strategy

Couldn't help it:

My use of the word 'strategy' derives from my understanding of the nature of war. For me, war is organised violence conducted for a political purpose. Strategy is the bridge between them – between the organised violence, which is the means, and the political purpose, which is the end. The relationship between violence as a means and political outcomes is inherently complex. Perhaps that's because it crosses the divide between the physical and the mental – always a tricky interface.

On this account, the central problem of strategy is how to match military means to political ends. The core strategic decisions that any government has to face are (a) what military operations it should undertake to achieve its political objectives, and (b) what capabilities it should build to be able to achieve its political objectives in future. These are the big questions of strategic policy - 'policy' being just a fancy word for government decisions.

The full article is here.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Somali Famine & Al-Shabaab

Has the famine weakened al-Shabaab in any way?

Al-Shabaab has been enormously weakened by this crisis. Many are blaming al-Shabaab for catalyzing the [crisis] by locking out aid agencies. Al-Shabaab has been under enormous pressure from clan leaders in the region to act fast, but they have been dragging their feet, and when they reacted it was probably too late. Tens of thousands of children have already died. Tens of thousands of people have fled as refugees to eastern Kenya and southeastern Ethiopia. Many in Somalia, even those who initially supported al-Shabaab, are now blaming them and seeing them as culpable in this crisis.

Does this present an opportunity to stabilize the country?

If al-Shabaab was a cohesive organization and it was serious about averting humanitarian crisis in southern Somalia, then there would have been an opportunity. The problem is that you have a string of factions of al-Shabaab; you don't know who speaks for al-Shabaab. Even engaging them on the question of provisions of humanitarian supplies to the vulnerable populations in southern Somalia is no longer credible, because you don't know how senior or powerful that interlocutor is. Unless we know the power configurations within al-Shabaab, unless we know who calls the shots and who is in charge, it will be difficult for this crisis to have a peace dividend.

Potentially there is an opportunity that you may cut a deal with one faction or another. But what if you have a faction that doesn't like it, that creates its own challenges. As long as al-Shabaab is fragmented and deeply divided as a group, the possibilities of engagement for a positive result are very remote. Many had hoped that engaging al-Shabaab on humanitarian corridors and a ceasefire for a brief period [would] kick-start a positive dynamic. But I don't think we are there.

Do you think the international community is doing enough to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the rest of the Horn? And what more can they do?

For more, see here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

We Killed The Guy That Shot Down Our SEALs

Interesting article by Noah Schachtman at Danger Room.

The U.S. military says they know who shot down a helicopter filled with 38 American and Afghan troops, including 19 Navy SEALs. That man is now dead...

How the hell does one know that?

But the military won’t say how they’re so sure that this particular militant was the one responsible for the deadliest incident so far in the Afghan war.

One can understand that that might be the case, but it is frustrating, especially for verifying the military's information.

The shooter, along with killed Taliban captain Mullah Mohibullah, “was located after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens. The two men were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture,” the coalition said in its statement. A “security force located and followed the insurgents to a wooded area in Chak district...”

That's fascinating if it's true and correct. It means the locals are still supporting the US. Of course, how can we be sure they didn't finger somebody else? Or that the US accidentally killed the wrong guy?

Also, it's interesting (if true) that they were running away from capture. It means they know they can't hide.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Reuters that the coalition got the wrong guy. “The person who shot down the helicopter is alive,” he claimed.

Interesting. Of course, he would say that, wouldn't he? Come to think of hit, how would he necessarily know who fired the fatal shot?

Is the USA a failed State?

In no way do I consider the USA a failed state, and neither does the author, but there is some interesting (and accessible) discussion of what a failed state actually is and of the intriguing idea of a "semi-failed state".

As usual, I try to simply supply some choice quotes but there's so much good stuff:

An "immature state" is a polity whose elites are dysfunctional, venal, and narcissistic; whose economy is not viable, frequently dependent on handouts; and whose coherence is threatened by a lack of social consensus. Immature states typically lack political traditions, change agents, goal-oriented bureaucracies, and institutional memory.

A "failed economy" fails to attract foreign direct investment. It is characterized by kleptocratic governments and rampant corruption, increased geopolitical risk, and lack of modern infrastructure. It features all-pervasive failure of institutions; lack of commitment to true reforms; absence of a functioning private sector; problematic mentality (laziness, passive-aggressiveness, pathological and destructive envy; xenophobia, resistance to learning, etc.); a low-level of research-and-development and innovation; an antiquated and dysfunctional education system; and primitive banking system and capital markets.

