Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Information Overload And Memory

These days the data stream is so fat that some basic information becomes lost in the rapidly flowing stream. We all get a general impression of things as we flow through the world, surfing on this swollen and fast-flowing data stream.

This rapid information flow sometimes makes us forget information that was there all along. Recently, a question was posed about the Taliban; are they a terrorist organization or an insurgent organization?

I've even seen, in American blogs and comment boards, the Taliban referred to as "freedom fighters." We've got issues here in the States with people who identify with our enemies and even sympathize with them. While these people are in the minority, it appears that this minority is growing. Part of this phenomena is, in my opinion, attributable to this inability to retain some very basic information and the tendency to distort information presented over time to the point that it is irreconcilable with reality.

There is a loss of focus so profound that the basics of what we are doing in Afghanistan are being lost by the American public and, certainly, the press. We are involved in a struggle which, no matter how we define it, is clearly defined in the eyes of our enemies. We have even begun to examine our own navel lint to the point that we forget what is driving this whole thing.

We are simply not playing the same game. We are playing a game of nation-building; even beginning to predicate our support for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on whether or not they deserve the fruits of our blood and treasure. We have forgotten that our national security depends upon the freedom and security of people in little valleys in the world's most backward country. In the final analysis, it's not about them; it's about us, and we depend on them.

Seven years into our involvement in Afghanistan, we and NATO are still not quite getting it right, and we Americans are losing our sense of mission, and our sense of the threat to our way of life. We are forgetting, as a society, why we are there to begin with. We are forgetting to the point that when some nimrod suggests that we are out of line for interfering in Afghanistan's internal struggle, he is not overwhelmingly shouted down by those with a sense of reality. Even those with a sense of purpose are beginning to become unsure.

When the average citizen engages in debates as to the rightness of our efforts, he or she is often without the data to effectively argue. It has been lost in the data stream. Sometimes a fairly clear picture can be muddied by the sheer amount of crap flowing around it.

Now check this out, from the Summer of 2001. Julie Sirrs wrote about the Taliban's international ambitions in the Middle East Quarterly, noting that a fair number of foreigners were serving with the Taliban in their fight against the Northern Alliance, and their reasons for doing so.

It goes without saying, but I will point out that this was pre-9/11. I will also point out that when you look at the capture dates of some of these individuals, they are in the mid to late 90's. Foreigners fighting for the Taliban is not a new phenomena. Why would they fight on one side of a civil war; an Afghan vs Afghan affair amongst fellow Muslims?

Sirrs noted that the Northern Alliance (called the United Front in her article) established Sharia-based law where they were in control, and in interviews with foreign fighters who had been captured while serving with the Taliban attempted to ascertain the reason why these non-Afghans were flocking to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against other Afghans.

Indeed, the Taliban's campaigns at times have had overtones of ethnic cleansing, targeting either non-Pushtun ethnic groups or Afghanistan's Shi‘a minority, in particular in a series of well-documented massacres in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998, in the Shamali region in 1999, around Taloqan in 2000, and in Bamiyan early in 2001. Yet the movement's main goal is the establishment of a radical Islamic state, one that provides safe haven for anti-U.S. terrorists from all over the world. This safe haven accounts for the foreign extremists' aid to the Taliban. The militants realize that the United Front represents the only viable threat to their security inside Afghanistan, (periodic ineffectual U.S. cruise missile strikes aside).

There is another interesting passage, suggesting that the Taliban actually had a radicalizing influence on Osama bin Ladin:

Yet it is certain that bin Ladin himself has become increasingly radicalized while with the Taliban. He issued his most notorious anti-American fatwa (decree) in 1998, calling on his followers to kill any American—civilian or military, adults or children—anywhere in the world. Also in 1998, it became known through an intercept of bin Ladin's satellite telephone calls, that he was linked to the embassy bombings in East Africa. The Taliban responded that they had taken away his communications equipment.

The popular perception in the United States today is that we took action against the Taliban because they wouldn't hand over bin Ladin. What a kick in the head that someone (just prior to 9/11) analyzed his behavior and actually proposed that bin Ladin had actually become more radical due to his associations with the Taliban instead of the other way around. This analysis was untainted by the events of 9/11; while bin Ladin was certainly not unheard of at this point in the United States, he was not who he would come to be in our minds; the be all and end all of the Global War on Terror.

There is a considerable amount of information in Sirrs' article about the various nationalities and party affiliations of the foreign fighters who were with the Taliban pre-9/11. It is of note that she interviewed two Chinese Uighurs, whose jihadist goal is the overthrow of the Chinese government and the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in China.

Good luck with that, guys.

