Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reconstruction Update

  1. Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes”, Michael Rubin, 2013.
The world has never been as dangerous as it is now. Rogue regimes—governments and groups which eschew diplomatic normality, sponsor terrorism, and proliferate nuclear weapons—challenge the United States around the globe. The American response of first resort is to talk. “It never hurts to talk to enemies.” Seldom is conventional wisdom so wrong. While it is true that sanctions and military force come at high cost, case studies examining the history of American diplomacy with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Pakistan demonstrate that problems with both strategies do not necessarily make engagement with rogue regimes cost-free.
Terrorist groups also challenge traditional diplomacy, be they the PLO in the 1970s and 1980s, or Hamas and Hezbollah in the last two decades. Moral equivalency enables often infuses the willingness to talk to terrorists—after all, as many diplomats note, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter—but seldom is the record of talking to terrorists considered. While soldiers spend weeks developing lessons learned after every exercise, seldom do diplomats consider why their strategy toward rogues have failed, and whether base assumptions about how they conduct talks might be to blame.
Indeed, rogue regimes have one thing in common—they pretend to be aggrieved in order to put Western diplomats on the defense. Whether in Pyongyang, Tehran, or Islamabad, rogue leaders understand that the West rewards bluster with incentives, and that for the State Department process can mean more than results.
  1. “The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan”, Amb. Ron Neumann (Ret.), 2013.
As the bloodshed in Iraq intensified in 2005, Afghanistan quickly faded from the nation’s front pages to become the “other war,” supposedly going well and largely ignored. In fact, the insurgency in Afghanistan was about to break out with renewed force, the drug problem was worsening, and international coordination was losing focus. That July, Ronald Neumann arrived in Kabul from Baghdad as the U.S. ambassador, bringing the experience of a career diplomat whose professional lifetime had been spent in the greater Middle East, beginning thirty-eight years earlier in the same country in which it ended—Afghanistan.
Neumann’s account of how the war in Afghanistan unfolded over the next two years is rich with heretofore unexamined details of operations, tensions, and policy decisions. He demonstrates why the United States was slow to recognize the challenge it faced and why it failed to make the requisite commitment of economic, military, and civilian resources. His account provides a new understanding of the problems of alliance warfare in conducting simultaneous nation building and counterinsurgency. Honest in recounting failures as well as successes, the book is must reading as much for students of international affairs who want to understand the reality of diplomatic policymaking and implementation in the field as for those who want to understand the nation’s complex “other war.”
  1. The Secret Behind Iraq’s Scientific Resurgence”, Wired, October 2013.
Ten years ago, the Iraqi scientific establishment was in trouble. Political and military convulsions following the American invasion made it difficult to maintain routinized studies critical for robust research. Iraqi scientists were unable to engage with their peers, and the annual national output of peer-reviewed publications dipped into the double digits. Mesopotamia, a region so integral to the rise of human culture, was essentially sidelined from modern science.
Today, there is a sense of renewed progress. Systematic structural challenges remain, to be sure (unplanned power outages can interrupt code or ruin biological samples, for example), but the momentum is tangible – publications have more than tripled in the intervening decade, with no sign of letting up.
  1. Iraq's South Rises Again”, National Interest, October 2013.
With some exceptions, most Iraq news these days is tucked away in the middle of your daily paper. The postscript to these stories may add that the situation has gone from bad to worse since the U.S. withdrawal. Remember “the surge,” anyone?
Maliki has managed to co-opt the few and isolate the many, while north to south Sunnis and Shias protest over any number of issues. If the protesters were united that might be positive but mostly they are not, and Al Qaeda is thriving. The news seems so grim that Americans might just want to move on and forget it altogether.
Indirectly, Iraq still looms large in the news, as it struggles to escape the Syrian conflict and push forward its energy boom, it may well be the most strategically important country in the Middle East, as Gen. James Jones recently remarked. The EU are waking up to this, but it has taken a ferocious alliance of Syrian and Iraqi Al Qaeda fighters to spur the United States into action.
  1. “Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, November 2013.
The Afghanistan Index is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion and security data. This resource will provide updated and historical information on various data, including crime, infrastructure, casualties, unemployment, Afghan security forces and coalition troop strength. It will be updated every two weeks.
The index is designed to assemble the best possible quantitative indicators of the international community’s counterinsurgency and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, to track them over time, and to offer an objective set of criteria for benchmarking performance. It serves as an in-depth, non-partisan assessment of American and international efforts in Afghanistan, and is based primarily on U.S. government, Afghan government and NATO data. Although measurements of progress in any nation-building effort can never be reduced to purely quantitative data, a comprehensive compilation of such information can provide a clearer picture and contribute to a healthier and better informed debate.
  1. “We Are The Not Dead”,, November 2013.
Photographer Lalage Snow, who is currently based in Kabul, Afghanistan, embarked on an 8-month-long project titled We Are The Not Dead featuring portraits of British soldiers before, during, and after their deployment in Afghanistan. Similar to Claire Felicie's series of monochromatic triptychs, Snow captures the innocent expressions of these men transformed into gaunt, sullen faces in less than a year.
