Situation Report

Situation Report: The Battlefield Impact of Badruddin Haqqani's Death

The lag after the Haqqani hit, Pentagon makes progress on the 'holy grail,' Stephen Walt on Allen's "upbeat assessment," Mike Mullen at FP and more.

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The battlefield impact of Badruddin Haqqani's death last week may not be felt until next year. We're told that Badruddin, thought to be one of the top operational commanders of the Haqqani network, had approved another two months of missions that are already in the works. But because the fighting season will end at about the same time as they do, the effect of his death won't be clear until next spring, when fighting resumes. "You have a potential loss of a key leader, but you're about 60 days out of closing the fighting season, so that potentially masks the impact because of the timeframe," a senior ISAF official told FP. Still, the official said, the coalition expects to see "reduced capacity" from the Haqqani network.

Revenues keep Haqqani alive. The network is a Pashtun group that is considered responsible for numerous attacks in Afghanistan but that operates with relative impunity from within tribal areas across the border in Pakistan's North Waziristan. It is one of the best-organized groups because of various and well-established streams of revenue, including from the sale of both licit and illicit commodities. "A critical capability of the Haqqani network is its financial capacity, which distinguishes them from other insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan," wrote the Institute for the Study of War's Jeff Dressler, who this week released a research paper on the group. "Because of its diversified and robust revenue streams, the Haqqani Network brings to bear a powerful and growing fighting force in Afghanistan."

Skill sets dwindling. Although Badruddin's death has been confirmed by multiple sources, ISAF officials say they have no way to confirm it independently. But there's little question his passing will have an effect, sooner or later, on a group whose leadership is reasonably centralized. Few people could easily replace Badruddin's unique capabilities, the ISAF official said. (Badruddin ran the network with his brothers Sirajuddin and Nasiruddin and other family members, and the group was founded by their father, Jalaluddin Haqqani.) "The over-the-border influences don't change," the ISAF official said. "But what you have is less capable leadership. The age and experience level is slowly making its way down, and you're getting lower and less experienced fighters."

Meanwhile, the Haqqani network will be officially branded a terrorist organization, according to the NYT's Eric Schmitt today: "Many other senior officials, including several in the White House, expressed deep reservations that blacklisting the group could further damage badly frayed relations with Pakistan, undercut peace talks with the Taliban, and possibly jeopardize the fate of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier known to be held by the militants. But in the past few days, supporters of designating the group apparently eased most concerns or put forward contingencies to mitigate the risks and potential consequences."

Earlier this week, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen stopped by the party FP held at its new offices on Dupont Circle to celebrate the launch of its new national security channel, which includes three new news blogs and a stable of new national security writers, including Rosa Brooks, Gordon Adams, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dave Barno, and many more. Mullen chatted with The Wall Street Journal's Adam Entous:

The word is "attribution," and the Pentagon's ability to master it will make it easier to quickly link cyber attacks to cyber villains. A top cyber official in the Pentagon told Killer Apps Man John Reed that the Defense Department has  "made a lot of progress" toward attribution, considered the "holy grail" of cyber security. "It's definitely not perfect and it's definitely not a silver bullet, but it's an area that we're making progress in," Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, told John.

Do you find yourself losing the argument when you talk to your friends about drone warfare? Rosa Brooks' piece on FP, "What's Not Wrong with Drones," deconstructs the criticisms, from "drones kill civilians," to "drones turn killing into a video game," to "drone strikes are bad because killing at a distance is unsavory." In answer to that last, Ms. Brooks: "Really? If killing from a safe distance (say, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada) is somehow ‘wrong,' what should be our preferred alternative -- stripping troops of body armor, or taking away their guns and requiring them to engage in hand-to-hand combat?"

Coming next week: Rosa makes the case against drones.

Five criteria Obama uses before approving a drone attack: (as Obama told CNN earlier this week; thanks to Danger Room). One, "that It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws," two, that "It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative," three, that it "has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States," four, that "we've got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties," and five, "that while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots ... they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process."

FP's Stephen Walt on Gen. Allen's "upbeat assessment" of the war: Walt takes Allen to task for being, like other ISAF commanders of the past, upbeat about the situation on the ground. "Well, it's déjà vu all over again: Today, despite a dramatic increase in "green on blue" attacks (i.e., attacks by Afghan security forces on U.S. or ISAF personnel) and the announced departure of other U.S. allies, the latest American commander continues to portray our efforts in a positive light, especially with respect to the progress made by Afghan security forces."


