Serial Catastrophes in Afghanistan Threaten Obama Policy

You probably won't see it in most US news outlets, but on Monday morning in Kabul and Jalalabad, hundreds of university students demonstrated against US strikes this weekend that allegedly killed a number of civilians.
I want to underline the irony that the students in Tehran University
are protesting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while students in these two Afghan
cities are calling for Yankees to go home. Nangarhar University in
Jalalabad only has a student body of about 3200, so 'hundreds' of
students protesting there would be a significant proportion of the
student body.

The demonstrations could be a harbinger of things to come, but there was worse news. CIA field officers blown up, four US troops killed Sunday, and the rejection of most of the cabinet nominees by parliament, all signal rocky times ahead.

past two weeks have seen the situation in Afghanistan deteriorate
palpably, raising significant questions about the viability of the
Obama-McChrysstal plan for the country. The chain of catastrophes has
been reported in piecemeal fashion, but taken together these events are
far more ominous than they might appear on the surface.

First, the US military launched a raid in Kunar Province two days after Christmas on a village a night, in which President Hamid Karzai alleged that 10 civilians, some 8 of them schoolchildren, had been killed (some say dragged out of their beds and executed). The NYT reported the head of a Kabul delegation
to the village saying,"They gathered eight school students from two
compounds and put them in one room and shot them with small arms." (The
spokesman is a former governor of Kunar and now a close adviser to
President Hamid Karzai-- i.e. not exactly a pro-Taliban source). The
charitable theory is that in a nighttime raid, US troops got
disoriented and hit the wrong group of young men.

The outraged
Afghan public saw this raid as an atrocity, and on Wednesday December
30, they mounted street protests against the US in Jalalabad, an
eastern Pashtun city, and Kabul. In Jalalabad, hundreds of university
students blocked the main roads,
and then marched in the streets, chanting "Death to Obama" and "Death
to America," and burning Obama in effigy. (If they go on like that, the
anti-imperialist Pashtun college students of Jalalabad may attract the
support of Fox Cable News . . .)

Even while the protests were taking place in Jalalabad and Kabul, a NATO missile strike on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province was alleged to have killed as many as 7 more civilians, some of them children. Now the Afghan public was really angry.

Then on Thursday, all hell broke loose when a high-level Pashtun asset
who had been informing to the CIA on the location of important al-Qaeda
and Taliban operatives detonated a vest bomb at FOB Chapman in Khost
province, a CIA forward base. The attacker killed 7 field officers and
one Jordanian intelligence operative detailed to the base. Those
experience field officers were on the front lines in the fight against
al-Qaeda and their loss is a big blow to counter-terrorism. It is true
that they had been drawn in to a campaign of assassination, but it is the president who gave them that task--unwisely, in my view.

use of a double agent not only to misinform but actually to kill the
most experienced counter-terrorism officers in the region showed the
sophistication of tactical thinking in the Afghan insurgency.

CIA's dependence on a double agent who finally openly betrayed them
raises troubling questions about US strategy and tactics in the region.
Such informants essentially direct CIA drone missile strikes.

could imagine Siraj Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network in Khost and
over the border in Pakistan's North Waziristan, inserting such a double
agent into FOB Chapman and then using the CIA. For instance, what if a
middling member of the Haqqani network launched a challenge to Siraj's
leadership and that of his ailing father, Jalaluddin (an old-time ally
of Reagan who was warmly greeted in the White House in the 1980s)?
Wouldn't it be easy enough just to have the double agent tell the CIA
that the challenger is a really bad guy in cahoots with al-Qaeda? Boom.
Drone strike kills Taliban leaders in North Waziristan. In this way,
Siraj could have used the US to eliminate rivals and become more and
more powerful. And how many double agents have given up a few Arab
jihadis who had fallen out with the Haqqanis, but then deliberately
followed this up with bad intel on some innocent village, making the
name of the US mud among the Pashtuns.

The drone strikes
shouldn't be run by the CIA, and probably shouldn't be run at all. It
could well be that savvy old-time Mujahidin trained in CIA tradecraft
in the 1980s are having our young wet behind the ears field officers
for lunch.

In short, is the bombing at FOB Chapman the tip of an
iceberg of misinformation, on which the Titanic of Obama's AfPak policy
could well founder?

Aljazeera English has video of these dramatic events leading up to the New Year, including the anti-US demonstrations, which looked big and significant to me on satellite television.

A soldier of the Afghan army shot an American soldier, further raising suspicions between the two supposed partners. Then a Canadian unit and embedded journalist were blown up.

There were more errant US strikes over the weekend, producing the demonstrations in Kabul and Jalalabad on Monday morning.

Then there were two other pieces of information coming out in the past few days that suggest all is not well.

First, a report on the Afghanistan Army threw cold water all over the idea that it could be enlarged and trained
to provide security in the country any time soon. High desertion rates,
illiteracy, working half days, refusal to stand and fight against the
enemy, and other factors just made that prospect remote. But such
training, and the substitution of the Afghan National Army for NATO and
US forces is the centerpiece of the Obama-McChrystal plan.

Finally, the Afghan parliament rejected 17 of the 24 nominees to the cabinet offered by President Karzai.
The speaker of the House, Yunus Qanuni, supported Karzai's rival,
Abdullah Abdullah, in August's presidential elections-- which many
Afghans believe Karzai stole. This rejection was the Abdullah faction's
chance to humiliate Karzai in revenge.

Aljazeera English has video on the rejection of 70 percent of the cabinet, including the old time warlord of Herat, Ismail Khan, and a key women's affairs minister.

the step means that we go into the winter with 17 ministries headless.
Having an increasingly competent Afghan government to partner with was
another key element of the Obama plan. There is not one.

So, the
US is killing schoolchildren far too often, enraging the Afghan public.
It has provoked a studnet protest movement against it in Jalalabad and
Kabul. Its informants are double agents. Its supposed partner, the
Afghan army, mostly doesn't actually exist and couldn't be depended on
to show up to anything important; and that is when they aren't taking
potshots at US troops; and there is no Afghan government as we go into

President Obama may have a lot on his plate, but
Afghanistan could make or break his presidency. If he doesn't view what
has happened there while he was in Hawaii with alarm and begin thinking
of alternative strategies, he could be in big trouble.

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