The three-panel juxtaposition allows the viewer to observe the physical changes a stationed soldier in a war zone goes through. Time is sped up for these men under the beating sun, amidst combat. Regardless of age, the boys that went in came back as men with experiences beyond their years. As weathered and worn as their skin or sunken in faces may appear, it's their dilated eyes that are the most telling.
  1. Alliance in Support of the Afghan People (ASAP)
The Alliance in Support of the Afghan People (ASAP) is a coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting progress made by the Afghan people over the last 12 years.  We seek to amplify Afghan civil society voices in policy discussions and support their aspirations for further political and economic development and the protection of basic human rights.
The ongoing transition process and military drawdown will determine the country’s future and shape regional security conditions. Despite formidable obstacles, a critical opportunity exists to protect and sustain the progress and investments of the last decade for all Afghans, particularly women and youth. With only a small number of international forces in a training and deterrence capacity, Afghanistan’s international partners should prioritize support for a rights respecting Afghan National Security Force, strengthening the economy, reinforcing democratic processes and educating Afghanistan’s next generations. Upcoming elections in 2014 and 2015 pose a vital challenge and a great opportunity for continued progress in Afghanistan.
  1. Why Karzai Doesn't Trust America”, National Interest, October 2013
For the moment at least, Secretary of State John F. Kerry appears to have patched up the fraying relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments that just two weeks ago appeared to be at the point of rupture. Flying into Kabul on a previously unannounced visit and engaging in what the New York Times describes as “nearly 24 hours of talks and meetings” with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Kerry revived the floundering negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that will provide for a limited but long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan following the end of the NATO combat mission in December 2014.
The security pact, which must be reviewed by a loya jirga (an assembly of some 3,000 Afghan tribal elders) and then approved by parliament, could even now unravel over the still-unresolved issue of whether remaining U.S. troops will enjoy the airtight legal protections that Washington is insisting on. But if the agreement holds, it would represent a striking feat for Mr. Kerry, who is rapidly emerging as a more consequential figure than his predecessor.
It also promises to bring some stability to a wartime alliance that has long pulsed with mistrust and suspicion. The acrimony regularly leads Karzai, once seen as America’s hand-picked partner in Kabul, to denounce the Western military presence in Afghanistan as a foreign occupation. Three years ago, he accused the West of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and bizarrely threatened to join forces with the Taliban forces that NATO and his regime were supposedly united in opposing. That particular outburst caused the White House to warn that it was thinking of retracting Karzai’s invitation to meet Mr. Obama in Washington.
  1. “Hero Afghan interpreter finally arrives in US after long visa battle”,, October 2013.
The Afghan interpreter who saved the life of an Army intelligence officer and became a target of the Taliban for his trouble has finally arrived in the U.S. to start a new life, after a long battle to win a special visa.
Janis Shinwari arrived at Reagan National Airport in Washington late Tuesday night, where he was heartily greeted by Matthew Zeller, the Army soldier who says he owes his life to Shinwari. Zeller campaigned tirelessly for a special visa reserved for translators who put their lives on the line for U.S. military personnel. The visa was finally approved last month, but then mysteriously pulled, according to Zeller.
Shinwari, 36, told he, his wife and their two children are eager to start a new life in the U.S., especially after Shinwari spent the last several months in hiding after he became known for helping the U.S. military.
  1. “Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy”, Congressional Research Service, October 2013.
The United States and its partner countries are reducing military involvement in Afghanistan as Afghan security forces assume lead security responsibility throughout the country. The current international security mission will terminate at the end of 2014 and likely transition to a far smaller mission consisting mostly of training and mentoring the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 in September 2012, and is currently about 52,000. That number will fall to 34,000 by February 2014. The size of the “residual force” that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 might be announced later in 2013, with options centering on about 8,000-12,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions. The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that is under negotiation. Fearing instability after 2014, some ethnic and political faction leaders are reviving their militia forces should the international drawdown lead to a major Taliban push to retake power.
The Administration remains concerned that Afghan stability after 2014 is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Among efforts to promote effective and transparent Afghan governance, U.S. officials are attempting to ensure that the next presidential election, scheduled for April 5, 2014, will be devoid of the fraud that plagued Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 and 2010. Other U.S. and partner country anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have yielded few concrete results. An unexpected potential benefit to stability could come from a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Negotiations have been sporadic, but U.S.-Taliban discussions that were expected to begin after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in June 2013 did not materialize. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups fear that a settlement might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing.

  1.  “The Double-Dealing Middle East Is Double-Dealt”, Victor David Hanson, November 2013. 
In sum, the American people think the Middle East is, well, the Middle East: support democracy and we are derided as cultural chauvinists, Western interventionists, and clueless about the nuances of Arab culture. Support the existing status quo, and we care only about oil, not the masses, and geopolitics rather than democratic reform. Stay out entirely and we have abdicated moral responsibility. Intervene and we are “nation-building” in the old colonial fashion.
  1. “Ending the U.S. War in Iraq”, Rand Corporation, 2013.
