`progress’ in Afghanistan


WikiLeaks has published four internal NATO briefing documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan – including the Master Narrative which sets out the operational and strategic and symbolic parameters which guide ISAF’s media posture.

This guidance document is designed to assist all those who play a part in explaining the situation in Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, but especially those who deal with the media.

You can get the documents here. Interesting and revealing stuff but possibly more mundane than you might expect. If I get time over the next few days I’ll post a few observations (and if anyone else wants to do so, be my guest). In an epic security fail, the documents were distributed using Microsoft SharePoint, and protected with the absurd password `progress’.

What significance the image of an ISAF sniper posing with the corpse of an Afghan, you ask? This is the amazingly political choice of image on the WikiLeaks editorial which announced this particular leak – saying it’s misleading doesn’t go far enough, it’s an outrageous association to make. But it’s also the polar opposite of the media agenda which these ISAF documents explicate, and in that regard it’s a crafty bit of work.

(Via Bruce Schneier.)


6 thoughts on “`progress’ in Afghanistan

  1. This isn’t a bad high-level analysis of the difficulties facing the US in Afghanistan although it doesn’t mention the US supply line choke point in the Khyber Pass which is absolutely critical. The questions I’ve been working on is: “why Afghanistan?” and “what’s the effect going to be on Pakistan?”

    Stratfor however IMO nails it when it says high-grade intelligence is the key and notwithstanding the fact the CIA undoubtedly has some high quality assets in this area, its record of success isn’t high when it has to deploy large numbers of personnel and inter-operate with military commands, which Obama’s strategy currently requires.

    I therefore don’t currently have high confidence of a positive success for the US in these arenas which will make it yet another debacle which gives its enemies strength. I’m talking China and Russia here. It also invites the implementation of further internal travel and surveillance restrictions inside the US to prevent a possible retaliatory strike which is not good news for the citizens of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

  2. The operative term in the operational branches of professional intelligence agencies and special operations units is “leave a small footprint.” To wit: use local knowledge of the socio-economic, political, cultural and geographic terrain to procure allies and counter adversaries. Do not make local allies dependent on foreign superior force, avoid kinetic operations, avoid friction, be fluid and maleable. Hearts and minds coupled with indigenous fighting techniques rather than airstrikes, if you will. That is what Obama’s Afghan surge is all about.

    ISAF PR notwithstanding, that appears to be the real shift in the UN-led ISAF strategy, instigated by Obama’s different perspective on counter-insurgency (which in turn is influenced by David Petraeus’s views of unconventional and irregular warfare and his advocacy of the so-called “inkblot” strategy.) The NATO allies (and NZ) in ISAF have offered zilch in terms of a change in strategy towards something other than kinetic-based counter-insurgency (the NZ Bayaman PRT not withstanding), which tells you something about their geostrategic perspectives. The real front, as reid notes, is in Pakistan. Afghanistan is just the warm up act.

  3. I shared a meal last night with a friend who’s about to leave for Jalalabad (on the Afghan end of that choke point) with his home country’s army, as an intelligence officer. This leak was news to him, but he was fairly sanguine about it – this particular war doesn’t have a perception problem, and this master narrative and the associated documents reveal no great skeletons in closets. When a person from WikiLeaks who chose a picture of an ISAF soldier posing with a trophy kill to accompany a leaked military communications document can pull out nothing more than “OMG Jordan iz teh sekrit membar!!!1”, you know there’s no real ground for criticism.

    Mostly he reiterated the same sorts of things – Pakistan is both the problem and the solution; their (and the US, UAE, Saudi) support for the Taliban in the early ’90s awakened a sleeping dragon, and their current complicity prevents it from being properly put to the sword. The reasons for this are political, because the (failed) idea of the Islamic Bloc stretching from Kashmir to Turkey retains some resonance with important political forces within Pakistan, without which the Kashmir conflict might spiral out of control or need to be ceded to India.

    He didn’t really want to talk in tactical terms, and was somewhat pessimistic, but hopes to get the chance to work with the NZ deployment.


  4. Excellent subject BTW Lew. Shame that only three of us seem to be interested in discussing what has the potential to become much more earth shattering than a lot of the domestic developments often discussed here and elsewhere…

  5. reid, thank you.

    I had little political interest in Afghanistan until I planned to pass through there on an (abortive) road trip from Korea to Ireland. A place of incredible strategic, ideological and symbolic importance, beyond all the matters of specific geopolitical importance in the current war there.


  6. reid,

    “why Afghanistan?” and “what’s the effect going to be on Pakistan?”

    One of the key points of the ISAF document is “Afghanistan and Pakistan share a common enemy”. This demonstrates the agenda very clearly: warlordism, and ideological-religious extremism using the means of warlordism, is the root of much that is wrong in South Asia. As for the question of `why Afghanistan’, it’s a relatively simple matter of diplomatic doctrine: if you invade a country with a functional state apparatus (even if it’s a façade supported by foreign proxies) you tag yourself up as a hostile invader, whereas if you intervene in a failed state (especially as part of a multilateral force backed by two treaty organisations) you tag yourself as a liberator. This has immediate PR benefits, but these lead to more important operational benefits: if you can provide or facilitate even the most rudimentary functions of a state, the objects of your liberation will soon come to greet you as liberators, and no counter-insurgency is won without the consent of those who occupy the territory.

    Pakistan is a tricky business, but only in the medium term. They’ve recently gotten rid of the military dictator Musharraf who was the centre of political-military gravity, both keeping the country from spiralling out of control and from making genuine liberal democratic progress.* This is undoubtedly a collateral effect of (relative) ISAF success in Afghanistan, and its most immediate consequence is a reduction of security as the ideological, religious and military forces within that country realign. Pakistan is now pressurised between a formerly-lawless neighbour occupied by a force comprised of notional allies who will brook no shit, and the 50-year enemies of India and China, neither of whom are readily assailable. Assuming tactical competence and commitment, Pakistan has no long-term options other than to shape up or to fight, and fighting is no real option.


    * Yes, I beg the question of liberal democracy being progress in the context of an Islamic state.

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