Showing posts with label afghanistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label afghanistan. Show all posts

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Inside Our 'Secret' Afghan Prisons - A Navy SEAL and a Harvard-trained lawyer take charge of U.S. detention policy

Inside Our 'Secret' Afghan Prisons, by Willy Stern
A Navy SEAL and a Harvard-trained lawyer take charge of U.S. detention policy.
The Weekly Standard, Jan 04, 2010

Kabul, Afghanistan

Amanula is a cold-blooded killer. But the 26-year-old unemployed tractor driver doesn't look the part. Rail thin with spindly arms, Amanula wears his black hair long, and his unkempt bangs often hang over his eyes. When you can see them, his coal-black eyes reveal a sad and contemplative man, resigned to his fate.

Like most villagers in craggy, dirt-poor Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, Amanula is illiterate. The local mullah in Waza Khawa encouraged this young Pashtun to join in the fight against the infidels. On a crisp day in November, Amanula and three companions rode their Honda motorbikes high into the mountains to attack an American convoy. He was already a veteran of such lethal missions and had been on three in the previous month alone. His small unit carried a lot of weaponry to the fight: dynamite, a pressure plate IED trigger, a heavy machine gun, AK-47 assault rifles, a Chinese grenade, and even a rocket launcher.

Their target was a convoy of American military vehicles snaking their way through the treacherous mountain passes not far from the Pakistan border. Amanula's team quietly set up its deadly ambush. The morning was crystal clear--and eerily quiet.

Then a U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter escorting the convoy spotted Amanula's crouching team and let loose with a hail of 30-caliber machine gun fire. Within seconds, two of Amanula's accomplices were dead, sliced to bits. A bullet entered Amanula's forearm and lodged in his bicep. Dazed with pain, he clutched his AK-47 for comfort. Within minutes, he heard an American soldier--an Army sergeant actually--screaming at him in a language he didn't understand. He put his hands over his head, the universal sign of surrender. His last surviving colleague made a different choice and aimed the rocket launcher at the young American soldier. The insurgent was rapidly dispatched by the sergeant's M249 machine gun.

The sergeant faced a decision as old as war itself. He had captured an enemy combatant and had to do something with him. The options haven't changed much since Alexander the Great rampaged through Afghanistan in 329 B.C.: Let the enemy go and give him the chance to kill you tomorrow; execute him on the spot; or give him quarter and take him prisoner. In keeping with U.S. policy, the recognized laws of armed conflict, and all sense of civilized society, the sergeant took option three. In short order, he disarmed Amanula, put flex cuffs on his wrists, and gave him emergency medical care, actually stemming the bleeding by using Amanula's torn white shirt to bandage his arm. The soldier called for a Medevac helicopter and, within 35 minutes, Amanula found himself under a doctor's care at an American forward operating base, some 25 miles northward. Amanula had become a "detainee," held legally as an enduring security threat in a war zone. After his medical treatment, he was moved to a small detention facility at another forward operating base.

The facility where Amanula was held is known in military parlance as a Field Detention Site (FDS). Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have run breathless stories in recent weeks alleging that there exist secret facilities in Afghanistan operating outside the rule of law--although the correspondents were far from certain just what facilities they were writing about. No matter. "Afghans Detail Detention in 'Black Jail' at U.S. Base" read the Times's headline. The Post featured two Afghan teenagers who said they had been "beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban." Rashid, 15, claimed "his interrogator forced him to look at pornography alongside a photograph of his mother."

I have been in two Field Detention Sites, and there was absolutely nothing "black" about them. They are spartan, to be sure, with the detainees housed in small, private cells built out of simple plywood inside a nondescript and unlabeled container. (Many American soldiers sleep in similar containers.) The interrogation rooms are similar--a small table with three chairs, also fashioned out of plywood, much like what your local Cub Scout troop would bang out during a carpentry project.

There are five or six such cells in each facility. One site that I visited was empty; the other had a single detainee. This is typical. Detainees are given a mat, blanket, and three meals, at least one of which is hot. On one cell wall is a single piece of white paper with handwritten directions and a simple picture indicating the direction to face to pray towards Mecca. On another wall is part of the Geneva Conventions translated into Dari and Pashto. A prayer mat and bottled water are provided. Detainees are given medical treatment. Lights stay on 24/7--there is no individual lighting for each cell--but that practice is common in any U.S. prison where there is need for frequent safety and security checks. (The one detainee I saw was sleeping soundly on a cushioned mat, under a thick brown blanket, despite the lights being on. A half-drunk bottle of water and his white Kandahari hat were on the floor, next to his shoes.)

Amanula's testimony contrasts with the stories in the Times and Post. Amanula was given a private room at the FDS--while his American captors slept in bunk beds, 20-to-a-canvas tent--and interviewed thoroughly by a trained Army interrogator, working through an Afghan translator. The interrogator hardly looked like a U.S. soldier; he wore jeans, longish hair, and a thick beard. Under questioning in accord with Army Field Manual rules, Amanula provided his captors with a wealth of intelligence about other terrorist cells operating in the area. He gave up the names of specific Taliban members in the region, details of the techniques used by the insurgents, even mullahs and mosques who were working with the Taliban.

Within a few days, Amanula was relocated to a larger detention facility, the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF). Located on Bagram Airfield, the large military base north of Kabul at the base of the Hindu Kush, the BTIF sits inside a large yellow hangar built by the Soviets in the early 1980s. Last week the BTIF was closed, and all detainees transferred to the new $60 million Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP)--also located at Bagram.

So why are the mainstream media, human rights groups, and civil libertarians all bent out of shape about the Field Detention Sites? Attribute it to the secrecy. The locations of the FDSs are secret. This is just plain common sense in a war zone. How else can you maintain operational security? Why tell the bad guys--who, after all, are trying to kill our soldiers--where their friends are being held? Some of these facilities are out in the hinterlands where our forces are stretched thin. Public knowledge of the FDS locations would put both our soldiers and the detainees at risk. But for reporters from the Times and the Post, secrecy means there must be something illegal going on.

But the Defense Department takes the secrecy a little too far, generally not allowing any media access to the facilities or even letting them be discussed on-the-record. This policy breeds conspiracy theories, gives rise to outlandish conjecture, and presents an alluring news hook for every muckraking scribe who is all too willing to publish detainees' uncorroborated tales of abuse.

There's a good chance that this less-than-necessary secretiveness will pass away in 2010. So far in Afghanistan the Field Detention Sites have been under the command of whichever military unit controlled that battle space. But in early January, Joint Task Force 435, a unit stood up last September and focused entirely on detentions and interrogations, will assume control over almost all of the American-run detention facilities in Afghanistan. And General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy puts a premium on winning Afghan hearts and minds as much as defeating the Taliban on the battlefield.

An enlightened and tough, if frazzled and sleep-deprived group, Task Force 435 is heavy on scholarly attorneys and counterinsurgency gurus. Its mantras are transparency and accountability. During two weeks embedded with 435, I was taken to two "secret" Field Detention Sites, two Afghan prisons--including the infamous Pol-i-Charkhi--and a counternarcotics detention facility. I saw hundreds of detainees--not just in their cells but wandering the halls of the cell blocks and out in the recreation yards. I saw conjugal visit huts (made of hardened mud, but certainly private enough) and visited with a detainee being treated for diabetes in the medical unit.

I met dozens of detainees, was often invited back into their group cells for tea (I always declined), and made chitchat with those who had some English. Did any complain of abuse? No. Is this proof that here is no abuse? Of course not, but it's a pretty decent indicator. I was briefed on classified detainee files--on the condition that actual names not be used in print--and was allowed to interview a wide array of prison employees, including interrogators, guards, wardens, and even a psychologist. Most of these interviews were unmonitored, including on-the-record and unofficial talks with two translators who work in the interrogation rooms. I asked for details on a juvenile detainee, and they were immediately provided. Planned trips to visit prisons in Herat and Kandahar were cancelled because of bad weather and the limitations military aircraft face with low cloud cover hanging over the Afghan mountain ranges.

The brain trust of this new openness is Vice Admiral Bob Harward, who heads up Task Force 435, and his deputy, Brigadier General Mark Martins. Harward, a hard-charging Navy SEAL, is a legend in the Special Forces community. (He has a long scar down his left cheek--"from a knife fight" he says without elaborating.) An engaging commander, Harward, 53, cusses like the sailor he is when hanging with the troops but can produce an admiral's spit-and-polish when needed--an engaging combination in a commander. He seems not to have an ounce of body fat and combines decent Farsi with a strategic mind.

Martins, 49, is another hard-charger. He was valedictorian of his West Point class, a Rhodes Scholar who earned a First at Oxford, and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. The Seal and the Solicitor are less of an odd couple than one might think. For one, they are both gifted athletes (Martins has run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2:44) and exude an easy command presence. And they urgently want to upgrade the detentions and interrogations situation in Afghanistan. As Harward notes: "Perception is reality."

