Reviewing Afghanistan/ The Latest IAEA Report on Iran

Sep 3, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

September 3, 2009
Number 09/09 #01

Today’s Update features two pieces on the situation in Afghanistan.

First up, noted American strategic studies expert Anthony Cordesman, who helped advise the new commander in Iran, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, says that the principal reason the war is not being won is a shortage of resources. He reviews the mistakes previously made, and advises coordinated political and military efforts, without outside interference, and especially an effort to “hold” population centres and “build” local governance capacity, something the central government has neglected. He says many in Washington want to ignore the realities, which will lead to the loss of the war. For this full argument, CLICK HERE. A more positive look at the situation in Afghanistan comes from commentator Stephen Brown, while the Jerusalem Post argues that failing public support for the Afghanistan war can be explained in part by the failure of leaders to identify the enemy clearly.

Next up, well-known American military historian Frederick Kagan takes on the argument that the NATO presence in Afghanistan is analogous to the Soviet presence there in the 1980s and headed for the same result. (This argument was made in spades in the Age yesterday by Jonathan Steele of the Guardian). Kagan points out a number of crucial differences – including the circumstances of entry, but more importantly the capabilities and strategy of the Soviet army. Kagan makes a case that the Soviet military was very poorly designed for counter-insurgency work, and in fact never seriously attempted it – merely trying to hold the lines of communication and use overwhelming aerial firepower. For these and other arguments, CLICK HERE.

Finally, two top Israeli academic experts, Ephraim Asculai and Emily Landau of Tel Aviv University’s  Institute for National Security Studies, dissect the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran. Factually, they say, the report confirms that Iran has enough low enriched uranium to build a bomb within a few months, and will have a second bomb’s worth soon. However, they devote much of the article to discussing the IAEA’s apparent reticence about reported news revelations on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the possible role in this of IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei. For their complete analysis of what is really going on both in Iran and the IAEA, CLICK HERE. Also commenting both on the latest statements by ElBaradei, and what the report says about Syria’s nuclear non-cooperation is author and recent visitor to Australia Emanuele Ottolenghi.

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How to Lose in Afghanistan   

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Washington Post, Monday, August 31, 2009

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months — any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.

The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid. It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.

Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.

The appointments this summer of Karl Eikenberry as ambassador to Afghanistan and McChrystal as commander of U.S. and allied forces have created a team that can reverse this situation. In fact, given the rising unpopularity of the war and Taliban successes, they are our last hope of victory. Yet they can win only if they are allowed to manage both the civil and military sides of the conflict without constant micromanagement from Washington or travelling envoys. They must be given both the time to act and the resources and authority they feel they need. No other path offers a chance of a secure and stable Afghanistan free of terrorist and jihadist control and sanctuaries.

I do not know what resources Eikenberry or McChrystal would seek if given the chance. Eikenberry has indicated that funding of the civil side of the U.S. Embassy effort in Afghanistan is about half of what is necessary: Some $2.1 billion more may be sought to meet a $4.8 billion total need. He will almost certainly need far more civilians than the token “surge” that is planned (and that will not produce its full results until the spring or summer of 2010).

McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams — with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each — although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to “hold” and keep the Afghan population secure, and “build” enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

The writer holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views expressed here are his own.


We’re Not the Soviets in Afghanistan

And 2009 isn’t 1979

by Frederick W. Kagan

Weekly Standard, 08/21/2009 2:58:00 PM

Comparisons between our current efforts in Afghanistan and the Soviet intervention that led to the collapse of the USSR are natural and can be helpful, but only with great care. Below are a number of key points to keep in mind when thinking about the Soviet operations, especially when considering the size of the U.S. or international military footprint.

War did not begin in 1979 when the Soviets invaded. It started in 1978 following the Saur Revolution in which Nur M. Taraki seized power from Mohammad Daoud. Taraki declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and set about bringing real socialism to the country.

Soviet advisors recommended that Taraki proceed slowly with social and economic reforms. They recognized that the socialist party (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan or PDPA) had the support of a tiny minority. They feared that Taraki’s plans for aggressive “modernization” would generate an awful backlash. They were right.

The PDPA instituted a number of critical reforms after its seizure of power, including eliminating the “brideprice” that a bride’s family received from the groom’s family and redistributing land on a large scale. These reforms struck at the heart of Afghan society by destroying key pillars in the social structure. Land redistribution upended rural tribal relations, and the elimination of “brideprice” payments destroyed an important traditional method for bonding families following a marriage. It also struck at the role of women in Afghan society, a broader theme the PDPA pushed that alienated wide sections of a very conservative country. In general, there is no faster way to antagonize a population than by attacking property rights and the status of women. Taraki did both.