Over the course of the U.S. engagement in Iraq, the U.S. military managed hundreds of bases and facilities and used millions of pieces of equipment. The military was not only involved with security-related activities but also assisted in political and economic functions the host nation government or other U.S. departments would normally perform. A 2010 assessment identified that responsibility for 431 activities would need to be handed off to the government of Iraq, the U.S. embassy, U.S. Central Command, or other U.S. government departments. Ending the U.S. war in Iraq would also require redeploying over 100,000 military and civilian personnel and moving or transferring ownership of over a million pieces of property, including facilities, in accordance with U.S. and Iraqi laws, national policy, and DoD requirements. This book looks at the planning and execution of this transition, using information gathered from historical documents and interviews with key players. It examines efforts to help Iraq build the capacity necessary to manage its own security absent a U.S. military presence. It also looks at the complications that arose from uncertainty over just how much of a presence the United States would continue to have beyond 2011 and how various post-transition objectives would be advanced. The authors also examine efforts to create an embassy intended to survive in a hostile environment by being entirely self-sufficient, performing missions the military previously performed. The authors draw lessons from these events that can help plan for ending future wars.     
  1. “Should Iraq's Jewish Archives Stay in U.S.?”,, November 2013.
Washington — At the National Archives in Washington, the story of Iraq’s ancient Jewish community has just gone on display, presented via a priceless collection of artifacts and documents recovered during America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. But behind the scenes, a battle reaching to the highest levels of government is taking place over the future of those same documents and artifacts.
“Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage” is the subject of a vigorous campaign launched by Iraqi Jewish activists, Jewish communal leaders and members of Congress trying to convince the government of the United States to back out of an agreement it signed with the Iraqi government, promising to return these objects after the exhibit ends.
At issue is not just the fate of the religious artifacts and community documents, which were forcefully seized by the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before American GIs ever arrived. With these items, surviving members of Iraq’s once thriving but now extinct Jewish community are also seeking to win recognition from the world for their story, a story they believe other Jews take for granted.
  1. In Afghanistan, interpreters who helped U.S. in war denied visas; U.S. says they face no threat”,, November 2013.
KABUL — A growing number of Afghan interpreters who worked alongside American troops are being denied U.S. visas allotted by Congress because the State Department says there is no serious threat against their lives.
But the interpreters, many of whom served in Taliban havens for years, say U.S. officials are ­drastically underestimating the danger they face. Immigration lawyers and Afghan interpreters say the denials are occurring just as concerns about Taliban retribution are mounting because of the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces.
“There are tons of Talibs in my village, and they all know that I worked with the Americans,” said one interpreter, Mohammad, who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons. “If I can’t go to the States, my life is over. I swear to God, one day the Taliban will catch me.” 
Mohammad received a U.S. form letter saying he had failed to establish that there was a “serious threat” to his life. He had explained in his application that the Taliban had spotted him on the job and had spread word in his village that he was a wanted man.
  1. Nowzad Dogs
The aim of the charity is to improve the welfare of the animals of Afghanistan; which includes humanely reducing the stray dog population which in turn will reduce the incidents of canine rabies, provide animal welfare education for the Afghan people and develop training programmes to improve the lives of working animals. We have also now helped over 550 soldiers serving in Afghanistan to be reunited back in their home countries (USA, UK, Italy, South Africa, Australia and Germany) with the dogs or cats they rescued from the front lines of Afghanistan.  - See more at:
  1. “Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance”, Congressional Research Service, November 2013.
The capacity, transparency, and legitimacy of Afghan governance are considered crucial to Afghan stability after U.S.-led NATO forces turn over the security mission to Afghan leadership by the end of 2014. The size and capability of the Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but the government remains weak and rampant with corruption. Even as the government has struggled to widen its writ, President Hamid Karzai has concentrated substantial presidential authority through his powers of appointment at all levels. But, he is constitutionally term-limited; presidential and provincial elections are scheduled for April 5, 2014, and Afghanistan is beginning to transition from the Karzai era. Several major figures—some close to Karzai and others opposed—have registered to run for president; many of their slates include faction leaders long accused of human rights abuses. Some candidates are concerned that Karzai will use state machinery to favor a particular candidate. Fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) was extensively documented, but Afghan officials, scrutinized by opposition ties, civil society organizations, and key donor countries, have taken some steps to limit the potential for fraud in the April 2014 elections.
Fears about the election process are fanned by the scant progress in reducing widespread nepotism and other forms of corruption. President Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same bodies have faltered from lack of support from senior Afghan government leaders who oppose prosecuting their political allies. At a donors’ conference in Tokyo on July 8, 2012, donors pledged to aid Afghanistan’s economy through at least 2017, on the condition that Afghanistan takes concrete, verifiable action to rein in corruption. Afghan progress on that issue was assessed relatively unfavorably at the end of a Tokyo process review meeting in Kabul attended by major donors on July 3, 2013.
  1. “The Dogs Are Eating Them Now – Our War in Afghanistan”, Graeme Smith, 2013, “We lost the war in southern Afghanistan and it broke my heart.”  So begins Graeme Smith’s The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, and like all heartbreaks, this one happened despite the best intentions. Smith devoted more time to southern Afghanistan than any other Western journalist between 2005 and 2011, and his book offers a candid and critical look at the Taliban’s rising influence and the West’s continued miscalculations.
Smith was not simply embedded with the military: he operated independently and at great personal risk to report from inside the war, and the heroes of his story are the translators, guides, and ordinary citizens who helped him find the truth. They revealed sad, absurd, touching stories that provide the key to understanding why the mission failed to deliver peace and democracy.