They both talk a lot about transparency--you hear that word about 50 times a day--but aren't able fully to practice what they preach. Official DoD policy mostly prohibits taking media into the large detention facility at Bagram, and does not allow public discussion of the even more secretive detention facility at Bagram: the Temporary Screening Facility (TSF). The Joint Special Operations Command apparently controls the TSF today; there's been no public indication to date when or how it will come under Task Force 435's oversight. Asked how he can preach transparency and yet not oversee the TSF, Harward declines to even acknowledge the facility's existence. Instead, he says, "I've been made responsible for all detention operations in Afghanistan, and I fully intend to fulfill that mission." There's little doubt that Harward and Martins are lobbying tactfully behind the scenes to gain oversight of the facility.

And make no mistake: Task Force 435's mission is essential. General Stanley McChrystal laid out the issue fairly starkly in his August assessment of the Afghan war:

There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan. Unchecked, Taliban/Al Qaeda leaders patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military.

Detainees have cell phones, money, and influence. They control wide swaths of the Afghan prisons today, and they are radicalizing the other inmates.


Despite the regular flow of stories about torture and black sites, few members of the press have been inside any of the Afghan prisons or attempted to understand the country's detainee structure. There are four separate parts to it, which in theory can take an insurgent from the battlefield through rehabilitation back into society: the Field Detention Sites; the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, which has just been replaced by the DFIP; the Temporary Screening Facility; and the Afghan-run correctional system.

There are nine FDSs in Afghanistan, mostly located in the southern and eastern parts of the country, where the insurgency is strongest. They are on forward operating bases, residing in unmarked containers. Scores of soldiers walk by them every day and have no idea what's on the other side of the metal wall. They all have a small entrance area where IDs are checked. In addition to five or six cells--divided by no more than a thick piece of plywood--most have a medical room, an open area, a small recreation yard, and an interview room. Adjacent to the interview room is another small room with a one-way mirror for observation purposes.

The interrogators, who all work in plainclothes, have done intensive 18-week interrogation courses and stick to the 19 approved methods of interrogation in the Army Field Manual (the law since the Detainee Treatment Act was passed in 2005). None of these methods includes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. This gets hammered home hard throughout the American-run prisons.

The Red Cross can visit these facilities but does not have access to the detainees. Many of the detainees are released after initial interrogations and screenings to determine their status. The U.S. military has no obligation at this point to report their whereabouts to the Red Cross, but if they are held longer, the Red Cross is informed.

Nobody displays names or ranks on their uniforms inside an FDS. Special Forces operators, whose work is often clouded in secrecy and who use fake names, even with a visiting general, staff many of the tiny facilities. But "we have absolutely nothing to hide from anybody," says Colonel John Garrity, the straight-talking military police officer in charge of the large Bagram detention facility, as well as the man responsible for investigating any charges of abuse at the FDSs.

I'm not supposed to talk policy but if I had my way, we'd open up every damn facility to the media and anybody else who wanted to have a look. These are quality facilities run by trained professionals. You'll find worse problems at prisons in the U.S., but the secrecy here creates crazy myths. We have nothing--absolutely nothing--to hide from anybody. I am proud of our facilities and so would anybody else who has spent time inside them.

The policy of secrecy is clearly eating away at Colonel Garrity--and with good reason.

The average stay of a detainee at an FDS is six days. Some are released almost immediately, others are transferred to the Afghan police, and the rest begin moving within 10 days to the larger facilities at Bagram. Amanula was transferred to Bagram seven days after surrendering.


Until last week, when the DFIP came on line, detainees sent to Bagram went to the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF). This facility held about 720 detainees. By comparison, at the height of the 2007 surge, we had some 27,000 detainees locked up in Iraq, and during the British campaign in Malaya from 1948 to 1960--the counterinsurgency oft cited as the most successful--nearly half-a-million people from a much smaller population pool were detained.

The BTIF was actually two facilities enclosed in one space behind walls and concertina wire. The larger of the two facilities, inside the former Soviet hangar, held two matching sets of 16 group cells (detainees sleep about 20 to a cell), as well as interrogation booths, and medical facilities. Prisoners lived in open cages with wire mesh tops for easy inspection by guards. Guards walked on a long wooden platform that runs above the cages, and a bright yellow sign on the raised platform reads "No Female Guards Beyond This Point."

In both the shuttered BTIF and the new DFIP there is at least one open latrine per cell and a group shower area with individual stalls. Detainees wear bright orange jumpsuits--making it awfully hard for them to escape unnoticed--as a sign of shame, and white caps. When it's cold (and it was cold in Afghanistan in December), they are issued blue knit caps. They have access to bottled water. When they have drunk a bottle, they may exchange it for a full one. This is a necessary security protocol as detainees have been known to cut the bottles in half and use them as weapons, or even to scoop up and throw feces at the guards. If their behavior warrants, they are rewarded with juice boxes, the same ones (apple, orange, pineapple) that are served in the dining facilities on the military base.

Prisoners have access to 40-inch HDTVs. Recently a soccer game was being shown, and when the camera panned to a crowd shot, a woman with much exposed skin came into view, jumping up and down. The shot offended many of the Muslim detainees, yet seemed to give furtive pleasure to others.

There were no windows and therefore no natural light for the detainees inside the massive BTIF hangar, a legitimate source of concern to Red Cross inspectors and a problem corrected at the new DFIP. In back of the hanger was what the troops call the "K-Span"--a hundred-foot-long Quonset hut where the hardcases were housed in segregation cells.

At least half the guards at the BTIF have had feces thrown at them, a standard way for detainees to act out, according to Chief Matthew Lacy, a Navy Guard Force commander. Corporal Kevin Johnson, 18, told me, "Yesterday, I had a guy throw urine on me, but he then apologized to me and said it was meant for another guard." (Johnson in less than five months at the BTIF has taught himself Pashto, the language of most of the detainees he looks after.) Some detainees regularly call the black MPs "niggers." The MPs, who work 12-hour shifts, complain frequently about their long hours but not about the abuse they take. They are trained not to respond to such taunting, and any claim of guard abuse is documented and investigated.

The average detainee stay at the facility is 24 months. The average weight gain is 36 pounds. For most, it is the first time in their lives they have had adequate food and access to health care. Most arrive illiterate, and many depart with elementary reading skills after taking classes in the facility. This is an effective counterinsurgency tactic; giving an insurgent the ability to read allows him access to a wider world than the narrow radical Islamic society in which most were raised. The ability to pursue independent thought should not be underestimated in this tribal society.

The clampdown on the media at Bagram hasn't just encouraged negative stories but has kept positive coverage under wraps. An internal U.S. Army document--self-serving, to be sure--reveals much decent treatment at the BTIF. There is the detainee diagnosed by an American doctor with pancreatic cancer and given compassionate release so he could spend his last days with his family. Before he left, the dying man of his own accord went from cell to cell in the facility telling his fellow detainees how decent his captors had been. Or take the young Army specialist from Missouri who oversees the segregation cells in the K-Span. He and the eight men under his care sing to each other in Pashto at bedtime, the melodies carrying through the metal cell doors. He continues his serenade each night until every detainee is asleep.

There were abuses at the BTIF in the early years of the Afghan conflict. At least two Afghans died in U.S. custody. Task Force 435 absolutely won't talk about it, but multiple interviews with other military officials, translators, private contractors, consultants, and prison experts paint a grim picture. The CIA conducted these early interrogations. Some interrogators were cowboys, and many of the military police units in the facilities in the early years were reservists--with limited training--who followed the lead of the confident CIA guys. Apparently, when CIA operators left for the day, some would tell the reservists "to soften 'em up for us before tomorrow." There is no evidence that such abuse continues today with a trained guard force.


Colonel Garrity was granted permission to show the unopened facility to the media in mid-November, and scores of articles and photos--some glowing, some skeptical--appeared. It's a modern wonder, replete with huge cells, basketball hoops in the recreation yard, expensive optometrist equipment, a state-of-the-art X-ray machine, and a large vocational-technical training area to help with the detainee's reintegration to society. In a bizarre twist, after the detainees are transferred in early 2010, they will have far nicer digs than the soldiers who guard them. The soldiers will continue to live in cramped canvas tents and walk long distances outside through mud to get to the latrine or shower.

The new facility has great public relations value and will aid the 435's quest for transparency. But the DFIP is also so overdone as to be borderline ridiculous. The ultimate plan is to hand over management of the facility to the Afghans, and it's a safe bet that the power tools and medical equipment will quickly be stolen and sold. What are the chances that the modern surveillance cameras and integrated computer system will still work in 10 years in this third-world country where many farmers still use oxen and Iron Age tools? A clear sign that the facility is not sustainable: The power outlets at the 40-acre facility run on the American 110-volt system, not the Afghan grid.

The detainees at the DFIP are carefully screened. A small fraction--the hard cases--are being designated for fledgling deradicalization programs. Experts are studying similar programs in places like Saudi Arabia and Singapore to adapt them for the Afghan culture. Reintegration programs--vocational training, literacy programs, etc.--will be broadly administered to almost the entire population according to individual plans drawn up for each detainee.