By early 1979, the Afghan countryside was in revolt against the PDPA. Forces that would become the mujahideen were already mobilizing across the country to fight against the Taraki government even before the Soviets became involved. Afghan army units in Herat mutinied in March 1979, briefly seizing the city on behalf of Ismail Khan.

Factionalism within the PDPA weakened the government, leading in September 1979 to the assassination of Taraki and his replacement by the brutal and incompetent Hafizullah Amin. The insurgency continued to grow. Insurgents attacked government and military convoys on the roads, and interdicted movement from Kabul to the north along the Salang road. In October, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul cabled: “When government troops and their armor do occasionally venture forth out of their defensive positions to show the flag, the rebels repossess the real estate after they have passed, like the waters of the Red Sea closing in behind Moses and his followers.”

By December 1979 the Soviets had reluctantly decided that the PDPA government would either fall or throw in its lot with the United States if they did not intervene decisively. Their intervention took the form of a brilliantly-executed regime take-down at the end of the year during which they killed Amin and installed Babrak Karmal as his successor. They intended to stay briefly and then hand responsibility to Karmal and the Afghan military.

But Karmal did not have the loyalty even of the socialist PDPA party. He had led a minority faction within that party that both Taraki and Amin had ruthlessly purged. His accession to power in the midst of a massive insurgency had no tinge of legitimacy in the eyes of the people as a whole and even in the eyes of many of Afghanistan’s socialists. And he was clearly installed on the bayonets of the Soviet Union.

Resistance to the Soviet troops as occupiers thus overlaid a pre-existing civil conflict that centered on rejection of the social project launched by Taraki. If Soviet troops had not intervened, there is every reason to think that this civil war would have continued and expanded on its own, since its causes and critical drivers were internal to the country. The Soviet invasion helped to unify opponents of the regime (to some extent), but most importantly it brought massive foreign assistance to an insurgency that would otherwise have received relatively little attention.

One could not have designed a military less well-prepared to deal with such a conflict than the Red Army of 1979. The Soviet military had not fought a war since 1945. Soviet company, battalion, brigade, division, and even army commanders had no experience in combat. The Red Army was a conscript force whose soldiers served for two-year periods. It did not have an NCO corps–in keeping with long Russian tradition, the Red Army relied on junior officers to perform the roles that NCOs perform in Western armies. Soviet conscripts were notoriously brutal, drunk, and unprofessional. Their young officers were not accustomed to worrying about the problems such characteristics would cause in a counter-insurgency because the force was intended solely for conventional operations in Europe.

The Red Army was also an incredibly heavy force. Even its airborne units dropped with armored personnel carriers and light tanks, as did many of its SPETSNAZ (commando) units. Soviet infantry was trained to ride in the back of its vehicles, dismounting only for brief (couple of hundred yards) rushes against dug-in enemy positions. It did no training in dismounted operations and never planned to be separated from its vehicles for more than a couple of hours at a time.

But SPETSNAZ units were not equivalent to our Special Operations Forces. They were meant to be shock troops dropped in the rear of NATO defensive positions to disrupt and confuse. They were not meant to conduct Foreign Internal Defense missions at all, and certainly not in a counter-insurgency role.

The Soviet military was self-consciously a pro-revolutionary force because the Soviet Union was ideologically a revolutionary state. There was no Soviet doctrine for counter-insurgency because Soviet ideology could not foresee the USSR fighting against a revolution. To the extent that Soviet forces thought about intervention in internal conflicts, they thought about helping Marxist revolutionaries overthrow US-backed dictators. They knew virtually nothing about setting up indigenous armies or training indigenous forces. Apart from brief interventions in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and East Germany (all executed as massive and brief mechanized operations), the Red Army had not faced an insurgency since the Basmachi Rebellion of the 1920s.

Soviet doctrine called for moving from the inter-German border to the English Channel in 30 days. Artillery and air support were intended to destroy relatively large dug-in defensive positions in pre-planned strikes. The USSR had no precision munitions and no doctrine for conducting precision strikes. The conscript nature of the force, among other things, militated against any such efforts and the Soviet concept of military operations did not require them.