  1. “Development Assistance in Afghanistan after 2014: from the Military Exit Strategy to a Civilian Entry Strategy”, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, December 2013.
After the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), delivering development assistance in Afghanistan can return to common practices and procedures used in other insecure areas such as Somalia and Sudan (and already in areas of Afghanistan). This means that the international community must develop a civilian entry strategy and communicate to the Afghan population that civilian entry, not military exit, is its strategy for the future.
Donors should ignore the current commitment to channel 50 per cent of assistance through the central government budget. Instead, in each sector (e.g. health care, education, security) an effective division of labour must be established between the central and provincial governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector. Involving NGOs, the private sector and the local population in the delivery of basic services does not have to be at the expense of government control or legitimacy. International aid donors need to pay further attention to security and rule of law. But alternatives to the current strategy, which is often perceived as being militarized and short-term, have to be found. It is often more effective to integrate these issues into broader development programmes.
  1. “Trans-Regional Web Initiative” Sources Sought
  1. Military Information Support Operations – Improved Coordination, Evaluations, and Training and Equipping Are Needed, Government  Accountability Office, April 2013
  1. Extractive Industries and Peacebuilding in Afghanistan: The Role of Social Accountability, United States Institute of Peace, November 2013.
Recent estimates of deposits in Afghanistan indicate that mineral extraction could contribute to the economic growth the country needs to sustain its efforts in peacebuilding and development after 2014. This report argues that integrating social accountability measures into governance of the extractive industry can help alleviate violent conflict by ensuring a more equitable distribution of the benefits as well as facilitate greater confidence in the state and a molding of the social contract. The U.S. Institute of Peace is working with Integrity Watch Afghanistan in testing some of the concepts in this report through a project to help support social accountability in Afghanistan’s mining sector. 



Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reconstruction Update

  1. “19 true things generals can't say in public about the Afghan war: A helpful primer.” Foreign Policy, August 2013.
As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan. 
Here is a list of 19 things that many insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree to be true about the war there, but that generals can't say in public. So, general, read this now and believe it later-but keep your lip zipped. Maybe even keep a printout in your wallet and review before interviews.
  1. “At great risk, they helped The Post cover Iraq. Now, they’re remaking their lives in America”, Washington Post, July 2013.
Two hours into the celebration, after the children had finished scurrying about the garden, the adults had gossiped under the portico and everyone had indulged in a buffet of hummus and kebabs, Washington Post photographer Bill O’Leary clambered onto the roof of the villa serving as The Post’s bureau in Baghdad.
“Let’s take a group photo,” he beckoned.
And so they gathered. The interpreters, drivers and guards. Their wives. Their sons and daughters. Sixty-eight in all, standing between two palm trees under a gray autumn sky.
It was 2003. U.S. troops had entered Baghdad that April, and although Saddam Hussein was no longer in power, the Americans had not yet delivered upon grand promises to rebuild the nation. Most in O’Leary’s frame had no electricity at home. Looters roamed their streets. Many had not been to a party in years — they hadn’t had the means to entertain while Iraq’s economy was smothered by a trade embargo.
But as the shutter clicked, they smiled. Some thought back to their carefree childhoods, before years of war and suffocating sanctions. Others allowed their minds to wander ahead. The day’s gaiety seemed a harbinger of more joyous times.
After the photo session, the youngsters resumed playing table tennis and bouncing balloons into the air. “They are so lucky,” one of the drivers declared. “They will get to grow up in an Iraq free of war.”
  1. “Get the Data: The Pakistan government’s secret document”, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, July 2013.
The Bureau is publishing in full a leaked internal document – titled Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA - which contains the Pakistan government’s own estimates of how many people have died in specific CIA drone strikes.
The summary report – obtained from three independent sources – covers the period January 13 2006 to October 24 2009.
Drawn from field reports by local officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the document lists over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009, alongside a small number of other incidents such as alleged Nato attacks and strikes by unspecified forces.
Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.
Some CIA strikes are missing from the document. None of the five reported strikes for 2007 are listed, for example. Also missing are any biographical details of those killed, although the genders of many victims are reported and – where known – whether any children died.
The document also fails to mention details of a number of senior militant commanders known to have died in the attacks.
The Bureau believes there is a strong public interest value in publishing the report in full. A number of small distinguishing marks have been removed – otherwise the document is presented as-is.
  1. “How to Save the War in Afghanistan,” Real Clear World, July 2013.
The U.S. is slowly and steadily losing the war in Afghanistan. It is not losing the war at the military level - although such defeat is possible in coming years if the U.S. does not provide the necessary funds, advisors, and partners. The U.S. is losing the war at the political level by failing to win (and merit) the support of the Congress, the American people, its allies, and the Afghans.
At one level, the U.S. is losing the war through a failure to provide credible leadership. It is losing the war through a combination of a lack of strategic realism, meaningful judgments about the cost-benefits of continuing the war, and a failure to develop credible plans. At another level, the U.S. is losing the war through delays, neglect, and a failure to lead at the top levels of the Obama Administration. 
