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Ed Webb

How Many Guns Did the U.S. Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of Thousands... - 0 views

  • In all, Overton found, the Pentagon provided more than 1.45 million firearms to various security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, including more than 978,000 assault rifles, 266,000 pistols and almost 112,000 machine guns. These transfers formed a collage of firearms of mixed vintage and type: Kalashnikov assault rifles left over from the Cold War; recently manufactured NATO-standard M16s and M4s from American factories; machine guns of Russian and Western lineage; and sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols of varied provenance and caliber, including a large order of Glock semiautomatic pistols, a type of weapon also regularly offered for sale online in Iraq.

    Many of the recipients of these weapons became brave and important battlefield allies. But many more did not. Taken together, the weapons were part of a vast and sometimes minimally supervised flow of arms from a superpower to armies and militias often compromised by poor training, desertion, corruption and patterns of human rights abuses. Knowing what we know about many of these forces, it would have been remarkable for them to retain custody of many of their weapons. It is not surprising that they did not.

  • the Pentagon said it has records for fewer than half the number of firearms in the researchers’ count — about 700,000 in all
  • Overton’s analysis also does not account for many weapons issued by the American military to local forces by other means, including the reissue of captured weapons, which was a common and largely undocumented practice.
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  • One point is inarguable: Many of these weapons did not remain long in government possession after arriving in their respective countries. In one of many examples, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 80,000 pistols bought by the United States for Iraq’s security forces could not be accounted for — more than one firearm for every member of the entire American military force in Iraq at any time during the war. Those documented lapses of accountability were before entire Iraqi divisions simply vanished from the battlefield, as four of them did after the Islamic State seized Mosul and Tikrit in 2014, according to a 2015 Army budget request to buy more firearms for the Iraqi forces to replace what was lost.
  • According to its tally, the American military issued contracts potentially worth more than $40 billion for firearms, accessories and ammunition since Sept. 11, including improvements to the ammunition plants required to keep the cartridge production going. Most of these planned expenditures were for American forces, and the particulars tell the story of two wars that did not go as pitched. More than $4 billion worth of contracts was issued for small arms, including pistols, machines guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles, and more than $11 billion worth was issued for associated equipment, from spare machine-gun barrels to sniper-rifle scopes, according to Overton’s count. A much larger amount — nearly $25 billion — was issued for ammunition or upgrades to ammunition plants to keep those firearms supplied. That last figure aligns with what most any veteran of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan could tell you — American troops have been involved in a dizzying number of gunfights since 2001, burning through mountains of ammunition along the way.
  • In April, after being approached by The New York Times and reviewing data from Armament Research Services, a private arms-investigation consultancy, Facebook closed many pages in the Middle East that were serving as busy arms bazaars, including pages in Syria and Iraq on which firearms with Pentagon origins accounted for a large fraction of the visible trade
  • many new arms-trading Facebook pages have since cropped up, including, according to their own descriptions, virtual markets operating from Baghdad and Karbala
  • The American arming of Syrian rebels, by both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department, has also been troubled by questions of accountability and outright theft in a war where the battlefield is thick with jihadists aligned with Al Qaeda or fighting under the banner of the Islamic State.
  • The data show large purchases of heavy-machine guns and barrels. This is a wink at the shift in many American units from being foot-mobile to vehicular, as grunts buttoned up within armored trucks and needed turret-mounted firepower to defend themselves — a matériel adaptation forced by ambushes and improvised bombs, the cheaply made weapons that wearied the most expensive military in the world.
  • a startlingly risky aspect of the Pentagon’s arming of local forces with infantry arms: the wide distribution of anti-armor weapons, including RPG-7s, commonly called rocket-propelled grenades, and recoilless weapons, including the SPG-9. Each of these systems fires high-explosive (and often armor-piercing) projectiles, and each was commonly used by insurgents in attacks. After the opening weeks of each war, the only armor on either battlefield was American or associated with allied and local government units, which made the Pentagon’s practice of providing anti-armor weapons to Afghan and Iraqi security forces puzzling. Why would they need anti-armor weapons when they had no armor to fight? All the while rockets were somehow mysteriously being fired at American convoys and patrols in each war.
  • a portrait of the Pentagon’s bungling the already-awkward role it chose for itself — that of state-building arms dealer, a role that routinely led to missions in clear opposition to each other. While fighting two rapidly evolving wars, the American military tried to create and bolster new democracies, governments and political classes; recruit, train and equip security and intelligence forces on short schedule and at outsize scale; repair and secure transportation infrastructure; encourage the spread or restoration of the legal industry and public services; and leave behind something more palatable and sturdy than rule by thugs.
  • The procession of arms purchases and handouts has continued to this day, with others involved, including Iran to its allies in Iraq and various donors to Kurdish fighters. In March, Russia announced that it had given 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles to Afghanistan, already one of the most Kalashnikov-saturated places on earth. If an analysis from the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, is to be believed, Afghanistan did not even need them. In 2014 the inspector general reported that after the United States decided to replace the Afghan Army’s Kalashnikovs with NATO-standard weapons (a boon for the rifles’ manufacturer with a much less obvious value for an already amply armed Afghan force), the Afghan Army ended up with a surplus of more than 83,000 Kalashnikovs. The United States never tried to recover the excess it had created, giving the inspector general’s office grounds for long-term worry. “Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons,” it noted, “Sigar is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to civilians.”