Even Soviet helicopters were ill-designed for operations in Afghanistan. The primary transport helicopter–NATO designation, Hip–was a massive troop transport highly vulnerable to SAFIRE and MANPADS. The main attack helicopter–NATO designation, Hind–was designed to blast NATO defensive positions with overwhelming fire, not to go after individual insurgents or small groups on the move.

The entire structure of the Soviet military rested on the assumption that superior planning and execution at the operational level of war (corps and above for the Soviets) would overcome known weaknesses at the tactical and sub-tactical level. The Red Army had recognized the limitations of its soldiers since the 1920s. It addressed them by requiring operational-level headquarters to design missions that would be relatively easy at the tactical and sub-tactical levels. The Red Army had no way to address its tactical deficiencies when it proved impossible to compensate for them at higher echelons.

By the mid-1980s it had become apparent that the Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan, as it was called, would not be leaving any time soon. The Soviets thereupon tried a number of approaches to bring the war to a close. Increasing frustration led to increased brutality, including a deliberate campaign to de-house the rural population (forcing the people to concentrate in cities that the Soviets believed they could more easily secure) that ultimately produced 3-5 million refugees. The Soviets also used chemical weapons, mines, and devices intended to cripple and maim civilians. In other words, the Limited Contingent conducted a massive terror campaign against the Afghan populace.

Unsurprisingly, large sections of the Afghan people fought bitterly against the invaders who were fighting on behalf of a puppet government that they had installed and that had the support of virtually no one. The most bitter fights were in the north, especially in Tajik areas. The Soviets tried repeatedly to clear the Panjshir Valley but could never do so. They fought ferociously to maintain freedom of movement through the Salang Tunnel, which was the target of continuous insurgent interdiction attempts. In the south, Jalalluddin Haqqani’s forces isolated the Afghan and Soviet garrison in Khowst, cutting the Khowst-Gardez road and requiring the Soviets to resupply the garrison by air. The Soviets fought the largest battle of the war to open the K-G road during Operation MAGISTRAL (MAINLINE) in 1987. The commander of the Limited Contingent, Colonel General Boris Gromov, personally oversaw the operation. The Soviets were able to resupply the garrison by road, but the insurgents cut the road again as soon as the Limited Contingent withdrew its forces from the area.

Urban legend has it that the introduction of American Stinger MANPADs led to Soviet defeat. In fact, Stingers did not show up until 1986, and the Soviets had already lost the war by then and, indeed, taken the decision to leave. The advent of Stingers did not defeat a Soviet strategy that was working; it accelerated the collapse of a strategy that was failing.

Soviet strategy failed because it is almost impossible to imagine it succeeding. The combination of the weakness of the puppet government with the total unsuitability of Soviet military forces for the mission at hand virtually doomed the effort from the start.

The war did not end with the withdrawal of Soviet forces. The socialist government–headed since 1986 by Najibullah–continued for three years after the departure of the Limited Contingent. It fell to the combined forces of the Northern Alliance, which could not establish its own legitimate government and fell, in turn, to the Taliban in 1996. Even then, conflict continued right up to the U.S. attack in 2001.

In sum, neither insurgency nor violence in Afghanistan results primarily from opposition to external forces. It results instead mainly from internal problems related to the collapse of Afghan society and governance following the Saur Revolution of 1978. The presence of foreign forces and external support to insurgents has raised or lowered the level of violence and its effectiveness, but it has not been the cause of that violence in the last three decades. Nor is the footprint of foreign forces at issue.

The Soviet invasion followed the collapse of security in a period when the USSR maintained only a few thousand advisors. The first months of the Soviet “occupation” saw deliberate and systematic attempts by the Red Army to put the Afghans out in front and support them from fixed bases. The Limited Contingent was drawn into direct combat operations only when that strategy had clearly failed.

The Limited Contingent maintained relatively little force among the rural population in Afghanistan at any time–most of its efforts were focused on securing the lines of communication and the major cities. Most Afghans encountered the Soviets only through the Limited Contingent’s deliberate terrorist campaign, waged both from the air and from the ground.

For all of these reasons, there is absolutely no basis for assessing that an increased ISAF/US military presence along the lines being considered will result in some kind of “tipping point” at which local Afghans turn against us because they see us as a Soviet-style occupation force.

Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


“The Whole Truth”? On Disclosure by the IAEA

Asculai, Ephraim and Landau, Emily B.