The Obama Administration does, however, face critical problems in providing effective leadership. It inherited a massive and unnecessary mess from the Bush Administration. It also inherited a major recession, and a crisis in federal spending that now forces major cuts in U.S. military capability and hard choices in terms of strategic priorities. The Congress has contributed to its own failures on a bipartisan basis. Rather than demand effective plans, accountability, and measures of effectiveness, it has simply accepted most funding requests in an effort to show it has supported the troops and the war.
  1. “Pakistan: A History of Violence”, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, July 2013.
The Pakistan Religious Violence Project, an undertaking of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, tracked over the past 18 months publicly-reported attacks against religious communities in Pakistan. The findings are sobering: 203 incidents of sectarian violence resulting in more than 1,800 casualties, including over 700 deaths. The Shi’a community bore the brunt of attacks from militants and terrorist organizations, with some of the deadliest attacks occurring during holy months and pilgrimages.
While Shi’a are more at risk of becoming victims of suicide bombings and targeted shootings, the already poor religious freedom environment for Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus continued to deteriorate, with a number violent incidents occurring against members of these communities.
The information the Project gathered is based on reports and news articles available in the public domain. The Project seeks to be inclusive, tracking all reported incidents involving physical attacks targeting a member of a religious community or a major religious gathering place (church, shrine, or mosque). However, it is not exhaustive and some acts of violence are certain to have been overlooked. While each incident has not been independently verified, the accompanying Factsheet provides a hyperlink to the supporting documents.
The Project’s findings paint a grim and challenging picture for the new government of Prime Minister Newaz Sharif…
  1. “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, July 2013.
  1. “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan [‘1230 Report’]”,
    U.S. Department of Defense, July 2013.
  1. “How to Read Afghanistan”, The New York Times, August 2013.
On a sunny, crisp November day in 2008, three American civilians joined a platoon of United States soldiers on a foot patrol in Maiwand District, a flat, yellow patch of earth crowned by black-rock mountains in southern Afghanistan. The civilians were part of the Human Terrain System, an ambitious, troubled Army program that sends social scientists into conflict zones to help soldiers understand local culture, politics and economics.
That day, the team planned to interview shoppers coming and going from a nearby bazaar. Afghans had complained about the high price of flour, so the Human Terrain Team members were creating a consumer price index. They also wanted to find out whether Afghan officials were asking shopkeepers for bribes, and how merchants protected themselves and their goods in a place where insurgents and local security forces threatened civilians in equal measure.
The team’s social scientist that day was Paula Loyd, a 36-year-old Wellesley graduate and Army veteran with degrees in anthropology and diplomacy and years of experience as a development worker in Afghanistan. Through her interpreter, she struck up a conversation with an Afghan man who was carrying a jug of fuel, asking how much he had paid for it. They talked genially until her interpreter was called away. Suddenly, the man doused Ms. Loyd with gas from his jug and lit her on fire.
  1. “Status of Developing Afghan Governance and Lessons for Future Endeavors”, International Journal of Security and Development, May 2013.
Building the capacity of and reforming Afghan governance is widely viewed as the key to success in Afghanistan. Assessing progress, however, is hampered by limited data outside the Afghan security ministries – the Ministries of Defense and Interior – and by the lack of a common definition of governance. Available reporting suggests building governance capacity is far from complete. Varying definitions of governance, coupled with the use of the term by numerous organizations without defining it, results in addressing too broad a range of issues. It would be more useful to concentrate on the core of governance – providing the services the Afghan government has committed to provide to its citizens. This, in turn, requires that Afghan ministries have the functional capacity to carry out their responsibilities, including financial management, budget formulation and execution, policy and strategic planning, and service delivery. However, time is growing short. The Afghan experience provides some important lessons that could guide future endeavors for the international community. First, this paper discusses progress in building ministerial capacity. Second, it discusses recent efforts to link continued financial assistance to Afghanistan with improved governance. Third, it describes how the lack of a commonly accepted definition of governance complicates assessing progress. Finally, it offers conclusions and observations about the failure to establish an autonomous Afghan governance capacity.
For more than a decade, improving governance has been recognized as the most difficult and critical challenge involving Afghan reconstruction. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that U.S. policymakers have consistently identified building the capacity of and reforming Afghan governance as the key to success in Afghanistan (SIGAR 2012, 22).
10.  The Middle East, explained in one (sort of terrifying) chart”, Washington Post, August 2013.
11.   “Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights”, Congressional Research Service, August 2013.
12. “A Death in the Family,” Foreign Policy, September 2013.
On Aug. 15, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that one of its employees had died suddenly. The agency didn't mention that Michael C. Dempsey, a senior field program officer assigned as the leader of a civilian assistance team in eastern Afghanistan, killed himself four days earlier while home on extended medical leave. However, the medical examiner in Kent County, Michigan, confirmed to Foreign Policy that Dempsey had committed suicide by hanging himself in a hotel-room shower. His death is USAID's first known suicide in a decade of work in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. And what makes the suicide particularly striking is that it came a year and three days after Dempsey's close friend and colleague was killed in an improvised-explosive-device attack in Afghanistan. 
After a decade of development and reconstruction work in two of the world's hottest war zones, USAID now has hundreds of Foreign Service officers who are potentially at risk for post-traumatic mental-health issues. While an enormous amount of resources and attention has been paid to military suicides, comparatively little focus has been given to civilians' struggles. And it's a sign that it's not only members of the armed services who shoulder the emotional burdens of war.