Obama's pledge to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014, and his reiteration of that pledge in Charlotte last night, has struck some as not altogether factual. It depends on what your definition of "over" is. The U.S. will have to negotiate another SOFA agreement with the Afghans and, should they win this one, a small force -- likely heavily favoring special forces and other trainers -- will stay on for years to come. From last night: "In 2014, our longest war will be over."

NYT's Sanger: "Well, maybe. That is the deadline for pulling out all American and other foreign troops. But the White House has said that it envisions an ‘enduring force' in Afghanistan for years to come that could amount to 10,000 to 15,000 troops. They would not be in combat, but they would be there to stop the Taliban from overtaking Kabul, the capital, and to keep Pakistan from losing control of its 100 or so nuclear weapons. The United States' combat role may soon be over; it is less likely the war will be."


Getting intelligence right the first time. Michael C. Horowitz and Philip E. Tetlock write on FP that the National Intelligence Council might get their intelligence predictions right more often if assigned themselves "more explicit, testable, and accurate probabilities to possible futures." "Academic research suggests that predicting events five years into the future is so difficult that most experts perform only marginally better than dart-throwing chimps. Now imagine trying to predict over spans of 15 to 20 years. Sisyphus arguably had it easier. But that has not deterred the intelligence community from trying; that is its job."


The Wall Street Journal's Jose de Cordoba and Darcy Crowe report Colombia's Santos warns more short-term violence. "In an interview Thursday at the presidential palace, President Juan Manuel Santos said that holding talks with Latin America's biggest and oldest insurgency is well worth the risk of failure because an end to the conflict would not only would end bloodletting, but also bring a "peace dividend" of up to 2% additional economic growth a year to the Andean nation's economy. It already enjoys annual growth of about 5%."

Situation Report




FP Situation Report - AQ Khan hopes to be Pakistan's "Mandela," Afghans work on insider attacks, Dems claim national security, SEALs won't take book money and more



By Gordon Lubold


Welcome to Thursday's edition of FP's Situation Report, where we work to maintain our inbox privileges every day.

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Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan continue to haunt U.S. forces there but we're told that American officials are putting increasing pressure on Afghan commanders to help them solve the problem. American officials say the Afghans are best able to spot members of the ANSF who could pose a risk for ideological reasons or who simply might have a low-level disagreement that could put someone in danger. To make sure the Afghans fully understand the gravity of the situation, they are being told that the "insider attacks" really could threaten the military partnership with the U.S. and the rest of the international coalition. The threat of pulling back from the Afghan government has been a strong motivation for it to take action, we're told.


Lt. Gen. James Terry, deputy commanding general of the ISAF Joint Command in Kabul, spoke to reporters in the Pentagon by VTC Wednesday. He posited that the attacks, 45 since January, may reflect the increasing desperation among insurgents as they see an ever-capable Afghan security force. Meanwhile, the Afghan Defense Ministry announced that "hundreds" of Afghan soldiers had been pulled from the battlefield or otherwise detained as both the defense and interior ministries re-examine their vetting and recruiting processes. In addition to a new and improved vetting approach, U.S. and Afghan officials are also looking at the role religious cultural advisers can play, Terry said. And, he said, another initiative is to mount a "counterintelligence initiative" to get in among the rank-and-file so "we can identify some of the threat before it actually materializes out there," Terry said. "So again, I would just tell you they're seized with it."


From the Department of Twitters: The Pentagon's own @robertburnsAP after Wednesday's briefing: "LTG Terry tells Pentagon reporters that part of ‘insider" attack prblm linked to Afg gun culture. Disputes settled "at the barrel of a gun.'"


AQ Khan as "Pakistan's Mandela"? - The father of Pakistan's atomic bomb (and proliferator of its designs) has political ambitions, recently forming his own party. As Simon Henderson writes for FP, Khan's name still elicits sneers here in Washington and "leads to invective that makes the often vicious rhetoric of the current presidential campaign seem tame by comparison." But he is becoming a political force in Pakistan and is "trying to become a player in the national assembly elections due to take place in April 2013," Henderson writes.