  • What to do? If past is precedent, given enough time one of the United States’ solutions will be, once again, to ship in more guns.
Ed Webb

Mali Is Not a Stan - By Laura Seay | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • It wasn't until Jan. 11, when France began bombing the Islamists to stop their advance on Mali's government-held south, that the rest of the world snapped to attention. And that's when the trouble began: the terrible headlines, the misleading cover art, and the bad analysis.
  • African affairs are generally a low foreign-policy priority for the United States. As such, the American foreign policy establishment is not well known for its expertise on West African security crises. But France's sudden and deep engagement in Mali -- and limited U.S. support for the operation -- left most media outlets and think tanks in need of immediate explanations. Not surprisingly, this state of affairs led to a sudden proliferation of Mali "experts" pontificating on the airways and in print about a country most could not have located with ease on a map two weeks before. False claims based on limited contextual knowledge have since abounded, including one widely repeated claim that this crisis is largely a result of the Libya intervention (it's not; this happened due to domestic political crises in Mali).
  • Remember all those comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam? The historical analogy had only very limited utility because the former's history and context had almost nothing in common with the latter's. Likewise, Mali's uniqueness means that outcomes in that country -- as well as the depth and breadth of French engagement -- will no doubt be very different.
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  • France's engagement in Mali is also unlike U.S. engagement in Afghanistan in that, because of their colonial history, the French know what they are getting into. There are decades of outstanding French scholarship on Mali; France is practically drowning in Mali experts in government, academia, and the private sector. This is more important than many realize; having deep cultural and historical knowledge and a shared language (most educated Malians still speak French) makes it much easier for French forces to relate to average Malians and build friendships with key local leaders whose support will be necessary for long-term success.
Ed Webb

Face the Music: We Will Lose in Iraq and Afghanistan | Stephen M. Walt - 0 views

  • The truth is that the United States and its allies lost the war in Iraq and are going to lose the war in Afghanistan. There: I said it. By "lose," I mean we will eventually withdraw our military forces without having achieved our core political objectives, and with our overall strategic position weakened. We did get Osama bin Laden -- finally -- but that was the result of more energetic intelligence and counter-terrorism work in Pakistan itself and had nothing to do with the counterinsurgency we are fighting next door. U.S. troops have fought courageously and with dedication, and the American people have supported the effort for many years. But we will still have failed because our objectives were ill-chosen from the start, and because the national leadership (and especially the Bush administration) made some horrendous strategic judgments along the way.
  • these wars were lost because there is an enormous difference between defeating a third-rate conventional army (which is what Saddam had) and governing a restive, deeply-divided, and well-armed population with a long-standing aversion to all forms of foreign interference. There was no way to "win" either war without creating effective local institutions that could actually run the place (so that we could leave), but that was the one thing we did not know how to do. Not only did we not know who to put in charge, but once we backed anybody, their legitimacy automatically declined. And so did our leverage over them, as people like President Karzai understood that our prestige was now on the line and we could not afford to let him fail.
  • both of these wars show that the United States is actually willing to fight for a long time under difficult conditions. Thus, the mere fact that we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan does not by itself herald further U.S. decline, provided we make better decisions going forward
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  • Since 1992, the United States has squandered some of its margin of superiority by mismanaging its own economy, by allowing 9/11 to cloud its strategic judgment, and by indulging in precisely the sort of hubris that the ancient Greeks warned against. The main question is whether we will learn from these mistakes, and start basing national security policy on hard-headed realism rather than either neo-conservative fantasies or overly enthusiastic liberal interventionism
Ed Webb

Asia Times Online :: SCO steps out of Central Asia - 0 views

  • Several new trends stand out as the SCO steps out of its infancy and adolescence. From a regional organization limited to Central Asia and its environs, SCO may well become the leading integration process over the entire Eurasian landmass, of which 40% still stands outside the ambit of the organization. Prior to his arrival in Astana to attend the summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Ukraine. Equally, Belarus has been admitted as a "dialogue partner".

