Tag Archives: Dexter Filkins

Try And Find Your Way Around Our Afghanistan Maze!

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti at NYT:

The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Josh Duboff at New York Magazine:

Salehi was arrested in July after investigators wiretapped him soliciting a bribe in exchange for “impeding an American-backed investigation into a company suspected of shipping billions of dollars out of the country for Afghan officials, drug smugglers and insurgents.” He was promptly released after Karzai stepped in, however, which officials said may have been due to the fear he knew about “corrupt dealings” within Karzai’s administration. Both the CIA and Karazi declined to comment in response to inquires from the Times.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

A CIA spokesman declined comment on Salehi but told the Times that “reckless allegations from anonymous sources” don’t change the fact that the agency “works hard to advance the full range of U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan.” Another U.S. official said, “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”

But others in the administration think the U.S. must maintain pressure in the battle against corruption in Kabul or risk seeing ordinary Afghans turn to the Taliban when they lose faith in the government.

Max Boot at Commentary:

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times’s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission.

Mark Kleiman:

Once you start intervening in the politics of corrupt countries, you can’t live without the crooks, and you can’t live with them. I never thought I’d say it, but Michael Moore was completely right about Karzai. The problem with this sort of foreign-policy “realism”is how unrealistic it is in imagining that the victims of the crappy little tyrannies we support won’t come to hate our guts.

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The Sound And The Night Goggles

John Hudson at The Atlantic:

Gary Brooks Faulkner, a 52-year-old construction worker from California, was detained by Pakistani police after claiming he was on a mission to kill Osama bin Laden. While details are still being collected, this would be the first example of a U.S. citizen being arrested in Pakistan for attempting to fight terrorists. Here’s what’s being reported:

  • Where He Was Going “Police alleged the American intended to travel to the eastern Afghan region of Nuristan, just across the border from Chitral,” writes The Associated Press. “The area is among several rumored hiding places for the al-Qaida leader, who has evaded a massive U.S. effort to capture him since 2001.” As a side note, the AFP writes “Chitral attracts Western tourists for its hiking and stunning natural beauty and is considered one of the safer areas of northwestern Pakistan.”
  • What He Was Carrying “He had a pistol, dagger and a sword and was carrying night-vision equipment as well as Christian literature,” The BBC writes.
  • What He Wanted to Do to bin Laden “During initial interrogation, the American national said that he was going to Nooristan on a ‘mission to decapitate Osama bin Laden’ and his four accomplices who posed a constant threat to America,” writes Zahiruddin at Dawn.com. The Associated Press agrees. Oddly enough, CNN quotes a Pakistani police chief saying Faulkner claimed “he had no intention of killing bin Laden.” Also, according to Reuters, Faulkner told authorities he “suffered personal losses in the September 11, 2001 attacks.”
  • What’s the Going Price for bin Laden, Anyway? “The al-Qaeda leader is the world’s most-wanted man, with the US offering a reward of up to $25m (£17m) for information leading to his capture,” notes the BBC.

Justin Elliott at Talking Points Memo:

The Denver Post reports on Gary Brooks Faulkner:

He has been arrested several times in Colorado over the years, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation Records. He served prison sentences in Canon City, at least twice, in 1981 and 1986, on burglary and larceny convictions, according to CBI records.In 1996, Faulkner was sentenced to one year in the Denver County Jail on a domestic violence assault conviction, according to Denver court records.

More recently, Faulkner was arrested in Greeley in 2006 on a misdemeanor “failure to appear” warrant from another jurisdiction, according to records.

Meanwhile, both a friend of Faulkners and his sister say that he is on dialysis for kidney problems.

Weasel Zippers:

Sister of U.S. Man Arrested in Pakistan Trying to Kill Bin Laden Say His Kidneys are Failing, “Wanted to do one Last Thing For His Country Before he Died”

Can’t think of a better way to go out…

Dexter Filkins at New York Times:

Before you chuckle, let me just say: Whatever else we might conclude about Gary Faulkner, our arrested American bounty hunter, we should give him this: He was looking in the right place.

Or at least the place where many intelligence analysts think he is: the mountainous high-altitude district of Chitral. For me, the mere mention of the place evokes the image of the Saudi terrorist.

Last December, early on a Sunday morning, I sat at a long table in the basement of the Pentagon talking with an American military officer about the situation in Afghanistan. As the meeting ended, another man approached, wearing plain clothes and a plainer face.

“Chitral,” he said, half-smiling. “If you’re looking for Osama, you might try Chitral.”

He muttered something else, then walked away. The man didn’t identify himself, but he didn’t have to. He was almost certainly an intelligence analyst. If I had to guess, I’d say, given our location, that he worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

[…]

Back to Mr. Faulkner. Oddly enough, according to initial reports, it seems that he and his quarry have a striking number of details in common.

1. Both are very religious. (When he was caught, Mr. Faulkner was carrying a book of Christian phrases.)
2. Both were in the construction business.
3. Both have bad kidneys.
4. Both have beards. (Assuming Mr. bin Laden hasn’t shaved his off.)

Meanwhile, just Monday, Mr. bin Laden put out yet another audio speech, this one on his imprisoned confederate, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. It’s his 27th since 2001.