In Khan's own words: "Pakistan is in an extremely precarious and dangerous condition ... it has gone to the dogs thanks to our most incompetent and corrupt rulers and their Western patrons," he responded when asked his reason for launching the party. "I can't simply sit back and see it destroyed. I feel that I must do something to try to save the situation." His goal? To be a Nelson Mandela figure for the country:




Bill Clinton took a big swing at the GOP on defense spending in his speech last night with this:  "They want to increase defense spending over a decade $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested, without saying what they'll spend it on."


John Kerry throws down: Dems continue their commandeering of national security and foreign policy issues. Kerry writes for FP: "Today, it is the Democratic Party that almost all alone occupies that once bipartisan space in national security policy, and it is the Democratic Party that today offers the clear-eyed vision of how to best honor our ideas in the world, while the Republican Party, too often in the grips of hard-edged ideology and a determination above all else to defeat President Barack Obama, is almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnation."


In Charlotte, the tables are turned and the Dems are flexing their national security credentials. FP's E-Ring blogger Kevin Baron: "In their minds, it's no accident that for the first time in almost anyone's memory Democrats are out-polling Republicans on national security. The 2004 election left Democrats flabbergasted how their candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was unable to sell a better national security vision at a time when Afghanistan was forgotten, Iraq was falling to pieces and the incumbent, George W. Bush, was widely unpopular," he writes.

Baron talked to Doug Wilson, a former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs who is active in the Obama campaign: "The Obama team has been a very coherent group of people," Wilson told Baron. "This has been the most unified and coherent and integrated national security team of people I have ever seen."


The SEALs say they won't get dirty. FP's Killer Apps blog guru John Reed has this: The Navy SEAL Foundation, a charitable group that provides "immediate and ongoing support" to Navy SEALs and their families, will not accept donations from the proceeds of No Easy Day. Read about it at Killer Apps: The Virginian-Pilot has the story:


Marine One is becoming Priority One. Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos has said replacing the president's helicopter is once again at the top of the "to do" list, Reed reports. "It's not on the back burner anymore it's actually moved forward and we need to find a replacement for the president's helicopter," said Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps Commandant of the Corps effort to purchase a new presidential chopper." Read more here:


American drone sales: making a list, but checking it twice. The Pentagon says there is a list of 66 countries that may be eligible to buy drones from American firms, but Congress and State have the final say and, as Reuters reports, they have not yet "opened the spigot" for such exports.


Did HRW find a new case of waterboarding?

A new report by Human Rights Watch that is based on documents and interviews in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi includes a "detailed description of what appears to be a previously unknown instance of waterboarding by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan nine years ago," the Times' Charlie Savage and Scott Shane write today.

"That claim clashes with repeated assertions by current and former agency officials that only three high-level terrorism suspects -- none of them Libyans -- were waterboarded," they wrote. "It underscores how much is still not known about the United States' treatment of terrorist suspects during the early years of the Bush administration," according to the Times.




As anxiety builds over American ambitions in Asia, Kyodo News reports from Manila that U.S. Marines are planning to build a new "advance command post" on the western Philippine island of Palawan. "The plan is to station 50 to 60 American marines in Palawan as an advance command post in the region," the outlet quoted a Philippine marine officer as saying.

How they see it here: It's likely the Kyodo report mischaracterized the fact that while U.S. Marines are on the island, they are there just temporarily in anticipation of the amphibious exercise this month. The Pentagon issued a statement from a DoD spokeswoman: "we aren't building any bases in the Philippines and we don't have any plans to permanently station any U.S. military there." There are no permanent U.S. bases in the Philippines, and any American forces present are there temporarily and at the approval of the country, she said. .




We knew her when. Reuters' Missy Ryan has been chosen as a White House Fellow. Ryan, who was essentially held hostage at a hotel in Tripoli last year with other journalists by Qaddaffi's boys, doesn't have an assignment yet but her fellowship will last a year. Her interview on NPR about being held in Libya:


Back to school. John Nagl will navigate a different kind of terrain soon. He announced a couple of weeks ago, but some people seem still not to know, that he will become the headmaster of a Philadelphia Main Line boy's school, the Haverford School, next year. "I get to work with a whole lot of smart people doing something that matters for the future of the country," Nagl, who now teaches at the Naval Academy, told a reporter with the Inquirer. He starts July 2013.