January 5, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s PR team fumbles badly with Boyle photo-op

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Late last year, the Boyle family were “rescued” from the Taliban and the Prime Minister not only met with them, but allowed some photos to be taken that quickly made their way out onto social media. Now that Joshua Boyle has been arrested for a long list of offenses, the PM is looking very bad indeed, as Chris Selley points out:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Boyle family in Ottawa, 18 December.

The supposed geniuses surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are capable of some very strange decisions. Arranging a meeting with Joshua Boyle and his family after their release from Taliban captivity, and agreeing to the Boyles photographing the smiling encounter — Joshua later tweeted out some snaps — is certainly one of them.

Boyle was arrested Tuesday and charged with a raft of offences including sexual assault and unlawful confinement, concerning events beginning immediately after the family’s return to Canada in early October. Trudeau met the Boyles on Dec. 18. Now photos of Trudeau beaming with the accused are all over the news. If PMO procedures somehow didn’t flag the investigation, that’s a serious concern. If they did and the meeting happened anyway, it’s horrendous political risk management at the very least.

Indeed, these were hardly the first red flags. The PMO argues it would agree to such a meeting with any released hostages — a very stupid policy if it exists, because the Boyles aren’t quite any released hostages. When the Taliban nabbed Joshua and five-months-pregnant Caitlin Coleman in 2012, they were ostensibly “backpacking in Afghanistan.” The phrase dances off the tongue a bit like “scuba diving in Yemen” or “gastronomic tour of Somalia”: not inconceivable, but the Boyles will not have been surprised to learn that some in the U.S. intelligence community were suspicious. They reportedly refused an American military flight home over fears — perfectly reasonable ones, surely — that they might wind up stuck at Bagram Airfield.

But what the heck, let’s think the best of the Boyles. Sunny ways, etc. The best still involves the unpleasant matter of Joshua’s short-lived marriage to none other than Zaynab Khadr — daughter of the late Ahmed Khadr, the Egyptian-Canadian al-Qaida financier for whom Jean Chrétien famously went to bat when he was detained in Pakistan.


Unseriousness is a serious charge against Trudeau: big hat, staff photographer, few cattle. Another non-official photo released this week shows Trudeau and his Castro-worshiping brother Sacha in matching sweaters depicting the Last Supper attended by emojis, with the words Happy Birthday strung over top. In a rather over-the-top tweet, Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused the PM of “intolerance” and of “mocking Christianity” — and no question, many Canadians might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment lest it cause offence. (It was in private, of course, but it’s public now.) But many Canadians also might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment because he’s the leader of a G7 country, a serious person with a serious job that he’s taking seriously.

This touchy-feely cool-dad happy-go-lucky shtick has taken Trudeau a long, long way. I very much doubt it can take him any further. And I think the backlash, when it comes, could be legendary.

October 8, 2014

Pakistan’s public health emergency

Filed under: Asia, Health — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

The number of reported cases of polio is now the highest it has been for more than a decade, and at least some of the blame has to go to the CIA for using health workers as a cover for some of their covert operations.

As world health officials struggle to respond to the Ebola epidemic, Pakistan has passed a grim milestone in its efforts to combat another major global health crisis: the fight against polio.

Over the weekend, Pakistan logged its 200th new polio case of 2014, the nation’s highest transmission rate in more than a dozen years. The spread has alarmed Pakistani and international health experts and is prompting fresh doubt about the country’s ability to combat this or future disease outbreaks.

By Tuesday, the number of new polio cases in Pakistan stood at 202, and officials are bracing for potentially dozens of other cases by year’s end. Pakistan now accounts for 80 percent of global cases and is one of only three countries at risk of exporting the disease outside its borders, according to the World Health Organization.


In far-flung areas of the country, some parents and religious leaders are skeptical of the vaccine, requiring considerable face-to-face outreach by vaccination teams.