The largest single constituency in the list of parties was the Harakat group, who are now linked to the Mumbai attacks. This is from the Asia Times yesterday:

The network of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which was a major supporter of the ISI in the whole region, especially in Bangladesh, was shattered and fell into the hands of al-Qaeda when Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri, chief of Harkat, a hero of the armed struggle in Kashmir who had spent two years in an Indian jail, was arrested by Pakistani security forces in January 2004. He was suspected of having links to suicide bombers who rammed their vehicles into then-president General Pervez Musharraf's convoy on December 25, 2003.

He was released after 30 days and cleared of all suspicion, but he was profoundly affected by the experience and abandoned his struggle for Kashmir's independence and moved to the North Waziristan tribal area with his family. His switch from the Kashmiri struggle to the Afghan resistance was an authentic religious instruction to those in the camps in Kashmir to move to support Afghanistan's armed struggle against foreign forces. Hundreds of Pakistani jihadis established a small training camp in the area.

Almost simultaneously, Harkat's Bangladesh network disconnected itself from the ISI and moved closer to al-Qaeda.

Wait, that doesn't clearly link the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), who are credited with the attacks, with Harakat. We can solve that:

Meanwhile, a major reshuffle in the ISI two months ago officially shelved this low-key plan as the country's whole focus had shifted towards Pakistan's tribal areas. The director of the external wing was also changed, placing the "game" in the hands of a low-level ISI forward section head (a major) and the LET's commander-in-chief, Zakiur Rahman.

Zakiur was in Karachi for two months to personally oversee the plan. However, the militant networks in India and Bangladesh comprising the Harkat, which were now in al-Qaeda's hands, tailored some changes. Instead of Kashmir, they planned to attack Mumbai, using their existent local networks, with Westerners and the Jewish community center as targets.

So the same radical group that was recruiting and sending foreign fighters to fight with the Taliban well before we ever showed up in Afghanistan may be intimately involved in the attacks in Mumbai. It's a small war after all, isn't it?

It's funny how things pre-9/11 have become slanted and lost in the shuffle of the past seven years. It turns out that there are some people just as committed to and active in global-thinking radical Islamic groups as Osama bin Ladin. Since we haven't heard from Osama in quite some time and the latest few rants have come from Ayman al-Zawahiri, it could be that Osama is taking a dirt nap in some tiny valley in Waziristan; yet the "jihad" goes on without him.

There is a morality play in this whole thing about breeding and feeding dangerous animals and training them to attack others; sometimes the animals have their own agendas that they eventually turn on us. Pakistan is up to their armpits in trouble from the Taliban and al-Qaeda, even though they assisted in strengthening both of them. We are complicit in the breeding of bin Ladin. All of that is blame game stuff. First, we have a problem to solve, and it appears that many are too involved in either the blame game or in denying that this whole mess is really tied together and really demonstrates an ongoing threat to our national security.

What we are finding is a bubble of hard-core, committed radical Islamists who are like one of those gel toys that squirt between your fingers when you squeeze them. We have squeezed them out of Afghanistan into the lawless FATA in Pakistan. Sure, they haven't given up on Afghanistan, but they also haven't given up on their global vision, and the bubble hasn't burst. It has maintained its integrity even while being squeezed.

I was sent a link to some disturbing things going on here in the States that we are turning a blind eye to as well; but that's a bigger subject, too.

If we become seduced by the idea that we can afford to lose Afghanistan, then we will find that we will have strengthened radical elements beyond our worst imaginings; witness Mumbai. See what ten terrorists with some training and a few insiders to show them the town and pre-position some stocks can do to an entire city?

Now, think that can't happen here? Ten guys, folks; it's not that hard to do. We can't even keep track of thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants in our wide-open society. Our own organized and semi-organized criminals here in the States can get the weaponry that these guys would need. Do you really think that there aren't enough moles here in the States to show them around and help them? I'm not saying that there will be a Mumbai-style operation here in the States. What I'm saying is that if we start to lull ourselves into a false sense of security and then, because Afghanistan is a Rubik's Cube, decide that it's too hard and the Afghans are undeserving of our blood and treasure and just walk away, we are behaving just like we have with the housing and credit issues.

We will be mortgaging the lives of our sons and daughters and grandchildren to deal with this down the road, because I'm here to tell you that it's not going away. We will be suffering from the delusion that is already creeping into our society and beginning to find expression in the media that perhaps the Afghans are undeserving. We are starting to see the excuses already being made; "Well, the Afghans have never been conquered. The British failed. The Soviets failed. What makes us think we can win?"

First, we are not there to conquer; we are there to protect ourselves by helping the Afghans stabilized their own country. We have to keep that in mind. This is about our own security and our way of life; the counter intuitive part is that our security depends, in larger measure than we understand, upon Afghan stability. Getting dragged into legitimizing the idea that we should even consider whether the Afghans are deserving of our best efforts is to stray into Michael Moore-style delusions.

