Rohit Kumar's Views

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Posts Tagged ‘Special Forces

It Has to Start With Them

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“Thomas Friedman sounds so convincing and logical in this article. That is the art of a good writing. But he is not half as convincing for those who have read him regularly. I still remember his interview when the Iraq war was being semi-debated in the U.S. Asked if he was for or against the war, he thought and thought and then declared that he was “51% for it.” The play acting was put on to show the audience that this was not an easy position for him to take, and that he had really agonized over it. The sheer cynicism of it was so obvious and dripping that one could have got a cup and collected some of it, and given it to the Smithsonian to be preserved as the ooze of the majority main press hypocrisy then afflicting the land of the free.

This led to the death of a million innocent Iraqis, uprooting of four million more, and the dismemberment and devastation of their country–this extra one percent that tipped the balance in favour of a war for which there was no justification whatever. And of course these very people are now blaming all and sundry for the explosion of terrorism in Iraq, indeed anyone but the war mongers!

And now Friedman seems so sensible. And in trying to be this, he is asserting that foreign troops is not the answer to sort out internal problems of a country, but the people of the such countries can sort them out when they have the will to do so. Among the many examples of indigenous movements, he cites one is Afghanistan, and goes on to say: the ” Taliban regime in Afghanistan was routed by Afghan rebels, backed ONLY by U.S air power and a few hundred U.S special forces.”

Because this suits the central thesis of his argument, he fails to say that without this U.S air support [which he emphasizes as “only” and special forces, these so called rebels [thoroughly discredited war lords] did not have a hope in hell of succeeding. He completely ignores the fact that if these rebels had had genuine success, they would not need ten years of American presence to keep this success propped up. And this, for you, is journalism at its best!!”

WHEN President Obama announced his decision to surge more troops into Afghanistan in 2009, I argued that it could succeed if three things happened: Pakistan became a different country, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan became a different man and we succeeded at doing exactly what we claim not to be doing, that is nation-building in Afghanistan. None of that has happened, which is why I still believe our options in Afghanistan are: lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small. I vote for early and small.

My wariness about Afghanistan comes from asking these three questions: When does the Middle East make you happy? How did the cold war end? What would Ronald Reagan do? Let’s look at all three.

When did the Middle East make us happiest in the last few decades? That’s easy: 1) when Anwar el-Sadat made his breakthrough visit to Jerusalem; 2) when the Sunni uprising in Iraq against the pro-Al Qaeda forces turned the tide there; 3) when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was routed in 2001 by Afghan rebels, backed only by U.S. air power and a few hundred U.S. special forces; 4) when Israelis and Palestinians drafted a secret peace accord in Oslo; 5) when the Green Revolution happened in Iran; 6) when the Cedar Revolution erupted in Lebanon; 7) when the democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Egypt emerged; 8) when Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza.

And what do they all have in common? America had nothing to do with almost all of them. They were self-propelled by the people themselves; we did not see them coming; and most of them didn’t cost us a dime.

And what does that tell you? The most important truth about the Middle East: It only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. If it doesn’t start with them, if they don’t have ownership of a new peace initiative, a battle or a struggle for good governance, no amount of U.S. troops kick-starting, cajoling or doling out money can make it work. And if it does start with them, they really don’t need or want us around for very long.

When people own an initiative – as the original Afghan coalition that toppled the Taliban government did, as the Egyptians in Tahrir Square did, as the Egyptian and Israeli peacemakers did – they will be self-propelled and U.S. help can be an effective multiplier. When they don’t want to own it – in Afghanistan’s case, decent governance – or when they think we want some outcome more than they do, they will be happy to hold our coats, shake us down and sell us the same carpet over and over.

As for how the cold war ended, that’s easy. It ended when the two governments – the Soviet Union and Maoist China, which provided the funding and ideology propelling our enemies – collapsed. China had a peaceful internal transformation from Maoist Communism to capitalism, and the Soviet Union had a messy move from Marxism to capitalism. End of cold war.

Since then, we have increasingly found ourselves at war with another global movement: radical jihadist Islam. It is fed by money and ideology coming out of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. The attack of 9/11 was basically a joint operation by Saudi and Pakistani nationals. The Marine and American Embassy bombings in Lebanon were believed to have been the work of Iranian agents. Yet we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, because Saudi Arabia had oil, Pakistan had nukes and Iran was too big. We hoped that this war-by-bank-shot would lead to changes in all three countries. So far, it has not.

Until we break the combination of mosque, money and power in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which fuel jihadism, all we’re doing in Afghanistan is fighting the symptoms. The true engines propelling radical jihadist violence will still be in place. But that break requires, for starters, a new U.S. energy policy. Oh, well.

George Will pointed out that Senator John McCain, a hawk on Libya and Afghanistan, asked last Sunday, “I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today?” with the clear implication that Reagan would never leave wars like Libya or Afghanistan unfinished. I actually know the answer to that question. I was there.

On Feb. 25, 1984, I stood on the tarmac at the Beirut airport and watched as a parade of Marine amphibious vehicles drove right down the runway, then veered off and crossed the white sand beach, slipped into the Mediterranean and motored out of Lebanon to their mother ship.

After a suicide bomber killed 241 U.S. military personnel, Reagan realized that he was in the middle of a civil war, with an undefined objective and an elusive enemy, whose defeat was not worth the sacrifice. So he cut his losses and just walked away. He was warned of dire consequences; after all, this was the middle of the cold war with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union. We would look weak. But Reagan thought we would get weak by staying.As Reagan deftly put it at the time: “We are not bugging out. We are moving to deploy into a more defensive position.”

