Security Force Development is no easy business, even under the best conditions. But the task becomes all the more difficult when the trainers and the force in development are also in the midst of — or will soon be — battling an active insurgency. In a new report, Gen. James Dubik, former commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, outlines the necessary steps for accelerating the training and expanding the size of the Afghan National Security Forces, while increasing and more effectively bringing to bear the ANSF’s combat power. Read the report here.
ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force TSgt Laura K. Smith
Within the last six months, the difficulties of the Stryker brigade in southern Afghanistan have largely been attributed to vehicles’ technical inadequacy in the face of the country’s inhospitable terrain, their vulnerability to the improvised explosive devices of which they had become a frequent target, and thus the hurdle they presented in allowing the soldiers of the 5/2 SBCT to pursue the population-centric counterinsurgency mission with which they had been tasked. But an article yesterday from Sean Naylor in Army Times reveals what the real problem has been: a leadership deficit, along with an enemy system that was badly underestimated and misunderstood. Read the piece here.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez
In keeping with his past efforts to steel allied resolve for the mission in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has once again made clear that NATO is committed to success in the embattled country — as defined in large part by indigenous forces that can confidently take the lead in battling the Taliban — and noted that alliance forces won’t depart until the security situation there is well in hand:
“I know some are wondering how long international forces will stay; they are worried we will leave too soon. Let there be no doubt the international community will stand with you and help in rebuilding your country until you are ready to stand on your own and ensure that terrorism will never take root again.”
On the question of training and fielding Afghan National Security Forces, Rasmussen noted that “they will start to take the lead when and where they are ready. This transition will be conditions based, not calendar driven. We will stay the course.”
Rasmussen should be applauded for his bold rhetorical commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. One can’t help but be concerned, however — as the Dutch and Canadians prepare to depart RC-South in the coming year, and with the revelation that 1,500 of the “additional” NATO forces committed to the Afghan mission are in fact already in country and will simply have their deployments extended — that the Secretary General is writing the proverbial check that the national leaders within his alliance won’t allow him to cash.
A week and half ago, I worried that Russian organized cyber crime’s support for Tehran websites could turn more ominous. Late Thursday night, Iranian hackers took down the Twitter homepage, showing instead a screen with a green flag and the words “This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army”. Twitter was able to fix the problem within a few hours and soon reported that “Twitter’s DNS [Domain Name Service] records were temporarily compromised but have now been fixed.” Compromising the DNS records allowed the hackers to redirect visitors from Twitter’s homepage to the new website (instead of just defacing the homepage). Another website, the Iranian reformist http://www.mowjcamp.org/, continues to be down and show the Iranian Cyber Army page. These events don’t necessarily mean that RBN is selling its hacking services to Iran; after all, Twitter (an obvious target because of the well-publicized role of Twitter in the June election protests) has had multiple problems with security over the past six months and homegrown Iranian hackers could have the skills necessary for this attack. However, in combination with Tehran’s connections to RBN, this attack is worth paying attention to.
According to a report released just yesterday by the British Parliament’s National Audit Office, the UK defense ministry is facing a budget shortfall of up to 36 billion pounds over the next decade. (The predicted shortage is equivalent to about 95% of Britain’s current annual defense budget.) “The current [defense program] is unaffordable,” the NAO simply said in its public release accompanying the report. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, summed up the current state of British defense procurement:
“The Ministry of Defence has a multi-billion pound budgetary black hole, which it is trying to fix with a ‘save now, pay later’ approach. This gives a misleadingly negative picture of how well some major projects in MOD are managed, represents poor value for money and heightens the risk that the equipment [Britain's] Armed Forces require will not be available when it is needed or in the quantities promised.”
A striking features of this year’s report is the NAO’s finger-pointing at the precise impact of the programs’ delays. Among other factors, the NAO condemned the government’s delay tactics that are supposedly designed to achieve affordability in the short-term. According to the NAO, however, these tactics directly undermine their original purpose, which is to save taxpayer money. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the cost overruns of the MOD’s top 15 defense programs resulted from delays.
In the early reporting on NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s trip to Moscow, pessimism rules the day when it comes to NATO-Russia relations and the latter’s support for the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan. Rasmussen is in Russia to negotiate an agreement with the Kremlin to allow the transit of NATO military equipment through Russian territory. In addition, NATO would like the Russians to allow its military aircraft to pass through Russian airspace. Currently, only non-lethal NATO supplies can travel through Russia — and then only by train, at an exceptionally slow pace. So far, the Kremlin has also been ignoring calls by some NATO leaders to provide military hardware in support of the Afghanistan mission, as well as more oil and gas, for free, instead of the high price currently charged.