13. “War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strategy, and Issues for Congress”, U.S. Congressional Research Service, August 2013. 
This is a critical time for U.S. efforts in the war in Afghanistan. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama announced that the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would draw down by an additional 34,000 troops, to about 33,000, by February 2014, and that by the end of 2014 “our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Further decision-making regarding the U.S. force presence in Afghanistan, including after the end of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission at the end of 2014, is expected later this year. Yet while troop levels tend to steal the headlines, far more fundamentally at stake is what it would take to ensure the long-term protection of U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region.
Arguably, the United States may have a number of different interests at stake in the region: countering al Qaeda and other violent extremists; preventing nuclear proliferation; preventing nuclear confrontation between nuclear-armed states; standing up for American values, including basic human rights and the protection of women; and preserving the United States’ ability to exercise leadership on the world stage. At issue is the relative priority of these interests, what it would take in practice to ensure that they are protected, and their relative importance compared to other compelling security concerns around the globe.
14. The Bravest Girls in the World: The Afghan Women's Writing Project, October 2013.
15. “Watching the Middle East Implode”, Hoover Institution, September 2013.
Only when we recognize the fundamental role Islam plays in the region can we begin to craft sensible policies that put U.S. interests first.
The revolutions against dictators in the Middle East dubbed the Arab Spring have degenerated into a complex, bloody mélange of coups and counter-coups, as have happened in Egypt; vicious civil wars, like the current conflict in Syria; a resurgence of jihadists gaining footholds in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Sinai; and a shifting and fracturing of alliances and enmities of the sort throwing Lebanon and Jordan into turmoil. Meanwhile, American foreign policy has been confused, incompetent, and feckless in insuring that the security and interests of the United States and its allies are protected.
A major reason for our foreign policy failures in the region is our inability to take into account the intricate diversity of ideological, political, and especially theological motives driving events. Just within the Islamist outfits, Sunni and Shia groups are at odds—and this isn’t to mention the many bitter divisions within Sunni and Shia groups. Add the other players in the Middle East––military dictators, secular democrats, leftover communists, and nationalists of various stripes––and the whole region seems embroiled in endlessly complex divisions.
16. “The United States’ disservice to Afghan translators”, The Washington Post, September 2013. 
Four years ago, a bleeding Afghan interpreter, Fazel, staggered out of an ambush in Ganjigal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Trapped inside the valley were four Americans. Asked to help rescue them, he said, “I have a wife and baby. But I will go back.” Fazel returned to the battle, killed several Taliban fighters and carried out the bodies of the fallen Americans.
Since that fight, the Taliban has been determined to kill Fazel, who has served with U.S. units for five years and has received 15 certificates and letters of commendation attesting to his work record. Shortly after the ambush, Fazel applied for a visa to the United States. 
Since he applied, the State Department has issued almost 2 million visas to immigrants. The visa section at State was repeatedly informed that the Taliban was hunting Fazel. But for four years, there was no movement. Last month, Fox News reported the neglect, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the senior commander in Afghanistan, insisted that Fazel receive a visa “as soon as possible.” A few days ago, an overjoyed Fazel got his visa.
On the one hand, this is a happy ending to a nearly five-year odyssey. But it is depressing that a four-star general had to personally intervene to resolve the case of someone clearly loyal to the United States. Fazel risked the lives of his family because, in his mind, he was an American, fighting alongside his fellow grunts. Ask any company commander returning from Afghanistan, and he can tell you about another Fazel, equally deserving of a visa.
17. “Has America Abandoned an Afghan Interpreter?”, The New Yorker, September 2013.

18. “Analysis: Land disputes add to Afghanistan’s security woes”, IRIN, September 2013.

KUNDUZ, 10 September 2013 (IRIN) - Fifty years ago, Dost Mohammad's grandfather had 1,000 sheep grazing on the family's plot of land on the outskirts of Kunduz City, Afghanistan. The family's livestock numbers have since decreased significantly, but then, so has the size of their land.

“We keep getting pushed further and further back,” said Mohammad. “We're also having problems bringing our sheep to Badakshan. We will be killed today if we bring our sheep there.”

Over the past 10 years, land disputes across the country have become increasingly common, reflecting long-term trends, like environmental degradation, increasing competition over land in both rural and urban areas, a high population growth rate, and the 4.6 million former refugees who have returned from neighbouring countries in the past decade. Presidential elections, to be held in 2014, are also worsening tensions.

 There has been little success in resolving the issues or improving the land system. Analysts warn the number of disputes is likely to grow.
19. “You don’t need to love us’: Civil-Military Relations in Afghanistan, 2002–13”, ReliefWeb, August 2013. 