Eight years later, the Soviet Union was in the dustbin of history, America was ascendant and Lebanon, God love the place, was still trying to sort itself out – without us.

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India can’t do a ‘Geronimo’

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Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd).

Consequent to American operation ‘Geronimo,’ at Abbottabad in Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden, many in civil society have been asking whether India can go ahead with a similar operation. ‘Geronimo’ involved painstaking intelligence work spread over many years, though the final ‘fine- tuning’ took seven months or so. Detailed intelligence work and application of cutting edge technology apart, it required an enormous amount of co-ordination among those in the higher echelons of the civil administration and military high command as well as with the one who was to control the mission. The entire planning was closely monitored by the Chiefs of Defence Staff, the CIA chief and the President himself, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

For months they worked on the plan, disseminating information strictly following the principle, ‘need to know’. A mock-up of the ‘Osama house’ would have been erected and an operation rehearsed a number of times by the designated team of helicopter crews and Seals, and the latter had otherwise been undergoing one of the most vigorous training schedules. Only then was it possible to complete the mission with clock-work precision. It was the President who had to take the final call and gave written orders.

Since intelligence is the most essential input for such an operation, can Indian intelligence agencies measure up to this basic requirement? Weaknesses of Indian intelligence have repeatedly surprised the nation, be it the Chinese road across Ladakh, the scale of aggression in 1962, and mass infiltration in 1965 in J and K followed by the attack in Chamb-Jorian. Kargil was a major intelligence failure and so was the attack on Parliament where there were security lapses too. It was repeated at Mumbai, in spite of some early leads. More recent are the cases of lists of terrorists in Pakistan and the CBI team arriving in Copenhangen with an out-dated warrant of arrest. The list is endless.

Accurate and actionable intelligence is fundamental to the success of covert operations, whereas it remains our weakest point. In fact, in the case of Indian intelligence agencies, it is not the case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing but the little finger not knowing whom the index finger, of the same hand, is fingering?

At the national level we have the NSG, especially trained and equipped for such operations. At Mumbai these commandos first took too long to arrive and later too long to complete the operation. Equally, are the NSG commandos equal to the job? Just recall the visuals of a commando holding his weapon well above his head and firing at supposedly some terrorists! This visual was repeatedly shown on the American TV, where we saw the drama unfold. The NSG was commanded by an army officer, invariably an ex-commando, but now it is a police officer with no ground-level experience of commando operations. Grabbing jobs, irrespective of the suitability of the appointee, is another feature of Indian setting.

There was no centralised control over the operation and the entire scene around Taj Hotel appeared one of a ‘circus,’ with apparently no one knowing what to do. The details of ammunition and grenades expended by the commandos in this action would give an idea of the operation and our suspicion of possible collateral damage.

Both the Indian Navy and the Indian Army have special forces which can carry out missions of the type conducted by the US naval Seals at Abbottabad. They are organised and trained for such missions and have the best of leadership. Quality of intelligence inputs apart, it is the joint operations where more than one service is to take part and then problems arise. There are major fault-lines in the field of coordination and meshing together of various aspects of such an operation between the two Services taking part in the operation. This lack of ‘joint-ship’ has been the bane of Indian defence forces, which essentially is the handiwork of the politic-bureaucratic combine. The policy of ‘divide and rule’, and ‘turf-tending’ over national interest has been the dominant feature of the Indian defence apparatus.

In the case of the Abbattobad raid, in spite of the complete integration of the defence forces in the United States, the Naval Seals had their own helicopters to ensure total involvement and commitment of those taking part in the operation. In the case of India, helicopters meant for carrying such troops are with the Indian Air Force rather than the Army! So, the total commitment required on the part of all those taking part in the operation will not measure up to the level required in an operation of the type conducted at Abbottabad. In fact, discord has often appeared when two Services had to operate together. It surfaced in rather an ugly form during the Kargil operations.

In the Indian political setting, a clear direction and the will to go for the kill will continue to be lacking. At Kargil, troops were told to carry out a ‘hot pursuit,’ but were forbidden to cross the Line of Control. This is when Pakistan had violated, on a very wide front and to great depth, India’s territorial integrity and the situation called for and justified a befitting response. However, India’s timid and inappropriate reaction resulted in frontal attacks up those impossible slopes, with avoidable casualties. Pakistan suffered no punishment for its blatant act of aggression. Consequent to attack on Indian Parliament, ‘Operation Parakaram’ kept the troops in their battle locations for months and ended in a fiasco. Indian reaction to these two incidents conveyed to Pakistan that it can take liberties with India and the latter carries no deterrence for the former. At the same time, it demonstrated that Indian political leadership will never have the stomach to order an operation of the ‘Geronimo’ type, no matter how provocative the action of the other country may be.

Civil society has suddenly woken up and is now seeking answers to searching questions on these issues, having closed its eyes and switched off its mind to national security issues all these decades. The inescapable fact is that the full potential of various components of the defence forces just cannot be realised without adopting the concepts of Chiefs of Defence Staff and “Theater Commands” along with the integration of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Services headquarters on the lines of the Pentagon. What has currently been carried out by way of amalgamation of Defence Headquarters with the MoD is a joke and a fraud on the nation. Yet civil society has remained a silent spectator. The Arun Singh Committee Report continues to gather dust, as it stands consigned to the archives of the Indian government.

Besides the above fault-lines in the Indian security establishment, it is the watertight compartments in which various organs of the state work. Foreign policy is evolved and practised in isolation of national security considerations and consultations. Intelligence agencies are never made accountable and have inadequate interaction with the defence Services.