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CIA attempt to persuade Europeans to maintain forces in Afghanistan 29, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia.
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Wikileaks has obtained a classified ‘not for foreigners’ CIA memo discussing strategies to shore up European support for ISAF forces in Afghanistan. In the wake of the Dutch Government’s demise over troop questions, the report states that there is a similarly grim outlook in France and Germany.

In France the report suggests focusing on the Afghan refugees as a way of ‘promoting’ the issue, whereas in Germany the notion of stressing the consequences that would negatively affect German interests is suggested as the way to proceed. Additionally, a focus on the multilateral and humanitarian nature of the conflict might shore up German support.

Using President Obama’s high regards in Europe was also suggested as a strategy. Were he to stress his full commitment to the process and the gains for Afghan women, this might also prove advantageous.

Intercontinental Hotel Kabul 15, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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The Intercontinental was perched above the city with wonderful views. It was where the western businesspeople, the diplomats and the rich tourists all stayed. But it also quickly became the place for the Kabul elite to go – for tea, for parties, and for weddings. They were the modern people of Kabul who were helping to make the King’s vision come true.They were also a “slimy opportunistic clique” – according to Nancy Hatch Dupree. She was an American archaeologist who knew everyone in Kabul.

And then rock music came to Kabul, courtesy of the Intercontinental Hotel.

The Intercontinental’s food and beverages manager asked a musician called Claude Selvaradna to create a house band for the hotel. Claude had been a sergeant in the Sri Lankan army but now he lived in Kabul and he knew that rock music was the future. He brought in some musicians from Sri Lanka and put together a band he called The Esquire Set.

For what can probably be described as the definitive history of Kabul take your time and go through its history at Adam Curtis’ blog at the BBC.

Rory Stewart on efforts to counter the Taliban 2, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia.
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The ever-erudite and persuasive Rory Stewart has written an excellent essay on Obama, the US and their strategies to counter the Taliban. It’s well worth the read.

The 5 ages of Al Qaeda 14, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Terrorism.
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5 stages of al qaeda

…is an excellent pictorial article in the Guardian co-authored by the insightful Jason Burke who is, as far as I am concerned, far and away the world’s leading expert on Al Qaeda. His book ‘Al Qaeda – the true story of radical Islam‘ was as groundbreaking on its release as it is today still essential for anyone wanting to understand what’s what with the amorphous phenomenon that came to be called Al Qaeda.

Burke moves away from the notion that Al Qaeda is or was some Machiavellian, secret, super-sleuth like terrorist organization (a la Rumsfeld’s hideous ‘bunker complex diagram‘ [a shocking bald-faced lie of immense proportions]) to describe how it evolved from the resistance in post-Soviet Afghanistan and resembles an ideology more than an organization. Al Qaeda means, after all, the base; as in the place that people were sent to to join in the anti-Soviet jihad:  “go to Peshwar, to the base, to join the fighting” was, perhaps how the conversations went. I wonder, therefore, what we’d all be talking about today if instead of recruits being told to ‘go to the base‘ they were instead told ‘ithab ila bayt Omar‘…would we all be discussing this devilish terrorist group called Omar’s House?

Afghanistan: Lost in Translation 26, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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The Guardian has an excellent video of the US forces in Afghanistan and their problems with understanding what the local Pashtun are trying to tell them. The clip shows one of their translators wilfully mistranslating what a tribal elder has to say. One can only hope that translators such as these are in the vast minority, however unlikely that may be.

Hat Tip: Media Shack

Article catch up 21, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia, Iran, Kuwait, The Emirates.
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There’s a veritable flood of interesting stories today:

  • Quote of the day is taken from the World Politics Review Blog, with a firm and hearty hat tip thanks for Andrew Bishop.

We’ve now got upwards of 40,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the ostensible mission to eliminate the threat posed by 300 guys. In Pakistan. Think about that.

  • An article on Al Qaeda’s apparent new ties with an Iranian Sunni (yes, Sunni) terrorist group.
  • The UAE have pulled out of the proposed Gulf single currency. Whilst achieving such a milestone of integration would have been enormously difficult in any case, it now appears to be all but impossible.
  • The Kuwaiti Amir has reappointed his nephew, Shaikh Nasser, as the Prime Minister. This is highly unlikely to appease opposition MPs and calm the volatile and fragile nature of Kuwaiti politics, considering that Shaikh Nasser was, essentially, the very reason that Parliament was dissolved last month (for the fifth time in three years).
  • There’s another good piece covering the Kuwait election written by Brian Ulrich. The most interesting bit is when he quotes from Kristin Diwan on the reappearance of one of the original and fundamental societal clefts in the Arabian Peninsula between the settled people (hadar) and the nomads (bedu) who did not get settled into cities until the last century (if at all). [Brian writes] “(quoted with permission from a professional list-serve)”:

