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Red Team

CENTCOM thinks outside the box on Hamas and Hezbollah.

While it is anathema to broach the subject of engaging militant groups like Hizballah* and Hamas in official Washington circles (to say nothing of Israel), that is exactly what a team of senior intelligence officers at U.S. Central Command -- CENTCOM -- has been doing. In a "Red Team" report issued on May 7 and entitled "Managing Hizballah and Hamas," senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams. While a Red Team exercise is deliberately designed to provide senior commanders with briefings and assumptions that challenge accepted strategies, the report is at once provocative, controversial -- and at odds with current U.S. policy.

Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Red Team's conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: "The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities -- the government of Lebanon and Fatah -- that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively" (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas "embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies," the two groups are "pragmatic and opportunistic."

The report opens with a quote from former U.S. peace negotiator Aaron David Miller's book, The Much Too Promised Land, which notes that both Hizballah and Hamas "have emerged as serious political players respected on the streets, in Arab capitals, and throughout the region. Destroying them was never really an option. Ignoring them may not be either." The report's writers are quick to acknowledge that the two militant groups "are vastly different," and that treating them together is a mistake. Nevertheless, the CENTCOM team directly repudiates Israel's publicly stated view -- that the two movements are incapable of change and must be confronted with force. The report says that "failing to recognize their separate grievances and objectives will result in continued failure in moderating their behavior."

"There is a lot of thinking going on in the military and particularly among intelligence officers in Tampa [the site of CENTCOM headquarters] about these groups," acknowledged a senior CENTCOM officer familiar with the report. However, he denied that senior military leaders are actively lobbying Barack Obama's administration to forge an opening to the two organizations. "That's probably not in the cards just yet," he said.

In the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that those on board the Mavi Marmara, the scene of the May 31 showdown between Israeli commandos and largely Turkish activists, had ties to "agents of international terror, international Islam, Hamas, al Qaeda and others." The same senior officer wasn't impressed. "Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid," he said. "I don't know any intelligence officer at CENTCOM who buys that." Another mid-level SOCOM [Special Operations Command] officer echoed these views: "As the U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism evolves, military planners have come to realize that they are all motivated by different factors, and we need to address this if we are going to effectively prosecute a successful campaign in the Middle East."

The most interesting aspects of the report deal with Hizbollah. The Red Team downplays the argument that the Lebanese Shiite group acts as a proxy for Iran. The report includes a quote from Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, stating that if Lebanon and Iran's interests ever conflicted, his organization would favor Lebanese interests. "Hizballah's activities increasingly reflect the movement's needs and aspirations in Lebanon, as opposed to the interests of its Iranian backers," the report concludes. It also criticizes Israel's August 2006 war against Hizballah as counterproductive. "Instead of exploiting Hizballah's independent streak ... Israeli actions in Lebanon may have had the reverse effect of tightening its bonds with Iran," the authors note.

The report goes on to say that, while there are "many ways in which Lebanese Hizballah is not like the IRA," there are "parallels" between the Irish Republican Army's eventual participation in the Northern Ireland peace process and a potentially productive U.S. strategy for dealing with Hizballah. CENTCOM officers cite a meeting between the British ambassador to Lebanon and Hizballah leaders in 2009 as providing an appropriate model to begin the integration of the organization into the LAF. Such talks should "be pursued again with the same vigor that peace talks in Northern Ireland were pursued," the report recommends. "As the US took the lead with peace talks in Northern Ireland, the British could take the lead with unity talks between the LAF and Hizballah in Lebanon."

The brief's authors also have interesting things to say about Hamas, which has ruled in Gaza since its takeover of the impoverished coastal strip in 2007. While the Red Team report does not make explicit policy recommendations, the senior intelligence experts that drafted the statement signal their unease with Israel's anti-Hamas policies, particularly the continuing Israeli siege of Gaza. CENTCOM officers note that Israel's strategy of keeping Gaza under siege also keeps "the area on the verge of a perpetual humanitarian collapse" -- a policy that the intelligence report says "may be radicalizing more people, especially the young, increasing the number of potential recruits" for the organization. The report argues that an Israeli decision to lift the siege might pave the way for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which would be "the best hope for mainstreaming Hamas." The Red Team also claims that reconciliation with Fatah, when coupled with Hamas's explicit renunciation of violence, would gain "widespread international support and deprive the Israelis of any legitimate justification to continue settlement building and delay statehood negotiations."

