Withdrawing from Afghanistan, Without Leaving a Vacuum

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov (L3), Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj (C), Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin (R2), Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aidarbekov (L2), Foreign Minsiter of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov (R), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov (L) and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani (R3) participate in the ‘Ministerial Meeting of the India-Central Asia-Afghanistan Dialogue’ held within the ‘India-Central Asia Dialogue’ Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on January 13, 2019.
(Photo by Bahtiyar Abdukerimov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Some years ago, I spent an afternoon in New Delhi meeting with a group of retired senior members of India’s military and intelligence communities. A central topic was Afghanistan. The Indians were adamant that the Taliban must not be allowed to take over the country. They saw the Taliban as agents of Pakistan. The absorption of Afghanistan by the Islamabad regime would pose a threat to India. Afghanistan would be a rich recruiting ground for the terrorist/insurgent forces Pakistan uses to destabilize Kashmir. And in case of another open war, Afghanistan would give Islamabad “strategic depth” which could be used in several possible ways.

The Islamabad-Kashmir area is at the narrowest part of Pakistan. It’s only 228 miles from Islamabad to Kabul. But the terrain is bad to the west and Pakistan has more important areas to defend to the south. Even so, pulling troops back to Peshawar, where they could be supplied/reinforced from Afghanistan, could serve as a counter-attack force if Islamabad was under siege. Pakistan has an arsenal of mobile short and medium-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads and is adding cruise missiles. However, only some of these models could reach India if redeployed to Afghanistan to avoid preemption. More attractive would be Afghan airbases which could support Pakistani operations along the northern border but at a distance that would make it harder for Indian airstrikes to suppress. During the February clash, Pakistan intercepted Indian airstrikes in the Kashmir area and shot down two fighters, including an F-16. Deeper airstrikes could be problematical for New Delhi.

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Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Turkish Breakup with the U.S. and NATO: The Illogical Logics

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019 

Dr. Jahara Matisek and Dr. Buddhika Jayamaha
U.S. Air Force Academy

Change of command ceremony is held at NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey on August 03, 2018. Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Abstract: With decades of debate about Turkey leaving NATO, the Turkish purchase (and delivery) of a Russian air defense system may be crossing the Rubicon. The Syrian Civil War, combined with how the U.S. and NATO decided to back Kurdish proxies in the fight against the Islamic State, has fed into the domestic logic of survival for Turkish political elites. With President Erdoğan and his revisionist political party ruling over Turkey the last decade, they appear to have finally refashioned the Turkish state by purging secularists from the government and military since the coup hoax of 2016. This new consolidation of political power has created a Turkish state with values incompatible with the West and strategies irreconcilable with NATO. However, these efforts by Erdoğan are undermining the long-term economic viability of the Turkish state, as established norms concerning the rule of law and property rights deteriorate, risking Turkey’s status as a reliable and stable ally in the region. We make these judgements on Turkey provoking its own expulsion from NATO based on interviews and fieldwork in Kurdistan and Turkey.

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State Sponsorship of Uyghur Separatists: the History and Current Policy Options for East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

A 1922 map of China. Source: John Bartholomew, The Times Atlas, London, 1922.

This article is a slight revision of a talk given on March 25, 2019, in Oxford, England. The associated university is not named at the request of the host organization’s president, who was concerned about possible repercussions.

I would like to thank the Terrorism Research Society (TRS) for kindly hosting this event. 

The historical map shown here is from 1922, and shows what China looked like when the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai. It shows East Turkestan and Tibet in the west as autonomous regions — much more autonomous than they are today.

East Turkestan is now occupied militarily by China and officially called the Xinjiang region of northwestern China. In Chinese, “Xinjiang” means “new frontier”. But Xinjiang has an ancient history as a culturally diverse crossroads of trading on what the Chinese call “the silk road”, but which was actually more Iranian than Chinese. It was central to the ancient Persian trading areas called the Sogdian network by historians. It has been home to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, to Mongolians, Indians, Greeks, Koreans, Buddhists, and Christians. Since at least the First East Turkestan Republic of 1933 is has been called East Turkestan by Turkic Muslim residents. The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has indiscriminately labeled Uyghurs who support an independent East Turkestan today, as separatist and terrorist in their goals and means. The acronym of the Chinese Communist Party is the “CCP”. The CCP seeks to colonize and extinguish all linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity in Xinjiang today, in order to assimilate the territory under its own preferred Han Chinese race, and their own atheist communist ideology.