But the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militants have waged a brutal campaign against those teams, killing more than 50 health workers and security officials since 2012. The attacks began after it was discovered that the CIA had used a vaccination campaign to gain information about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

June 9, 2014

The not-so-hidden racism in the Bergdahl release

Filed under: Humour, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:22

Nicole Mullen explains why you’re an awful racist if you don’t see the awful racism in the swap of five Taliban prisoners for US Army hero/deserter Bowe Bergdahl:

Treating politics like professional wrestling rivalries comes with its fair share of downfalls though, and this Bergdahl case is a perfect example of such shortcomings. As a leftist myself, I was quick to dismiss any notion of Bergdahl’s traitorous behavior, nor did I take exception to Obama’s decision to circumvent congressional approval when he released five terrorists from Gitmo. I simply read that a trade occurred, googled to find out how the right felt about it, and then blindly argued against every single point that they made. Is Bergdahl a deserter? Of course not, he’s a hero. What evidence do I have of that? None. Who cares? I’m right and you’re wrong.

But, this is where the breakdown occurs, because there’s something my fellow liberals are missing in all of this, and only part of it is to blame on fervent, unquestioning support of the president. It’s odd to me that in a whole industry of race obsessed blowhards collecting freelancing checks, I’m the only one who noticed how racist the Bergdahl trade was.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the president for his decision to rescue Bergdahl, but there’s something that the white left is afraid to talk about here. When Obama traded five men of color for one white man – he made a very clear statement about race. He let the entire world know that one white life is worth at least five brown ones, and that is incredibly fucked up and gross and problematic.

Think for a second – if Bush had made that trade, is there any doubt that we would be calling him out for how outrageously racist it was? If a white man had traded five brown men for one white man, we would be quick to see it for what it was – an affirmation of white privilege and power. But, because Obama is a man of color himself, it seems as if no one noticed.

I can only imagine the struggle Obama, a man of people of color, must have felt as he authorized that trade. He was betraying himself – the black part of himself – while simultaneously affirming the privilege and power structures inherent in the white part of himself. The courage it took to make that decision is remarkable, and again, I feel like he made the right choice, but we should really look at this situation and use it as a way to reflect on our cultural attitudes to the devaluation and reductive characterization of colorful men that we objectify through cisrace projections of cultural self-worth.

January 13, 2013

The “successes” of the drone war can only be measured in body counts

Filed under: Africa, Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:48

In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins discusses the negative aspects of the drone war:

The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation. Nuclear bombs are useless weapons, playthings for the powerful or those aspiring to power. Drones are now sweeping the global arms market. There are some 10,000 said to be in service, of which a thousand are armed and mostly American. Some reports say they have killed more non-combatant civilians than died in 9/11.

I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the horn of Africa that suggests these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their “success” is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called “al-Qaida-linked commanders” killed. If body count were victory, the Germans would have won Stalingrad and the Americans Vietnam.

Neither the legality nor the ethics of drone attacks bear examination. Last year’s exhaustive report by lawyers from Stanford and New York universities concluded that they were in many cases illegal, killed civilians, and were militarily counter-productive. Among the deaths were an estimated 176 children. Such slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled. Air forces enjoy such prestige that civilian deaths are excused as a price worth paying for not jeopardising pilots’ lives.

[. . .]

Since the drone war began in earnest in 2008, there has been no decline in Taliban or al-Qaida performance attributable to it. Any let-up in recruitment is merely awaiting Nato’s departure. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has called the attacks “in no way justifiable”. The Pakistan government, at whose territory they are increasingly directed, has withdrawn all permission.

The young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana protested in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country, erasing “years of progress and trust-building with tribes”. Yemenis now face al-Qaida recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Notional membership of al-Qaida in Yemen is reported to have grown by three times since 2009.