A "failed state" is a country whose government has no control and cannot exercise a monopoly on the legitimate use of force over a substantial part of its territory or citizenry. It is continuously and successfully challenged by private military power: terrorists, warlords, or militias.

A semi-failed state is a country whose government maintains all the trappings and appearances of power, legitimacy and control. ... Its institutions function...

Yet, the semi-failed state - while going through the motions - is dead on its feet. It is a political and societal zombie. It functions due mainly to inertia and lack of better or clear alternatives. Its population is disgruntled, hostile and suspicious. Other countries regard it with derision, fear and abhorrence. It is rotting from the inside and doomed to implode.

Crisis State Research Centre

The Crisis State Research Centre at the LSE is funded by the UK Department of International Aid.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Review: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Summary of Jared Diamond's Collapse.

First, he argues that sometimes societies fail to anticipate an emerging problem because they lack adequate knowledge or prior experience with the phenomenon at hand.

By analogy, one could argue that some recent failures in U.S. foreign policy were of this sort. Hardly anybody anticipated that U.S. support for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin in Afghanistan would eventually lead to the formation of virulent anti-American terrorist groups, in part because the U.S. leaders didn't know very much about that part of the world and because public discourse about U.S. policy in the Middle East is filled with gaping holes. Similarly, the people who led us into Iraq in 2003 were remarkably ignorant about the history and basic character of Iraqi society (as well as the actual nature of Saddam's regime). To make matters worse, the U.S. military had forgotten many of the lessons of Vietnam and had to try to relearn them all over again, with only partial success.

Second, societies may fail to detect a growing problem if their leaders are too far removed from the source of the trouble.

Third, serious problems may go undetected when a long-term negative trend is masked by large short-term fluctuations.

A fourth source of foolish decisions is the well-known tendency for individuals to act in ways that are in their own selfish interest but not in the interest of the society as a whole.

Fifth, even when a state or society recognizes that it is in trouble, Diamond identifies a number of pathologies that make it harder for them to adapt and survive. Political divisions may make it impossible to take timely action even when everyone realizes that something ought to be done (think gridlock in Congress), and key leaders may be prone to either "groupthink" or various forms of psychological denial. And the bad news here is that no one has ever devised an effective and universally reliable antidote to these problems.

Moreover, if a group's identity is based on certain cherished values or beliefs, it may be hard to abandon them even when survival is at stake. Diamond suggests that the Norse colonies in Greenland may have disappeared because the Norse were unwilling to abandon certain traditional practices and imitate the local Inuits (e.g., by adopting seal hunting via kayaks), and it is easy to think of contemporary analogues to this sort of cultural rigidity. Military organizations often find it hard to abandon familiar doctrines and procedures, and states that are strongly committed to particular territorial objectives often find it nearly impossible to rethink these commitments. Look how long it took the French to leave Algeria, or consider the attachment to Kosovo that is central to Serbian nationalist thinking, and how it led them into a costly (and probably unnecessary) war in 1999.

To sum up (in Diamond's words):

Human societies and smaller groups make disastrous decisions for a whole sequence of reasons: failure to anticipate a problem, failure to perceive it once it has arisen, failure to attempt to solve it after it has been perceived, and failure to succeed in attempts to solve it."

Joshua Foust's Afghanistan-Pakistan update, early August 2011

Just World Books author Joshua Foust discussed mid-year trends in how U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been doing, with Dalia Mortada. In this lively discussion, Foust challenged much of what Gen. David Petraeus, until recently the commander of all U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, has said about violence in the country having been reduced. Listen to this experienced analyst's take on the situation-- and buy his book!

Thanks to Buzzsprout.

How 28 poor countries escaped the poverty trap

Discussion on recent climbing-out of poverty of many countries.

Remember the poverty trap? ...

...Low-income countries are those with average gross national incomes (GNIs) of less than $1,005 per person per year.

And there are only 35 of them remaining out of the countries and economies that the World Bank tracks. That's down from 63 in 2000.

The remaining 35 low-income countries have a combined population of about 800 million. Tanzania, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Bangladesh account for about half of that total, and there are about 350 million people living on under $1.25 a day in the remaining low-income countries.


First, consider the good news that there are fewer poor countries around. Not least, it suggests that public and private investment (including aid) can help even the poorest countries get rich(er). This is one more reason why optimism should come back into fashion.

Second, the World Bank country classifications - which are used to help determine types and levels of support provided by many aid agencies - may need a rethink. They are based on a decades old formula, and on the idea that most poor people live in poor countries. But we know that middle-income countries now account for most of the world's population living in absolute poverty...