In the face of such extreme repression, some Uyghurs have indeed advocated separatism and utilized terrorism and violence, including street riots, as a means.

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A Chaotic Start: Foreign Affairs in the New U.S. Congress

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2019

By William R. Hawkins

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Nechirvan Barzani, outgoing Prime Minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in the province’s capital Arbil during a Middle East tour, on January 9, 2019. The eight-day tour comes weeks after the US President announced that the United States would quickly pull its 2,000 soldiers out of Syria, declaring that IS — also known as ISIS — had been defeated. Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty.

It is widely held that the direction of foreign policy has shifted almost wholly to the executive branch. The only issue being under which president did this happen? Ronald Regan? Franklin Roosevelt? Woodrow Wilson? Teddy Roosevelt? Or even George Washington as the inherent result of the creation of the presidency itself. The Constitution was created to correct the lack of national leadership in the prior Confederation period when there was only a Congress. But one only needs to look at the first actions of the 116th Congress to understand why a major factor in this evolution of power has been the confusion and institutional flaws that render Congress unsuited for the conduct of international affairs. Its role is limited to being a forum for supporting or opposing the policies set by the Commander-in-Chief.

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Meaningless Medals: Infantry in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2019 

By Heath B. Hansen

Circa January 2006, during a mission on the way back to Gardez, Afghanistan. An IED was planted in the road on the K-G Pass (Khost-Gardez). The author, SPC Heath B. Hansen, is in the turret of the humvee, behind an M-240B machine gun. In the background, 1st Platoon, C company, 2/504 PIR, 82nd Airborne inspects the site of the IED explosion from moments prior.

March 2006. My tour was over. I had survived. No more fire-fights. No more IED’s. No more raids. No more rocket-attacks. I was going home. Many servicemen spend time in-country without ever leaving “the wire” (the safety of the walls, fortifications  and/or razor-wire of their base). As an infantryman, I basically lived outside the wire. Being shot at, getting hit by roadside bombs, capturing Taliban fighters, etc., was just part of the job. There was no special recognition, accolades or atta-boys conferred upon me. Infantrymen just do what is expected of them.

We had flown out of Bagram Air Base and landed a little over an hour later at Manas Air Base located in Northern Kyrgyzstan. Our plane touched down and we were escorted to large, white, “clamshell” tents, designed for units in transit. My squad found cots immediately next to each other and dropped our gear. It was official, we were no longer in Afghanistan. We had completed the first leg of our journey back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I woke up to a dark tent the following morning. Small, ambient lights pierced the darkness from laptop computers on soldier’s cots randomly distributed throughout the clamshell. “Hansen, grab your weapon, we’re gonna get chow,” my team leader loudly whispered. “Roger that,” I replied. Even though we were no longer in a combat zone, we had to have our sensitive items (weapons, night-vision goggles, optics, etc.) with us at all times. I grabbed my gear and headed to the chow hall with my fire-team. I was hungry.

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Forty Dollars and a Trip to Paradise

The First Green on Blue Attack of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2018 

by Heath B. Hansen

PFC Michael Sall in the only guard tower that existed on FOB Zurmat at the time of the green-on-blue attack. Pictured is an M-240B machine gun. PFC Sall was in the tower on November 9, 2005 during the attack but did not use this weapon, oriented away from the base, to shoot the attacker. He instead made a split second decision to use his smaller M-4 rifle to shoot from the other side of the tower, down and into the base at the ANA soldier. Paktia Province, Afghanistan, 2005. Photographer: Heath Hansen.