"But reintegration plans are still very much in the early stages," reports Marisa Porges, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations with an expertise in the rehabilitation of terrorists. She's just back from visiting the facilities in Afghanistan. Efforts are underway, says Porges, "to both design and implement programs simultaneously, which is a good sign and shows they're being aggressive." For example, moderate mullahs are working with the detainees.


This is the site that doesn't officially exist. Nobody on Task Force 435 will acknowledge it. No matter. It does exist, and it is at Bagram Airfield. It's the controversial facility over which Admiral Harward is apparently seeking jurisdiction.

The TSF, though, is hardly as sinister as it sounds. Military operations in Afghanistan legitimately require what is essentially a way station for detainees who are being screened before they are released or transferred (either to the large Bagram detention facility or directly to the Afghan prison system). It is here that Special Operations Forces interrogate detainees, just as they do at the Field Detention Sites. The Joint Special Forces Command, which reportedly runs the secret facility, is less interested in transparency than in maintaining operational and tactical secrecy in wartime. There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue, a fact not lost on Harward or Martins. While transparency is needed to win Afghan hearts and minds and is a key component of McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy, it can also aid the insurgents by revealing surveillance techniques. (I've learned of many such techniques--clever but not illegal--in my time here.) If you were a Special Forces interrogator doing your job just fine would you really want another layer of bureaucrats--including a bunch of uptight lawyers--looking over your shoulder?

But many Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan cite disappearances into the "occupier's black jail" as a good reason to pick up an AK-47 and fight the Karzai government, or try to blow up our troops on patrol. That's the reason transparency makes good sense today. It's the smart way to stop alienating the population. The facility may be top secret but any scribe could easily confirm its existence by taking a quick look Maqaleh v. Gates, a case in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia; the government's brief appealing the decision refers quite openly to a "temporary screening and processing" facility.


After capture and screening, many detainees are transferred into the Afghan criminal justice system for prosecution. I visited three Afghan-run prisons--Pol-i-Charkhi in eastern Kabul just beyond the Kabul River; the Jalalabad Prison in eastern Afghanistan on the corridor leading to the Khyber Pass; and Kabul's new Counter-Narcotics Justice Center.

Compare Pol-i-Charkhi or Jalalabad with a prison in Kentucky and the Afghan facilities look downright awful. Prisoners are cramped up to 18 to a small cell. The sewage system is often no more than a hole in the floor to an open trench, reliant on gravity to move the mess downhill and away from the cells. Hundreds of people were lined up outside Pol-i-Charkhi on visiting day, many with wheelbarrows piled high with food since food service inside is largely nil. At the Jalalabad Prison, the inmates sleep inside but the guards are forced to sleep outside, even in the snow, due to lack of funds to build even a single guard shack.

But compare these facilities with prisons in Africa or elsewhere in central Asia, and they look okay. There are lots of Americans floating around the facilities--corrections consultants hired by the State Department and even U.S. marshals with crew cuts and blue windbreakers. They work hard to assure proper standards. And there isn't any evidence of the torture, beatings, whippings, and rape that are standard fare in third-world prisons.

Pol-i-Charkhi has a past. It's estimated that the Afghan Communists executed 27,000 people in this hellhole--mostly political enemies--after the Soviet invasion in 1979. The main facility is built on a pin-wheel design, with the cell units forming the spokes of the wheel. I walked through one such block where the general population was housed, as well as through an open recreation yard. Dozens of prisoners could have easily walked up and attacked me. Instead, they wanted to shake hands and share tea.

To be sure, there is a separate facility at Pol-i-Charkhi, called the U-10, where the most dangerous prisoners are held. It is here that you'll find the Taliban leaders who led a riot and took over two cell blocks in 2008. Still even these violent prisoners wander freely around their cell block, meandering among the bright red garbage cans that dot the long second-floor hallway. The day I visited, several wanted to practice their English; they were polite, to be sure--and no doubt knew the consequences of creating trouble. The U-10 facility is on par with any maximum-security prison in the United States, in large part because Western contractors built it, and U.S. taxpayers fund it. It's worth noting the United States has already spent $16 million to refurbish and update Pol-i-Charkhi, one cell block at a time. Construction of a vocational tech-training center--part of Task Force 435's reintegration strategy--was underway when I visited.

There are bright spots in the Afghan system. The women's prison at Jalalabad is spacious, with doe-eyed children frolicking in the courtyard on a blue swing set, slide, and seesaw. There's also a small classroom and a huge pile of American toys--think Spiderman dolls--donated by aid groups in the United States.

Then there's the recently built Counter-Narcotics Justice Center. Inmates sleep two-to-a-room on bunk beds, and every cell has its own semi-private bathroom area. The cells I saw were clean--with toothbrushes and toothpaste left out on a shelf. A modern kitchen and industrial-sized laundry round out the facility. The recreation yard, though, isn't much to see. It's outdoors, to be sure, but is nothing more than a long narrow cage where detainees squatted on their haunches, huddled under wool blankets to ward off the winter air. Still, the facility is so nice that many accused criminals with political connections pull strings to win admission.

Corruption is a constant aspect of the Afghan prison system. Sarah Chayes, author of a brilliant book on the guileful nature of Afghan politics post-Taliban, Punishment of Virtue, believes that corruption takes at least three forms in the prison system. (Chayes, who has lived in Kandahar for the last seven years working to rebuild homes and establish an agricultural collective, serves as a special adviser to the NATO military command.) First of all, she says, top Afghan officials strive to have their rivals or enemies sent to prison and the best way of achieving this is by deliberately providing inaccurate information to international military or intelligence officers. Second, imprisonment in Afghanistan is often simply a kidnapping racket, with releases obtained for a "bribe." Finally, Chayes notes that corrupt officials and other criminals with ties to those at the summit of the Afghan government use their pull to get out of jail.

Task Force 435 has no real power within the Afghan prison system, and so the corruption will remain. Another weak link in the chain is the corruption of the greater Afghan judicial system, notes General Martins--judges, policemen, guards, etc. But the task force must play the hand it's been dealt. They don't complain--at least not much.

One of Task Force 435's most serious challenges is in its efforts to deradicalize detainees and reintegrate them into Afghan society.

Take the case of 16-year-old Abul-Aziz--the lone juvenile in detention at BTIF today. Educated in a radical madrassa in Pakistan and effectively an orphan, he's a quick study. (When he was picked up in September, Abul-Aziz was already proficient in four languages.) It quickly became apparent that the babyfaced Abul-Aziz had regular contact with senior members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)--a terrorist group operating in Afghanistan, knew the exact location of IMU safe houses, and had received advanced combat training. Although it's legal to hold him under the laws of armed conflict, he's still just a kid. On the day he was picked up, he was trying to get his cell phone fixed and went into a village to have his photo taken before a Muslim holiday. Can he be deradicalized? This is the sort of question that Admiral Harward and General Martins are trying to tackle.

With others, there is virtually no hope of getting them to lay down their arms. Agha-Gul is a senior Taliban commander with a shaved head and thick black beard. He was nabbed in late 2005 in a Kabul taxicab with $13,000 in Euros and British pounds. A courier who traveled among Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Europe, Agha-Gul has ties to multiple attacks on coalition forces. He was entirely uncooperative during interrogations and will likely be held indefinitely as "an enduring security threat."

Since 2002, about 4,000 individuals have been detained; more than 2,500 have been released. Task Force 435 would like to release many more. General Martins can often be found in his windowless office after midnight scouring detainee files for clues that could lead to eventual reintegration. "Information that reveals apparent motives for violence," he says, "is often helpful in developing a reintegration plan or path for an individual detainee." Martins is thorough. He also looks at the circumstances of the capture, the strength of evidence, local community and tribal history, sectarian and political dimensions, the detainee's cooperation, his behavior in detention and even the willingness of his home village to have a detainee back.

But before any detainees are released, they appear before a controversial body known as a Detainee Review Board (DRB). This panel of three field-grade military officers conducts administrative hearings for each detainee. The detainee does not have access to a civilian lawyer, but is instead guided both before and during his hearing by a military officer who advocates on his behalf. Human rights groups contend this is wrong.

But as one task force officer notes:

I would hate to have on my conscience the deaths of well-intentioned but naïve civil liberties lawyers who've been beheaded by Taliban while scouring Kunar province for evidence of their clients' innocence. So we may be in for some criticism on this score in the end. There are some things that require common sense, and armed conflict is one of them.

At least a third of the nation's 34 provinces are in armed conflict. A lot of folks are getting killed. In any event, as required by law and policy, every detainee receives an in-person hearing before the DRB within 60 days of arrival at Bagram and gets a further review every six months.

The DRB is required to consider all "reasonably available" evidence, a qualifier easy to understand in a war zone where collecting evidence often exposes soldiers and Marines to getting killed. The military is also required to chase down all exculpatory leads offered by a detainee who claims he was unjustly nabbed. It's not a perfect system, but it is not a terrible one either.