    Most certainly, SCO realizes that Central Asian and South Asian security are indivisible. Integration of two major South Asian countries - India and Pakistan - is in the cards - the summit finalized their membership norms and negotiations. Indian officials exude optimism.
  • for India and Pakistan, too, which have traditionally had strong strategic ties with the United States, this process becomes a leap of faith. They are quite aware that they are joining an organization that implicitly aims at keeping the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from establishing a permanent military presence in the region
  • the SCO continues to insist that it does not aspire to be a "NATO of the East" or a military alliance. On the other hand, it is set on making NATO (and Pax Americana) simply irrelevant to an entire landmass, which with the induction of India and Pakistan will account for more than half of mankind
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  • China's trade with SCO member countries shot up from US$12.1 billion to around $90 billion during the past 10 years, but if the $60 billion Sino-Russian trade volume is kept out, what emerges is that the track record on trade and economic cooperation has been far below its potential. The SCO plans to have a free-trade area by 2020.
  • detailed discussions have been held behind the curtain between Karzai and the SCO leaders on the big questions of the post-2014 scenario in Afghanistan. Kazakh President Nurusultan Nazarbayev gave a valuable clue to SCO thought processes when he openly anticipated, "It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014.
  • The implications are serious for the US's "containment strategy" toward China and Russia. Clearly, Russia and China are convinced that the US game plan is to deploy components of the missile defense system in Afghanistan. The Astana summit has reiterated its basic ideology that the countries of the region possess the genius and resources to solve their problems of development and security and outside intervention is unwarranted.
    Historically, though, the summit may have signified China's entry into the Eurasian landmass. As happened over Central Asia, China will take the utmost care to coordinate with Russia.
  • Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
Ed Webb

David Ignatius - Afghans want their country back - and Americans should listen - 1 views

  • In the region that was Osama bin Laden's stronghold, 81 percent say that al-Qaeda will come back if the Taliban returns to power, and 72 percent say that al-Qaeda will then use Afghanistan as a base for attacks against the West.
Ed Webb

Afghan LORD: 'Finish the job' but not so hastily - 1 views

  • the locals are 100 percent sure that foreign forces will leave the area sooner or later but the Taliban will be back
  • by increasing the ANA capabilities, the United States and its allies will be able to finish the job, but not so hastily.
Ed Webb

Pakistanis to Clinton: War on terror is not our war | McClatchy - 0 views

  • Prominent women and tribesmen from the North West Frontier Province delivered the same hostile message that she'd heard the two preceding days from students and journalists: Pakistanis aren't ready to endorse American friendship despite an eight-year-old anti-terrorism alliance between the countries and a multi-billion-dollar new U.S. aid package.
  • "We are fighting a war that is imposed on us. It's not our war. It is your war," journalist Asma Shirazi told Clinton during the women's meeting. "You had one 9-11. We are having daily 9-11s in Pakistan."
  • "The problem is that we want American dollars but we, as a country, hate Americans," Abida Hussain, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, told McClatchy. "We're not perfect, but we want the Americans to be perfect."
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  • Islamabad routinely protests the strikes, even though the Pakistani military secretly co-operates with them. Pakistani officials are unwilling to explain the rationale; the government here rarely defends the American relationship.
Ed Webb

Afghanistan's election: a first verdict | open Democracy News Analysis - 0 views

  • In terms of Kandaharis' experience, the saddest thing about all that I have described above was watching the faces of my friends - particularly Kandahar's young people - as they found out what was going on. A great sense of disappointment darkened most of my conversations during the last few hours of polling and during the evening and next day.

    People focused on some of the details, especially the non-indelible ink that had been promoted with such fanfare by the United Nations earlier that year.  People frequently blamed "the foreigners" for mismanaging things and allowing so much fraud and deception to take place.  Admittedly these days conspiracy theories about the invisible hand of "the foreigners" are omnipresent in southern Afghanistan, but "the farce of this year's election" (as one friend put it) struck a nerve among those people who did want to vote, who did want a change, who didn't have a direct stake in anyone's campaign.

  • it is a pity that the wishes of ordinary Afghans for a free and fair election were not heard.
  • In the coming days a highly dubious turnout will be announced by Hamid Karzai and the IEC. The final results will award Karzai victory with over 50% of the votes.  Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah will go into overdrive for a while, but slowly deals will start to be made behind the scenes
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  • Even if the internationals were to have a change of heart and get serious, they're already being blamed for the failure of this election.  But there won't be any serious outcry by the major voices of the international effort because too much is riding on this election passing, and passing without incident.
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