The belief that development and reconstruction activities are central to stability and security is by no means novel. The need for ‘integrated’ approaches or ‘coherence’ in post-conflict environments had been largely acknowledged by humanitarian and military actors alike, particularly in the aftermath of Rwanda and other humanitarian crises of the 1990s (Collinson and Elhawary 2012). However, ‘stabilisation’ in foreign policy, military strategy, and development aid assumed significantly greater prominence after the events of 9/11. Such approaches were highly contentious, perhaps nowhere more so than in Afghanistan where troop contributing nations (TCNs) to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) sought to utilise development and reconstruction activities to undermine the Taliban and enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan government. The stabilisation approaches employed by international forces and their governments in Afghanistan have become a model for many Western countries and for NATO, yet aid agencies’ experiences in dialogue with these forces and in the context of stabilisation have often been deeply negative, affecting the way they operate and interact with military forces globally.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Reconstruction Update

1.      “Emails from a Dead Man”, This American Life, June 2013.
There are still tens of thousands of Iraqis whose lives are in danger because they worked with the United States during the war. We — Americans — have known about this issue for years: we’ve gotten angry about it, talked about it, written about it, passed multiple laws about it, but we have never quite solved it once and for all.
The chain of emails below shows what we’ve got instead of a solution.
2.      Report of the Abbottabad Commission
3.      The Afghan Study Group, March 2013.
At nine years and counting, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest in our history, surpassing even the Vietnam War, and it will shortly surpass the Soviet Union’s own extended military campaign there. With the surge, it will cost the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, a sum roughly seven times larger than Afghanistan’s annual gross national product (GNP) of $14 billion and greater than the total annual cost of the new U.S. health insurance program.  Thousands of American and allied personnel have been killed or gravely wounded.
The United States should by no means abandon Afghanistan, but it is time to abandon the current strategy that is not working. Trying to pacify Afghanistan by force of arms will not work, and a costly military campaign there is more likely to jeopardize America’s vital security interests than to protect them. The Study Group believes that the United States should pursue more modest goals that are both consistent with America’s true interests and far more likely to succeed.
4.      “US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World”, Diplopundit, June 2013.
5.      The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
Welcome to The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer by James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Soccer in the Middle East and North Africa is played as much on as off the pitch. Stadiums are a symbol of the battle for political freedom; economic opportunity; ethnic, religious and national identity; and gender rights. Alongside the mosque, the stadium was until the Arab revolt erupted in late 2010 the only alternative public space for venting pent-up anger and frustration. It was the training ground in countries like Egypt and Tunisia where militant fans prepared for a day in which their organization and street battle experience would serve them in the showdown with autocratic rulers. Soccer has its own unique thrill – a high-stakes game of cat and mouse between militants and security forces and a struggle for a trophy grander than the FIFA World Cup: the future of a region. This blog explores the role of soccer at a time of transition from autocratic rule to a more open society. It also features James’s daily political comment on the region’s developments.
6.      Costs of War Project 
The wars begun in 2001 have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States and economically costly as well.  Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll.  Moreover, the human costs of these conflicts will reverberate for years to come in each of those four countries.  There is no turning the page on the wars with the end of hostilities, and there is even more need as a result to understand what those wars consequences are and will be.
The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. A team of 30 economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and physicians were assembled to do this analysis.  Their research papers are posted and summarized on this website.
7.      10 Years After the Fall of Saddam, How Do Iraqis Look Back on the War?”, The Atlantic, June 2013.
It's become tough for Americans to reflect on the U.S. overthrow of Iraq's Ba'ath regime without coming back to the conclusion that the failure to build a new, democratic state in the heart of the Middle East was inevitable to the project of a U.S.-led "regime change." Some, however, even among those who've long embraced the verdict that the Iraq War was a disaster, still hesitate on the inevitability question -- if only slightly: At the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday, for example, The Washington Post's David Ignatius remarked that he's haunted, when he now looks at Libya or Syria, by "the consequences of toppling an authoritarian regime without having in place the pillars that are going to support civilized life" [emphasis added].
So was the "regime-change" theory of the war wrong from the start, or is it still possible that the theory was right and the execution incompetent?
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg put the question to Barham Salih, the former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan's regional government and a former deputy prime minister of Iraq's federal government.
8.      “Tareq Aziz - The Other Truth”, March 2013.
9.      “Todd Greentree's seven principles for the next time we get mixed up in a small war”, Foreign Policy, May 2013. 
It is not too soon to draw cautionary lessons from the inconclusive results of US performance during more than 11 years of Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan. As in Vietnam, fundamental difficulties persist in adapting enduring institutions to the requirements of strategy. At the heart of the matter is tension between the assumptions that underlie counterinsurgency as practiced in Afghanistan and organization of the US Armed Forces, State Department, and Agency for International Development. Knowledge of basic principles and necessary changes is available to answer the question, could the US have done better?
10.  “The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War”, Pacific Standard, July 2013.
For a long time, the Taj Guest House was about the only place you could get a beer in Jalalabad. The provincial capital, about 30 miles from the infamous mountains of Tora Bora, has been the main staging ground for U.S.-led forces in the eastern part of Afghanistan since the early days of the war. When I showed up in the city in November 2011 to report on the propaganda efforts of a franchising Taliban, I found myself at the Taj. There wasn’t much to the pub—just a bamboo-covered bar, a fireplace, a glass-fronted cooler with some Heineken stacked inside, and a few bottles of vodka and other spirits lined up under the red glow of a lamp.
Plus there was an odd little sign: “We share information, communication, (and beer).”
