April 13, 2008

Sunday Reading

Three things on the reading list today:

First up are two offerings from the Middle East Strategy blog at Harvard. One, there is a really good discussion/debate on Egypt and Mubarak between Steven Cook and several other policy heavy-hitters (Schenker, Dunne, etc.).

Two, Raymond Ibrahim takes issue with Thomas Hegghammer's review essay on jihadi studies in the TLS, which Abu Muqawama highlighted here. Along with Marc Lynch, Abu Muqawama is not too sure Ibrahim was familiar with Hegghammer's work before he decided to unload a 12-gauge in his general direction. He seems a little eager to lump Hegghammer in with the academy's apologists for radical Islam, and as a result his critique is clumsy. Few things make Abu Muqawama cringe more than when serious, thoughtful scholars are accused of being apologists for terrorists by those willing to make the perfect the enemy of the good -- and that's what Ibrahim does at the end of his critique. Hegghammer doesn't need this blog to stick up for him, though -- his response, which can be found below Ibrahim's critique, is a good one.

The third and final bit of Sunday reading is LTG (Ret.) David Barno's testimony to Congress last week on Afghanistan. Don't be scared off by the fact this testimony is a .pdf file. It is a short (three pages), damning indictment of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and it is absolutely required reading.

Since my time in Afghanistan from October 2003 until May 2005, much has changed. I’d like to draw a few comparisons between the mid-point year of my tour, 2004, and last year, 2007. Security incidents – defined as reported acts of violence nation-wide -- totaled 900 in 2004; last year, in 2007 they totaled 8,950 across Afghanistan. Roadside bombs amounted to 325 attacks in 2004; last year, 1,469. Suicide bombings – decidedly a non-Afghan phenomenon – totaled 3 in 2004; last year they exceeded 130, a deadly new tactic being imported from Iraq. Total bombs dropped by Coalition air forces in 2004 were 86; last year, NATO dropped 3,572 bombs in Afghanistan – noteworthy in a war all now commonly define as a complex counter-insurgency fight. Finally, poppy production in 2004 totaled 131K hectares, and while dropping to 104K in 2005, ballooned in 2007 to a new record of 193K hectares. These selected trend lines -- although certainly not a comprehensive depiction of all sectors in Afghanistan – are certainly cause for concern.

The enemy in Afghanistan -- a collection of Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbi Islami, and foreign fighters – is unquestionably a much stronger force than the enemy we faced in 2004. There are many reasons for this change, but it is -- I am afraid -- an undeniable fact. And of course this enemy extends and in many ways re-generates within the tribal areas of Pakistan. Recent events there – particularly the worrisome prospect of a new Pakistani government entering into some sort of negotiations with the Taliban and other terrorist groups in the tribal areas – are developments which give cause for grave concern.