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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.

In response, the US will be "temporarily" increasing the size of the Army, while continuing its reliance on mercenaries both for force protection and interrogation needs.

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.  

Originally posted to Marcion on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 02:12 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  ugh. (4+ / 0-)

      i honestly had not thought it was in US best interests to see a destabilized China. if there is any truth to this as policy (and yes, you said it puts us in the realm of CT), then it lends credence to Chinese claims of outside interference vis-a-vis Tibet and Xinjiang... ugh ugh ugh.

      i don't see our follies in central asia as china's direct problem, unless we make it so. frankly would be quite evil.

      The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

      by beijingbetty on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 03:22:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  China (9+ / 0-)

        China has a direct problem because China's Xinjiang province borders Afghanistan and many Uighers train in Afghanistan and Pakistan for their insurgency against China. That incidentally is why there were those 17 Uighurs at Guantanamo, but once the US realized they were fighting China dn not the West, they became our allies and were used to embarass China, since the US refused to return its citizens to China because of the probabllity of torture (after releasing others to such torturing countries as Russia, Morocco, Yemen, Egypt, etc., and of course, tortuing many ourselves). Now these Uighur insurgents are living lives of luxury in Bermuda and Palau on the US taxpayer dime.

        Also, a pipeline runs from Kazakhstan to China which would be threatened if Xinjiang became a warzone.

        More generally, in addition to looking at the pattern of US movements since the Cold War, if you look at the pattern of US wars and bases going back to the 1950s, you will see that they ring China. KOrea, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, and now the wraparound is occuring on the west side though Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan. It's hard not to notice this pattern if you are Chinese, just as it is almost impossible to notice the pattern if you are American.

        Of course we will have Fascism in America, but we will call it Democracy. - Senator Huey Long

        by Marcion on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 03:39:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Violent extremism is everyone's problem. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          But are the Taliban in a position to actively court war with China? Even over East Turkestan? That just seems incredibly stupid.

          Even though some separatists in Xinjiang were trained in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan on methods to to fight a war of principle for East Turkestan (which I think will never happen), I wonder how many there really were so trained. Hundreds? Or tens? What kind of training? I don't think it was a very big number and I imagine the 'training' very rudimentary, given that it is generally the poorest and most desperate who go that route.  

          It just seems absolutely foolish for the Taliban to open themselves up too much in direct conflict with the largest standing army in the world, with whom they share a land border; a neighbor and at one point potential referee who has remained relatively neutral in the US/Afghanistan conflict.

          Now that the US and China are cooperating building roads in Afghanistan, perhaps there will be more willingness to foment violence in Xinjiang... but it still seems a losing proposition to me.

          The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

          by beijingbetty on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 04:14:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Taliban is not a unitary entity (6+ / 0-)

            The jihadist movement is very decentralized, once some fight Pakistan in South Waziristan, for example, others fight for Pakistani intersts and with Pakisani help in Kashmir. Similarly, while Uighurs fight China, a Taliban government in Afghanistan (if one is established again) would disavow any connection and continue to court Chinese investment. The Afghan Taliban is composed of a myriad groups, and then there is the Pakistani Taliban which is separate.

            This is the problem the US is facing in Afghanistan, it went in based on connections between Taliban and al Qaeda, but is now fighting a myriad groups, some of whom were actually fighting the Taliban before the US invasion. They are all united by financial and training networks, and they meet for high level strategy meetings on occasion, but they also go to war against one another. You cannot view Uighur attacks in China to be a declaration of war by the Taliban against China.

            To the jihadi strategic thinkers, such as bin Laden, provoking major responses is a desired goal. The stronger the response, the more energy is generated, the greater the probability for destabilization and chaos and radicalization of Muslim populations.

            Of course we will have Fascism in America, but we will call it Democracy. - Senator Huey Long

            by Marcion on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 04:21:51 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks, that makes sense to me. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I return to my original comment that I don't see the US actions in Afghanistan as directly being China's problem, nor is it likely to so become their problem.

              Aside from Xinjiang separatism, whose cause is unlikely to be taken up by other Islamic nations whose relations with China spans decades if not hundreds of years, China has no direct problem with Islam or Taliban, or al-Qaeda, because they have no particular issue with China. China does not fight religious wars or wars of principle, and has not used their economic and political might to play kingmaker in other regions.

              I think we will either win or hang by our own batard in Central Asia, I don't see China as needing to involve themselves on our behalf.

              The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

              by beijingbetty on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 04:30:13 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  LOL i meant 'hang by our own PETARD'. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                northsylvania, gogol

                i think i just said 'hang by our own baguette, rather than sword.


                The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

                by beijingbetty on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 04:39:11 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I've heard (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  northsylvania, theran, Nulwee

                  that petard actually means mine or explosive, so hoisted on one's own petard is to be blown into the air by the explosion of one's own bomb, rather than lifted in the air on a halberd fo some type which is what I originally thought.

                  Of course we will have Fascism in America, but we will call it Democracy. - Senator Huey Long

                  by Marcion on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 04:48:34 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Thanks for the laugh (4+ / 0-)

                  in the midst of a very erudite and valuable discussion.

                  I return to my original comment that I don't see the US actions in Afghanistan as directly being China's problem, nor is it likely to so become their problem.