How can we tell if we are winning this war? One litmus test is the complex case of a detainee named Jalaludin. Relatively well educated--he completed the 11th grade--the 35-year-old had a well-paying job as the number two officer on a security detail. His job was to protect the construction workers who were building a much-needed road through Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. This area is a stronghold of Hezb-e-Islami insurgents. (The U.S. taxpayer is funding the road, one of thousands of such reconstruction projects here that get little coverage.)

Although Jalaludin was not directly involved in attacks on coalition forces in his area, he allowed the Taliban to sneak its fighters and weapons through his security checkpoints and, worse, he had advance knowledge of terrorist attacks on coalition forces that he failed to report--hardly acceptable behavior for a top-level security officer. He was arrested based on strong evidence and quickly admitted his guilt. He now is held at the DFIP and says he desperately misses his family.

We know of Jalaludin and his uncertain future only because the new task force on detentions believes the U.S. military has nothing to hide and saw the value in opening up its doors to a visiting scribe. It's a gamble, to be sure, but a good one. In a country where virtually every issue is shrouded in uncertainty, bedeviled by deadly complexity and riddled with corruption, this much is certain: The good faith, soundness, and humanity of Joint Task Force 435's mission are unassailable. The men and women of 435 are committed to a humane and open detentions system, one that is rooted in the rule of law and grounded in basic American values.

Will these become Jalaludin's values? After all, says Martin, he wasn't

a trigger puller or actually part of the insurgent force. I've looked carefully at the evidence and spoken directly with Jalaludin. I think he's an accidental guerrilla, someone drawn into the larger conflict by influences that have little to do with the larger political struggle.

Martins thinks Jalaludin is "an important case study" since "he appears to represent a class of current detainees who, if swayed not to oppose the government, could be decisive in isolating insurgent groups and ending the armed conflict."

Ultimately, this broader conflict will be won not only on the battlefield, but also in the hearts and minds of men like Jalaludin. If he comes over to our side we'll know we're winning the war.

Willy Stern, an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University's Law School, embedded with Task Force 435 in Afghanistan in December 2009.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The ICC Investigation in Afghanistan Vindicates U.S. Policy Toward the ICC

The ICC Investigation in Afghanistan Vindicates U.S. Policy Toward the ICC. By Brett D. Schaefer and Steven Groves
Heritage, September 14, 2009
WebMemo #2611

Last week, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) stated that investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan may result in the prosecution of U.S. policymakers or servicemen. The potential prosecution of U.S. persons by the court over incidents that the U.S. deems lawful is one of the prime reasons why the Bush Administration did not seek U.S. ratification of the treaty creating the court, rejected ICC claims of authority over U.S. persons, and sought to negotiate agreements with countries to protect U.S. persons from being arrested and turned over to the ICC.[1]

The investigation is not complete, the prosecutor has not determined if he will seek warrants against U.S. officials or servicemen, and Afghanistan is constrained from turning over U.S. persons to the ICC under existing agreements. However, the potential legal confrontation justifies past U.S. policy, emphasizes the need to maintain and expand legal protections for U.S. persons against ICC claims of jurisdiction, and should lead the Obama Administration to endorse the Bush Administration's policies toward the ICC.

U.S. Policy toward the ICC

The U.S. initially was an eager participant in the effort to create the ICC in the 1990s. However, America's support waned because many of its concerns about the proposed court were ignored or opposed. Among other concerns, the U.S. concluded that the ICC lacked prudent safeguards against political manipulation, possessed sweeping authority without accountability to the U.N. Security Council, and violated national sovereignty by claiming jurisdiction over the nationals and military personnel of non-party states in some circumstances.

In the end, U.S. efforts to amend the Rome Statute were rejected. President Bill Clinton urged President George W. Bush not to submit the treaty to the Senate for advice and consent necessary for ratification. After additional efforts to address key U.S. concerns failed, President Bush felt it necessary to "un-sign" the Rome Statute and take additional steps to protect U.S. nationals, officials, and service members from the ICC, including passing the American Service-Members' Protection Act of 2002, which restricts U.S. interaction with the ICC and its state parties, and seeking Article 98 agreements to preclude nations from surrendering, extraditing, or transferring U.S. persons to the ICC or third countries for that purpose without U.S. consent.[2]

The Afghan Investigation

On September 10, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Argentinean Luis Moreno Ocampo, announced that ICC investigators had begun looking into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, "massive attacks," and collateral damage resulting from military action in Afghanistan. The allegations were made by human-rights groups and the Afghan government. According to Béatrice Le Fraper du Hellen, a special adviser to Ocampo, the ICC has been "collecting data about allegations made against the various parties to the conflict" since 2007.[3]

Since Afghanistan acceded to the Rome Statute--the treaty establishing the ICC-- on February 10, 2003, the prosecutor is empowered to receive and investigate crimes alleged to have occurred in Afghanistan after the establishment of the court in July 2002.[4]

Although the investigation will also look into crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Ocampo confirmed that North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops participating in the United Nations mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission to bolster the Afghan government could become a target of ICC prosecution. A decision to prosecute ISAF forces for actions in Afghanistan would almost certainly involve American servicemen which, as of July 23, 2009, constituted nearly half of all foreign troops involved in the mission (29,950 out of 64,500[5]) and represent one of the few countries willing to fully engage in military action to confront Taliban forces.

The ICC investigation is at an early stage. According to du Hellen, "[I]t's particularly complex. It's taking time to gather information on crimes allegedly committed on the government side, on the Taliban side and by foreign forces." [6] In the end, the ICC may find no evidence to proceed with a warrant against anyone--American or otherwise.

Status of Forces Agreement

The ICC can act only if a country is unwilling or unable to pursue the alleged crimes. However, in a situation like Afghanistan, it is very likely that the ICC would have to assert jurisdiction because the government of Afghanistan has extremely limited legal jurisdiction over U.S. officials and service members. Specifically, the U.S. and the Afghan government entered into a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) regarding military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan engaged in "cooperative efforts in response to terrorism, humanitarian and civic assistance, military training and exercises, and other activities." Under the SOFA,

U.S. personnel are immune from criminal prosecution by Afghan authorities, and are immune from civil and administrative jurisdiction except with respect to acts performed outside the course of their duties. [The agreement] explicitly authorized the U.S. government to exercise criminal jurisdiction over U.S. personnel, and the Government of Afghanistan is not permitted to surrender U.S. personnel to the custody of another State, international tribunal [including the ICC], or any other entity without consent of the U.S. government.[7]
Although the SOFA was signed by the interim government, it remains binding on the current government and the Afghan government could not try U.S. officials or service members for acts committed during the "course of their duties," even if it wanted to.

Thus, the ICC would undoubtedly find the Afghan government unable to pursue the alleged crimes. Such a finding would raise another issue. Under the Article 98 agreement with Afghanistan, the government has agreed not to turn over U.S. persons to the ICC or to allow a third party to do so without U.S. permission--an unlikely development, given that a U.S. official has stated that the United States has no reason to believe that U.S. persons have committed crimes in the conduct of their official duties under ISAF that have not been properly investigated and adjudicated.[8]

These safeguards are not a guarantee of protection from the illegitimate claims of ICC jurisdiction, but U.S. officials and service members are much more protected than they would be without them. Most likely, an ICC warrant would be executed against a U.S. person in Afghanistan only if that person traveled to an ICC state party that does not have an Article 98 agreement with the U.S. The current scenario, therefore, only underscores the urgency of negotiating more such agreements.

Reject the Rome Statute

The Obama Administration is reportedly close to announcing a change in U.S. policy toward the ICC, including affirming President Clinton's 2000 signature on the Rome Statute and increasing U.S. cooperation with the court. Weakening protections against ICC prosecution of U.S. officials and service members would be a grave mistake, as illustrated by the ongoing investigation in Afghanistan.

The ICC's Afghan investigation is a testament to the wisdom of the Bush Administration. To protect its officials and servicemen, the U.S. should continue to insist that it is not bound by the Rome Statute and does not recognize the ICC's authority over U.S. persons, maintain and expand legal protections like Article 98 agreements, and exercise great care when deciding to support the court's actions.

Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs and Steven Groves is Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

References at the original article

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The U.S. has been bringing soldiers home as soon as they get any experience

General McChrystal's New Way of War. By Max Boot
The U.S. has been bringing soldiers home as soon as they get any experience.
The Wall Street Journal, Jun 17, 2009, page A13

Gen. Stanley McChrystal was appointed commander in Afghanistan to shake up a troubled war effort. But one of his first initiatives could wind up changing how the entire military does business.

Gen. McChrystal's decision to set up a Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell means creating a corps of roughly 400 officers who will spend years focused on Afghanistan, shuttling in and out of the country and working on those issues even while they are stateside.

Today, units typically spend six to 12 months in a war zone, and officers typically spend only a couple years in command before getting a new assignment. This undermines the continuity needed to prevail in complex environments like Afghanistan or Iraq. Too often, just when soldiers figure out what's going on they are shipped back home and neophytes arrive to take their place. Units suffer a disproportionate share of casualties when they first arrive because they don't have a grip on local conditions.

