As Obama escalates America's war in "AfPak," July is already the deadliest month of the war for foreign troops. An American POW is now in Taliban hands. As the US continues to rain down bombs on Pakistan, nearby countries become secondary theaters of combat, as insurgents link up with local rebels throughout Central Asia.
The focus of Western media attention and Pentagon preoccupation is currently still south and east Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas. 4,000 Marines are in Helmand, swatting at ghosts, as the Taliban have melted away and reappeared in other areas around the region where they have mounted some ferocious assaults against more lightly held sectors. The British, tasked with securing the rear of the Marine operation, are reeling from a bloody beating at the hands of the insurgents, with the British government being unable to explain why the British soldiers are still so vulnerable compared to their American counterparts. But even the better supported and more heavily armored American forces have found themselves surprised and outmaneuvered by the speed and direction of the Taliban counteroffensive, and the point of the touted Marine offensive in Helmand is now coming into question as the enemy refuses combat and inflicts heavy casualties though the use of increasingly sophisticated mines and other booby traps.
Despite the fact that the US troop contingent in Afghanistan has nearly doubled since last year, more than quintupled in five years, and will be in the neighborhood of 70,000 soldiers by year's end, these numbers are still inadequate to the task, according to local commanders and conventional military doctrine. The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, had told President Barack Obama that he needed an additional 10,000 troops, but the White House has put off that decision until the end of 2009 and sacked McKiernan instead. The speed and effectiveness of the Taliban’s outflanking maneuver around the massed US forces in Helmand demonstrated the tenuousness of the US hold on Afghanistan and the ability of Western forces to confront and isolate Taliban formations. Not that more boots on the ground would necessarily be helpful in confronting a regional meltdown caused by the American operations, which is becoming very reminiscent of Vietnam.
As the Taliban wheels around the American flank, they somehow managed to capture an American POW, whom they have threatened to execute if the US does not stop airstrikes in certain Afghan regions. This is a curious demand, since the US has publicly disavowed the use of such airstrikes in Afghanistan and denies that they are going on. So we are being asked to believe that the Taliban are demanding the US to cease operations which are not actually ongoing, being apparently unfamiliar with the actual situation on the ground. But even though the Americans are ostensibly not bombing the areas that the Taliban is asking them to stop bombing, the US is refusing to accede to these demands, and have instead been conducting hopeless rescue operations, and airstrikes are now alternating with leaflet drops:
A U.S. military spokeswoman, Captain Elizabeth Mathias, said the military has distributed leaflets in the two provinces calling for the soldier's safe return.
One leaflet shows an American soldier sitting on the ground and shaking hands with Afghan children. It asks for the missing "American guest" to be returned home.
But another leaflet shows U.S. soldiers kicking in the door of a house and says: "If you do not release the U.S. soldier then you will be hunted."
In addition to leaflets, US has designated one platoon per battalion throughout the eastern theater to search for the soldier, despite the fact that the soldier is most likely no longer in Afghanistan. The operation therefore is predominantly a P.R. stunt, aimed to demonstrate that the US will leave no man behind, though it will put thousands in harm’s way, and this POW will not be the first or the last of this campaign.
Though fighting and instability are now spreading throughout the entire Central Asian region, most Americans are only familiar with the American bombing campaign against Pakistan. Well, not Pakistan, we aren't at war with Pakistan any more than we were at war with Laos or Cambodia, they are actually our allies but we feel the need to bomb their territory over their protests anyway, to constrict the movements of militants and target senior Taliban leadership. Flush with American subsidies, the Pakistani military is also raining bombs and shells down on their own people, in tandem with missiles from American unmanned aircraft, as they conduct "punitive operations" in their tribal regions.
But the reality is that heavy fighting is no longer limited even to the expanded theater of war Obama calls "AfPak." Iran is also battling a Pakistan based Sunni Islamist insurgency which is closely related to the other mujahedeen groups, the Taliban and al Qaeda. The main group involved, Jondollah (Soldiers of Allah), is probably moving between Iran's Baluchistan and Pakistan and southern Afghanistan, and is likely being funded and armed by the Americans themselves in an effort to destabilize Iran. It is clear none of the sides claiming to be engaged in a mortal struggle with Muslim extremism are above employing these same extremists against their enemies, as Pakistan has been doing for decades against India and the US did against the USSR during the 1980s.
Meanwhile, on Afghanistan’s northeastern border, Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz and Chinese security forces are all coming under increasing attack from bands of militants coming from Pakistan and Afghanistan. While China’s problems are still being presented in the West as independent of the vortex of violence unleashed by the US in Afghanistan and the fault of heavy handed Chinese treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority, it is hard to present the violence now engulfing Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the same light, even despite the repressive regions which rule those countries with the support of Russia, China and the US. The Islamist struggle in the former Soviet region is spearheaded by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an Uzbek group which was run out of Uzbekistan in the 1990s and has made its base in northern Pakistan under the protection of the Pakistani Taliban. Some speculate that the IMU is being pushed out of Pakistan by ongoing Pakistani military operations, and is now moving through Taliban controlled Afghan territory back north to thinly held regions of Soviet Central Asia. It is also possible that the growing insurgency in these nations is more diffuse than that, and the IMU is simply being used by the repressive governments to focus the fear of the public, the same way "al Qaeda" has been used by the US government. Regardless, the increasing violent incidents and attacks on government forces are creating a great deal of instability for every government involved.