November 21, 2012

Upgrading the Coyote

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

Strategy Page has a bit of Canadian content now and again:

Canada has ordered upgrades for another of its 66 LAV III wheeled armored vehicles. These 66 will be equipped for reconnaissance as was its predecessor the LAV II Coyote. This vehicle went to Afghanistan a decade ago and proved enormously useful by doing long range surveillance of Taliban and al Qaeda suspects. The Coyote reconnaissance system mounted on a wheeled armored vehicle. The recon gear consists of a nine meter (30 foot) telescoping mast that contains a Doppler radar, laser rangefinder, thermal imaging sensor and video camera. The mast mounted sensors can see clearly out to 15 kilometers and identify targets (day or night) for artillery or air attack. The radar can spot targets out to 24 kilometers, but can only distinguish vehicle types (wheeled, tracked) beginning at about 12 kilometers.

[. . .]

The Coyote was originally conceived as an inexpensive replacement for air reconnaissance. But the ability of a Coyote vehicle to stay in one place and carefully track movements over a wide area for days, or weeks proved very useful for intelligence work. Five years ago Canada began a $5 billion to upgrade and expand its fleet of LAV III wheeled armored vehicles. Over the last decade, Canada has replaced its 1980s era MOWAG and older LAV II vehicles with the locally built LAV IIIs. Canada donated many of the older wheeled armored vehicles (mostly 11 ton Grizzly personnel carriers) to nations performing peacekeeping duties.

November 19, 2012

Victims of state-sponsored violence in Pakistan and Gaza

Filed under: Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:52

Brendan O’Neill wonders why fans of Obama’s re-election (and therefore also of his bloody record of drone strikes in Pakistan) are almost uniformly against Israel’s counter-attacks in Gaza:

All the people who two weeks ago were ecstatically cheering the re-election of Barack Obama are now having paroxysms of fury over Israel. Where the blogs, Twitterfeeds and daily conversations of these caring, Left-leaning folk were packed to bursting point with glowing praise for Obama on 7 November, now they are full of scorn for Israel and its inhuman, bloodthirsty bombing of Gaza. The intensity of these individuals’ delirium over Obama’s second term now finds its match in the intensity of their disgust with Israel’s military antics.

Which is weird, when you consider that Obama, their hero, has already done to the tribal regions of Pakistan what Israel, their nemesis, is now doing to Gaza.

Obama, like Israel, launches bombing raids on foreign militants, and Obama, like Israel, ends up killing innocent people in the process. Indeed, of the 283 drone strikes launched by Obama in rural regions of Pakistan over the past four years, which have killed an estimated 2,600 people, only 13 per cent have successfully killed an al-Qaeda or Taliban militant. Shockingly, this means that around 2,200 non-militant Pakistanis — or what we might call innocents — have been killed by Obama: bombed in their beds, or while herding sheep, or while driving their cars. This death toll dwarfs what has been unleashed by Israel over the past week or during the first Gaza war in 2008, when around 1,400 Palestinians died.

[. . .]

What is behind these mammoth double standards? Is it that Pakistanis are considered less important than Palestinians, and therefore there’s no need to protest when they get killed? Is it that Obama is viewed as so supercool and liberal that he can bomb whom he likes and still his cheerleaders won’t kick up a fuss? Is it because Israel is a Jewish State, and we are more offended by the sight of Jews bombing brown people than we are by the sight of America’s Democratic Party bombing brown people? What is it? There must be some explanation. Perhaps if you are one of those people who cheered Obama’s re-election and is now jeering at Israel’s militarism you might take a few minutes to tell us why some forms of militarism make you see red, and others do not.

August 28, 2012

A possible solution to Pakistan’s Taliban problem

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:11

Strategy Page on recent developments in Pakistan over domestic terror groups and the Afghani Taliban:

There are currently 150,000 troops in the Pakistani tribal territories, and nearly 40,000 surrounding North Waziristan (an area of 4,700 square kilometers, with 365,000 people). North Waziristan has been surrounded since late 2009, but Pakistani generals have refused to go in and take down this terrorist refuge. Politicians have been under growing pressure from the West, especially the United States to do something about the continued terror attacks by what the Pakistanis call “bad Taliban”. These are mostly Pakistani Taliban who wants to establish a religious dictatorship in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban, who wants to establish a similar government in Afghanistan are considered “good Taliban” (along with the minority of Pakistani Taliban who don’t want to overthrow the government.)