There was a saying that we didn't fight in Vietnam for 10 years; we fought there for one year, 10 times. The North Vietnamese, on the other hand, continued fighting until they were killed or immobilized. That gave their forces a huge advantage.

In Vietnam, units already in the field would get individual replacements from home, thus making it hard to maintain unit cohesion. Sometimes new soldiers were killed before anyone even knew their names.

The policy now is unit rotation -- an entire battalion or brigade (or a higher-level staff) trains together, deploys together, and leaves together. That makes for better cohesion, but makes it even harder to maintain continuity because there is little overlap between units.

In a tribal society like Afghanistan's, the key to effectiveness is having personal relationships with tribal elders, which argues for keeping troops in place much longer than currently is the case. But there are limits to the stress that soldiers can endure -- effectiveness degrades severely for anyone who spends too long in combat. And in an all-volunteer military, there is always the danger that if troops are forced to be away from their families too long they might not sign up for another hitch.

The U.S. Special Operations Command (the military command for all special operations units) has responded by creating a deployment cycle whereby units spend roughly six months deployed in a war zone and six months at home, keeping tabs on their area of operations while they're away and returning to the same area time after time. This arrangement, which has been in use for several years, allows personal relationships to be cultivated and continued while still giving troops some downtime.

It's an intriguing approach, and one that Gen. McChrystal, a veteran of special operations, is now migrating to the conventional military world. The new Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell is an attempt to strike a balance between personnel needs and war-fighting needs, and it is a move in the right direction.

I would argue for going even further by extending staff deployments (which aren't as stressful as combat jobs). Volunteers should be allowed to spend years at a time in places like Afghanistan -- not only soldiers but also diplomats and intelligence officers.

Who would volunteer to live in such an inhospitable environment? Well Sarah Chayes, a former NPR reporter, has been living and working in Kandahar since 2001. While in Afghanistan recently, I also met a former Special Forces soldier, now working as a State Department counter-narcotics contractor, who said he has been in Afghanistan for four years. Such people are invaluable for their knowledge of the local landscape.

The British, from whose glory days we can still learn many lessons, recognized this. Gertrude Bell, Richard Francis Burton, T.E. Lawrence and numerous others made an outsize contribution to their empire by "going native." They may have been sneered at by typical army officers, who were primarily interested in polo, whist and gin, but the knowledge they acquired proved invaluable.

Consider the case of Col. Sir Robert Warburton, a 19th century artillery officer who was the offspring of a marriage between a British officer and an Afghan princess. He spent nearly 30 years on the Northwest Frontier of India working as a political officer, negotiating with tribesmen who were (and are) suspicious of all outsiders.

"It took me years to get through this thick crust of mistrust, but what was the after-result?" he wrote in his memoirs. "For upwards of fifteen years I went unarmed amongst these people. My camp, wherever it happened to be pitched, was always guarded and protected by them. The deadliest enemies of the Khyber Range, with a long record of blood-feuds, dropped those feuds for the time being when in my camp."

Warburton retired in May 1897. Within months the frontier was aflame with a great uprising that took tens of thousands of troops to suppress. (You can read all about it in Winston Churchill's first book, "The Story of the Malakand Field Force," which contains eerie echoes of current fighting on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.) Warburton, who had been known as the "King of the Khyber," was convinced that if he were still on the job, the contacts he had cultivated would have allowed him to prevent the uprising. He may well have been right.

What Gen. McChrystal realizes, in effect, is that we need to create our own Robert Warburtons. If his experiment succeeds, future commanders can build on the precedent to provide the kind of cultural and linguistic skills that we will need to win the long war against Islamic extremists.

Mr. Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is currently writing a history of guerrilla warfare.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

WaPo: Mr. Obama's War? No, it's America's war

Mr. Obama's War? WaPo Editorial
No. Like it or not, it's America's war.
Sunday, May 17, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S clashes with the liberal base of his party are the kind of sporting event that Washington loves. But what Mr. Obama is confronting is less his party and more a stubborn reality that many in his party are unwilling to accept: There are forces in the world that continue to wage war against the United States and its allies, whether or not the United States wants to acknowledge that war.

Mr. Obama's recent decisions on paying for Afghanistan, reviving military tribunals and withholding photos of detainee abuse, among others, all reflect this reality. Although we disagreed with his conclusion on the photos, we sympathize with his concern that it might harm Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. His announcement Friday that he had reversed his opposition to trying some enemy detainees in military commissions reflects, again, the fact of a nation at war; the federal courts will not be the proper venue for every al-Qaeda member captured by U.S. forces. (In a separate editorial we offer some views on how to improve the commissions further.) His commitment to fighting al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan recognizes that pretending a threat does not exist will only increase the danger to America.

That's what is worrying about the modest but gathering opposition to Mr. Obama's policies within his party. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), who represents parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, was one of 51 Democrats to vote against funding for the Afghan war on Thursday. In a statement, Ms. Edwards hailed "the passion and commitment of our servicemen and women" that she witnessed on a recent trip to the embattled nation as well as "the commitment and courage of Afghan women to build a future for their country." But Ms. Edwards said that she could not support funding, because Mr. Obama lacks "a strategy for leaving Afghanistan." In a similar vein, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told the New York Times that he would give Mr. Obama's strategy one year to work before moving into opposition.

Mr. Obama understands that the only safe strategy for leaving Afghanistan is to beat back radical Islamist forces and build Afghan capacity to continue that fight. It's an effort that will require soldiers and civilians, military battles and economic development. Of course it will take more than a year; Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the military effort, has been entirely candid about that.

What's discouraging is how quickly many Americans seem to forget the peril of half-finishing wars. Once before this country abandoned the battlefield in central Asia; Osama bin Laden moved into the vacuum. Today, he and like-minded terrorists continue to conspire in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. Confronted by this unpleasant truth and the difficult challenge it poses, too many politicians lapse into the wishful-thinking school of making policy. We worry that there remains a touch of that in Mr. Obama's Iraq timetables and lean defense budget. But for the most part, having accepted the responsibility of keeping America safe, he has recognized that America can't always choose its enemies or its battlefields. His realism deserves support.

Friday, May 1, 2009

U.S. Department of State Delivers $5 Million in New Mine Action Aid for Afghanistan

U.S. Department of State Delivers $5 Million in New Mine Action Aid for Afghanistan
US State Dept, Office of the Spokesman, Washington, DC, April 30, 2009

The U.S. Department of State is responding to an international funding shortfall for mine action in Afghanistan by providing an additional $5,000,000 to six humanitarian demining groups, including five Afghan non-governmental organizations. This emergency U.S. funding will enable 34 more mine action teams to remove the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) across Afghanistan. For Fiscal Year 2009, the Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is contributing more than $20,000,000 to mine action and conventional weapons destruction in Afghanistan.

Our implementing partners for mine clearance, Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA), Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA), Mine Detection Center (MDC), Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghanistan Rehabilitation (OMAR) and The HALO Trust, will receive these additional funds.

The 34 teams feature expertise in both manual and mechanical demining and explosive ordnance disposal and will clear three square kilometers of suspected hazardous areas in 19 communities. Afghan beneficiaries include a cluster of villages in Paktya province, in southeast Afghanistan, where 1,162 families living in the area have suffered 78 mine-related accidents in the last few years. These additional funds, which will ensure more than 650 mine action jobs, will safeguard the population from the threat of landmines and ERW and enable them to return to grazing their livestock and growing crops, thereby improving Afghan livelihoods.

To learn more about the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program in Afghanistan, visit

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tracking Progress and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan

Tracking Progress and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan
Brookings, Apr 15, 2009

The Afghanistan Index is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion and security data. This resource will provide updated and historical information on various data, including crime, infrastructure, casualties, unemployment, Afghan security forces and coalition troop strength.

The index is designed to assemble the best possible quantitative indicators of the international community’s counterinsurgency and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, to track them over time, and to offer an objective set of criteria for benchmarking performance. It serves as an in-depth, non-partisan assessment of American and international efforts in Afghanistan, and is based primarily on U.S. government, Afghan government and NATO data. Although measurements of progress in any nation-building effort can never be reduced to purely quantitative data, a comprehensive compilation of such information can provide a clearer picture and contribute to a healthier and better informed debate.

Jason H. Campbell and Jeremy Shapiro spearhead the Afghanistan Index project at Brookings, with assistance from Michael O’Hanlon. Jason H. Campbell is a research analyst in Foreign Policy at Brookings. Jeremy Shapiro is a fellow in Foreign Policy and research director of the Center on the United States and Europe. Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

U.S. resists rights at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan

U.S. resists rights at Bagram. By Lyle Denniston
SCOTUS blog, Saturday, April 11th, 2009 9:20 am

The Justice Department, saying top officials have authorized a swift appeal, asked a federal District Court judge on Friday to put on hold a ruling that would extend some constitutional rights to detainees being held by the U.S. military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

At stake, the Department said in a new filing in U.S. District Court, is whether the constitutional right to challenge detention should be extended “for the first time to a theater of war on foreign territory over which the United States exercises neither de jure nor de facto sovereignty.” The Department insisted that the Bagram detention site was not being used just to put prisoners beyond the reach of U.S. courts.

