One may be tempted to evaluate American foreign policy as concocted by some deviant disciple of cinema exploitation genius Russ Meyer – of Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! fame – minus the profusion of breasts, of course.
And so as that self-appointed court stenographer Bob Woodward reveals in his latest court opus Obama’s Wars – conveniently leaked to the Washington Post and the New York Times – the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is shelling out the moolah for its own, 3,000-assassin-plus Murder Inc to roam in AfPak. These paramilitary – brigade-size – outfits, “elite and well trained”, have been branded Counter-terrorist Pursuit Teams (CPT).
Much is being made in US corporate media that this shady CPT posse is able to “cross-over” to the tribal areas in Pakistani territory and, like in that famous Heineken ad campaign, reach the parts US intelligence are not able to reach. Aware Latin Americans – with a shrug – will see this as Bad Joke redux: the “Salvador option” is back. As much as these Afghan assassins have been flown to the US for training, the infamous School of the Americas in the 1970s and 1980s trained death squads of natives to kill their compatriots from Chile to El Salvador. The CIA not exactly excels on thinking outside the box.
Old Afghan hands will also be thrilled; this is a small-scale remix of the Afghan mujahideen fighting the anti-Soviet 1980s jihad. Everyone knows what happened afterwards to those bad asses Ronald Reagan called “freedom fighters”; they turned against the US. Maybe some enterprising CIA analysts should share a kebab with their old pal on a payroll, former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin “bomb, bomb Kabul” Hekmatyar, an eternal mujahid today on Washington’s most wanted list.
Calling Jack Bauer
Every grain of sand in the Hindu Kush has known since 2001 that the Americans, be they Pentagon, CIA – some Pakistanis say even the Federal Bureau of Investigation – employ a “secret army” in AfPak. The Pentagon’s Murder Inc was unveiled by Wikileaks only three months ago. Now it’s Woodward unveiling the CIA’s. What next? A Jack Bauer unit, serialized on cable?
Civilian “collateral damage” by the Pentagon’s Murder Inc has been splashed on the news virtually every week. As for the CIA’s, still there are no numbers. The Hindu Kush grains of sand are also aware that the concept of Pakistani “sovereignty” is a myth. Everyone should expect from now on another rainfall of denials from Islamabad – notwithstanding the fact of Pentagon and CIA killer drones raising hell over large swathes of Pakistani territory (more than 70 strikes in 2010 alone).
If this is a war against al-Qaeda, as the George W Bush/Barack Obama continuum insists, Langley, we got a problem; there’s fewer than 50 Arab al-Qaeda jihadis in Afghanistan, as every US intelligence agency proclaims. And there are fewer than 100 jihadis in the Waziristans. If Washington really wants to know where the leadership is, the easiest way is to bribe mid-level Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence operatives in Rawalpindi/Islamabad. The ISI-al Qaeda-Taliban connection is and will remain unbreakable – part of Islamabad’s obsession with “strategic depth”. This is the connection that killed Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of the Panjshir, on September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11 – thus precluding a true Afghan nationalist from reaching power instead of that Zalmay “Bush’s Afghan’ Khalilzad asset, Hamid Karzai.
Across what is in effect Pashtunistan, the “border” does not exist – after all the Durand Line was a British invention to split the Pashtuns; everyone has interwoven webs of Pashtun “cousins”, everyone is “family”. Some family members may rat on others for financial gain, but nothing extremely substantive will come out of it.
I was in Tora Bora in late 2001 when US Special Forces were bribing and advising local commanders on how to attack al-Qaeda. The commanders gleefully took US money, made a pose of throwing a few shells with their outdated Soviet tanks, and helped al-Qaeda – Osama bin Laden included – to escape the other way, to Parachinar, towards the Pakistani tribal areas. They even “advised” the American B52s to bomb the wrong mountains…
Washington is now deploying its full metal jacket – from the Pentagon and CIA secret armies to killer drones to special forces commando raids to Blackwater-conducted “snatch and grab” commandos. All these special effects for what? To kill a few tribal Pakistani Taliban commanders – replaced the same week by a blood relative – and a few jihadis, replaced the same week by a steady stream from the Gulf.
Neither Woodward nor the CIA are volunteering where the Afghan warriors for this Murder Inc are coming from. If they are Tajiks or Uzbeks or Hazaras they cannot crossover to Pakistan’s tribal areas without being detected. So they must be Pashtuns from rival tribes. And they’re only in it for the money. It’s also interesting to consider that the CIA pays for yet another Pashtun militia in Kandahar led by none other then drug business warlord Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid’s brother.
Never lose sight of the spectrum
This whole scheme is essentially what passes for General David “I’m always positioning myself to 2012” Petraeus’ grandiose COIN strategy; co-opted locals ranged in death squads and paid with Samsonites full of cash (plus a drone war as “back up”). It worked for Petraeus in Iraq – leading him to boast to a gullible corporate media he had “won” the war. Petraeus believes he can pull a remix in AfPak. The Pentagon seems to be at least a bit wary of warlords – as warlord-hostage Hamid Karzai cannot rule even over his throne in Kabul. But the CIA doesn’t care about warlords – it goes for broke.
Nothing will change on the ground in terms of the ISI-Taliban nexus. But the game gets much more interesting when one factors what enlightened Pakistani public opinion – in the major urban centers – already fed up with Islamabad’s subservience to Washington, will make of Woodward’s disclosure.
The key – one may say tragic – point of Woodward’s book is that Obama not only cannot end the Afghan war; he cannot even downscale it to target only the fewer than 100 jihadis and the Pakistani Taliban sheltered in the tribal areas without incurring blowback. Woodward says that Obama is seriously betting on his exit strategy – he wants by all means a progressive withdrawal from Afghanistan starting next summer. But “his” general, Petraeus – the Pentagon in fact – wants infinite war.
What Woodward’s book – and the corporate media orchestrated narrative – will never tell is “why” infinite war. Because of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Because of the need of military bases to spy on strategic competitors Russia and China. Because of the US’s obsession with Pipelineistan in Central Asia bypassing both Russia and Iran. Because of the Pentagon’s full spectrum dominance doctrine – which justifies infinitely ballooning military budgets.
If Obama has really admitted, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party”, he knows he is really in a jam; Obama thought he had 2011 and 2012 to wrap-up some kind of AfPak “victory” before US public opinion turned against him. Well, public opinion is already against him (Bill Clinton is encouraging the president to “embrace people’s anger” …) As for wily Petraeus, he has now unleashed a media blitz revolving around one single theme – he won’t be rushed, and the war could go on until 2020. In the book, Obama is quoted as saying, “I’m not doing 10 years … I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars”.
So what should Obama do? He could call his backers in Hollywood – which after all won the Vietnam war on film. Hollywood also won the Iraq War – via The Hurt Locker. The president could even win an Oscar – much cooler than a Nobel.
Now seriously. In real life, history eschews Hollywood. AfPak may swallow this president, the next president, the CIA and row after row of full spectrum dominance-decorated generals faster than one can say “Faster CIA! Kill! Kill!” Goodbye Kabul? More like Good morning, Vietnam.