In the last two years, the Pakistani Taliban have also caused hundreds of casualties among pro-government tribesmen throughout the tribal territories, and it’s no secret that the army hires tribesmen and puts them in dangerous situations to minimize army casualties. The army cannot afford to lose the support of the loyal tribes up there. All this has put pressure on the army to eliminate the refuge the killers can flee to in North Waziristan. Several times, because of the demands of Pakistani and American politicians, the Pakistani generals have said they will consider advancing into North Waziristan. But it hasn’t happened yet. The most likely outcome to all this is a very special army operation in North Waziristan, one that will avoid doing too much damage to their terrorist friends, and just go after a few towns known to be terrorist (who attack Pakistan) hangouts. In other words, the army will put on a show, and hope that the intended audience (the United States) approves. Bad reviews will be bad news indeed. Then there’s the fact that there will be a lot of advance publicity for this operation, including details (in the Pakistani media) of which Pakistani brigade will go where, giving the terrorist groups plenty of time to get out of the way. This has happened before, and could happen again.

The bottom line is that the Pakistani military is not likely to attack its longtime and loyal terrorist allies (especially Haqqani Network) in North Waziristan, at least not as long as the elected politicians have no control over selecting the senior military leaders. The Pakistani military is a self-selected aristocracy that extorts a large chunk of the national wealth to sustain itself. More Pakistanis are looking at the military this way, especially in light how well serving and retired generals (and lower ranking officers) live. But the military has the firepower and few civilians are eager to take the troops on.

The Pakistani generals deny that there is any agreement with the Americans to shut down terrorist operations in North Waziristan in return for NATO action against Pakistani Taliban hiding out in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the last week, American air power appears to have done just that, killing several senior Pakistani Taliban leaders in their Afghan hideouts. Now the Americans are waiting for their Pakistani counterparts to do something in North Waziristan. This is one reason civilians in North Waziristan are fleeing their homes. They know how such deals work; you do a big favor for someone and there has to be payback. It’s the code of honor and must be observed. But maybe not. Officially, Pakistan opposes the American UAV patrols over North Waziristan and the hundreds of missile attacks on terrorists below. Pakistani politicians openly decry these attacks as violations of Pakistani sovereignty, while privately supporting these operations that kill Islamic terrorists the Pakistani security forces will not or cannot get to. It’s all a convenient hypocrisy.

August 4, 2012

The tribal and political divisions of Afghanistan

Filed under: Asia, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:31

A brief primer from Strategy Page on the volatile mix of tribal rivalries that makes Afghanistan such a difficult place to conduct business (or military operations):

The war against the Taliban is increasingly just another chapter in the centuries old conflict between the Pushtun and non-Pushtun tribes of Afghanistan. President Karzai and his allies are from Pushtun tribes that have long been rivals to the tribes that form the core of Taliban leadership and manpower. All this is made worse by the fact that the non-Pushtun Afghans (Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbek), who comprise 60 percent of the population, do not want to lose the increased power (more in proportion to their size of the population) they obtained once democracy was installed in 2002. While Pushtuns are 40 percent of the population, Tajiks are 24 percent, Hazara ten percent, Uzbek 9 percent and various other non-Pushtun minorities the rest. This struggle between Pushtuns and the rest has defined Afghanistan since its creation three centuries ago. The Pushtun are not happy with the recent revisions that gave the majority more power. For Pushtuns, that is just not right. The Taliban are seen as major players in the fight to right this wrong, and for many Pushtuns that makes up for a lot of the evil the Taliban does.