It sought an order by District Judge John D. Bates to certify the issue to the D.C. Circuit Court even though the Bagram detainees’ case is still in a pre-trial stage. “If the Court of Appeals determines that these [detainees] cannot invoke the constitutional privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, then this Court would have no jurisdiction to proceed and litgation of these habeas cases will end,” the filing said.

The Department also asked Judge Bates to stay his ruling while the appeal goes forward, stopping all proceedings in his Court. It said that U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan authorized the plea “to seek an expedited appeal.”

“If this Court were to proceed with these cases during the pendency of the appeal,” the motion argued, “the Court would impose serious practical burdens on, and potential harm to, the Government and its efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan.”

The document brought the first full statement from the Obama Administration on its views about detainees in a U.S. military prison at the air base outside Kabul. Previously, the Administration had simply told Judge Bates, without elaboration, that it would follow the Bush Administration view that the Bagram prisoners have no rights to assert in U.S. courts.

White House officials also had said, when President Obama took office, that they did not expect to make any decisions about the Bagram prison for perhaps six months. The future of Bagram detainees is one of the issues now being reviewed by a task force studying detainee policy worldwide.

In Judge Bates’ ruling on April 2 (see this post), he concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision last June in Boumediene v. Bush involving rights for detainees at Guantanamo Bay laid down a legal framework that should be applied to Bagram, too, and perhaps other sites around the world where the U.S. military has significant control.

The judge had found that the government would not be faced with major difficulties if the habeas pleas of three Bagram detainees went forward in court. The Justice Department disagreed in its filing on Friday.

Responding in court to these three cases, ”and to the potentially large number of other petitions filed by Bagram detainees who may now allege that they are similarly situated,” the Department argued, “would divert the military’s attention and resources at a critical time for operations in Afghanistan, potentially requiring accomodation and protection of counsel and onerous discovery.”

Judge Bates had limited his ruling to just three Bagram detainees, saying they were not nationals of Afghanistan and had been captured elsewhere and simply transferred to Bagram for detention. Bagram, however, holds somewhere around 600 detainees; it is unknown how many of them would fit in the category covered by Bates’ decision; the judge himself said it would apply to only a limited number there.

The standard for allowing a pre-trial appeal to go ahead in federal courts is whether the dispute involves a “controlling question of law” about which there is substantial disagreement, and whether such an immediate appeal would help toward a final ruling of the controversy.

The Department contended that the issue of the Bagram detainees’ rights meets that standard. The question of the District Court’s jurisdiction over Bagram prisioners, it said, is a controlling legal issue.

It also argued that the Bagram situation is very different from that previaling at Guantanamo leading to the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision. It also contended that it is not clear that the place where a detainee was captured has anything to do with the legality of detention.
Opinions also diverge, the Department contended, on whether Judge Bates’ ruling “encroaches on military judgments about where to detain an individual captured during an ongoing war.” There are “many legitimate reasons, having nothing to do” with trying to manipulate courts’ powers over detainees, on why the military chooses a particular site for holding a particular prisoner.

The document described a series of possible inhibitions of military choices about capturing and detaining individuals in wartime situations. Among them was a complaint that extending habeas to Bagram might keep the military from sending to Bagram individuals captured in Pakistan, whether the military does not have facilities for screening or detaining prisoners.

In asking permission for a swift appeal and for a stay of District Court proceedings, the Department said the Bagram detainees’ lawyers had said they would oppose the requests.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Belgium & Spain offer NATO trainers for Afghanistan

Barack Obama fails to win Nato troops he wants for Afghanistan. By Michael Evans and David Charter in Strasbourg
The Times, April 4, 2009

Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to America’s allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, warning that failure to do so would leave Europe vulnerable to more terrorist atrocities.

But though he continued to dazzle Europeans on his debut international tour, the Continent’s leaders turned their backs on the US President.

Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.

Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.

The derisory response threatened to tarnish Mr Obama’s European tour, which yesterday included a spellbinding performance in Strasbourg in which he offered the world a vision of a future free of nuclear weapons.

Mr Obama – who has pledged 21,000 more troops to combat the growing insurgency and is under pressure from generals to supply up to 10,000 more – used the eve of Nato’s 60th anniversary summit to declare bluntly that it was time for allies to do their share. “Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone,” he said. “This is a joint problem it requires a joint effort.”

He said that failing to support the US surge would leave Europe open to a fresh terrorist offensive. “It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack on Europe than on the United States because of proximity,” he said.

The presidential charm offensive failed to move fellow Nato countries. President Sarkozy told Mr Obama that France would not be sending reinforcements to bolster its existing force northeast of Kabul.

Germany, Italy, Poland, Canada and Denmark said that they were considering their positions. After a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, Mr Obama tried to apply further moral pressure. “I am sure that Germany, as one of the most important leaders in Europe, will be stepping up to the plate and helping us to get the job done.”

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Nato Secretary-General, warned that new laws proposed by President Karzai in Afghanistan sanctioning child marriage and marital rape had made it harder to raise more soldiers.

“We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights, that worries me,” he said.

“I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it the UK or elsewhere, why I’m sending the guys to the Hindu Kush.”

The temporary British deployment falls short of the 2,000 soldiers that the Army had planned to deploy long-term to Afghanistan and appeared to catch defence chiefs by surprise.

Mr Brown announced the commitment as he flew into Strasbourg for the two-day summit, but hopes that it would spur other allies to follow suit were soon dashed. British officials said that the extra troops, expected to number between 500 and 700 – increasing Britain’s military strength there to about 9,000 – would be dispatched to southern Afghanistan for a four-month period leading up to and beyond the election, due to take place on August 20.

The plan is to withdraw them once the election is over. Mr Brown said that the extra troops were only supposed to provide a “temporary uplift”.

Military contingency plans remain on the table to send up to 2,000 more troops long-term, taking the total to 10,000, but that will depend on the political will to approve the deployment.
Although the Prime Minister discussed Afghanistan with President Obama when they held bilateral talks before the G20 summit in London, it is understood that no formal offer of extra troops was made.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

U.S. Gives $9.3 Million to Help Displaced Pakistanis

U.S. Gives $9.3 Million to Help Displaced Pakistanis
Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC, April 2, 2009

The United States government is pleased to announce a new contribution of $9.3 million to help Pakistanis displaced by conflict in their country. The money will support emergency operations in Pakistan managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). With this contribution, the U.S. government has contributed $14.6 million to relief efforts for displaced Pakistanis since October 1, 2008.

Counter-insurgency operations by the Pakistani armed forces and ongoing extremist violence in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas have resulted in the displacement of approximately 550,000 persons since August 2008, with the continued displacement of an estimated 100 additional families per day. An additional 20,000 Pakistanis have sought refuge in Afghanistan.

UNHCR will use the U.S. contribution to house refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) with host families, to establish and manage IDP camps, and to take care of the most vulnerable displaced people (women, children, the disabled, and the elderly). The contribution to ICRC will provide clean water, medical care and housing for the displaced. The Pakistan Red Crescent will receive money to expand its programs to train doctors and nurses, and to rehabilitate disabled veterans.

The United States encourages other donors to respond to the United Nations and the ICRC’s emergency appeals with substantial contributions of their own.

PRN: 2009/284

Afghanistan Is Not Iraq - Propagating the myth of the "moderate Taliban" is a leap backward in American understanding

Afghanistan Is Not Iraq. By Stephen Schwartz
Propagating the myth of the "moderate Taliban" is a leap backward in American understanding.
The Weekly Standard, Apr 01, 2009

Many of the initiatives by President Obama in the Middle East and Muslim countries rest on unrealistic expectations--desert mirages, one might say--surrounding the motives of terrorists and other enemies of freedom. The most obvious example has been Obama's flattery toward the Iranian dictatorship, expressed in his address to the authorities of the "Islamic Republic" on March 20, in which he offers friendship to the Iranian clerical tyrants while they torture dissenting intellectuals, and repress protesting students and spiritual Sufis.

On its face, this immoral option resembles the old "realism" toward China--and, lately, Putinite Russia--that puts "stability" in relations with authoritarians and mass murderers ahead of democratic principles. Let the Tibetans and Uighurs be subjected to cultural genocide, Falun Gong be brutally persecuted, and individual Chinese dissidents--some of the bravest of the brave--be tormented in horrific ways, the argument seems to go, as long as Washington can claim a "breakthrough" in relations. But other, and much more dangerous tendencies, are also evident in recent U.S. outreach to the Muslim world. To flirtation with Tehran, the attempted installation of Chas Freeman, a prime apologist for Saudi Wahhabism, as head of the National Intelligence Council, and the hallucinated concept of a "unity" government comprising the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, critical observers of American official initiatives toward Muslim countries may add a new gimmick: the search for "the moderate Taliban."