 INSS Insight No. 127, August 31, 2009

The (likely) penultimate report of outgoing IAEA director general ElBaradei on the nuclear situation in Iran was leaked to the press on Friday, August 28, 2009. The report contains information that Iran is pressing forward with its uranium enrichment activity, while steadily increasing its capacity to do so. With regard to evidence of “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear program, the report notes lack of progress in clarifying with Iran the outstanding questions regarding information on its development of the nuclear explosive mechanism and the accompanying warhead delivery systems. Contrary to expectations, the report contains no reference to what has recently been reported, that the IAEA is in possession of additional and more incriminating evidence against Iran that it has so far refused to make public.

The technical facts included in the IAEA report and the ensuing predictions are clear: should Iran decide to produce the core for its first nuclear explosive device, it can do so already, by utilizing some of its enrichment capacity to enrich existing stocks of low enriched uranium (LEU) to high levels (HEU). In about six months it should have enough LEU for further enrichment for a second core.[1] This estimate is based on Iran’s present operating capacity. However, Iran has almost doubled the number of installed gas centrifuge enrichment machines, without yet operating the additional machines.

One speculation for adding machines without operating them is that Iran is refraining from carrying out provocative actions before the West assesses its behavior toward the end of September, along the same logic whereby after a year of resistance it suddenly permitted inspections in Arak (the heavy water reactor) and allowed increased inspections at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Should the additional centrifuges be put into operation, the rate of production of LEU will be increased accordingly. In addition, Iran is developing more advanced gas centrifuge machines, which will have an increased capacity if and when installed and running.

With this technological achievement, the potential production of nuclear explosive cores remains a political decision. Should Iran decide to use the known stocks of LEU for this purpose, the good news is that it will become known to the inspectors within a short period of time. Unfortunately, however, in its present mode of operation the IAEA cannot be depended on to announce this to the world; more likely, it would begin its routine of asking Iran for explanations, trying to clarify intentions, waiting for answers and corroborating them with other sources, and so on.

We see this bureaucratic foot dragging reflected in the report’s discussion of the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, which includes the particularly naive complaint that “the constraints placed by some Member States on the availability of information to Iran are making it more difficult for the Agency to conduct detailed discussions with Iran on this matter.” Why would any country agree to share sensitive intelligence information with Iran, and put its sources at risk? This attitude is reflected also in the IAEA report on Syria, which was published the same day. The IAEA received no cooperation from Syria on the matter of the bombed reactor site at Dair Alzour, which led the Director General to “call on other States, including Israel, which may possess information which may have led them to conclude that the installation in question had been a nuclear reactor, to make such information available to the Agency.” Surely the IAEA has all the information it needs to arrive at the conclusion that the bombed installation was indeed a nuclear reactor under construction.

The recent allegations concerning the IAEA’s withholding of evidence on Iran’s developing a military nuclear program cast the IAEA in an unfavorable light. The explanation for this is not clear, but media reports concur that the person arguing for caution and secrecy with regard to Iran is the Director General himself. That important information might possibly be intentionally omitted from the IAEA periodic reports by ElBaradei is appalling. The case against Iran hinges on such information, which is essential for confronting Iran with the full weight of a determined and coordinated international response.

Evidence of disagreements within the IAEA itself over the question of disclosure of information regarding Iran first surfaced 18 months ago, when on February 25, 2008, IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards, Olli Heinonen, elaborated on the public IAEA report that was published three days earlier. In a closed-door meeting that was quickly leaked to the press, Heinonen presented to the 35-nation IAEA board new details about Iran’s nuclear program: research into key technologies needed to build and to deliver a nuclear bomb. At the time, Heinonen was quoted as saying that some of the research carried out by Iran was not consistent with any other application than the development of a nuclear weapon.

In an attempt to minimize the significance of the information Heinonen presented, ElBaradei, in his report to the Board of Governors on March 3, said that Iran had clarified most of the outstanding questions except for the alleged studies regarding possible weaponization activities. Still, enough concern was raised by Heinonen’s evidence to facilitate agreement on a third set of sanctions in the UN Security Council in March 2008, albeit not very strong ones.

Most likely, internal differences of opinion within the IAEA over disclosure continue with regard to the current material on Iran. Yet with so much dependent on this kind of information and the conclusions that can be drawn as to Iran’s nuclear weapons development, the international community cannot afford to allow the IAEA to have any other agenda than a technical one. If there is incriminating evidence, it must be disclosed – period. 

[1]  For a complete analysis see: http://www.isisnucleariran.org/assets/pdf/Analysis_IAEA_Report.pdf


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