In supporting the creation of a unified Palestinian security service, CENTCOM's Red Team distances itself from the U.S. effort to provide training to the Fatah-controlled security forces in the West Bank, which began during George W. Bush's administration. While that effort, currently headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, is not mentioned specifically in the report, the Red Team makes it clear that it believes that such initiatives will fail unless the Israelis and Palestinians negotiate an end to the conflict. While Dayton and the administration are focused on building a "National Security Force" in the West Bank that excludes Hamas, and jails its members, the focus of Palestinians is elsewhere. "But all Palestinians are watching the clashes in East Jerusalem, which continue to feed into the Palestinians perception the Israelis are incapable of negotiating in good faith," according to the report.

CENTCOM's implicit criticism of Dayton is not a surprise: the general's program is controversial among some senior military officers, who question an effort that, in Palestinian perceptions, makes the U.S. a partner in the Israeli occupation. Dayton is also criticized in military circles for making a May 2009 speech before the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (which he described as "the foremost think tank on Middle East issues, not only in Washington, but in the world"). In the speech (pdf), he said that the reason a high-ranking general was appointed as security coordinator was because he "would be trusted and respected by the Israelis." The statement was not universally welcomed at the Pentagon, where one officer shook his head. "You would have thought Dayton's primary mission would be to win the respect and trust of the Palestinians," he told me.

According to a senior CENTCOM officer, while the CENTCOM Red Team report has been read by outgoing CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus, it's unknown whether its recommendations have been passed on to the White House. Even so, there's little question the report reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters -- and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East. And while any "Red Team" report by definition reflects a view that is contrary to accepted policy, a CENTCOM senior officer told me that -- so far as he knows -- there is, in fact, no parallel "Blue Team" report contradicting the Red Team's conclusion. "Well, that's not exactly right," this senior officer added. "The Blue Team is the Obama administration."

*Note: To avoid confusion, this story uses the spelling “Hizballah” throughout, although Hezbollah is FP’s preferred spelling.

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

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'None of This Is Easy'

Gen. David Petraeus agreed Wednesday to become commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In his testimony last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus portrayed an Afghanistan that is on the right track, but still has a long way to go before it can fend for itself.

I'll begin by setting my remarks in context. As you will recall, soon after the 9/11 attacks, an international coalition led by the United States conducted an impressive campaign to defeat the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other associated extremist groups in Afghanistan. In the years that followed, however, members of the Taliban and the other extremist elements gradually reconnected in Afghanistan's and Pakistan's border regions and rebuilt the structures necessary to communicate, plan, and carry out operations.

In recent years, these groups have engaged in an increasingly violent campaign against the Afghan people, their government, and [International Security Assistance Force] ISAF forces, and they have developed symbiotic relationships that pose threats not just to Afghanistan and the region, but to countries throughout the world.

In response to the threat posed by these extremists, coalition forces and their Afghan partners are now engaged in a comprehensive civil-military campaign intended, above all, to prevent reestablishment of trans-national extremist sanctuaries in Afghanistan like the ones al Qaeda enjoyed there when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan prior to 9/11.

To achieve our objectives, we are working with our ISAF and Afghan partners to wrest the initiative from the Taliban and other insurgent elements, to improve security for the Afghan people, to increase the quantity and quality of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and to support establishment of Afghan governance that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the people.

Over the past year or so, we and our ISAF partners have worked hard to get the "inputs" right in Afghanistan: to build organizations, command and control structures, and relationships needed to carry out a comprehensive civil-military campaign. We and our international partners have put the best possible civilian and military leaders in charge of those organizations. We have refined and, where necessary, developed the civil-military plans and concepts needed to guide the conduct of a comprehensive counterinsurgency effort. And we have deployed the substantial additional resources -- military, civilian, financial, and so on -- needed to implement the plans that have been developed. And I note here that the deployment of the 30,000 additional US troopers announced by President Obama last December and their equipment is slightly ahead of schedule. By the end of August, all the additional US forces will be on the ground except for a division headquarters that is not required until a month or so later. Meanwhile, the efforts to increase the size and capability of the Afghan National Army and police are also on track, though there clearly is considerable work to be done in that critical area.

