National Security

The Surge in Afghanistan Ends

The Monday Morning Quarterbacking on Libya, You Just Can’t Bomb Syria, and more.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Foreign Policy's Situation Report.

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Tomorrow marks the end of the surge in Afghanistan, as the last of the 30,000 troops President Obama ordered to Afghanistan in November 2009 return home. Soon, only about 68,000 American troops will remain in Afghanistan, and come mid-November, ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen will make recommendations to Obama about how much of that force should remain in the country through next year. Much of the remaining conventional combat power will work in eastern Afghanistan and with Afghan units. The jury is still very much out on what the surge accomplished and what it didn't. And its effects won't fully be felt for many months. There are still pockets of violence where surge troops operated, and it is still far from clear if the Afghan National Security Forces will be able to step up to create a sustainable piece.

For now, ISAF spokesman Col. Tom Collins wrote in an e-mail to Situation Report that the surge was "clearly successful" because it brought "time and space" for the Afghans and coalition forces to achieve some key markers. It pushed insurgents out of the main population centers of the south, like in Kandahar City, and the communities along the Helmand River Valley. "There are still pockets of periodic violence to in outlying areas to be sure, but these populated areas are largely free of violence today," Collins wrote.

The surge also gave room to the Afghan army and police to grow, from 80,000 members of the Afghan National Army and 73,000 national police in January 2009 to 189,000 and 148,000 respectively. Last month, over 80 percent of the operations in the south were led by the Afghan Army, according to Collins.

In an exclusive interview with Situation Report last month, ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen said he would watch the post-surge environment in the south:

"I'm going to watch it very closely because this in the end, of course, is the spiritual homeland of the Pashtun rebellion. So for us it is less about a full-up conventional battle her than it is about consolidating our holds on the population," he said.


Meanwhile, the Monday morning quarterbacking has begun about Libya and how the U.S. appeared to miss the signals that would have hinted at the violent attack in Benghazi. How, on the anniversary of 9/11, could the building be so vulnerable even as officials knew a video that could incite violence was spreading across the Internet? Libya was known to have many armed militant groups, some of which are tied to Salafi extremists or jihadis who fought in Iraq and elsewhere. Administration officials have been reluctant to say much about the failure as the FBI and Department of Justice begin investigations.

"Qaddafi loyalists" had been blamed for inciting the violence this week, but analysts have pushed back on that notion because it ignores a serious problem of emerging extremism, especially in a place like Benghazi, home to the revolution that toppled Qaddafi in the first place.

"There has been a pattern of militant extremist violence picking up the last few months, but it's very easy to blame it on the Qaddafi loyalists," Sean Kane, who worked for a Swiss NGO in Libya up until this summer, told Situation Report. "And there is some reluctance to confront it directly in my view."

Extremist acts there were not new, he said, recalling an incident in January in which a meeting of the National Transitional Council in Benghazi turned violent, with extremist groups attempting to take advantage of public anger on an issue to foment violence.

Much of the extremist influence on the ground in Benghazi emanates from the city of Derna about three hours away. A State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks titled "Die Hard in Derna" details how the city became a refuge within Libya for returned foreign fighters and provided a climate for extremist influences that may have contributed to the violence this week in Benghazi: "...frustration at the inability of eastern Libyans to effectively challenge Qaddafi's regime, together with a concerted ideological campaign by returned Libyan fighters from earlier conflicts, have played an important role in Derna's development as a wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters in Iraq," according to the cable. "The [government of Libya's] limited ability to extend its writ in eastern Libya -- along with limited social outlets, dim economic prospects and the town's historical role as a center of resistance -- have fostered a landscape in which Derna's angry young men view the conflict in Iraq through the lens of dissatisfaction with their government and with the USG's perceived support of it."

Indeed, the void left by the toppling of strongman Muammar Qaddafi -- and the many stockpiles of weapons he left -- created an environment allowing armed groups to grow in strength. Many Libyans have been demanding of their government a stronger security force.

"We had asked the government many times to help create a strong military, to put the police everywhere, to secure the city," said Najla Elmangoush, a professor of criminal law at Benghazi University and an activist in Benghazi, told Situation Report. But the governmental response has not been robust amid widespread security challenges in a country lacking much in the way of security infrastructure.

While most Libyans are considered moderates who don't have a problem with foreigners, there are some groups who "don't like Libya," she said.

"They are people with their own agenda and they try to make conflict in this country," said Elmangoush. Violence on the ground in Libya, she said, isn't typically a big problem. "The problem is these weapons with the wrong guys with the wrong groups with the wrong agenda, and they try to ruin the peace process," Elmangoush said.