                  I would agree that our involvement is not a direct threat to China. They might even approve, if American troops are distracting fighters that might otherwise be destabilizing China. However, everywhere in the area from Russia through southwest Asia to China are facing a fluid and relatively competent foe who have the ability to make and break alliances with all the great powers since those powers distrust each other enough that they won't take unified action. Example A is Congress' support for the Uighers.
                  Excellent diary. Excellent discussion.  

                  If nothing is very different from you, what is a little different from you is very different from you. Ursula K. Le Guin

                  by northsylvania on Fri Jul 17, 2009 at 12:28:16 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

      •  Well, you don't have to buy into (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        northsylvania, theran, Nulwee

        the oil-based conspiracy theory.  The conflict zone in fact coincides almost exactly with the influence zones and the margins of the empires constructed by the Russian Czar and the Soviets, and the empire constructed by the Chinese emperors and Mao.

        These empires can't last forever.  The EU has already eaten away most of the Russian conquests on the western end.  (Moldava and western Ukraine, and maybe Belarus, remain.)  On the eastern end North Korea is the problem residue.  In East Asia and the Middle East you can see a wide swath active or latent conflict zones.

        There's a rough south-to-north pattern, maybe gradient, of turmoil and slow modernization/dissolving of empire residues, i.e. propped monarchies and dictatorships, police states and oligarchies, warlord states, kleptocracies, etc.  These represent and lot of residue and old problems- tribal conflicts, religious fundamentalisms, etc.- that are fighting themselves out.

        It is an ugly circumstance that the U.S. has injected itself into a bunch of the particular conflicts, and rarely well whatever the supposed objective.  

  •  2 observations (5+ / 0-)

    Reading a critique of US force's strategies in training the Afghan troops, the criticism was that there are not enough trainers as the senior officers are trained by Americans who then pass it on to their junior officers and then to the noncoms who then train the troops. It was pointed out to deploy enough American advisers so that Afghan troops would receive direct training would require the investment of further billions by some foreign donor, since the Afghans can't afford such a program. The alternative, the "trickle down" training was seen to deteriorate in quality at each level with many disconnects and breakdowns in communication as to make the value of the training questionable at the squad and platoon level.

    Second the Brits disagree with the US on "Hearts and Minds" and rely more on "reaching" the local populations as opposed to heavy handed military responses. Hence their units tend to be more lightly armed and armored and more vulnerable.  Brown objected when the US first demanded the Brits provide direct support to US combat units (consider the British response to the Mahdi Army in Basra)and later acceded. However it appears the British troops were not "beefed up" for their more dangerous tasks  

  •  Unfortunately, Pres. Obama Picked Afghanistan... (13+ / 0-)

    as his war, during the Primary.

    I am afraid it will now become his Vietnam.

    Afghanistan is like quicksand.

    •  Those crazy buggers have had (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gogol, Nulwee, Marcion

      two years to lay low and stockpile. Even if they commit to a fight now they can slowly feed in their cadres of fighters at a sustainable pace until winter sets in again.


      the intelligence community is no longer geared towards telling the president what they think the president wants to hear

      by Salo on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 02:45:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was watching "No End in Sight" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, xaxado

    again on the Tivo, and it's hard to say there's any more endings on the horizon since Obama took over.

    "Dream for just a second and then do it!" -- Kolmogorov

    by theran on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 02:22:26 PM PDT

  •  War without end, Amen (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    No doubt it would be in our interests to push the insurgents towards China...if we can. However, they are firmly entrenched in the Pakistan border regions despite the Swat offensive.

    We will stay until the economic oil and gas is gone.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 02:33:54 PM PDT

  •  Reeling? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, gogol, Marcion

    well, it's a fight and people get killed in fighting.  It's not quite like the Somme in Helmand.  And as the Americans get duffed up a bit, they will get more casualties.

    The summer offensive is insane btw. Taliban saw it coming 2 years ago.

    the intelligence community is no longer geared towards telling the president what they think the president wants to hear

    by Salo on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 02:43:30 PM PDT

  •  LBJ escalated in Vietnam, I think, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    theran, esquimaux, Marcion

    largely because he was equally unprincipled - a New Dealer who repudiated the New Deal in favor of Red-baiting and race-baiting, then switched back - and egotistical - 'I will not be the first President to lose a war,' he said.

    I don't really know how Obama stacks up on these two cahracteristics.

  •  The Great Game (4+ / 0-)

    is continuing in a different form. Unfortunately. I'm trusting that the foreign policy pragmatists in the Obama Administration are cognizant of this. This ground has been trod upon before, many times, and with tragic results.

    "Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it." ML King

    by TheWesternSun on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 08:35:39 PM PDT

  •  "Plus-Up" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's Doubleplusgood!

    From whatever angle you approach it, the present offers no way out. This is not the least of its virtues. ~ The Coming Insurrection

    by ActivistGuy on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 10:41:10 PM PDT

  •  Marcion, a most excellent diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, Marcion, beijingbetty

    Just riddled and chock full of excellent facts, too rarely reported in the US, slathered with superb insights and analysis.

    More, more please. DKos and America  are in hungry need of this kind of work.

    Thank you.

  •  WTF? (0+ / 0-)

    "Butchers with Crew Cuts"?

    Is this what you think of the fine young people who volunteer for the armed services of the USA?

    Be ashamed. This is a disgusting entry.

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