Even as we continue the effort to get all the inputs in place, the actions taken over the last 18 months, which include tripling the U.S. force contribution and increasing similarly the US civilian component, have enabled the initiation of comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency operations in key districts in Afghanistan.

The initial main operational effort has been in the Central Helmand River Valley, and progress has been made there, though, predictably, the enemy has fought back as we have taken away his sanctuaries in Marjah, Nad-i-Ali, and elsewhere.

The focus is now shifting to Kandahar Province, and the effort there features an integrated civil-military approach to security, governance, and development. Over the course of the month ahead, we will see an additional US brigade -- from the great 101st Airborne Division -- deploy into the districts around Kandahar City, together with an additional Afghan Army brigade. There will also be the introduction of additional Afghan police and US military police into the city, together with other US forces and civilians who will work together with the impressive Canadian PRT [Provincial Reconstruction Team] that has been working in the city. The concept is to provide the Kandaharis "a rising tide of security" that will expand incrementally over time and establish the foundation of improved security on which local Afghan governance can be built, that will enable improvements in the provision of basic services, and so on. There will be nothing easy about any of this, to be sure, and as I noted during my annual posture hearing, the going is likely to get harder before it gets easier. But it is essential to make progress in the critical southern part of the country, the part where, in fact, the 9/11 attacks were planned by al Qaeda during the period when the Taliban controlled it and much of the rest of the country.

Central to achieving progress in Afghanistan -- and to setting the conditions necessary to transition security tasks from the international community to the Afghan government -- is increasing the size and capability of ANSF. To that end, with the assistance of the Afghan Security Forces Fund, the security forces are on track to meet their targeted end strength objectives by the end of this year. In January 2009, the ANSF numbered 156,000; today, there are over 231,000 ANSF members. Additionally, Gen. Stan McChrystal has placed a premium on comprehensive partnering with the ANSF, an emphasis that is on display daily in operations throughout Afghanistan. Clearly, there is need for improvement in quality, not just quantity. And considerable progress has been made in getting the concepts right for developing the ANSF and also in developing the structures needed to implement the concepts.

Improving the ANSF is facilitated considerably by the establishment last November of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A), the organization created to help the ANSF expand and professionalize so that they can answer their country's security needs. It is worth noting that the NTM-A Commander, Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, assessed that in NTM-A's first six months, NATO and Afghan security leadership have made "progress in reversing adverse trends in the growth and professionalization of the ANSF." Nevertheless, as Lieutenant General Caldwell has also observed, there is much work remaining to reduce attrition and to develop effective leaders through considerably augmented partnering, training, and recruiting.

In all of our efforts, we continue to emphasize the importance of inclusivity and transparency on the part of the Afghan government and leadership, especially in linking nascent local governing institutions to the decision-making and financial resources in Kabul. Needless to say, innumerable challenges exist in all areas of governance, and much more needs to be done to help the Afghan government assume full responsibility for addressing the concerns of ordinary Afghan citizens. The National Consultative Peace Jirga held in Kabul earlier this month represents a constructive first step in this effort, providing an opportunity for President Karzai to build consensus, to address some of the political tensions that fuel the insurgency, and to promote reconciliation and local reintegration as means that can contribute to a political resolution of some of the issues that exist.

Another critically important part of our joint civil-military campaign in Afghanistan is promoting broad-based economic and infrastructure development. We have seen that improvements in the Afghan government's ability to deliver basic services such as electricity and water have positive effects in other areas, including public perception, security, and economic well-being. We have worked closely with the international community and the Afghan government to develop robust overarching strategies for water, governance, energy, and road programs. We are now embarking on a project jointly developed by the government of Afghanistan and various U.S. government agencies to dramatically increase production of electricity to the Kandahar area. To complement this effort, we are supporting and promoting viable agricultural and economic alternatives to help Afghans bring licit products to market, rather than continuing to grow poppy.

Again, none of this is easy or without considerable challenges. However, the mission is hugely important to the security of the region and our country. And we are obviously doing all that we can to achieve progress toward achieving our important objectives in Afghanistan.

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