This tribal animosity played a role in the American reaction to Pakistan closing its border to NATO truck traffic last November. The U.S. played hardball with the Pakistanis and shifted truck traffic to the more expensive northern route. This was great for the non-Pushtuns up north, who got a lot more lucrative trucking business. It was a disaster for the mainly Pushtun trucking companies in the south, and the Taliban who extorted “protection money” from the truckers to avoid being attacked. Aware of all that, NATO traffic is not returning to its pre-November levels, and may be reduced still more if the Taliban become more troublesome because their cash flow has increased.

[. . .]

Afghanistan is different to the extent that it has a more violent (than the norm) tribal culture and heavy resistance to anti-corruption efforts. Most Afghans who reach a leadership position consider corruption (demanding bribes and stealing government funds) a right and stealing something of an obligation to make his family/clan/tribe stronger and better able to survive. Many Afghans have noted that countries with less corruption are more prosperous and peaceful, but this anti-corruption faction is still a minority. Corruption continues to be a major problem in Afghanistan and it will get worse when most foreign troops leave in 2014. At that point, the anti-corruption activists will be at more personal risk, as will auditors and other monitors of how foreign aid is spent.

Many (if not most) Pushtuns, and nearly all non-Pushtuns, are hostile to the Taliban and their alien radical Islamic ways. Aside from the lifestyle restrictions, Afghans don’t like the Taliban demand that Afghans put religion before tribal and family obligations and, worst of all, strive for Islamic world conquest. Most Afghans see the Taliban as a bunch of intolerant fanatics who like to execute (often by beheading or bombs) those who oppose them. The Taliban leadership has been aware of these attitudes for years and has tried to restrain its frontline fighters. But this has been difficult, as Pushtun teenagers with guns are prone to bullying less well-armed civilians, especially if they are from another tribe. Ancient cultural habits are hard to break.

July 23, 2012

Disproportional British and Canadian combat casualties in Afghanistan

Filed under: Asia, Britain, Cancon, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:35

Although the total losses hide it, British and Canadian soldiers took higher casualty rates than Americans during combat in Afghanistan:

In the last year, British troops in Afghanistan have been getting killed at twice the rate (1,300 per 100,000 troops per year) as Americans during the height of the fighting in Iraq. Canadian troops, until they withdrew from combat, had an even higher rate of loss. But the U.S. has a lot more troops in Afghanistan. Thus total combat deaths since late 2001 are; U.S.-2,050, Britain-422 and Canada-158.

The British military describes “major combat” as an operation where losses (killed) were greater than 600 per 100,000. Thus only recently did British losses go north of 600. There are several reasons for these different death rates. For one thing, a higher proportion of British and Canadian troops in Afghanistan are in combat. The Americans handle a lot more of the support functions and thus a smaller proportion of the U.S. force is combat troops. Finally, the U.S. had more helicopters for moving troops and a much larger number of MRAP (bomb resistant vehicles) for troops moving on the ground.

[. . .]

Despite the higher casualty rates for the British and Canadians, the overall death rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan is still lower than it was in Iraq. In the last four years, foreign troops in Afghanistan lost about 300-400 dead per 100,000 troops per year. In Iraq, from 2004-7, the deaths among foreign troops ran at 500-600 per 100,000 per year. Since al Qaeda admitted defeat in Iraq four years ago, the U.S. death rate in Iraq has dropped to less than 200 dead per 100,000 troops per year within two years, and to nothing by the end of 2011 (as the last Americans troops left). Meanwhile, the rate in Afghanistan peaked at 400 dead per 100,000 troops in 2010 and has been declining ever since.