This latest delusion is often promoted by the State Department's Richard Holbrooke. Afghanistan, we are told, may become the scene of a "civilian surge" comparable to the strategy that diminished terrorism in Iraq. The "moderate Taliban" could furnish the Afghan equivalent of the Sunni Awakening, which provided allies for the U.S.-led coalition and the Baghdad government in fighting the so-called Iraqi insurgency.

But the differences between the Iraqi death squads that eventually split and produced partners for the battle against brutalization, and the Taliban, are unarguable.

* The Iraqi malcontents comprised an assortment of the disaffected--secular Baathists, Sunnis suddenly deprived of long-held privilege and power, simple religious bigots (rather than committed doctrinal fanatics, and there is a difference), and, to be honest, Iraqis who merely resented the 2003 intervention. Notwithstanding Beltway blather denying its existence--some emitted by now vice-president Biden--an Iraqi national identity, however limited, exists.

* The Sunni Awakening was encouraged when the Iraqis found their alleged "resistance" increasingly dominated by Saudi Wahhabis who had come over the long Saudi-Iraqi border in the "second Iraq intervention," as detailed here, here, and here. When "Al Qaeda in Iraq" manifested its Taliban characteristics--executing women caught without covered faces, possessors of music CDs, Sufis, and others they deemed apostates--the anti-coalition combatants perceived that the United States and Baghdad authorities were a preferable alternative to governance by lynching.

Wide as the horizons of their global ambition doubtless were, and dedicated as they were to using Iraq as a platform for reinforcement of Wahhabism in their own country, the Saudi radicals who streamed north were primarily interested in striking at the coalition, to stimulate new support for their perverse cause, and did not aim at immediate expansion into Jordan or Kuwait.

By contrast, the Taliban is not a mélange. They include no secular types comparable to the Baathists and few "Afghan patriots." Afghan national identity is much weaker than that found even in Iraq. The Pashtun base of the Taliban is tribal, but they have a lesser presence in local history than the Iraqi Sunnis that usurped power in Mesopotamia. The Taliban embody monolithic radicalism in the Wahhabi style, rooted in the Deobandi school of fundamentalism, and consider all Muslims who fail to share their ideology to be unbelievers deserving liquidation. The Iraqi Arab Sunnis, even at the height of their influence under Saddam, could not wipe out the Iraqi Shias or the Kurds, but the Taliban massacred the indigenous Hazara Shias in Afghanistan, effecting a nearly-successful genocide.

Further, the Taliban have demonstrated that their current goal, rather than mere power in Afghanistan, is the "Talibanization" of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed failing state. This would provide the running dogs of al Qaeda with unconcealed weapons of mass destruction as well as millions of fresh foot-soldiers in an environment that, along with its large and problematical diaspora in Britain, has become the main breeding ground of Islamist extremism worldwide.
Where, then, are the "moderate" Taliban? The Taliban themselves, and their Pakistani promoters, scorned news reports about the Obama conception of a "civil surge," in Urdu and Pashto comments translated and posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute. History affirms that there were moderate Italian fascists but no moderate German Nazis; moderate socialist labor radicals but no moderate Stalinists. Moderate Taliban, like "moderate Nazis" or "moderate Stalinists," are a fantasy. The only and unavoidable response to such extremists is to defeat them.

The Obama administration seems to have fallen back into American thinking about the Muslim world before the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Like Bill Clinton and his cohort, they see Islamist violence as an expression of protest against Western policies rather than as a manifestation of a very real and threatening phenomenon called radical Islam. To the new president, neither Ahmadinejad, nor Hamas, nor the Taliban represent an ideological movement capable of wholesale bloodshed and long-term atrocities. This misapprehension defies the knowledge shared by every ordinary Muslim in the world. Rather than a step toward a new and more benevolent relationship, propagating the myth of the "moderate Taliban" is a leap backward in American understanding. But the American way has always put freedom before peace, and Afghanistan should offer no exception to this rule.

The Afghan war cannot be won by trying to factionalize an ideological hard core or, as President Obama has lately suggested, by recruiting malcontents and deserters. Victory must be clear and be seen to be clear.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State Sec Clinton Remarks at The International Conference on Afghanistan

Remarks at The International Conference on Afghanistan. By Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State
The Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2009

Thank you very much, Minister Verhagen, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Special Representative Kai Eide, President Karzai, Minister Spanta, friends and colleagues, I want to thank all of you, and especially the United Nations and the Government of the Netherlands for hosting us. I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of the government and people of the Netherlands to the mission in Afghanistan.

And I want to also acknowledge President Karzai, who fills a critical leadership role in his nation, and whose government helped to shape the shared comprehensive and workable strategy that we are discussing today.

We are here to help the people of Afghanistan prevail against a ruthless enemy who poses a common threat to us all. Afghanistan has always been a crossroads of civilization, and today we find our fate converging in those plains and mountains that are so far and yet so near in this interconnected world to all of us.

Thanks to the efforts of the international community, the perpetrators of the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11 – attacks which killed citizens from more than 90 countries – were driven from Afghanistan, and the Afghan people made a promising start toward a more secure future. But since those first hopeful moments, our collective inability to implement a clear and sustained strategy has allowed violent extremists to regain a foothold in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and to make the area a nerve center for efforts to spread violence from London to Mumbai.

The range of countries and institutions represented here is a universal recognition that what happens in Afghanistan matters to us all. Our failure to bring peace and progress would be a setback not only to the people of Afghanistan, but to the entire enterprise of collective action in the interest of collective security. Our success, on the other hand, will not only benefit Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, but also the blueprint for a new diplomacy powered by partnership and premised on shared interests.

So as we recommit ourselves to meet our common challenge with a new strategy, new energy, and new resources, let us be guided by an ancient Afghan proverb, “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

The plan I outline today is the product of intensive consultations with nations that have donated troops and support; Afghanistan’s neighbors and international institutions that play a vital role in Afghanistan’s future. The results of these consultations are clear: Our strategy must address the challenge in Afghanistan and Pakistan; it must integrate military and civilian activities and support them with vigorous international diplomacy; and it must rest on the simple premise that while we can and will help, Afghanistan’s future ultimately rests with the Afghan people and their elected government. Security is the essential first step; without it, all else fails. Afghanistan’s army and police will have to take the lead, supported by the International Security Assistance Force.

President Obama has announced that the United States will deploy 17,000 more soldiers and 4,000 additional military trainers to help build up Afghan security forces. The international community will also have to help. We should provide every army and police unit in Afghanistan with an international partner that can provide training and help build capacity. Our collective goal should be standing up an army of at least 134,000 soldiers and a police force of at least 82,000 officers by 2011. These steps will provide the people of Afghanistan with an opportunity to fight and win their own battle for their nation’s future.

We must also help Afghans strengthen their economy and institutions. They know how to rebuild their country, but they need the raw material of progress – roads, public institutions, schools, hospitals, irrigation, and agriculture. The United States is supporting the Government of Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, the National Solidarity Program, and other initiatives that help Afghans improve their lives and strengthen their own communities.

In consultation with the Afghan Government, we have also identified agriculture – which comprises 70 percent of Afghanistan’s economy – as the key for development. In the 1970s, Afghans exported food to their neighbors. They were often called the garden of Central Asia. Today, this sector lags far behind, and its problems feed the deadly malignancy of the narcotics trade. The United States is focusing its efforts on rural development in provinces near the Afghan-Pakistan border, and we hope that others gathered here will heed the United Nations’ and Afghan Government’s call for help throughout the country with job creation, technical expertise, vocational training, and investments in roads, electrical transmission lines, education, healthcare, and so much else.

As we work with the Afghan people to supply these building blocks of development, we must demand accountability from ourselves and from the Afghan Government. Corruption is a cancer as dangerous to long-term success as the Taliban or al-Qaida. A government that cannot deliver accountable services for its people is a terrorist’s best recruiting tool.

So we must work with bodies such as Afghanistan’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance to ensure that the government at all levels is responsible and transparent. The international community, gathered here, can help by providing auditors and governance experts and training a new generation of civil servants and administrators.

To earn the trust of the Afghan people, the Afghan Government must be legitimate and respected. This requires a successful election in August – one that is open, free, and fair. That can only happen with strong support from the international community. I am, therefore, pleased to announce today that to advance that goal, the United States is committing $40 million to help fund Afghanistan’s upcoming elections.

We must also support efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al-Qaida and the Taliban from those who joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation. This is, in fact, the case for a majority of those fighting with the Taliban. They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al-Qaida, and support the constitution.

Just as these problems cannot be solved without the Afghan people, they cannot be solved without the help of Afghanistan’s neighbors. Trafficking in narcotics, the spread of violent extremism, economic stagnation, water management, electrification, and irrigation are regional challenges that require regional solutions.

The United Nations has a central role in this effort to coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan and neighbors in the region to make sure that programs are properly prioritized and well focused. We are committed to working with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Representative Kai Eide to achieve that goal. The United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, will lead American efforts as we move forward, and we welcome the appointment of special representatives by other countries.