Paul Wachter at Politics Daily:

Faulkner claims he was on a mission to kill Osama bin Laden. But while that my cause a few chuckles (including from the Pakistanis who detained him), the real joke is not on a would-be Rambo like Faulkner but on the U.S. government, which has yet to capture or kill bin Laden as we approach the nine-year anniversary of 9/11.

After those attacks, the Bush administration allowed bin Laden to sneak out from Afghanistan into Pakistan by holding back American troops from the assault on Tora Bora. Last year a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation found that “a larger troop commitment to Afghanistan might have resulted in the demise not only of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy but also of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban,” reported The New York Times. “Like several previous accounts, the committee’s report blames Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then the top American commander, and Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, for not putting a large number of American troops there lest they fuel resentment among Afghans.”

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama attacked President Bush’s record regarding this lapse, but since assuming the presidency Obama, too, has failed to deliver bin Laden. As quixotic as Faulkner’s attempt was, at least he, unlike the U.S. government, gave the appearance of trying.

Wonkette:

Back in 2001 and 2002, most of us were content to work out our rage against Osama bin Laden by peeing on novelty urinal cakes decorated with his face, before eventually forgetting about him altogether when George Bush stopped talking about him on teevee. But one man dedicated himself to hunting down America’s greatest enemy, armed only with his wits, his highly trained reflexes, and a lot of weapons. After years of study and ritual purification, he finally arrived in Pakistan this week, ready to walk barefoot across the border and meet bin Laden in a final confrontation of good vs. evil, but then he got arrested by Pakistani police, because apparently in Pakistan it is illegal to try to kill Osama bin Laden.

[…]

Faulkner’s ninja mission was sadly cut short when he got caught sneaking away from the police escort every American gets when they get all twitchy near the Afghan border. The FBI was spared the embarrassment of having to pay the $25 million reward for bin Laden’s capture, because come on, who just has that kind of money lying around? Certainly not the government.

UPDATE: Max Read at Gawker

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How Do You Solve A Problem Like Diem, I Mean, Karzai? Part II

Dexter Filkins at NYT:

Two senior Afghan officials were showing President Hamid Karzai the evidence of the spectacular rocket attack on a nationwide peace conference earlier this month when Mr. Karzai told them that he believed the Taliban were not responsible.

“The president did not show any interest in the evidence — none — he treated it like a piece of dirt,” said Amrullah Saleh, then the director of the Afghan intelligence service.

Mr. Saleh declined to discuss Mr. Karzai’s reasoning in more detail. But a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Karzai suggested in the meeting that it might have been the Americans who carried it out.

Minutes after the exchange, Mr. Saleh and the interior minister, Hanif Atmar, resigned — the most dramatic defection from Mr. Karzai’s government since he came to power nine years ago. Mr. Saleh and Mr. Atmar said they quit because Mr. Karzai made clear that he no longer considered them loyal.

But underlying the tensions, according to Mr. Saleh and Afghan and Western officials, was something more profound: That Mr. Karzai had lost faith in the Americans and NATO to prevail in Afghanistan.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

This confrontation between Karzai and his intelligence minisiter Amrullah Saleh–widely seen among the Americans as among the most competent members of Karzai government–has been the talk of Kabul and Washington this past week. My sources say that the confrontation got very hot, a major screaming match. My sources also say that Karzai’s insane accusation, that the U.S. conspired to launch rockets at his peace jirga, was more an outburst of unhinged fury than evidence of core paranoia. The real concern here is that the Karzai government may be splitting back into the same old Afghan factions: north versus south, Pashtuns versus the Northern Alliance.

There is also an India versus Pakistan dimension here. The Pakistanis, who have significant influence over the Afghan Taliban, have been demanding that Saleh be sacked; they consider him an Indian agent (he was active in the Northern Alliance, which received support from India). Saleh was able to remain in his job, despite serious disagreements with Karzai, in part because he had the strong backing of the CIA. Karzai’s willingness to sack him, or let him resign, could well be a sign that Karzai is tilting toward Pakistan, which would be crucial if there is to be a rapprochment with the Taliban.

This is only the tip of a very distressing iceberg (or, given the locale, the leading edge of a blinding sandstorm). I’ll have more on it in my print column this week.

After several months of seeming to have calmed down in the wake of the uproar that followed his controversial, and most likely corrupted, election “victory,” it seems that Karzai has once against returned to the phlegmatic, seemingly irrational at times, behavior that we saw several months ago when he was doing things like threatening to join the Taliban. If nothing else, Karzai has proven that he is an unreliable “ally,” a fact which itself calls into question the entire reason for the American mission in Afghanistan, which at this point seems to be reduced to fighting the Taliban that Karzai threatened to join and propping up Karzai’s seemingly corrupt regime.

I’ve been asking for a couple years now what the heck we’re doing in Afghanistan, and when I see the leader of the nation we’re supposed to be defending acting like this, it just makes me wonder why we aren’t getting out of their faster.

Rich Lowry at The Corner:

Was just talking to someone following this situation closely, who thinks the thrust of this story may be slightly dated. He thinks that Karzai was somewhat reassured by his trip to Washington last month. But there’s no doubt that he’s hedging his bets.

