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Monday, April 25, 2011

Libya, NATO, and Afghanistan

"How could a readiness for war in time of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit, in like manner, the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation?" — James Madison

Today, this Monday after Easter I thought of so many things I would like to blog about that I couldn’t decide on anyone topic. Instead I am taking a page out of Matt Drudge’s and Adriana Huffington’s book and practice some aggregation.

Iraq: “Two suicide car bombs were detonated outside the perimeter of the former Green Zone in Baghdad on Monday, killing five and wounding as many as three times that. Recent militant activity in the country has been on the upswing but one of the most important dynamics is the looming withdrawal of the remaining American military forces by the end of the year.

The current Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Baghdad stipulates the remaining nearly 50,000American troops still in country must be withdrawn by the end of the year. The United States has expressed some interest in extending this deadline, including during the visit sending U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Baghdad earlier this month. However, all such overtures thus far have been rejected by the Iraqi government. The numbers being discussed go as high as 20,000 American troops, and Washington has attempted to emphasize the capabilities the United States provides Iraq that the Iraqi military is not yet capable of providing for itself — everything from the defense of Iraqi airspace, to more sophisticated capabilities in planning, logistics, maintenance and intelligence. U.S. officials have also reportedly emphasized to Baghdad that once the withdrawal of American combat forces is complete, that it will be much more difficult for the United States to come to Iraq’s aid militarily in the future.

At the heart of this discussion is the fundamental importance of the U.S. military in counterbalancing Iranian power in Iraq and in the wider region. The large American military presence in Iraq has been the single most important element of American power in Iraq and in the region since the U.S. invasion in 2003. But it is far from clear how Washington is going to balance resurgent Iranian power in Iraq and in the wider region once those forces withdraw. It is not clear whether a new agreement or an extension can be negotiated between Washington and Baghdad — the U.S. has signaled the ball is in Iraq’s court. But an increasingly rapid withdrawal will have to begin no later than late summer or early fall, this quarter and the next are of pivotal importance not only for the United States and Iraq, but for Iranian power and the wider region.” [Stratfor]

Libya: “The African Union and the Turkish government are both trying to negotiate a cease-fire in Libya. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has already given the green light to an African Union proposal led by South African President Jacob Zuma on the condition that NATO first cease its airstrikes. The rebels in the east have rejected the terms of the cease-fire, sticking to their demand that Gadhafi first step down. Meanwhile, NATO forces maintained that they will continue launching airstrikes as long as Libyan civilians in the east are threatened.

Clearly, the cease-fire negotiations are fraught with complications. But as time wears on, it’s looking increasingly likely that the current stalemate in Libya could give way to a de facto partition between east and west. This may not be the ideal scenario for many, but it could allow the United States to avoid another costly nation-building exercise in the Islamic world, while allowing Gadhafi to remain in power, however tenuously. Each party in this conflict — whether you’re talking about the eastern rebels, Gadhafi’s forces or NATO forces — are facing considerable dilemmas in how to proceed in this military campaign.

The eastern rebels have made clear that they’re not content with holding onto the east and ceding the west to Gadhafi’s forces. The problem with the rebel forces it that they are severely ill-trained and ill-equipped. And if you take a look at the battles that have been taking place in the energy-critical areas of (Marsa el) Brega, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya and the port of Sidra, show just how difficult of a time the rebels are having in trying to push Gadhafi’s forces back. And the more Gadhafi’s forces deliberately pull back into built-up urban strongholds in the west, the less likely NATO forces are to provide air cover for fear of causing mass civilian casualties. Simply put, the rebels do not have the fighting power to advance westward to Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s forces remain largely in control of the main energy-producing regions running alongside the dividing line of the country and the Gulf of Sidra region. These forces reach as far as Ajdabiya, just below the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Though a number of Gadhafi’s tanks are being eliminated by NATO airstrikes, his forces have been able to rely on much less resource-intensive and highly mobile civilian vehicles and technicals to move their forces around and push the rebels back. Gadhafi’s forces are facing heavy constraints in resupply as long as NATO forces are patrolling the seas and the skies over Libya. All in all, though, Gadhafi would be negotiating from a relative position of strength in any cease-fire negotiation. Even if Gadhafi himself is eliminated, there do appear to be enough forces loyal to him that could step in and reassert control from the west.

This obviously puts NATO in a very difficult spot. As long as Gadhafi’s forces have the option of pulling back into well built-up urban strongholds, NATO will face very heavy constraints in trying to avoid the risk of blowback in causing civilian casualties. This gives Gadhafi undeniable staying power. Meanwhile, the United States is facing much more pressing and strategic concerns more eastward in the region in the Persian Gulf region, where Iran is waiting to fill a power vacuum in Iraq as U.S. forces are drawing down there. The U.S. then may be resigning itself to the idea that it may not be getting much beyond a stalemate in Libya, and that forcing a power vacuum in the country may be a lot more trouble than it’s worth.” [Stratfor]

"Obama's ideology tethers him to the idea that the central government should be the primary engine of economic growth and the super-arbiter of the winners and losers in our economy. He cannot countenance the possibility that Keynesian stimulus spending does not appreciably stimulate and probably does just the opposite; never mind that we can't afford it. He can't process that we cannot tax ourselves into prosperity or out of debt. He is viscerally unwilling to restructure the programs that have us committed to $88 trillion in unfunded liabilities. And he either cannot comprehend or is morally hardened to the evil and ineffectiveness involved in the government's making command-control decisions rather than free people through the invisible hand of the market, especially in health care. He cannot understand or is rebellious against the truth that capitalism is morally superior to and produces greater prosperity across the board than any other economic system, bar none. ... Obama, captured in his maximum-security class warfare prison mindset, has proposed even higher taxes on the already overburdened producers, which would further smother the economy and prevent economic recovery, growth and abatement of the national debt. His only real remedy for Medicare is to empower the Independent Payment Advisory Board to ration health care according to its one-size-fits-all lunacy. ... There can be no workable compromise with Obama because his plan could not work to retire the debt and avert our national crisis. The only solution is to retire him." — columnist David Limbaugh.