If we are to succeed, we will need the help of all the nations present here. As President Obama has pointed out, “the world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos.” While there is great temptation to retreat inward in these difficult economic times, it is precisely at such moments that we must redouble our effort. And as we make commitments and contributions, we must ensure they are flexible enough to respond to immediate needs and evolving opportunities. And we all must be willing to coordinate those efforts together.

The challenge we face is difficult, but the opportunity is clear if we move away from the past. All too often in the past seven years, our efforts have been undermanned, under-resourced and underfunded. This goal is achievable. We know we have made progress where we have made adequate investment and worked together.

The status of Afghanistan’s army, the lives of women and girls, the country’s education and health systems are far better today than they were in 2001. So if all of us represented here work with the government and people of Afghanistan, we will help not only to secure their future, but ours as well.

Now the principal focus of our discussions today is on Afghanistan, but we cannot hope to succeed if those who seek to reestablish a haven for violence and extremism operate from sanctuaries just across the border. For this reason, our partnership with Pakistan is critical. Together, we all must give Pakistan the tools it needs to fight extremists within its borders.

The Obama Administration has made a strong commitment through our support for legislation called the Kerry-Lugar assistance program. And in a few weeks, we will have a chance to join together in Tokyo for a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan to provide the support that the Pakistani Government and people need. I urge the nations here today in support of Afghanistan to join us in Tokyo on April 17th to help the people of Pakistan.

This effort has already required great sacrifice and it will require more. But in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we face a common threat, a common enemy, and a common task. So let us use today, this conference, to renew and reinvigorate our commitment and our involvement, and to lay a firm foundation for a safer region and a safer world. It is in the interests of all of the people who we represent as we sit around this conference table here in The Hague, and for the kind of world that we wish to help create.

Thank you very much.

PRN: 2009/T5-2

Monday, March 30, 2009

US State Dept on Afghanistan Supreme Court Ruling

Afghanistan Supreme Court Ruling. By Gordon Duguid, Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
US State Dept, Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, DC, March 30, 2009

The Afghan Supreme Court has endorsed the continuation after May 22 of President Karzai’s term of office until free and fair elections have been held and a duly elected successor can take office. The United States strongly supports and welcomes this ruling.
We believe that continuity of government in the critical period before elections is vital and contributes to creating stability.

We urge all Afghans to support this ruling by the Supreme Court and to focus on the elections to be held on August 22, rather than continuing to question the status of their government.

The United States calls on the Government of Afghanistan, joined by its international partners, to make every effort to ensure that the conditions are created for genuinely free and fair elections that will reflect the will of the Afghan people. For its part, the United States neither supports nor opposes any legitimate candidate and will concentrate its efforts on helping to create a level playing field for all candidates.

The Real Afghan Issue Is Pakistan

The Real Afghan Issue Is Pakistan. By Graham Allison and John Deutch
WSJ, Mar 30, 2009

In announcing his new Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, President Barack Obama articulated "a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

This is a sound conception of both the threat and U.S. interests in the region. Mr. Obama took a giant step beyond the Bush administration's "Afghanistan policy" when he named the issue "AfPak" -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and their shared, Pashtun-populated border. But this is inverted. We suggest renaming the policy "PakAf," to emphasize that, from the perspective of U.S. interests and regional stability, the heart of the problem lies in Pakistan.

The fundamental question about Afghanistan is this: What vital national interest does the U.S. have there? President George W. Bush offered an ever-expanding answer to this question. As he once put it, America's goal is "a free and peaceful Afghanistan," where "reform and democracy" would serve as "the alternatives to fanaticism, resentment and terror."

In sharp contrast, during the presidential campaign Mr. Obama declared that America has one and only one vital national interest in Afghanistan: to ensure that it "cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States." To which we would add the corollary: that developments in Afghanistan not undermine Pakistan's stability and assistance in eliminating al Qaeda.

Consider a hypothetical. Had the terrorist attacks of 9/11 been planned by al Qaeda from its current headquarters in ungoverned areas of Pakistan, is it conceivable that today the U.S. would find itself with 54,000 troops and $180 billion committed to transforming medieval Afghanistan into a stable, modern nation?

For Afghanistan to become a unitary state ruled from Kabul, and to develop into a modern, prosperous, poppy-free and democratic country would be a worthy and desirable outcome. But it is not vital for American interests.

After the U.S. and NATO exit Afghanistan and reduce their presence and financial assistance to levels comparable to current efforts in the Sudan, Somalia or Bangladesh, one should expect Afghanistan to return to conditions similar to those regions. Such conditions are miserable. They are deserving of American and international development and security assistance. But, as in those countries, it is unrealistic to expect anything more than a slow, difficult evolution towards modernity.

The problem in Pakistan is more pressing and direct. There, the U.S. does have larger vital national interests. Top among these is preventing Pakistan's arsenal of nuclear weapons and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. This danger is not hypothetical -- the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, A.Q. Khan, is now known to have been the world's first nuclear black marketer, providing nuclear weapons technology and materials to Libya, North Korea and Iran.

Protecting Pakistan's nuclear arsenal requires preventing radical Islamic extremists from taking control of the country.

Furthermore, the U.S. rightly remains committed to preventing the next 9/11 attack by eliminating global terrorist threats such as al Qaeda. This means destroying their operating headquarters and training camps, from which they can plan more deadly 9/11s.

The counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan that has emerged since last summer offers our best hope for regional stability and success in dealing a decisive blow against al Qaeda and what Vice President Joe Biden calls "incorrigible" Taliban adherents. But implementing these operations requires light U.S. footprints backed by drones and other technology that allows missile attacks on identified targets. The problem is that the U.S. government no longer seems to be capable of conducting covert operations without having them reported in the press.

This will only turn Pakistani public opinion against the U.S. Many Pakistanis see covert actions carried out inside their country as America "invading an ally." This makes it difficult for Pakistani officials to support U.S. operations while sustaining widespread popular support.

As Mr. Biden has warned: "It is hard to imagine a greater nightmare for America than the world's second-largest Muslim nation becoming a failed state in fundamentalists' hands, with an arsenal of nuclear weapons and a population larger than Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea combined."

Avoiding this nightmare will require concentration on the essence of the challenge: Pakistan. On the peripheries, specifically Afghanistan, Mr. Obama should borrow a line from Andrew Jackson from the battle of New Orleans and order his administration to "elevate them guns a little lower."

Mr. Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and author of "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe" (Holt Paperbacks, 2005). Mr. Deutch is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Bill Clinton.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

President Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan is ambitious and expensive. It is also hard-headed.

The Price of Realism. WaPo Editorial
President Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan is ambitious and expensive. It is also hard-headed.
Saturday, March 28, 2009; page A12

THE STRATEGY for Afghanistan and Pakistan announced by President Obama yesterday is conservative as well as bold. It is conservative because Mr. Obama chose to embrace many of the recommendations of U.S. military commanders and the Bush administration, based on the hard lessons of seven years of war. Yet it is bold -- and politically brave -- because, at a time of economic crisis and war-weariness at home, Mr. Obama is ordering not just a major increase in U.S. troops, but also an ambitious effort at nation-building in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is right to do it.

Few Americans would dispute Mr. Obama's description yesterday of the continuing threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. "Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan," he said. "And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." The goal he stated was similarly simple and clear: "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

What distinguishes the president's plan -- and opens him to criticism from some liberals as well as conservatives -- is its recognition that U.S. goals cannot be achieved without a major effort to strengthen the economies and political institutions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Bush administration tried to combat the al-Qaeda threat with limited numbers of U.S. and NATO troops, targeted strikes against militants, and broad, mostly ineffective, aid programs. It provided large sums of money to the Pakistani army, with few strings attached, in the hope that action would be taken against terrorist camps near the Afghan border. The strategy failed: The Taliban has only grown stronger, and both the Afghan and Pakistani governments are dangerously weak.

The lesson is that only a strategy that aims at protecting and winning over the populations where the enemy operates, and at strengthening the armies, judiciaries, and police and political institutions of Afghanistan, can reverse the momentum of the war and, eventually, allow a safe and honorable exit for U.S. and NATO troops. This means more soldiers, more civilian experts and much higher costs in the short term: Mr. Obama has approved a total of 21,000 more U.S. troops and several hundred additional civilians for Afghanistan, and yesterday he endorsed two pieces of legislation that would provide Pakistan with billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid as well as trade incentives for investment in the border areas. More is likely to be needed: U.S. commanders in Afghanistan hope to obtain another brigade of troops and a division headquarters in 2010, and to double the Afghan army again after the expansion now underway is completed in 2011. Mr. Obama should support those plans.

Such initiatives are not the product of starry-eyed idealism or an attempt to convert either country into "the 51st state" but of a realistic appreciation of what has worked -- and failed -- during the past seven years. As Mr. Obama put it, "It's far cheaper to train a policeman to secure his or her own village or to help a farmer seed a crop than it is to send our troops to fight tour after tour of duty with no transition to Afghan responsibility." That effort will be expensive and will require years of steadiness. But it offers the best chance for minimizing the threat of Islamic jihadism -- to this country and to the world.