Way too many people (and elected officials) seem to think that this is all a punitive expedition centered upon bin Ladin instead of a long war against a committed and increasingly sophisticated enemy whose ultimate goal is a Global Islamic Emirate. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy-theory nutcase, it's got to be pointed out that our very way of life has not faced a threat on this level. What is the likelihood of actually having a North American Islamic Emirate? Perhaps not much, but if we wind up living in a police state in order to provide for our domestic tranquility, isn't that a loss of our way of life just as surely as being beaten to our knees to face Mecca five times a day whether we like it or not?

Just so you know, there are "moderate Islamic leaders" here in the United States who are committed to delivering North America to the Global Emirate. Watch this. While I do not feel that these men can accomplish what they say, our way of life is under the threat of being changed by our own need to protect ourselves and our families. Being ignorant of their intentions (they are quoted in video as they make speeches to the faithful) is inadvisable.

It has also become unfashionable to point out things like that. We have become such sensitive souls.

This destruction of our way of life is what bin Ladin promised.

We live each day here in the United States acting for the most part like there is nothing going on overseas that affects our very lifestyle here at home. The yellow ribbon magnets are now a rarity on cars. A guy in Bermel has to ask for care packages instead of having to ask people to redirect them because he's run out of room to store them. For Pete's sake; recently 30 Marines kicked ass on 250 Taliban who had the temerity to ambush them (and I mean kicked ASS) and it didn't even make the paper, much less TV. Today the Cincinnati Enquirer noted it in an editorial lamenting that it didn't even make page ten of the paper. What in the hell has gotten into us?

I've used the term "self-centered" before. Here are David Bronson's words:

It reminds a self-centered nation that some Americans are making sacrifices much bigger than a loss in their 401(k)s. So we don't hear about it.

You tell 'em, Dave.

My point is that while the situation in Afghanistan is difficult, and our Army is still struggling to adjust to the change from a conventionally designed force to a nimble counterinsurgent organization, there are some basic truths that do not change just because we lose them in the massive amount of information flowing around us all the time. What the American thinks, says, and does is absolutely relevant.

Our hearts and minds count, too.

Since our government is doing a terrible job of keeping the truth out there, and the Mainstream Media is more prone to distracted navel examination and sensationalism than even the average American, it is our personal responsibility as individual citizens to stay focused on what this is all about. I would hate to see a Howard Stern man-in-the-street series on what exactly we are doing in Afghanistan and why.

We like to believe that our intentions are noble, and stating unequivocally that our purpose in Afghanistan is, at its root, in our own self-interest does not remove the nobility of our purpose. Sacrificing for the sake of one's children is noble. Leaving our children with the same type of society that we were fortunate enough to have been born into (through no virtue of our own) is noble. In the meantime, it turns out that what we are doing in Afghanistan (and by extension in other GWOT-involved countries) is noble.

If we strive to get it right in Afghanistan, we don't give up, and we succeed in leaving a stable, independent, Islamic Republic with a growing economy and secure borders, the long-suffering people of Afghanistan will be so much better off than they have been for the past thirty years. It turns out that by doing the noble thing for the future of our own children, we have to do noble things for Afghanistan's future, too.

Let's maintain a sense of reality as to what this is all about. Let's not lose the simplicity of some basic truths about what we are involved in because of that fast-flowing data stream carrying the detritus of daily events swirling through our line of sight. Let's not be distracted by the shiny objects we are presented with on a frequent basis.

This is all history and overview type stuff. If you haven't already, I would recommend that you read Afghanistan Shrugged's post about the challenges of the Rubik's Cube at the local level. It's a great post and deserves the widest possible dissemination. It tells it like it is about security at the local level; the key to the rest of the job.


  1. Since our government is doing a terrible job of keeping the truth out there, and the Mainstream Media is more prone to distracted navel examination and sensationalism than even the average American, it is our personal responsibility as individual citizens to stay focused on what this is all about.

    Personal responsibility and individualism lost the last election, Old Blue. Our new government is going to do an even worse job of strategically communicating our objectives in Afghanistan than our old one did. And our objectives are going to change. Obama is going to Afghanize the war, declare Peace With Honor, cut & run, and let Kabul fall, and guys like you will get to experience the bitterness, cynicism and disgust with our fellow citizens that so many Vietnam vets feel, and for the same reason, because of the same people.

  2. Oh yeah, Cannoneer? Why is it guys just love to dump cynicism. Own it, live in it if you choose ... but I think the smart money's on leaving mind and heart open. Let our children and Afghani children have the hope of a future, alright?

    Take good care, B. Very articulate, and I am studying hard.

  3. Thank you for excellent reporting and editorial content. Please keep it up.

  4. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/04/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  5. Yeah, Zo. Cynicism is an old warrior thing. You just wouldn't understand. You go ahead and leave your mind open. Enemy psychological operators appreciate your open-mindedness. Makes their job so much easier.

  6. God how I wish someone with brains and influence from Big Army was reading this. I've posted an excerpt on my blog. This is vital stuff. Thanks


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