The US is not unaware of the impact its operations are having on the region, and is fully prepared to take advantage of the ensuing instability. Based on the locations of American bases, transit routes and movements of American occupation forces since the end of the Cold War, tracing an arc from the Balkans through the Caucasus and the Middle East through Central Asia, which roughly corresponds to the projected route of the hydrocarbon pipelines currently in development to carry Central Asian and Middle Eastern reserves to Europe bypassing Russian territory, and given the fact that America’s top current targets for destabilization, China and Iran, are both being hit hard by the spreading conflict, one could speculate that this instability is not in fact antithetical to American national interests, but that would put us in the dreaded realm of conspiracy theory. Be that as it may, on June 24-25 NATO held the first Security Forum of its Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in Central Asia, the first outside of Europe in fact, in the capital of Kazakhstan, which borders both Russia and China and possesses the largest proven reserves of oil and natural gas in Central Asia and among Caspian Sea states aside from Russia and Iran. The meeting gathered together the defense chiefs of 50 nations, 28 full NATO members and 22 partners; that is, from over a quarter of the world's 192 nations. Security cooperation against the various Islamist networks now roaming the region was at the top of the agenda, followed closely of course by further discussions regarding pipeline routes, extraction contracts and transit rights.
In addition to the diplomatic offensive, which has so far netted such valuable results as the extension of the US lease of the Manas military base in Kyrgyzstan, to securing transit rights for "non-lethal" supplies for American troops in Central Asia, the US is also again growing its military and turning to private contractors for the manpower required to fight the ever expanding and evolving war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has just announced that he is now "weighing" "temporarily" expanding the US Army by another 30,000 soldiers. According to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell:
The possible expansion from the current strength of 547,400 would be designed "to get them through what is still a stressful period as we draw down in Iraq and continue to plus-up in Afghanistan."
"Plus-up" is a great propaganda term, so much better and more positive than "escalation" or even "the Surge" (that’s so 2008). I wonder if there’s a Dictionary of Synonyms for Butchers with Crew Cuts that you can buy somewhere that has all these terms in it. With creative language like that, plus the recession and the hope and change inspired by Obama’s election, the Pentagon should have no trouble recruiting another 30,000 young Americans to serve as patriotic IED fodder. But even 30,000 new frontline infantry is not enough. For boring business such as force protection (guarding convoys or bases) or messy interrogations, the US is still increasingly turning to various mercenaries and contractors. The heavy reliance on mercenaries for security is not new and is probably unavoidable given the general Western professional force structure, in which expensively trained and lavishly supplied imperial troopers are waited upon hand and foot by "Third World nationals" who do their laundry, feed them pizza and burgers, and clean up their quarters, while sunglass wearing gun toting mercenary thugs from around the world guard the entrance to their bases and do other duties for which the uniformed troops are too valuable. As the wars escalate, so of course do the numbers of mercenaries required to service the uniformed military:
[According to the Pentagon, there has been] a 23% increase in the number of "Private Security Contractors" working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan. Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of the "total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility]." This means there are 132,610 mercenaries in Iraq and 68,197 in Afghanistan.
The "Operational Contract Support State of the (Mercenary) Union goes on to project unlimited growth in mercenaries employed particularly in the Central Asian theater, because the deployment size of both military personnel and DoD civilians are "fixed by law," but the number of contractors is "size unfixed," meaning there is virtually no limit (other than funds voted by the ever pliant US Congress) to the number of contractors that can be deployed in the war zone. Therefore, the report’s unsurprising conclusion is that, "We [the Pentagon] expect similar dependence on contractors in future contingency operations."
But you may be surprised to learn that when the US Congress attempted to require that the Pentagon, within one year, stop using civilian contractors in interrogations of American prisoners, the Obama Administration moved quickly to defend and protect this use. The controversial provision provided that "the interrogation of enemy prisoners of war, civilian internees, retained persons, other detainees, terrorists, and criminals when captured, transferred, confined, or detained during or in the aftermath of hostilities is an inherently governmental function and cannot be transferred to contractor personnel." The White House issued a statement opposing this provision, because in "some limited cases," contractor skills might be necessary "to obtain critical information" and that the provision "could prevent U.S. Forces from conducting lawful interrogations in the most effective manner. Administration and Pentagon sources than unleashed a typically incoherent and contradictory stream of excused designed to appeal to every sector of the public:
"You can't make an artificial distinction between an interrogator and a linguist who is actually going to be the one asking the questions," an administration official said. "You don't want to inhibit the ability to extract valuable intelligence that could save lives by not being able to use subject matter experts, linguists or other contract personnel.
"We all think of interrogations as somebody taken back to the facility and questioned. The reality is that people are out on patrol," and the best person to urgently question a captive during an operation may be a contractor. "You don't want to limit yourself," the official said.
Morrell offered a somewhat different explanation, saying that for the Pentagon, "it is first and foremost an issue of resources. We don't have enough interrogators to do the work we have."
So take your pick, the contractors are needed in the field, or in the cells, or as translators, or during interrogations, but they are clearly needed badly enough for Obama to stand up to those irresponsible liberals in Congress to protect our nation’s security from its ideals and values. Whatever the reason, given the proliferation of militant insurgencies throughout the Central Asian region, followed of course by American counterinsurgency forces, a lot more soldiers will be necessary to occupy ("clear and hold" in the Dictionary of Crew Cut Synonyms) an ever increasing area of land, and a lot more CIA operatives and private contractors will be needed to conduct a lot more interrogations of whiny indefinite detainees.