Afghanistan: Real life imitated art in Afghanistan's troubled Kandahar province as the Taliban took a page out of Steve McQueen's playbook, dug a tunnel underneath an Afghan prison where hundreds of high value detainees were being held, and 478 prisoners waltzed out of jail — free men due to the incompetence of Afghan security forces.

“Hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail in Afghanistan's south on Monday through a tunnel dug by Taliban insurgents, officials said, a "disaster" for the Afghan government and a setback for foreign forces planning to start a gradual withdrawal within months.

“Tooryalai Wesa, governor of volatile southern Kandahar province, told Reuters 488 prisoners escaped due to the negligence of Afghan security forces at the province's main jail. He said the tunnel led to a nearby house.

The Taliban said in a statement that 541 prisoners escaped through the tunnel, which took months to construct, and were later moved in vehicles to safer locations. The prison, touted as one of the most secure in Afghanistan, is located on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief spokesman told a news conference that the incident, in which many Taliban commanders were said to have escaped, exposed serious vulnerabilities in the Afghan government.

"This is a blow, it is something that should not have happened. We are looking into finding out ... what exactly happened and what is being done to compensate for the disaster that happened in the prison," spokesman Waheed Omer said.

General Ghulam Dastgir, the governor in charge of the jail, said the prisoners had all escaped through the tunnel.

"No one managed to escape through the main gate, everybody went out through the tunnel. The insurgents worked on it for some seven months," Dastgir said.

"The Taliban have planted bombs inside the tunnel and it is hard to investigate until the explosives are removed," he said.

Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, has been the focus of the U.S.-led military campaign over the past year, with tens of thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops launching offensives around Kandahar city.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said it is too early to tell what impact the escape will have on plans to hand over other prisons to Afghan security control.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that the push to transfer more security responsibilities to Afghan officials will continue.

"This escape is a serious issue which the Afghan authorities are working to address," the official said, adding that both U.S. and Canadian advisors helped train and mentor Afghan Central Prisons Directorate staff at the prison.

Twenty-six prisoners were recaptured and two killed in a gunfight with security forces, Wesa said.

Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Afghan officials had not officially asked for help in recapturing the prisoners but NATO "personnel who patrol the area are aware of the situation and will assist the Afghan authorities in responding as needed."

Reporters were taken into the prison after the jailbreak to view the opening of the tunnel in one of the cell blocks.

Reuters photographs showed a hole, several feet deep, cut into the concrete floor of one of the cells. The hole, big enough to allow one man to climb down at a time, appeared to be connected to a tunnel.

A large carpet in the cell looked to have been folded back to expose the hole. Police told reporters the insurgents had used car jacks to break through the concrete floor, which was several centimeters thick.

The Taliban said the prisoners escaped over a four-and-a-half hour period during the night, meaning more than 100 prisoners an hour would have had to crawl out through a tunnel barely large enough to fit one man.

"Mujahideen started digging a 320-meter (1,049 feet) tunnel to the prison from the south side, which was completed after a five-month period, bypassing enemy checkposts and the Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison," the Taliban statement said.

"They moved people in several groups. They had a comfortable period of time to move that many people. It's obviously very worrying with the timing around fighting season," said a foreign official in Kandahar with knowledge of the incident.

Wesa said of the 488 who had escaped, 13 were ordinary criminals and the rest were insurgents. [Reuters]

The Steve McQueen movie – The Great Escape – was a dramatized account of allied POW's digging a tunnel to freedom for 76 men - most of whom were eventually recaptured (50 escapees were murdered by the Gestapo.) The Taliban had considerably more success and few of the prisoners will probably be recaptured.

It is even money that the prisoners had help from some in the Afghan army who were guarding them. That kind of corruption is common place in a country that continues to show it is unworthy of the expenditure of treasure and blood by the US military.

NATO in Libya: "The official Pentagon estimate is that the war in Libya cost us $608 million for the first 17 days. Some think that is a laughable underestimate, however, except that nobody is laughing. Forbes reported at the end of March that 'what looks like an inexpensive military operation in Libya is actually costing taxpayers about $2 billion per day.' Remember how Democrats and Republicans in Congress wrestled back and forth recently, nearly shutting down the government over a lousy $38 billion? Heck, we've already burned through that in Libya and Muammar Gadhafi is still thumbing his nose at us from Tripoli. Technically, the air war in Libya is being fought by NATO. But the United States, in addition to paying for our own forces, pays about a quarter of NATO's budget [25.2%]. The numbers get kind of dazzling, but according to the Fiscal Times: The United States now pays NATO $90.2 million for its civil budget, $462.5 million for its military budget and $259 million for NATO's Security Investment Program, which covers radar bases, airfields, fuel pipelines, etc. That is about $811.7 million per year. And how is NATO doing in Libya, by the way? Not all that well." [columnist Roger Simon]

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