“The other area of dynamism in Kuwaiti politics is coming from the ‘tribal’ outer districts. I attended a HUGE and very well planned rally for women in the south of Kuwait near Ahmedi, and was duly impressed by the energy, which may have been amplified by the fact that it was held in an amusement park and most of the women brought a bevy of happy children in tow. As observant Kuwaiti social scientists have been telling us for years, these relatively late arriving citizens of Kuwait are becoming better educated and less willing to accept their role as ‘service’ candidates quietly accepting government jobs for loyalty to the rulers – especially as there are less jobs and services to give to their steadily increasing numbers. They may mobilize as a ‘tribe,’ but their complaints are essentially economic and full of historical resentment of the better off ‘hadhar’ of Kuwait’s inner constituencies. The democratically elected parliament gives them the perfect vehicle to press their economic demands, and goes a long way in explaining why many of the merchant-led Kuwaitis who championed Kuwaiti democracy can now contemplate an unconstitutional dissolution of it.”

Iconoclastic thinking 20, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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I have been a fan of John Mueller for a long time. Indeed, I tried (and failed miserably) to emulate his work in a dissertation of mine. Mueller is that rare thing in hyperbole-ridden the international politics/security discourse: a calm, rational, empirical, unflappable and iconoclastic analyst. In 2006, he wrote an excellent essay for Foreign Affairs which took the American Government, most academics along with mainstream thought to task over the implicitly accepted notion that America was in imminent danger from a terrorist attack. This was, and indeed still is, a difficult line to take. In the May 2009 edition of Foreign Affairs he uses that same kind of critical view-point to ask serious questions about Afghanistan. Would it immediately revert to an Al Qaeda strong hold if Western forces withdrew immediately? Mueller thinks not for a host of persuasive reasons that I don’t quite have time to go into, leaving you the only option of reading for yourself

Al Azhar opening up in Kabul 20, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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Instead of a Middle Eastern country attracting foreign institutions to set up shop in some kind of ‘Education Zone’, this time the tables are turned as Egypt’s famous Al Azhar University is opening an Islamic Institute in Kabul. The Al Azhar is, of course, not only important in Egypt but one of the most influential and important seats of Islamic learning in the world. Its foray into Afghanistan is a fascinating move. These kinds of exchanges are the perfect vehicles for soft power enhancement. This is another way to describe building up a good relationship with others so that, over a given decision, ‘they’ will seek to – starkly put – do as you want because they want to help you and not because you cajole or force them to.

Hat tip: Andrew Bishop

Low supplies in Afghanistan 5, February 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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STOP THE PRESSES….news just in from the US Military that Camp Phoenix, their largest in Afghanistan, is running low on supplies including Doritos and Tostitos Scoops…..oh the inhumanity of it all….war truly is hell.

(Thanks to Kings of War for the tip.)

The costs of war 11, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Middle East.
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The cost of war is usually discussed in terms of the costs in terms of human lives; of the soldiers and civilians. However, how much does the Iraq war cost in dollars and cents? The answer, it seems, is a scarcely believable number. 

Tom Engelhardt compares the true cost of the war with what the Bush administration thought that it was going to cost at the beginning. Their estimates, Engelhardt reports ranged from $60 billion up to $200 billion (though the economic adviser who came up with this huge figure was soon looking for a new job).  

Alas these figures are ‘some way’ out, in much the same way that Pluto is ‘some way’ away from the sun. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has calculated that the war will cost at minimum $3 trillion and most likely, factoring in future costs, up to $5-7 trillion. Tom then nicely points out that “Bush administration was at [very] least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations.”

Another article which is quoted by Engelhardt is from William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. He comes up with some interesting figures and concludes that the war is costing some $3.5 billion per week. Yes, that was $3.5 billion, per week. He goes on to break the costs down to manageable chunks, but first gives it a sense of proportion.


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)*                    => $400 Million per year     => <1 day’s costs in Iraq

US spending on finding and securing loose nuclear weapons     =>  $1 Billion per year          => <2 day’s costs in Iraq

US spending on global warming                                                     => $7 Billion per year            => 2 week’s costs in Iraq 

(*This accounts for all the spending by the entire international community on the IAEA – the major international body whose job it is to regulate and keep a track on nuclear activity around the world.) 

Hartung then gives a few examples of the weekly material costs of the war.

$1.5 million for M-4 carbines (about 900 guns per week);
$2.3 million for machine guns (about 170 per week);
$4.3 million for Hellfire missiles (about 50 missiles per week);
$6.9 million for night vision devices (about 2,100 per week);
$10.8 million for fuel per week;
$5 million to store and transport that fuel per week;
$14.8 million for F-18E/F fighter planes per week (one every four weeks);
$23.4 million for ammunition per week;
$30.7 million for Bradley fighting vehicles (10 per week).