Meanwhile at State, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday she was able to give few details about security around the Benghazi building where the attack occurred. "What I can say is that, as we did with all our missions overseas in advance of the September 11th anniversary, and as we do every year, we did evaluate the threat stream and we determined that the security at Benghazi was appropriate for what we knew," Nuland said during a press conference Thursday. "But I can't speak to any other diplomatic conversations that might have gone on with the Libyans."

And, as Kevin Baron of the E-Ring reported, a CRS report earlier this year warned Congress that security had deteriorated since the election in July and that the government has not appeared able to stop attacks on buildings or prevent assassination attacks on former regime officials. "The attacks on the U.S. offices in Benghazi were the latest and most severe in a series of attacks on foreign diplomatic facilities and international organizations in Libya," according to the CRS report.


Does Libya become Iraq? There are a raft of angles to the question of whether the U.S. and international community essentially checked the box on Libya after the revolution and moved on too quickly, leaving a government lacking the capacity to provide security or governance and leaving in the vacuum room for extremist elements to emerge. Christopher S. Chivvis, writing on FP, asks if the international community was naïve. No matter what happens in Libya, he writes, "history will recall that NATO's intervention saved lives in Benghazi and opened new prospects for Libya's future. But the post-conflict order has been in limbo ever since Qaddafi was killed last October." He adds: "The nightmare scenario that Libya could go the way of Iraq in 2004 is still not likely, but no longer seems implausible," he writes.


Did the international community fail Libya by ignoring the signs of extremism? Mary Habeck on FP's Shadow Government writes that there were indications of al-Qaida-affiliated groups rising. "Now Ansar al-Sharia has been implicated with  responsibility for this latest attack on the U.S. consulate. If this is true, then Libya's security problems are no longer a matter solely of local concern, but have global implications. Even before this attack there was evidence to suggest that al Qaeda was involved in Libya. Although there is no proof of al Qaeda participation in the original uprising against Qaddafi, high-ranking al Qaeda leaders did make their way to Libya at the end of 2011," she writes.


You can't just bomb Syria. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron explains why the WMD problem in Syria can't be just blown away. "'s why, defense officials privately concede: Even if the Pentagon knew the targets, knew that they contained biological or chemical weapons, knew which specific agents were hidden at each site, had the right vehicles and ordnance to penetrate air defenses and fortifications, determined the agents were sufficiently away from populations and in calm wind conditions, determined their use or insecurity was imminent and that there was a high-probability that all of those factors were correct -- well, it's not that simple."


Correction: Yesterday Situation Report referred to an exclusive interview former CIA Director Michael Hayden had with the news site Newsmax, in which he criticized the move to go into Libya at the time for failing to take into account the first and second order effects of toppling Moammar Qadaffi. A headline on the Newxmax story cast his criticisms in a far more negative light, suggesting he was calling the invasion "Obama's Libya Adventure." Hayden did not make that comment in the taped interview or the accompanying article.  

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National Security

Protests Spread to Yemen

Fear of Friday prayers, McCain on engaging Libya, the cost of bombing Iran, and more.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Foreign Policy's Situation Report.

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Angry protests over the anti-Islamic film "The Innocence of Muslims" have spread to Yemen, where mobs have broken through the perimeter of the U.S. embassy in Sana'a and burned two cars. The situation appears now to be under control, thanks to Yemeni security forces. But the new flashpoint marks an escalation in protests across the Middle East that has put national security back on the map and added new intensity to the presidential race.

But Libya still remains the focal point of concern. A team of as many as 50 elite Marines are now on the ground there and two U.S. Navy destroyers are headed to the Libyan coast in response to the attack against the American consulate in Benghazi. Questions are being raised about the apparent inability of intelligence operatives to foresee the violence, and about how the U.S. should respond to what amounts to a coordinated attack on an American installation.

The biggest worry now is what happens over the next two days, a senior American official based in Europe told Situation Report. "Friday prayers are tomorrow, and that's when the imams deliver their sermons and a lot of dissemination of talking points among various strains of Islam, especially the Sunni Salafi, about what to tell their worshipers and followers," the official said, adding: "If I was [Central Command Commander] Jim Mattis, I would be very concerned about what happened."

Analysts are distinguishing>among the various protests. While the one in Egypt was large and raucous, it was loosely organized; the one in Benghazi was more complex. But the attack that killed American ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was not necessarily a reflection of broad-based anti-American sentiment. "I still don't know if what happened in Benghazi is anti-American per se or if you had an al-Qaida clone inspired to attack the United States," the official said. This official and otherspointed to the many Libyan groups with access to large numbers of weapons.

"Why is anyone surprised that there are dangerous groups in Libya?" the official said.

Obama had been credited for contributing to the fall of the Qaddafi regime without setting a single boot on the ground. While some critics, including former CIA director Michael Hayden, who say the U.S. should have taken a "moral responsibility" for the future of Libya at the time, while others wonder if the U.S. should be doing more now in what is seen as one of the friendliest of the Arab Awakening countries. [*correction below.]

