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Archive for November, 2001

Intelligence Happenings

Whenever military commanders fail to achieve their stated objectives, intelligence agencies are convenient scapegoats for their operational shortcomings. US President Carter’s “de-humanizing” of CIA in favour of high-tech did not cater for the present “war on terrorism” waged against a technologically backward country like Afghanistan. During Reagan’s term, CIA’s William Casey, one-time agent of the OSS, CIA’s predecessor agency, turned this policy around 180 degrees, running the war in Afghanistan with help from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). ISI coordinated logistics and operations with the Afghan Mujahideen, with officers and men on “Extra Regimental Employment” (ERE) duties, from Pakistan’s elite commando brigade, Special Services Group (SSG) taking part in actual fighting. SSG prides itself in wearing the winged dagger and having the universal motto of Special Forces everywhere, “Who Dares Wins”. Having done two SSG tenures, prime product General Pervez Musharraf is presently SSG’s Colonel-in-Chief.

Raised from 19 Baluch (old 17/10 Baluch) at Cherat, a hill station not far from Peshawar, dedicated CIA and US Special Forces personnel trained the SSG as part of US “Military Aid to Pakistan” Program (US MAP), among the instructors Chuck Lord, Robert Buckley, Robert Dunn, Maj Murray, Lt Hicks, Sommers, etc. Pakistani SSG officers travelled to Fort Bragg and/or Fort Benning for advanced training. Robert Dunn knew most SSG personnel by name, having spent almost his whole life in this area. Casey chose him to be CIA’s Operations Chief for the Afghan War.

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Mixed Signals

The President of Pakistan, General Parvez Musharraf, met US President Bush in New York last Sunday evening. Earlier, he had addressed the UN General Assembly. Given that after sending democracy into temporary limbo he became an international pariah a scant two years (and a month ago), for the Pakistani President the visit has been a triumph of sorts, for the personal risks he has taken in the last 60 days it brought only mixed rewards. In meetings en route in Teheran, Istanbul, Paris and London, Parvez Musharraf scored heavily in getting effusive support for Pakistan as a frontline state in the “war on terrorism”. But it was the last stop that counted. Under dire pressure from the frenzy building in the streets, the Pakistani intelligentsia had high hopes that the US would take concrete and tangible measures to reverse the Pakistani public perception that the US is friendly with Pakistan only when it has use for it, and then leaves Pakistan to fend for itself in paying the economic and political price for the privilege of that rather limited (by need) friendship.

As a symbol of tangible support, Pakistan needed debt relief that would be more like debt forgiveness, something that would more than offset the political and economic fallout being acutely felt in Pakistan because of the US attack on Afghanistan. Pakistan suffered economically (and continues to suffer) because we were then left in the lurch after the Afghan War in the 80s, sad experience shows that the present aid package announced for Pakistan is meagre compared to the economic hardships that the present Afghan War is now forcing on Pakistan. US$ 1 billion is hardly peanuts, but in the context of what we really need it may as well as be chicken feed. One must be grateful for small blessings however, for even the US$ 1 billion aid package that we did get will ameliorate to a small extent the burden of the war which is being increasingly felt in the streets and homes of Pakistan. In material terms it may be in lost man hours and in export manufacturing orders, in emotional terms the cost cannot even begin to be counted.

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The Battle for Mazar

If bombs of differing lethal value were not falling on Afghanistan with increasing frequency, the “war on terrorism” could well be a phony war. Despite the urgency of the air campaign, thirty days into the war there is no ground battle worth the name except around Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province. Literally meaning the “tomb of the saint,” the Balkh River makes this city a part of Afghanistan’s most fertile regions, producing cotton, grain and fruit. Once the Soviet Union’s chief transit point for trade, Mazar (for short) is 35 miles south of Termez, a major river port of Uzbekistan on the Amu Darya (Amu River), the border with Afghanistan. Mazar-i-Sharif’s chief claim to fame is the purported discovery in the 12th (or was it the 15th?) century of the tomb of Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Whatever the truth, the shrine next to the blue-tiled mosque is venerated by all muslims, in particular the Shia sect. 200 miles away to the south-east, Kabul is connected by road through the Salang Tunnel, Herat is about 300 miles away to the south-west near the border with Iran.