Zach Rosenberg:

Karzai’s priorities are increasingly diverging from the U.S. The resignations of Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, and Hanif Atmar, the Minister of Interior, while supposedly connected to security lapses at the recent Peace Jirga in Kabul, hint at deeper problems. Saleh and Atmar were said to share key priorities with the U.S., and were widely acknowledged to be among the most reliable members of the Afghan government. As always, rumors are rife about the true instigation and meaning of their resignations, and one possible consequence is that Karzai gets more direct control over key security services. Karzai, who appointed one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to chair the Peace Jirga, has never seemed especially enthusiastic about either the planned Kandahar offensive or the good governance meant to follow it.

The Kandahar offensive, and subsequent claims of success, appear to be a foregone conclusion. Based on past evidence, a strong Taliban presence and bad governance after the assault seem similarly inevitable. I plan to keep a close eye on Alex Strick’s Twitter feed when the time comes.

Spencer Ackerman:

Perhaps it’s time to put a sharper point on these two phenomena. The Obama administration decided last year to underscore to the Karzai government that the scope of its relationship with the U.S. needed to change. So out comes the July 2011 “inflection point,” a date to signal the beginning of the end of America bearing the lion’s share of the burden in the war, a beginning for transition to Afghan control, and a kick in the ass for the Karzai government to get around to governing.

But it’s an ambiguous date. The Obama administration adds that Afghanistan is going to be a strategic long-term partner long after the U.S. withdraws its troops, and everyone in NATO understands the money will keep flowing. Gen. McChrystal begins hugging Karzai even tighter, and the rest of the Obama administration eventually follows suit, recognizing that he’s the only game in town. So the political message is — to put it judiciously — subtle.

Maybe too subtle. Karzai’s most visible initiative following the announcement of the July 2011 date hasn’t been an intensified effort at governing, as we can see in Marja. It’s been to seek reconciliation with the Taliban through the Peace Jirga. And unsurprisingly, the Taliban isn’t interested. If you were a Taliban fighter, and you saw that the Karzai government wasn’t actually making itself more relevant to people’s lives in the areas in which you operate but it was dangling an olive branch before you, that would probably look like negotiating from the point of weakness. Why not just continue fighting when your enemy is weak and looking to sue for peace?

Maybe there’s a way to change Karzai’s behavior. The Kabul Conference may be an opportunity to underscore that reconciliation without intensified governance isn’t going to change insurgent calculations. Or maybe — as a diplomat argued to me yesterday — the governance effort is a lagging indicator that just takes more time to manifest than Washington-based jerks like me are willing to concede. And the logic of underscoring in a real way to Karzai that the U.S. isn’t writing a blank check anymore is compelling. But a preliminary assessment of the political utility of setting the July 2011 date is that it’s not having the intended effect on Afghan governance.

DRJ at Patterico:

Wars and allies are sometimes thrust upon us. Like him or not, Karzai’s support is vital to winning in Afghanistan but Obama has alienated him and is now stuck trying to climb back to where he began 18 months ago. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan has become the longest-ever war America has fought and its monthly costs outpace the War in Iraq. It’s worth it if our leaders are committed to winning but it’s not clear they are.

It’s also interesting to watch President Obama repeatedly try to harange, intimidate and cajole foreign leaders into doing what he wants. It worked domestically. It’s not working as well outside the U.S.

Jules Crittenden:

Whatever happens in this three-quarters surge, in these talks with the Taliban and with Karzai’s government, the end state needs to al Qaeda destroyed or at least in a box. Neither of those things are going to happen if the Taliban gains any kind of role or leverage in government in anything but a severely diminished state. It also isn’t going to happen if we don’t have a long-term military presence in the area in some form.

So if Karzai has no confidence in the Americans, is actively seeking to undermine the Americans and the surge, and is interested in making nice with the Taliban indiscriminately, whether for some high ideals of peace or to save his own neck, what the heck do we, or Afghans who aren’t interested in that kind of arrangement, do about it.

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I Love The Smell Of Drones In The Morning

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston has announced that he will formally ask the U.S. to halt its CIA programs of drone warfare. Alston, representing the UN, says that the drones should be operated by the military because the military drone program better complies with international warfare codes and because the military program is more transparent and accountable than the officially secret CIA program.

Charlie Savage at NYT:

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday that he would deliver a report on June 3 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that the “life and death power” of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies. He contrasted how the military and the C.I.A. responded to allegations that strikes had killed civilians by mistake.

“With the Defense Department you’ve got maybe not perfect but quite abundant accountability as demonstrated by what happens when a bombing goes wrong in Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “The whole process that follows is very open. Whereas if the C.I.A. is doing it, by definition they are not going to answer questions, not provide any information, and not do any follow-up that we know about.”

Mr. Alston’s views are not legally binding, and his report will not assert that the operation of combat drones by nonmilitary personnel is a war crime, he said. But the mounting international concern over drones comes as the Obama administration legal team has been quietly struggling over how to justify such counterterrorism efforts while obeying the laws of war.

Legal Insurrection:

I warned about this previously in Drone Strikes Put Obama Admin Officials At Risk, noting how the same Mr. Alston previously raised the issue of drone strikes constituting human rights violations:

“My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” he said.

The use of human rights laws against democracies defending themselves against terrorists is a favorite tactic, and Israel is the usual target. The goal is to tie the hands of civil societies through false moral equivalencies, in which the terrorist trying to kill civilians is equated to the people trying to stop the terrorist.

Expect more of this, as the world becomes less enthralled with Obama, and seeks to give him some small measure of the attention given George W. Bush.