Sen. John McCain told Situation Report he would like to see the U.S. deploy more personnel to help Libya as it builds a new country.

"We have a government starting from zero, and clearly it's still a danger," McCain said. "I think we should have proper security measures, diplomatic presence, and military advisers." More American personnel would help. "We should have people," the Arizona Republican said, training, providing intelligence, and advising the Libyans. Libya remains an opportunity to spread freedom and democratic values, he said, despite the danger from armed groups.

"I think there are extremists all over the country, but the overwhelming majority of the people reject them...The overwhelming majority of people elected a moderate government."

McCain said there appeared to be obvious intelligence failures in Libya. But they shouldn't scare Americans away. Some on the right, including Rep. Allen West, a Republican in Florida, suggested the Arab Awakening has turned into a "nightmare of Islamism." McCain rejected those in his own party who want to disengage.

"There's always an isolationist element in both parties," McCain said. "There are always those on the right and left that would seek any excuse to retreat to Fortress America."

The American presence in Libya may expand-- and stay. Kevin Baron of FP's E-Ring reports that the crisis could trigger what a longer-term presence on the ground: "The Pottery Barn rule may apply to Libya after all. U.S. defense officials on Wednesday told the E-Ring that the rapid reaction teams of roughly 50 Marines sent to Libya within hours of a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi could be the beginning of a much longer-term presence. One senior military official said those forces could be there for 'as long as needed -- days, weeks, even months,' and may indeed be a precursor to an even larger U.S. military presence to come."

Was it Qaddafi's associates or al-Qaida to blame? Josh Rogin reports in the Cable that Libya's ambassador to Washington, Ali Aujali, believes associates of Moammar Qaddafi were behind the attack in Benghazi. "We know that Qaddafi's associates are in Libya. Of course, they took this chance to infiltrate among the people. Rogin: "Aujali said that the Libyan government has intelligence that unspecified Qaddafi forces were involved."

Brent Scowcroft is back with a new, sober warning. Just as Israel and the U.S. spar over "red lines," a new group of top foreign policy hands is making a pitch today to re-think the costs and benefits of a strike against Iran. Former national security adviser Scowcroft, who famously warned against attacking Iraq, has signed on, as have more than 30 admirals, generals, former diplomats, and government officials, including Richard Armitage, Tony Zinni, Bill Fallon, Tom Pickering, and Lee Hamilton.

From the report: "At a time when debate on this critical issue is often driven by politics and based on unexamined assumptions about the ability of military action to achieve U.S. objectives, this paper seeks to provide clear thinking about the potential use of force against Iran. ... We believe that the use of military force should be a last resort and must be accompanied by a rigorous analysis of likely benefits and costs." A launch at the Wilson Center today.

Drones are an amazing tool, but the addiction to "remote controlled war" mask its true costs. Rosa Brooks on FP: "If killing a suspected terrorist based in Yemen or Somalia will endanger expensive manned aircraft, the lives of U.S. troops, and/or the lives of many innocent civilians, U.S. officials will reserve such killings for situations of extreme urgency and gravity (stopping another 9/11, finally getting Osama bin Laden). But if all that appears to be at risk is an easily replaceable drone, officials will be tempted to use lethal force more and more casually. And this, of course, is exactly what has been happening over the last four years." 

Air Force Sec. Mike Donley to Killer Apps on sequestration:  "It is not possible to take that much money out of the defense program and not have an impact on units, on states, on businesses, on communities -- the dollars will come out somewhere." The Air Force, Killer Apps' John Reed writes, is particularly concerned about short-term purchases of 1,763 stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, about 100 new stealth bombers, and 179 new KC-46 tankers.

Bob Gates to talk debt. Bob Gates and Mike Mullen are the two big gets for an event at CSIS next week at which they will discuss the impact of debt on national security as part of a series of discussions on the debt's impact on the United State Gates, who has made only select appearances since leaving the Pentagon, will speak by VTC from Washington state.

* Correction: In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Michael Hayden criticized the move to go into Libya at the time for failing to take into account the first and second order effects of toppling Moammar Qaddaffi. A headline on the story on the site cast his criticisms in a far more negative light, suggesting he was calling the invasion "Obama's Libya Adventure." Hayden did not make that comment in the taped interview or the accompanying article.  

Blowing Up

  • AFP: Violence stemming from film spreads to Yemen, where protesters broke through a perimeter and set two cars on fire.
  • BBC: CFR's Richard Haas on Obama's foreign policy challenges.
  • NYT: Cairo's tepid response to protests at U.S. embassy, in contrast to Tripoli's, raises concern.

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