June 11, 2012

UAVs and the Pakistan problem

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

Strategy Page on the Pakistani mess:

American leaders have become very public lately in expressing exasperation at Pakistan’s pro-terrorism policy. Officially, Pakistan denies that it supports Islamic terrorists, but the evidence is extensive and more is piles up daily. One reason Pakistan, at least the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment, is so hostile to the American UAV campaign in the tribal territories is that most of the time these pilotless aircraft are just watching what is going on down on the ground. What the UAVs see daily is vivid examples of Pakistani troops cooperating with Islamic terrorists. This surveillance process also identifies Islamic terrorist leaders and the UAVs fire missiles that kill them and their bodyguards and civilians used as human shields. Pakistan doesn’t mind it when terrorists who are, or have, attacked Pakistani targets are killed, but get very upset when terrorists allied with Pakistan are wacked. Pakistan can’t openly admit this, so the military makes a big deal of the U.S. “violating Pakistani territory.” The U.S. ignores the Pakistani complaints, the Pakistanis don’t escalate (like using American made F-16s jet to shoot down the UAVs) and the charade goes on. The Americans are fed up with it, as are the Afghans and a growing number of Pakistanis. But speaking out against the military in Pakistan, especially for a journalist, can get you jailed, murdered or “disappeared.” American are sometimes also in danger and even U.S. diplomats will suffer harassment.

The U.S. is particularly angry at Pakistan’s continued support for the Haqqani Network, a largely Afghan group that operates out of Pakistan to make attacks on enemies (political and business) in Afghanistan. Haqqani is also a major criminal organization, which is how it finances its mayhem across the border. The ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency, controlled by the army, which handles liaison with Pakistani terrorist groups) has been assisting Haqqani Network efforts to start a new umbrella organization (the Muraqba Shura) to control all Islamic radical groups operating in North Waziristan, a terrorist sanctuary on the Afghan border.) This effort began late last year, and the Muraqba Shura now provides a semblance of unity among Islamic terror groups in North Waziristan.

June 4, 2012

Civilian casualties down in Afghanistan over last year

Filed under: Asia, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:18

Strategy Page on a hopeful trend in Afghanistan:

The UN recently announced that Afghan civilian deaths to combat and terrorism have dropped 36 percent compared to last year. In the first four months of 2012, 578 civilians died, compared to 898 in the first four months of 2011. Taliban and other Islamic radical groups caused 79 percent of these deaths, Afghan security forces 12 percent and foreign forces nine percent.

Earlier this year the Taliban called the UN a liar after the release of a UN casualty report for 2011. The UN counted 3,021 civilians killed by combat last year, an eight percent increase over the previous year, and 77 percent were the victims of Taliban or other Islamic radical group action. The number of civilian dead has doubled since 2007. Last year the biggest increase was from suicide bombings, where civilian victims were up 80 percent, to 450. But biggest killer remained roadside bombs and locally made landmines, which killed 967 civilians.

Military action (foreign or Afghan) caused 14 percent of civilian deaths and nine percent were from situations where the source could not be determined. Foreign troops and Afghan security forces pushed the Taliban out of many areas but the Islamic terrorists simply continued to make their attacks wherever they could. This meant an increase in violence in areas along the Pakistani border, as well as contested areas in Kandahar and Helmand provinces (where most of the world’s heroin comes from). The Taliban doubled their use of roadside bombs and mines to nearly a thousand a month. But the number of these devices that exploded only went up six percent over last year. That’s because the American anti-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) technology and specialists had arrived (from Iraq) in force and acclimated to Afghan conditions. Most bombs and mines were detected and destroyed.

March 23, 2012

Facebook seen as harmful … to deployed troops

Filed under: Asia, Middle East, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:17

Strategy Page explains how increasing sophistication on the part of the al Qaeda/Taliban forces has been allowing them to select targets of opportunity through things like Facebook posts and cell phone traffic:

The U.S. Army is warning its troops to be careful what they post to on social networking sites (like Facebook). When they post photos of themselves they often reveal militarily useful information. This was discovered in Iraq, where a lot of tech savvy people working with terrorists were able to compile information from what troops posted. This sometimes led to attacks, and this was discovered from interrogating captured terrorists and captured documents and computer data. The background of pictures often indicated targets for the terrorists, or details of base defenses and American tactics. Islamic terrorists have been quick to use the Internet and other modern technology to plan and carry out their attacks.