Third, as countries develop their own resources, fighting poverty becomes increasingly about domestic politics. Not surprisingly, this means inequality is rising up the agenda. New research shows that the emerging middle classes may have a big role to play. Who they side with - the poorest or the economic elite - will determine what kind of development emerges in the new middle income countries.


• Charles Kenny is a research fellow at the Center for Global Development and the author of Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding - And How We Can Improve the World Even More.

• Andy Sumner is a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development

H/t: Center for Global Development

The Closers Part VI: Dealing with the U.S. Military

The Closers Part VI:
Dealing with the U.S. Military
by Colonel Gary Anderson

Many of the civilians who gravitate to counterinsurgency (COIN) work for the Departments of State and Justice have some knowledge of the military or have served in uniform. But many people from other agencies will not have such a background. Suddenly living among the military on a daily basis, and often depending on them totally for security can come as a culture shock that is almost as great as that experienced by stepping into a host nation's culture. It helps to come somewhat prepared. The Provincial Reconstruction Team classes given by the State Department's Foreign Service Institute are good but short, and they give out excellent advice, but it would help if you do homework on your own. This piece will attempt to give some background and perspective.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Overseas Development Institute

ODI Programmes are responsible for delivering on our mission of "locking together high quality applied research, practical policy advice, and policy-focused dissemination and debate."

Stabilisation strategies and the protection of civilians

Better protected? Stabilisation strategies and the protection of civilians
25 March 2011 - Round-table, Geneva

...how and to what extent is the protection of civilians a stabilisation objective; how have stabilisation strategies contributed to enhanced protection of civilians in specific contexts; and what engagement is desirable between stabilisation and humanitarian actors on protection of civilians at global and country levels.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

ASP on Kerry's defence of foreign aid.

Crisis Commons

Interesting-looking bunch: CrisisCommons.

In defence of civilian strategists

@ClosetIdealist at Security Scholar weighs in on the "civilian strategists" debate.

Very good stuff on the "strategic corporal", and I think inadvertently on civ-mil convergence.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Military Review: COIN Reader

Go to it, Grasshopper!

Counterinsurgency Reader I - Special Edition 2008

Counterinsurgency Reader II - Special Edition 2008

Australian Civilian Corps (ACC)

AusAID's civilian corps program, Australian Civilian Corps.

Oceans Beyond Piracy

Oceans Beyond Piracy for info on piracy.

R2P Balance Sheet After Libya

Gareth Evans weighs in on the R2P debate.

World Development Report 2011

The World Bank has released its World Development Report for 2011.

Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence

APCMOE (Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence) is:

a whole-of-government initiative to improve Australia’s effectiveness in civil-military collaboration for conflict and disaster management overseas.

We support best practice approaches to civil-military engagement by those involved in the strategic planning and delivery of conflict and disaster management activities.

We support the development of national civil-military capabilities to prevent, prepare for and respond more effectively to conflicts and disasters overseas.

We develop best practice in civil-military training, education, doctrine, research and implementation.

We support cohesive civil-military effectiveness in disaster and conflict management overseas.

We strengthen national, regional and international engagement in civil-military affairs.

Suggested priorities for the incoming government

National security: Suggested priorities for the incoming government forum at ANU

Community resilience and National Security

Attorney-General Robert McClelland - Community resilience and National Security, at ANU.

Australia's strategic options in a transformational Asia

Dr Rod Lyon discusses ASPI's latest Strategy report, "Forks in the river: Australia's strategic options in a transformational Asia".

Embedded with the Pirates of Somalia

The Small Wars Council comes through again with this gem.

Jay Bahadur’s plan was simple. Fly to Somalia to cover the March 2009 elections in Somaliland as a freelancer, then come home to Toronto and hopefully find a job in journalism.

He studied Somalia a bit as an undergrad at the University of Toronto, and after graduating in 2007 he enrolled in a freelance journalism course; he figured he could work the trip into the class somehow.

Things did not go according to plan — but, in retrospect, they probably couldn’t have worked out better. For a class assignment on how to pitch freelance stories, Mr. Bahadur assembled an idea — to embed with the pirates of Somalia — and handed in his homework. It was October 2008. He left for Africa in January 2009. And today, he is on tour promoting his debut non-fiction book, Pirates of Somalia.