An extensive and difficult mountain territory, the Alborz Range, lies south and south-west, with a flat desert terrain to the north, east and south of the city. Populated mainly by the Uzbeks, Mazar’s nearly quarter million population has a fair percentage of Tajiks and Hazaras, Pashtuns make up about 10%. The surrounding population is also mainly Uzbek, with a sprinkling of Tajiks to the east and Hazaras (Shias) in strength to the south in Bamiyan Province. Mostly Uzbeks populate the provinces of Samangam and Baghlan due east, as well to the west in Jozejan and Faryab. Through Kholm a road goes east to Kunduz, Takhar and Badakshan Provinces. A road passes south through Ap Kupruk to Bamiyan Province. Once the capital of Afghan Turkmenistan, the loss of this crossroads city of Mazar-i-Sharif will be a grievous blow to the Taliban, maybe not a fatal one. Without occupying Kabul as a capital city in its grasp, the Opposition can only claim some legitimacy if they have physical possession of Mazar-i-Sharif. Its capture may invite wholesale Uzbek and Tajik defections from the Taliban ranks. More importantly, on “the domino theory” the Provinces of Balkh, Samangan, Faryab, Jozejan and Ghowr would link up with the Alliance territories of Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, Badahshan, Parvan and Kapisa, in effect providing the Northern Alliance not only with continuous real estate but its government legitimacy of sorts.

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Prosecuting the War

When diplomatic and economic initiatives fail, military means, i.e, war is the only available option to secure political objectives. With a vast majority of the US population still demanding vengeance in the wake of the September 11 bombing, failure to retaliate would have been tantamount to an open invitation to terrorists of all kinds to target US citizens and interests world-wide. The US had an Hobson’s choice, damned if you will, damned if won’t. With the expected Taliban refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the US targeted war on him and his protectors as the very first objective of the “war on terrorism”. A civilized society cannot associate itself with terrorists, enough circumstantial evidence was available for Mullah Omar to have distanced himself from his tainted guest.

The US war aims are to, viz (1) kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and (2) overthrow the Taliban regime protecting him. The immediate US military objectives in pursuit of these aims are, in four Phases, viz (1) destroy all air force and anti aircraft potential so as to control Afghan skies, (2) destroy such Taliban personnel and defence material interfering with the primary aims, (3) kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and (4) overthrow the Taliban regime. The political phase should come on the conclusion of war, putting in place a broad-based alternative government acceptable to the Afghan people. A conventional war would target economic targets, very unnecessary for this impoverished country, and you seldom win the hearts and minds of people by sending them to the graveyards and / or to hospitals. Rest of the world (including Britain and Europe) is now getting restive with continuing civilian casualties. Total air superiority (Phase 1) was achieved in less than 24 hours, thereafter, only fuel and ammunition dumps far from civilian population centers should have been targeted in Phase 2. Engaging with an enemy, steeped in a decade plus of urban and rural guerilla warfare, capable of living off the land, there is a fail-safe line in target acquisition. Focus on the war aims, why spread your effort and get hate in return particularly when you are straitjacketed in the pursuit of war by severe limiting of acceptable casualties that you can absorb. Bin Laden draws his staying power from proximity to Mullah Omar, who rules by sole edict. Dovetail Phase 3 and 4 to focus only on them, only on one city, a small area of operations allowing concentration of effort, the creating of inter-connecting fields of fire force-multiplied by air support. The blockade of Kandahar should be the focus of battle, no men or material allowed to flow in or out, the objective being to isolate Mullah Omar (and Osama Bin Laden) from the rest of Afghanistan, forcing the Taliban into the open for them to cross the killing zone to have a go at you or try to get past you. Without putting ground troops in harm’s way astride choke points into Kandahar, there is no blockade. One must understand the terrain and make-up of the population around Kandahar.

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