What goes around comes around, and it will come around for Obama and those in his administration who were so quick to accuse Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld of violating international and domestic law as they struggled to find a means of stopping al-Qaeda.

Andrew Exum and David Kilcullen at NYT:

The appeal of drone attacks for policy makers is clear. For one thing, their effects are measurable. Military commanders and intelligence officials point out that drone attacks have disrupted terrorist networks in Pakistan, killing key leaders and hampering operations. Drone attacks create a sense of insecurity among militants and constrain their interactions with suspected informers. And, because they kill remotely, drone strikes avoid American casualties.

But on balance, the costs outweigh these benefits for three reasons.

First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. This is similar to what happened in Somalia in 2005 and 2006, when similar strikes were employed against the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts. While the strikes did kill individual militants who were the targets, public anger over the American show of force solidified the power of extremists. The Islamists’ popularity rose and the group became more extreme, leading eventually to a messy Ethiopian military intervention, the rise of a new regional insurgency and an increase in offshore piracy.

While violent extremists may be unpopular, for a frightened population they seem less ominous than a faceless enemy that wages war from afar and often kills more civilians than militants.

Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent — hardly “precision.” American officials vehemently dispute these figures, and it is likely that more militants and fewer civilians have been killed than is reported by the press in Pakistan. Nevertheless, every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.

Second, public outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place — areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate. Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces. Covered extensively by the news media, drone attacks are popularly believed to have caused even more civilian casualties than is actually the case. The persistence of these attacks on Pakistani territory offends people’s deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan’s instability.

C. Christine Fair at Foreign Policy:

The anti-drone argument goes like this: Because drone attacks kill innocent civilians and violate Pakistan’s sovereignty, they are deeply and universally despised by Pakistanis, and contribute to deepening anti-U.S. sentiment in the country — enmity that could boost terrorist organizations’ recruitment and eventually force Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders to abandon their cooperation with the United States. 

During his testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2009, David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency advisor to Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, said it was time for the United States to “call off the drones.” Later that month, Kilcullen and Andrew M. Exum, who served as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004, published a provocative editorial in the New York Times, titled “Death From Above: Outrage from Below,” in which they estimated that over the “past three years” drones had killed just 14 “terrorist leaders” at the price of some 700 civilian lives. “This is 50 civilians for every militant killed,” they wrote, “a hit rate of 2 percent.” Their conclusion? Drone strikes produce more terrorists than they eliminate-an assertion that has become an article of faith among drone-strike opponents.

It would be a damning argument — if the data weren’t simply bogus. The only publicly available civilian casualty figures for drone strikes in Pakistan come from their targets: the Pakistani Taliban, which report the alleged numbers to the Pakistani press, which dutifully publishes the fiction. No one has independently verified the Taliban’s reports — journalists cannot travel to FATA to confirm the deaths, and the CIA will not even acknowledge the drone program exists, much less discuss its results. But high-level Pakistani officials have conceded to me that very few civilians have been killed by drones and their innocence is often debatable. U.S. officials who are knowledgeable of the program report similar findings. In fact, since January 1 there has not been one confirmed civilian casualty from drone strikes in FATA.

Not only do drone opponents rely upon these fictitious reports of civilian casualties, they also tend to conflate drone strikes in Pakistan with air strikes in Afghanistan, lumping the two related but very different battlefields together as one contiguous theater. They also conflate different kinds of air strikes within Afghanistan.

These distinctions matter, a lot. In Afghanistan, it is an ignominious truth that hundreds of civilians are killed in NATO airstrikes every year. But most of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan have not stemmed from pre-planned, intelligence-led attacks; rather, civilians are most likely to die when troops come into contact with the enemy and subsequently request air support. This is because when it comes to air strikes, NATO forces in Afghanistan have a limited range of air assets at their disposal. As a result, when troops come into contact with insurgents and call for  air support, they get the ordinance that is available, not the firepower that would be best suited to their needs. Sometimes large bombs are dropped when smaller ones would have been better, and the risk of civilian casualties increases accordingly.

Exum responds to Fair:

Chris: I do not care how many civilians drone strikes actually kill. And I do not care how many civilians Americans think drone strikes in Pakistan kill.

I care only about how many civilians Pakistanis think drone strikes kill. As one of the world’s experts on Pakistani public opinion, you should be able to provide that number to me, right? Because all you can tell me right now is the Pakistani press is dutifully reporting whatever the Taliban tells them … and I already know that. I don’t care in the slightest about what Pakistani generals or the CIA is telling you behind closed doors. It does not matter. I care about what those Pakistani generals are telling their public. I care, in other words, less about reality as defined by verifiable facts and figures and more about reality as it is interpreted in Pakistan and within Pakistani diaspora communities.

Honestly, I have been making this point over and over again for a year now. But the only thing the CIA and other agencies and departments have done since then is to have stepped up their information operations campaign aimed at U.S. public opinion — i.e. to have convinced Americans that drones are a good idea. But who cares, honestly, whether or not the Americans who read http://www.foreignpolicy.com know how many civilians die in drone attacks or think drones are a good idea? I certainly don’t. I care more about the people who stand to be most easily radicalized by the strikes.

C’mon, dude, get out there, do some polling, crunch some numbers, and then come tell me I’m wrong. Until then, stop telling me what I and everyone else in America already knows.