Debate: US Cannot and Will Not Succeed in AfPak

Intelligence Squared debate on AfPak:

To many, this means they are becoming further entrenched in an open-ended quagmire where any military solution will ultimately fail. Others question whether they should care if Afghanistan has a strong central government or a democratic one. While most agree it should not become a terrorist haven, opinions differ on how this should be accomplished: more troops, covert operations, diplomacy?

And what to make of Pakistan? The US cannot allow its nuclear arsenal to fall into the hands of radicals, but President Obama has ruled out putting troops on the ground. The task of rooting out al Qaeda and Taliban militants falls to Pakistan’s army, which has, until recently, supported these groups as a hedge against future conflict with India. How much tolerance does America have for the long road ahead with AfPak? Can they ever “win,” and how would they even define a win in this region?

Latest From Special Warfare

The Small Wars Journal notes the latest edition of Special Warfare has a special on village security (VSO).

H/t: Small Wars Journal

The Wrong War by Bing West

Bing West basically says:

It is best to be both feared and loved. If you must choose however, it is better to be feared, as long as you are not hated.

Bing West HASC Statement: "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan"

Bing West HASC Statement: "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan"

H/t: Small Wars Journal

Afghan Analyst's Bibliography

Here is Ghosts of Alexander's bibliography, including:

4. State-Building: The International Community, Reconstruction, Security,
Economy, Government and Development


10. Military: Operations, Civil-Military Relations, PRTs and COIN

11. Security Sector: DDR, Militias, Afghan National Army and Police,
PMCs and Security Contractors

The Mayfair Set

Documentary on Col. David Stirling's private war against Egypt in Yemen.

H/t Feral Jundi

Village Stability Operations

Article on village stability operations entitled Village Security Operations - More than Just Village Defense at Special Warfare magazine.

The Liaison Office

Interesting outfit, The Liaison Office.

The Liaison Office (TLO) is an Afghan non-governmental organization that seeks to improve local governance, stability and security through systematic and institutionalized engagement with customary structures, local communities, and civil society groups. Our mission is to facilitate the formal integration of communities and their traditional governance structures within Afghanistan’s newly emerging peace, governance and reconstruction framework. TLO’s three main areas of activity are: Research and Analysis; Peacebuilding and Mediation; and Natural Resource Management.

Insurgent attacks predictable

Insurgent attacks follow a mathematical pattern, according to an interview with Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami.

It works like this: Say two attacks happen in the same general area. Take the time interval between those two incidents, plug it into the equation and it gives an estimate of how many days until the next attack.

"That immediately gives you a time interval between the first two attacks," explain Johnson, "You take that, put it into the equation and it gives you an estimate."

GeoHazards International


...Tucker founded GeoHazards International. His message was simple: Stop thinking of earthquakes and tsunamis as unpredictable, and stop thinking of mass fatalities as inevitable. We know where the faults are, we can estimate when quakes will hit, and we can see trends in shoddy construction. The math says more than two million people will die in this century. But those deaths can be prevented, just as vaccines prevent disease. Instead of waiting to send disaster relief after the next Haiti, fund better construction now. Instead of waiting for the next epidemic, inoculate the world.

Monday, 1 August 2011

R2P debate

Tim Dunne is Director of Research, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the University of Queensland. He addresses the R2P debate in this post: R2P caught in the crossfire?.

I address each of his concerns: the 'hollowness of the concept', the 'narrowness of the applicability', and the problem of 'selectivity'. My aim is greater clarity about the grounds on which R2P is being targeted by its critics.

R2P is driven by a clear moral purpose which maintains that atrocity crimes — such as those committed in Germany in the 1930s, Cambodia in the 1970s, Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s — are preventable. Getting an agreement among the states and peoples of the world as to what atrocity crimes are and why they are uniquely abhorrent suggests the concept is far from empty.

As to its 'narrowness of applicability', again I find my views differ respectfully from Dr Shanahan. What is striking about R2P is the breadth of its applicability. As advocates make clear, including Kofi Annan, Francis Deng, and Gareth Evans, the core of R2P is that all sovereign states are bearers of the duty to prevent atrocity crimes from occurring.

Here are two brief thoughts in relation to the problem of selectivity. First, the 2005 agreement at the World Summit of the UN General Assembly (a follow-on to the 2000 Summit that agreed the MDGs) recognised that, while there was a need for 'timely and decisive action' to be taken by the international community, this would inevitably be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, where it is clear that military intervention will do more harm than good, no right-thinking R2P supporter will advocate such a course of action. But although implementing a no-fly zone is politically and operationally problematic, a referral to the International Criminal Court of Assad and his cronies might be achievable.