To be fair, there already exists a fair deal of cooperation between NATO and Russia on Afghanistan. As Margarete Klein, a Russia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), said in an interview, “There is a regular exchange of information, transit agreements have been agreed and a project for the training of Afghan and Central Asian personnel combating drug trafficking exists.” However, others complain about Russia’s lack of will, real or perceived, at serious cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan. After all, an alliance bogged down in Afghanistan may well be in the Russians’ best national interest. The proponents of this line of argument are quick to point to the Kremlin’s, as they see it, disingenuous proposal for a new European security treaty.
Given Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama’s non-decision on honoring a 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement to move Marine Air Station Futenma to a new location at Camp Schwab on Okinawa, it may be time for U.S. officials to start recognizing some unpleasant realities. First and foremost, Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan care most about their own political control at home. The DPJ spent 15 years clawing its way to power in Japan, and part of the Faustian deal was a coalition with the tiny Social Democratic Party and New People’s Party in the Upper House of parliament. The DPJ can’t control the Upper House without them, and they are not about to risk their political life for what they consider to be a minor agreement with the Americans–they’ve got bigger fish to fry in changing Japan. This is hardball politics that Washington should surely understand.
Secondly, the Japanese side may well be gambling that Washington really has no other place to go in Asia for its main bases, and therefore will simply accept whatever Hatoyama ultimately decides on relocation, realignment, and the like. Guam most likely can’t handle the Futenma station, given all the other buildup on the island, and any other location would likely put the U.S. farther out of the western Pacific. Having lost its southern anchor in the Philippines in the early 1990s, with the closing of Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, there is little likelihood the White House or Pentagon would dare push the Futenma relocation issue to the point of breaking the alliance. As much as Japan needs the U.S. for its security, the lack of any immediate, existential danger may give it confidence in the hand it is playing.
A few articles in recent days have reiterated what had become clear over the last 8 years: with its unforgiving terrain, punishing climate, and meager infrastructure, Afghanistan is a logistician’s nightmare. The U.S. military’s transport, supply, and logistics challenges will only become more acute as additional troops and equipment are flooded into the country in the coming months. As Ash Carter, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, noted recently, “At this phase, Afghanistan is a logistics war as much as any other kind of war.” For more, check out Steven Mufson and Walter Pincus’s account of the military’s looming fuel supply challenges in the Washington Post, as well as August Cole’s review of the Pentagon’s logistics priorities with respect to Afghanistan in the Wall Street Journal .
DoD photo by Spc. Tia P. Sokimson, U.S. Army/Released
In its continuing quest for all things arms control-related and multilateral, the Obama administration now appears prepared to begin discussing cyber arms control with Russia. According to the New York Times, upcoming discussions will include a Russian-sponsored internet security conference in Germany and a session of the the United Nations committee on disarmament and international security in January. Russians laud this as a perceptible shift in U.S. policy toward a disarmament treaty for cyberspace — which, if they had their way, would entail limiting weapons development (in which they lag behind the U.S.) and a ban on “cyberterrorism,” widely defined to include political dissent — while the U.S., according to an unnamed State Department official, simply hopes to use these talks to strengthen international anti-criminal cooperation in cyberspace. As numerous security experts (including Jeff Carr and Tim Stevens) have already pointed out, cyber arms control talks are little more than a waste of time. Russia has already refused to cooperate on cross-border law enforcement, opting out of the Council of Europe’s current Convention on Cybercrime, because they argue it violates their sovereignty (and Constitution) to allow foreign governments to conduct internet searches inside Russian borders. Back in October, General Sherstyuk, a deputy secretary in the Russian Security Council (the Russian NSC), warned that as long as the European Cybercrime treaty allowed these searches, Russia would never sign it. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia can agree not to use cyber arms against each other, but given Russia’s preferred technique of outsourcing cyber attacks to both criminal groups, such as RBN, and patriotic young citizens defending the motherland, a cyber arms control treaty would be meaningless. Hopefully the Obama administration will soon recognize the futility of these discussions and focus their time and effort on more important issues, such as shoring up U.S. cyber defenses.
Kara Flook is a reasearch associate at the American Enterprise Institute.