Behind the Taj’s main building was a second villa with an imposing cluster of satellite dishes and antennae jutting from its roof. The villa housed a small team of young expatriates, half a dozen or so women and men who generally kept to themselves. Their apparent leader was a tall, broad-shouldered man who seemed always in a hurry. Looking like a cross between a mountaineer and a mathematician, he had a salt-and-pepper beard and curly hair that hung down to his shoulders, and he favored a uniform of black polo shirts over tied-dyed tees. His name was Dr. Dave Warner.    
11.  “Iraq on the International Stage: Foreign Policy and National Identity in Transition”, Chatham House, June 2013.
As Iraq emerges from the shadow of war and occupation, it has sought to regain influence as a major actor in an ever-more volatile region. Though the 'new Iraq' attempts to project an independent foreign policy, renewed instability and violence inside the country has challenged the state's ability to develop a coherent and unified foreign policy stance.
Jane Kinninmont and Gareth Stansfield will present the findings of their new report which explores how foreign policy in Iraq today is developed and implemented, and analyses the extent to which Iraq's foreign policy aims are identifiable, independent and national in nature. They will also engage in a wider discussion with an expert panel on Iraqi foreign policy, particularly towards the conflict in Syria and how issues in neighbouring states are intertwined with domestic Iraqi politics.
12.  “Drones: Myths and Realities in Pakistan", International Crisis Group, May 2013.
Nine years after the first U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2004, the U.S. refuses to officially acknowledge the CIA-run program, while Pakistan denies consenting to it. This secrecy undermines efforts to assess the program’s legality or its full impact on FATA’s population. It also diverts attention from a candid examination of the roots of militancy in the poorly governed tribal belt bordering southern and eastern Afghanistan and how best to address them. Drone strikes may disrupt FATA-based militant groups’ capacity to plan and execute cross-border attacks on NATO troops and to plot attacks against the U.S. homeland, but they cannot solve the fundamental problem. The ability of those groups to regroup, rearm and recruit will remain intact so long as they enjoy safe havens on Pakistani territory and efforts to incorporate FATA into the constitutional mainstream are stifled.
Since 2004, there have been at least 350 drone strikes in FATA, mostly in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Kurram agencies. These have killed significant numbers of al-Qaeda leaders and senior militant commanders of both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, but also scores of innocent civilians, in part because of so-called “signature” strikes that target groups of men based on behaviour patterns associated with terrorist activity rather than known identities.
13.  “Subcommittee Hearing: Learning from Iraq: A Final Report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction”, U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, July 2013. 
14.   “Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s”, The Atlantic, July 2013. 
Fractured by internal conflict and foreign intervention for centuries, Afghanistan made several tentative steps toward modernization in the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, some of the biggest strides were made toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, while trying to maintain a respect for more conservative factions. Though officially a neutral nation, Afghanistan was courted and influenced by the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, accepting Soviet machinery and weapons, and U.S. financial aid. This time was a brief, relatively peaceful era, when modern buildings were constructed in Kabul alongside older traditional mud structures, when burqas became optional for a time, and the country appeared to be on a path toward a more open, prosperous society. Progress was halted in the 1970s, as a series of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars began, continuing to this day, reversing almost all of the steps toward modernization taken in the 50s and 60s. Keep in mind, when looking at these images, that the average life expectancy for Afghans born in 1960 was 31, so the vast majority of those pictured have likely passed on since. 
15.  “Are you smarter than a US diplomat? Take our Foreign Service Exam”, The Christian Science Monitor, January 2011.  
Diplomats working for the US Foreign Service are responsible for carrying out the policy of the United States. In order to serve at one of the 265 US diplomatic missions around the world, applicants must pass a series of examinations. The tests consist of a job knowledge test, English language test, essays, oral exams, and a qualifications panel. Our 20 questions are modeled after the job knowledge portion of the Foreign Service Officer's test. The real examination consists of 60 questions and is administered over 40 minutes. Think you know enough to become a US diplomat? Take our quiz.
16.  “Who Runs This Town?  Private Security Companies and their effect on security sector reform in Afghanistan”,  John Sverre Ronnevik, June 2012. 
17.  “Kurdistan: The Next Autocracy?”, Foreign Policy in Focus, June 2013.
A haze hangs low over the city of Erbil. Automotive exhaust and dry sand envelop the area, forming an opaque mixture that sunshine struggles to penetrate. The capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Autonomous Region, Erbil operates as a de-facto independent state, with its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Its soldiers wear their uniforms with pride, sporting a tricolor symbol of their country sewn on to them. Meanwhile, Erbil has total control of its external and internal regional borders, just as any sovereign state would.
As a result, Erbil is separate from Iraq, and from that country’s contentious and often deadly politics in Baghdad. “Separation is a necessary step, as our representatives have only 90 seats in Iraq’s parliament (out of 700 plus). Thus we have absolutely no voice in what is going on,” said Abdullah, who owns a travel agency in downtown Erbil. “They often say we will give you money for this and this, but we want you to do this and that,” he added. “We, the Kurds, find this unacceptable, as so many people have died so things will not be the same as before anymore.”
18.  “Assessing the Transition in Afghanistan”, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, July 2013.
19.  “Afghanistan Index”, “Pakistan Index”, Brookings Institution, June 2013.