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:

It’s the most controversial counterterrorism program there is. The CIA’s remotely piloted aircraft, operating with the tacit consent of the Pakistani government, fire missiles at suspected militants in the Pakistani tribal areas where U.S. ground troops are prohibited from operating and where the Pakistani military is often hesitant to tread. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings plans to formally request the Obama administration stop the program out of fears that civilians inevitably die in the strikes. Recent research from the New America Foundation finds that 30 percent of drone strike fatalities are Pakistani civilians. It’s an enormous issue in bilateral relations with a major non-NATO ally, and experienced counterinsurgents like David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum have warned that the incendiary attacks may create more militants than they kill. Even John Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, indicated on Wednesday that he shares Kilcullen and Exum’s fears and gives scrutiny to ensure that the much-valued program doesn’t become “a tactical success but a strategic failure.”

But a forthcoming study, led by Brian Glyn Williams, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, finds that the civilian death toll from the drones is lower than most media accounts present. “We came to the conclusion that the drones have a unique capability for targeting militants, as opposed to civilians,” Williams said in an interview.

Williams’ study, which he provided to The Washington Independent, has yet to be published. A writer for a blog affiliated with the International Herald Tribune, Farhat Taj, blogged some of the key details of his research today, but prematurely stated that the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point will be publishing Williams’ work. Erich Marquardt, the editor of the center’s journal, said that he hasn’t even begun to review Williams’ submission yet.

Much like the New America Foundation study, Williams’ team relied on English-language media accounts of the drone strikes in Pakistan to compile a data base of how many civilians and militants were reported to be killed. He conceded from the start that such a reliance is a “serious limitation” of the study — news reports can, after all, be incorrect — but the tribal areas of Pakistan where the strikes occur are often off limits to Western researchers, and even their Pakistani counterparts. (Still, Williams plans on traveling to the tribal areas on June 10 to attempt a poll of local attitudes about the strikes.) His team took measures to mitigate that limitation: they only considered strikes that had been reported by multiple independent outlets and they erred on the side of treating the deaths of people in disputed militant status as either civilians or “unknown.”

Williams’ results, which he said have been peer-reviewed, are as follows:

According to our database, as of 1 April 2010, there have been a total of 127 confirmed CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, killing a total of 1,247 people. Of those killed only 44 (or 3.53%) could be confirmed as civilians, while 963 (or 77.23%) were reported to be “militants” or “suspected militants.”

That leaves just over 19 percent of reported deaths out of either category, as their status as civilians or combatants can’t be rigorously determined under Williams’ methodology. But he writes that “even if every single ‘unknown’ is assumed to in fact be a civilian, the vast majority of fatalities would remain suspected militants rather than civilians – indeed, by approximately a 3.4:1 ratio.”

Williams insists that he went into the study with an open mind. “We didn’t know what to think” about the drone program, he said, and he considers his research agnostic on the wisdom of the drone strikes (to say nothing of their legality). “We’re not necessarily trying to alter policy on this,” he said.

Both of the principle authors of New America’s drone strike survey, Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, are on vacation, but they both still (generously) addressed my questions. All three researchers — Bergen, Tiedemann and Williams — appeared to agree that New America was more methodologically aggressive than Williams in counting as civilians all who could not be clearly identified as militants, which perhaps accounts for the variance in their results.

James Joyner:

Bergen observed in a Blackberried message that although his civilian death tallies are higher than Williams’, he has observed that the drone program has increased its accuracy over time, “so the later the the date that the study begins the lower the rate [of civilian deaths] will be.” That’s in line with Brennan’s intimation (he never actually uses the word “drones”) that the drone strikes “are more precise and more accurate than ever before.”

Accordingly, Bergen now pegs the civilian death rate from the drone strikes at 20 percent. Williams pegs it at 3.53 percent. What no one knows, however, is how many outraged Pakistanis take up arms against the U.S. or its allies as a result.

Dexter Filkins in NYT:

The American military on Saturday released a scathing report on the deaths of 23 Afghan civilians, saying that “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting by a team of Predator drone operators helped lead to an airstrike this year on a group of innocent men, women and children.

The report said that four American officers, including a brigade and battalion commander, had been reprimanded, and that two junior officers had also been disciplined. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who apologized to President Hamid Karzai after the attack, announced a series of training measures intended to reduce the chances of similar events.

The episode, in which three vehicles were attacked and destroyed in February, illustrated the extraordinary sensitivity to the inadvertent killing of noncombatants by NATO forces. Since taking command here last June, General McChrystal has made the protection of Afghan civilians a priority, and he has sharply restricted the use of airstrikes.

The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are caused by insurgents, but the growing intensity of the fighting, and the big push by American and NATO forces, has sent civilian casualties to their highest levels since 2001.

Mattthew Yglesias:

Obviously killing civilians is horrible, as well as strategically counterproductive, and killing civilians by the dozens is just awful stuff. But the relevant authorities do seem to me to be quite earnest and at least somewhat successful in their determination to mitigate the extent to which these things happen. The problematic aspect of the drone attacks that I haven’t seen discussed as much as it deserves is really on the Pakistan side of the border and concerns the National Security Strategy’s stated aspiration to create a rules-based global order.

