Sunday, August 29, 2010

Q&A: Does the publishing of secret intelligence files on Wikileaks represent a threat to Obama's war in Afghanistan?


The leaking of official intelligence documents by the editor of Wikileaks has caused great concern for the Obama administration, particularly over its strategy in pursuing the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Do the leaks represent a major threat to Obama's war efforts in these countries? Can you also explain David Cameron's remarks in this regard?


Before answering this question the following points must be considered:

1. It is an open secret that the Afghan strategy pursued by the Bush administration has been an utter failure. The central tenets of the Bush strategy hinged on bolstering Karzai's legitimacy and capacity to govern, improving the capability of the Afghan army to provide security, co-opting moderate elements of the Pashtun resistance, and applying pressure on Pakistan to move against the Taliban and other mujahideen residing in the tribal areas. When Obama assumed office in 2009, he ordered his administration to conduct a complete review of the Bush strategy.

The initial Obama strategy-as well as the successive revisions to it-kept the central principles adopted by Bush, but augmented it with the deployment of extra US soldiers, increased the frequency of drone attacks against mujahideen on Pakistani soil and placed additional pressure on the Pakistani army to conduct operations in the tribal areas, in particularly the Waziristan region. Other modifications to the strategy such as reducing civilian causalities and strengthening civil institutions were merely cosmetic and designed to make the strategy more palatable for the domestic and international audience.
However, Obama's persistent quest to decrease the number of US troops deployed in Afghanistan by 2011, continuously undermined the strategy and spurred vicious debate not only between the Obama administration and the US military commanders on the ground, but also sharpened differences amongst allies and surrogate regimes like the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

From Obama's perspective a timetable for withdrawal is viewed as essential to boost the election fortunes of the Democratic Party to effectively compete in the 2012 US presidential elections. However, a number of military commanders and politicians have vehemently objected to the Obama administration for demanding too much from the US army within unrealistic deadlines - the most notable voice was that of General McChrystal whose outspokenness forced his early retirement from the US army. Even his replacement General Petraeus was unable to wholeheartedly proceed with the current Afghan strategy and was forced to make further amendments to some elements of the strategy. Karzai issued several statements calling for the allied forces to remain and stabilize Afghanistan beyond 2011. Whereas, Pakistan strongly protested that America would once again abandon Afghanistan and leave Pakistan to confront a vicious war with the Pashtuns on both sides of the border. Hence prior to the leaks, the Obama administration, in addition to the bitter complaints from its surrogates, faced growing dissent within the government, the political class and the US army.

2. For the past nine years, America has worked tirelessly to coerce Pakistan to play a greater role in stabilizing Afghanistan. Often, this meant that the leadership of the Pakistani army had to struggle to change the mindset of its army to fight America's war amongst its own citizens living in the tribal areas. Musharraf was an instrumental asset in this regard and when he could no longer serve his American masters, he was replaced by Kayani in the hope of him being more effective than his predecessor. So much so, that the Americans forced the Pakistani government to extend his tenure as Chief of Army Staff by another three years. The Prime minister of Pakistan Gilani, whilst renewing Kayani's term in office, said, "The success of military operations could only have been achieved under General Ashfaq Kayani's leadership," "These operations are at a critical stage and the successful continuation of these operations require continuation in the military high command." (Financial Times, July 23rd 2010).

However, the Americans have been disappointed by Kayani's efforts to mobilize the Pakistani army to support American military operations in Kandahar by moving against the Pakistani Taleban in North Waziristan, as well as other mujahideen groups. Despite several recent high profile visits of US officials to Pakistan and the allure of civil and military aid, Kayani has failed to undertake any concrete measures against the Taleban and mujaideen using its soil. This has delayed the start of the Kandahar operation and subsequently impacts Obama's election pledge of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

3. As a result in the clear failure of the Obama administration in Afghanistan, in particular what accompanied the massacres of civilians, resulted in attacks by the Republicans over Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, Obama feared the impact upon voters, weakening the prospects of the Democratic Party in the next mid-term election later on this year, or in the presidential elections of 2012.

It is in this situation that the leak of official intelligence documents took place.

4. Close examination of the 90,000 or so documents leaked so far, reveal no new information regarding US strategy in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Rather a great majority of the documents related to the Af-Pak are critical of policies pursued by Bush. This is not surprising, as the documents are dated before Obama took office and announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, the leak of official intelligence documents reveals the disadvantaged position of the Bush administration and not of the Obama Administration. In addition, the over inflated response by the Americans over the alleged support suggests that the leak was orchestrated by the Whitehouse. According to the website, Salon Times, Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet took New York Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt to the White House last week to brief the administration on what they planned on publishing. And they all got gold stars. "I did in fact go the White House and laid out for them what we had," Baquet said. "We did it to give them the opportunity to comment and react. They did. They also praised us for the way we handled it, for giving them a chance to discuss it, and for handling the information with care. And for being responsible."

New York Times reporters met with the White House before publishing the WikiLeaks story, Salon, Jul 27 2010,

5. In light of the aforementioned points, we conclude that the Obama administration intentionally leaked old intelligence to serve two purposes;

Firstly, internally, to prove to the oppositions of the US Administration that the basis of the failure was under the previous administration, and here are the documents to prove it, and that the previous policy compelled Obama for a comprehensive review last fall. Speaking soon after the leak, Obama said, "While I am concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardise individuals or operations, the fact is these documents do not reveal any issues that have not already informed our public debate on Afghanistan. Indeed they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall." BBC Online, 27 July 2010

Secondly, to put greater pressure on Kayani to mobilize the Pakistani army to move against the Taliban and the Hiqanni group located in North Waziristan. It must be noted here that prior to Kayani taking over from Musharraf, Kayani served as the head of the ISI from 2004 to 2007. Hence the leak is a personal embarrassment for Kayani.

6. As for David Cameron's comments about Pakistan's duplicity, it has another purpose. It is to put pressure on Pakistan and to appear as it supports US strategy in Afghanistan, "wearing a mask" as in the tradition of British politics, but actually to embarrass Pakistan before the American people, in an attempt to drive a wedge between the US administration and Pakistan, by letting the American people know that Pakistani intelligence supported the Taliban in killing Americans!

In addition, any statement that shakes Pakistan, strengthens the status of India, the ally of Britain, and attracts the loyalty of the Indian public, not only the Congress government which is loyal to Britain. Any anti-Pakistan stance adopted by Britain, solidifies the relationship between Britain and India, particularly when Cameron has tied his Indian tour to a large trade delegation from the current British government to address the economic downturn, by establishing strong trade ties with other countries, notably India, which has a growing economic market. The strengthening of friendly relations between the two countries is reflected in economic activity.

22 of Shaban 1431 H
August 3 2010

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