We entered the base between the HESCO barriers covered in concertina razor-wire, unprepared for a betrayal from one of our supposed allies. On November 9, 2005, as the convoy snaked its way into the safety of the base walls, I could see Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers watching us from the perimeter. They didn’t wave; they didn’t smile; they just stared. Since the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there had never been an instance of an Afghan soldier attacking Americans, known as a “green-on-blue attack.” But somehow I instinctively had little trust for them. We parked the Humvees and unloaded our equipment. I took off my helmet and body-armor, and set my weapon beside me.

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Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2018

By Heath B. Hansen

I opened my eyes. It was still dark, but I could see the night was ending and another day in some village in Afghanistan was beginning. The smell of dip-spit and cigarette smoke betrayed the fact that the platoon was awake and breaking down the patrol base. “Get the f*** up, Hansen,” was the greeting from my team leader. “Get your s*** on the humvee, we’re leaving in a few mikes.” “Roger, Sergeant,” I replied. It was May 31 2005, and time to win over more hearts and minds in the War on Terror.

A cropped photo of Jason Pegg’s bloodied arm following his and the author’s hearts and minds campaign in an Afghan village on May 31, 2005. Source: Facebook.

We listened to the convoy brief. The platoon would be heading to another village, in the middle of nowhere, to help villagers that probably had no idea why Americans were in their country and couldn’t care less about ‘democracy.’ The typical information was passed down about the scope and purpose of the mission followed by the monotone, repetitive, “Keep your heads on a swivel” and, “Make sure we have full, three-sixty security at all times. Remember your battle drills.”

The platoon set out. One by one, the humvees departed the patrol base and entered the dirt road into the village; the mission had officially begun. As we embarked, I noticed not a single villager was outside their mud-hut. Not a single person was in the fields. Not a single child was running alongside our vehicles, screaming, “You give me chocolate,” or “Amereekan, give me one dollar!” Of the dozens and dozens of villagers we had treated the day before during our MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Program] operation, not a single one was outside to bid us farewell.

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Overriding Legal Authority in Nation-Building Missions

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An Afghan woman passes by a sign of the New Kabul Bank in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. An Afghan tribunal convicted two top executives of the Kabul Bank, renamed the New Kabul Bank after the scandal broke, and sentenced them to five-year prison terms on Tuesday for their role in a massive corruption scandal that led to the collapse of Afghanistan’s largest bank and threatened the country’s fragile economy. The bank’s former chairman Sherkhan Farnood and former chief executive officer Khalilullah Ferozi were found guilty of theft of $278 million and $530 million, respectively. Farnood and Ferozi have also been ordered to pay back these funds. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 3, No.3, March 2015.

By Thomas Buonomo

Throughout U.S. involvement in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, rampant government corruption has driven continuing instability and hampered U.S. nation-building efforts.[1] Corruption was a major reason for the collapse of the Iraqi military in northern Iraq upon impact with the Islamic State.[2] It is also the reason why Afghans are turning to the Taliban for resolution of their legal disputes.[3]

These are profoundly tragic and frustrating outcomes that can only be precluded in the future in one of two ways: the U.S. must either obtain legal authority from the U.N. Security Councilor, in critical situations, through unilateral measuresto override a host nation’s legal system and hold corrupt actors accountable when local officials refuse. Alternatively, should this approach fail, the U.S. government should refrain from nation-building missions entirely and provide the U.S. military with a mission more closely aligned with its core competency: kinetic military operations.

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Effects of terrorist veterans returning to the West from foreign wars

Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment recently found that most terrorists originating in the West (Europe, Australia, or the US) conduct their terrorism in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. These terrorists are defined as “foreign fighters”. When these foreign fighter veterans return to the West, they are more likely to complete attacks, which are more likely to be lethal (American Political Science Review, volume 107, no. 1, Feb 2013, “Should I stay or should I go? Explaining variation in Western Jihadists’ choice between domestic and foreign fighting.”)

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we can expect countervailing effects on terrorism in the West. On the one hand, there presumably will be less reason to conduct terrorism, as terrorists use these wars as justification for their actions. On the other hand, foreign fighter veterans will be returning to the West, increasing the quantity, militancy, and experience of the pool of potential domestic terrorists. New justifications for terrorism — for example Western intervention in Mali and Syria — can always be found by those so inclined.