Simply put, having the CIA conduct a secret undeclared de facto war in Pakistan is kind of the reverse of rules-based activity. There’s a colorable rationale under existing rules for unilateral military action in Pakistan under the UN Charter’s absolute recognition of a right to individual and collective self-defense. But this isn’t military action, it’s CIA action. And by definition covert use of force is not rules-based. Now I think you could fairly say that a world of “liberty under law” is a regulative ideal rather than an actual reality, so it’s not per se a violation of the relevant principle to engage in activities outside the rules. Simply pretending that an airtight rules-based global order exists doesn’t make it so. At the same time, to say “the rules-based global order is an aspiration rather than a reality, therefore we can operate outside the rules whenever it’s convenient” actually makes a mockery of the aspiration. And the covert actions in question are some of the worst-kept secrets in the world. So I think there’s a real problem here that’s worthy of more critical thinking.

Ultimately the United States is judged more by what actually happens than by what policy documents say, and I think it’s important to do more to align what we’re actually doing in this regard with our big-picture policy aims.

Charli Carpenter at Lawyers Guns And Money:

I would like to posit that to some extent, the issues at stake in all of these debates are much broader than the issue of drones and it may be problematic to focus on drones, as if altering our “drone policy” will resolve the broader issues. Drones themselves are simply remotely piloted aerial vehicles. They’re not robots and they’re not making decisions on their own, Star Wars-like. (Though they might in the near future which would raise entirely different ethical questions.) Except for the fact that the pilots are operating remotely from the safety of a military base (or CIA facility), these weapons are little different than other forms of air power. Of course, as Peter Singer has documented there are those who are troubled by the dislocation of the warrior from his targets, but this argument is as old as the long-bow and doesn’t necessarily pose legal issues. It should also be pointed out that drones have many extremely useful non-lethal applications: reconnaissance that helps ground troops avoid civilians, for example. And drones are not simply being used to hunt terrorists in Pakistan. They have civilian and law enforcement uses as well: to monitor the drug trade in South America or population flows across borders. (Not that these surveillance functionalities don’t also involve pressing trade-offs with respect to rights and civil liberties.)

Speaking just in terms of using drones as attack weapons here, I would argue the important issue here is not whether we use drones. The issues are a) whether it is right to use any weapon in such a manner as to risk more casualties among civilians than we are willing to accept among our own troops (as both manned and unmanned forms of aerial bombing do) b) whether we are willing to use any weapon to summarily execute individuals we have associated with criminal organizations whether or not they are engaged in what might be considered combat operations against us and c) whether it is either right or effective to outsource the deployment of lethal violence – by drones or by other means – from our military to our civilian agencies?

bmaz at Emptywheel:

One of last Friday’s big stories somewhat lost in the hustle and focus on the BP Gulf oil disaster and the holiday weekend concerned the continuing outrage of the US drone targeted assassination program. Specifically, Charlie Savage’s report at the New York Times that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, was expected to issue a report calling on the United States to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes thus “complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan”.

Today, the report is out, and Charlie Savage again brings the details in the Times:

A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads.

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston,the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.

In an interview, Mr. Alston, said the United States appears to think that it is “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justifies its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible.”

Here is Alson’s official report.

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Mr. Furlong And The Weird Shell Games

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti at NYT:

Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.

he official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.

While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.

Jules Crittenden:

Apparently the United States government set up a covert contractor operation to do this, now under investigation. OK, interesting. Sounds like a potentially problematic approach when we have professionals in our government’s own employ who are supposed to be doing this.

[…]

Killing the enemy seems like a good idea, and historically there’s an arguable usefulness to doing an end run around the Paks, though the potential for things going badly wrong and making a bad situation worse in that respect seems pretty high. As is the potential for basically paying a lot for not much.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

So let’s review. The NYT has an incendiary story about how PsyOp contracts have become the means by which someone–who, they don’t know–has potentially illegally funneled money to people, like Clarridge, with a history of freelance spookery. And the means by which information collection in Afghanistan has become blurred with paramilitary activities.

But as it turns out, the NYT has itself paid said freelance spooks.

Don’t get me wrong–this is an important story, and I’m sure the CIA, worried about Furlong encroaching its turf, is happy that NYT’s CIA guy Mazzetti and Filkins have told it. But there are more weird shell games going on here that we’re not getting a full picture of.

The Jawa Report:

And the MSM wonders why we all collectively groan when we get those so called Media Requests? Filed under Assmaggots.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

And now, just when you thought it was safe to put out a job tender, along comes Michael Furlong […]. Spencer Ackerman tracks down his online bio. Mr Furlong, a civilian contractor, is the “Strategic Planner and Technology Integration Adviser” for the Joint Information Operations Warfare Command at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. He is also allegedly the head of an illegal off-the-books spy operation that used information gathered by reporters working under the impression they were engaged in legitimate journalistic activity, and passed it to combat forces for use in targeting insurgents. The journalist “contractors” who worked for Furlong are livid.

The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.

He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them… Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.

Mr Furlong’s activities may or may not have been illegal. They were unquestionably stupid. Journalists are already being killed in war zones at rates above those of previous conflicts; for many of today’s insurgent combatants, who have their own online media operations, journalists are no longer considered useful or objective observers. Stunts like this will make it even more dangerous for anyone to cover the war in Afghanistan. Imagine being a journalist stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, showing your press identification, being told by a Taliban soldier that you will be kidnapped because American journalists are often just agents of the US Army or CIA—and knowing the Taliban guy is right.