Some of this technology can be very dangerous, like the geo-locating capability of many smart phones (which include GPS receivers and location data that hackers can obtain.) Troops in combat zones are ordered to turn geo-locating off while in areas where the enemy could use it. Even without geo-locating turned on, cell phone use can provide militarily useful information. This goes back to a century old practice called traffic analysis. This has been used with great success against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it can be used against the troops.

[. . .]

Al Qaeda was long suspected of knowing how to manipulate message traffic in order to deceive our traffic analysis methods. This was rarely the case, but this form of deception has been used in the past with success. For example, when the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France was being planned, a fake army group headquarters was set up in England. Actually, this “army group” consisted largely of a lot of radio and telegraph operators sending a large number of messages that would be normal if the “army group” were preparing for an invasion of France, in an area other than where the actual invasion was going to take place. The deception worked. German traffic analysis experts were fooled and the Germans believed the actual invasion at Normandy was just a feint, a move to get the Germans to send their reinforcements to Normandy rather than were the fake “army group” was going to invade.

Intelligence agencies have to be constantly on the guard for al Qaeda, or any other terrorist group, using this kind of deception. It has happened in a few instances, so a larger-scale attempt is not out of the question.

March 1, 2012

American involvement in Afghanistan: the pessimistic view

Filed under: Asia, Military, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:07

Steve Chapman recounts the arguments against staying the course in Afghanistan:

When Afghans erupted in rage over the careless burning of Korans at Bagram Airbase, the upheaval was not just about Muslim holy books. It was also about the grossly dysfunctional relationship between us and them — a product of the huge cultural gulf, our outsized ambitions and the irritant of our presence.

Afghanistan is a medieval country that we can barely begin to understand. Yet we presume that with all our money, technology, weaponry and wisdom, we can mold it like soft clay.

Things don’t work so well in practice. Only one out of every 10 Afghans who sign up to join the army or national police can read and write. The military’s desertion rate, an American general acknowledged last year, approaches a staggering 30 percent.

Many if not most Afghans have never heard of the 9/11 attacks. Even the deputy chairman of the government’s High Peace Council told The Wall Street Journal he doesn’t believe al-Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center.

So what can we expect ordinary people to think when they see the country overrun with armed foreigners who sometimes kill and injure innocent civilians? Or when they hear that those infidels are burning Korans?

The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in American history, and if hawks have their way, we’ll be there for years to come. Alas, we have demonstrated the force of two things we already knew: Some mistakes can’t be undone no matter how you try, and every guest eventually wears out his welcome.

In Afghanistan, we originally failed to make the needed commitment to destroy the enemy, because President George W. Bush was distracted by his eagerness to invade Iraq. As a result, the Taliban survived and eventually mounted a major comeback. Barack Obama decided to pour in troops and funds, but by that time, Afghan patience was nearing exhaustion.

February 28, 2012

More on those links between Pakistan’s ISI and army leaders and the Taliban

Filed under: Asia, India, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

Strategy Page has a useful summary of the state of play in Pakistan in their oft-denied support of terrorist activities in Afghanistan and in India:

Pakistan officially denies there is any direct connection between the Pakistani Army, ISI (Pakistani intelligence) and Islamic terrorists. The government has recently admitted that Islamic terrorists have had cooperation from unnamed prominent Pakistani civilians. But a growing number of former (mostly retired) military and intelligence admit that the terrorist connections did exist. Few of these men will openly admit these connections, lest they endure retaliation. The army and ISI are known to kidnap and murder critics. Pakistan is living a dream/nightmare of having created and sustained Islamic terror organizations for decades, yet never admitting the role of the government in this. The denials are wearing thin.