Nathan Hodge at Danger Room at Wired:

“Strategic communications” firms have flourished in the strange new post-9/11 media environment. Unlike traditional military public affairs, which are supposed to serve as a simple conduit for releasing information to the public, strategic communications is about shaping the message, both at home and abroad. Why is that problematic? As Danger Room’s Sharon Weinberger pointed out, “When a newspaper calls up a public affairs officer to find out the number of casualties in an IED attack, the answer should be a number (preferably accurate), not a carefully crafted statement about how well the war is going.”

Afghanistan, in fact, has been a longtime laboratory for strategic communications. Back in 2005, Joshua Kucera wrote a fascinating feature in Jane’s Defence Weekly about how one of the top U.S. military spokesmen in Afghanistan was also an “information operations” officer, who reported to an office responsible for psychological operations and military deception. That kind of dual-hatting continues today: Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top military spokesman in Afghanistan, is also director for strategic communications in Afghanistan.

And then there’s the military’s interest in newsgathering-type intelligence on Afghanistan’s social and cultural scene. As we’ve reported here before, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan complained in a damning report that newspapers often have a better sense of “ground truth” in Afghanistan (and suggested that military intelligence needs to mimic newspaper reporting, or even hire a few downsized reporters, to get the job done). Furlong’s scheme — and again, the Times account is a bit muddled here — may have shifted funds away from AfPax Insider, a news venture run by former CNN executive Eason Jordan and author/adventurer Robert Young Pelton. (Pelton has contributed commentary to Danger Room.)

Jordan’s previous venture, IraqSlogger, didn’t capture the private client base hoped for in Iraq. AfPax provided a similar kind of open source, news and information product, sold primarily to the military. Adm. Smith apparently put the kibosh on the funding the project, however.

And then it gets weirder. Furlong’s intel-collection scheme also apparently involves a couple of security consultants who at one point were hired by the Times to help out in locating David Rohde, the Times reporter who was kidnapped in Afghanistan and later escaped, on his own, in Pakistan. It’s not unusual for major news organizations to hire security consultants in hostile places, but it’s also rarely mentioned. This story may provoke a bit more scrutiny of that practice.

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Putting The Iraq Into Afghanistan

Picture by Moises Saman for New York Times

Dexter Filkins at NYT:

American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.

The emergence of the militias, which took some leaders in Kabul by surprise, has so encouraged the American and Afghan officials that they are planning to spur the growth of similar armed groups across the Taliban heartland in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

The American and Afghan officials say they are hoping the plan, called the Community Defense Initiative, will bring together thousands of gunmen to protect their neighborhoods from Taliban insurgents. Already there are hundreds of Afghans who are acting on their own against the Taliban, officials say.

The endeavor represents one of the most ambitious — and one of the riskiest — plans for regaining the initiative against the Taliban, who are fighting more vigorously than at any time since 2001.

By harnessing the militias, American and Afghan officials hope to rapidly increase the number of Afghans fighting the Taliban. That could supplement the American and Afghan forces already here, and whatever number of American troops President Obama might decide to send. The militias could also help fill the gap while the Afghan Army and police forces train and grow — a project that could take years to bear fruit.

The Americans hope the militias will encourage an increasingly demoralized Afghan population to take a stake in the war against the Taliban.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Sunday morning brings a glimmer of good news from Afghanistan, courtesy of the amazing Dexter Filkins. The U.S. is beginning to support tribal militia fighting the Taliban. This is important because the weakest link in the military’s Afghan plan is the idea that we can train a 250,000 man Afghan army and 150,000 police officers. It’s important to train up some organized security forces, especially for the more urban areas. But Afghanistan is a land of a thousand remote valleys and those are best defended by their residents, as they always have been. If the U.S.–and, especially, the Kabul government–can establish credibility as a friendly force that will provide economic, humanitarian and some tactical support, without demanding payoffs in return, there is a very good chance that the local tribes will reject the Taliban. Ultimately, this is the only way the situation can be stabilized. Let’s hope it works as well as it did in Iraq, although you always have to add the caveat: this is a very different, and more difficult, country.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

The Taliban proved itself to be a vicious, blood-thirsty lot when it held power prior to 9/11. There is no evidence that it has changed and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it has not. Thus, it’s quite plausible to believe that the Taliban is vulnerable to a large-scale tribal rebellion like the Sunni uprising in Iraq.

What’s the biggest difference between Afghanistan now and Iraq in early 2007? I think it’s the fact that in 2007 the U.S. had a president who was committed to victory in Iraq, whereas today the U.S. has a president who is committed to finding an exit from Afghanistan. An uprising is significantly less probable when those who might undertake one think they cannot count on help from the U.S.

Abe Greenwald in Commentary:

Critics often say there is no clearly defined goal in Afghanistan. I submit that if anti-Taliban sentiment there were parlayed into something that resembles the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, it would mark the achievement of a goal almost too welcome to hope for: Afghanistan’s organic inoculation against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Here’s the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the Sunnis realized that coalition forces were a) the strong horse, and b) sticking around. In Afghanistan, brave civilians taking up arms against the Taliban have no such reassurances. In fact, one hopes they didn’t hear President Obama say he’s “not interested in . . . sending a message that America—is here [in Afghanistan] for— for the duration.” Let’s also hope they didn’t hear Hillary Clinton say that “we have no long-term stake” in Afghanistan. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal put it, “A perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.” If in reality our resolve proves to be uncertain then we will have squandered an invaluable gift.

In any case, let’s stop this talk of tribal peoples who love their tormentors.

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All The World Is A Hanging Chad

Florida Recount.jpg

Katherine Tiedemann at Foreign Policy:

Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a partial recount of the ballots in the country’s election, which has been plagued by accusations of fraud and voter intimidation (CNN and AP). So far, about 200,000 ballots from 447 stations have been thrown out because of fraud.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai currently has 54.1 percent of the vote with 92 percent of the ballots counted, pushing him over the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff against his primary opponent Abdullah Abdullah, who has 28.3 percent (BBC and IEC).

Carlotta Gall and Dexter Filkins, both longtime Afghanistan observers, reported that Karzai supporters set up hundreds of fictitious polling sites where no one voted on election day but mysteriously hundreds of thousands of ballots for Karzai flowed in (New York Times). In Karzai’s home province of Kandahar, for example, preliminary results show upward of 350,000 ballots to be counted — but Western officials estimate that only 25,000 people actually voted.

Dexter Filkins and Carlotta Gall at RAWA:

AFGHAN election workers loyal to President Hamid Karzai set up hundreds of fictitious polling sites where no one voted but still registered hundreds of thousands of ballots towards the President’s re-election, according to senior Western and Afghan officials.

Up to 800 fake centres existed only on paper, said a senior Western diplomat in Afghanistan who spoke on condition of anonymity. But local workers reported that hundreds, sometimes thousands, of votes for Mr Karzai in the election last month came from each of those places. Another Western official in Afghanistan confirmed this.

”We think that about 15 per cent of the polling sites never opened on election day,” the senior Western diplomat said. ”But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai.”

Besides creating the fake sites, Mr Karzai’s supporters also took over about 800 legitimate polling centres and used them to report fraudulently tens of thousands of additional votes for Mr Karzai, the officials said.

The result, the officials said, is that in some provinces, the number of votes reported in favour of Mr Karzai may exceed the number of people who voted by a factor of 10.

”We are talking about orders of magnitude,” the senior Western diplomat said.

Andrew Exum:

Before the Afghan elections, every assessment you could read and every opinion you could solicit from policy-makers was the same: the worst outcome of the Afghan elections would be one that, in either the first or second round of voting, delivered the election to Hamid Karzai with a narrow margin of victory amidst wide-spread allegations of corruption and ballot box-stuffing. The overwhelming fear was of “another Iran” — only with our fingerprints all over it.

The worst-case scenario now appears to have been realized.

“Hamid Karzai has passed the crucial 50% threshold in Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election with almost all the votes counted, according to new figures released today, but a partial recount has been ordered after observers found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” at a number of polling stations.”In the coming few weeks, the international community will wrestle with options for responding to this disaster for U.S. and allied efforts in Afghanistan — not to mention the Afghans themselves. I promise my own thoughts once I get the chance to write them down in a coherent fashion.

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent

Adam Sewer at Tapped:

In the meantime, Karzai is just about one point short of an election result that would avoid a runoff. If that happens, it’s hard to see how anyone can view this election as legitimate, which puts coalition forces in the awkward position of fighting a counterinsurgency on behalf of an illegitimate government, which seems utterly self-defeating. Also, one wonders how Tajiks will react to Abdullah Abdullah being beaten in a fraud-driven election, given that at this point they’re far more invested in the Afghan government than Pashtuns are. Juan Cole warned the other day that “a major Iran-style post-election struggle between Tajiks and Pashtuns could completely destabilize the country.”

I’m not sure if we’re going to see a “Iran-style” post-election struggle — I think there would have to be a great deal more popular investment in the Afghan government for something like that to happen. But if Karzai wins under these circumstances, an escalation in ethnic tensions seems likely — whether or not Abdullah ends up with a prominent post in Karzai’s new government.

Atrios:

No one cares about election fraud in Afghanistan because we all understand that it was basically a farce anyway. A farce which hopefully would’ve gone the “right” way without fraud, but which was inevitably going to go that right way.

We basically installed Karzai, and he’ll be in charge as long as he wants to be. That’s usually how these things work.

Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal:

Oy vey! What a ginormous clusterf**k! So now the United States is going to be defending and extending the legitimacy of an Afghan government that is anything but legitimate or democratic. How does this not precisely play into the hands of the Taliban and disaffected Afghans?  I’m not really sure what to say about this, but this really does seem to fly in the face of our counter-insurgency strategy, don’t you think?

Actually, I take that back, here’s what I think you SHOULDN’T say about the Afghan election, particularly if you are a high-ranking US diplomat whose name rhymes with Sick Folbrooke:

“During that process there are going to be many claims of irregularities; that happens in every democracy . .  We recently had a senatorial election in Minnesota which took seven months to determine the outcome, there were so many charges of irregularities. It certainly won’t take that long in Afghanistan, but that happens in democracies, even when they are not in the middle of a war.”

You know this unnamed diplomat also served in Vietnam where there was this little thing called a “credibility gap.” When I hear him say things like this and then I read things like this . . .

Mr. Karzai’s home province, Kandahar, where preliminary results indicate that more than 350,000 ballots have been turned in to be counted. But Western officials estimated that only about 25,000 people actually voted there.

. . . I begin to formulate uncomfortable historical analogies in my head.

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