Pakistan remains a much more violent place than India. Each month, there are 5-10 times as many terrorism related deaths in Pakistan as in India (a country with six times as many people as Pakistan). Most of the violence is (and always has been) in the Pushtun and Baluchi tribal territories along the Afghan and Iranian borders. These lands have always been poor (except for the recently discovered natural gas in Baluchistan, and, centuries ago, some parts of the Chinese “silk road” that passed through Pushtun lands) and the local empires simply ignored the Pushtuns and Baluchis. For thousands of years, these were the “badlands” that civilized people avoided. The many Baluchi and Pushtun tribes were too isolated from each other, and in love with their own independence, to allow formation of Baluchi and Pushtun states. But the Baluchis are overcoming their differences, much to the discomfort of Pakistan. The Pushtuns are as divided as ever, united only in their hostility to outsiders (a category which sometimes includes other Pushtun tribes.) Worse for the Pushtuns, they form the majority of the Taliban, and are far more into Islamic terrorism than the Baluchis.

[. . .]

Pakistan’s army and intelligence services have been taking a lot of international heat for the years of state-approved terrorism against tribal separatists in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan). The Baluchis want autonomy and a larger share of the revenues from natural gas operations in their lands. The ISI and army have ordered the media they control to come up with stories to explain all the kidnappings and murders of tribal activists. The general story line is that the violence (against the government, as well as the tribal activists) has been organized by Israel, the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies. Few Pakistanis will openly criticize these stories, as that could get you killed. But the true story does get out via the Internet, although you sometimes have to wade through a lot of noise (flame wars and Pakistani government efforts to bury critical posts with a flood of pro-government replies.)

February 19, 2012

Pakistan: “as many as 80% … considered non-Muslims to be enemies of Islam”

Filed under: Asia, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

According to this article in the National Post, Jonathan Kay says anti-Americanism and support for Taliban operations in Afghanistan is far more than just realpolitik “Great Game” positioning — it’s actually a vastly popular cause with ordinary Pakistanis:

A good indication of what ordinary Pakistanis think comes to us courtesy of a U.S. government-sponsored study called “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,” recently produced by the U.S.-based International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, in conjunction with an independent Pakistani policy think tank called the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Together, their researchers conducted an in-depth study of the attitudes toward non-Muslims reflected in 100 sampled Pakistani textbooks, and in interviews with teachers and students at 37 of the country’s public schools and 19 madrassas.

The interviews with teachers were especially telling: This is precisely the stratum of society — literate, educated, middle-class — that one would expect to embrace relatively moderate and enlightened attitudes. But generally speaking, the opposite is true. Almost half of the surveyed public-school teachers did not even know that non-Muslims could become citizens of the Pakistani state. A common theme was that non-Muslim religions are inherently sinister, and that friendly relations between the faiths are worth maintaining only insofar as they can generate opportunities for Muslims to attract converts.

[. . .]

In Pakistani textbooks, the line between mosque and state is virtually non-existent. Students learn that international boundaries — say, between Pakistan and Afghanistan — don’t count for much: “In all the textbooks analyzed, the student is presented a world where concepts such as nation, constitution, legality, standing armies, or multi-lateral organizations — except where they are prescribed by Islamic doctrine of sharia law — do not exist.”

There is some good news in the report: Many of the interviewed Pakistani teachers expressed the belief that, on an interpersonal level, non-Muslim students and their religious practices should be treated with respect. But overall, “as many as 80% of the respondents considered non-Muslims to be enemies of Islam.” This feeling of enmity was justified by reference to a grab bag of complaints against the West: acts of anti-Islamic “blasphemy,” “spreading the evil of alcohol in Muslim society,” “killings of innocent Muslim citizens through missiles,” and “the banning of veils [in France].”

These views help explain why Pakistani mobs often erupt in incendiary spasms of anger not only at drone strikes in Pakistani territory, but also at symbolic slights — such as perceived defilements of the Koran: Bitterness and anger at non-Muslims are deeply felt, widely shared attitudes in Pakistan; and it is doubtful they can be addressed by any sort of goodwill campaign or foreign-policy adjustment. Jihad, if only by proxy, will remain a popular cause for Pakistani governments seeking to promote their Islamic bona fides.

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