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Counterinsurgency in Eastern Afghanistan — Security

In December 2001, as per the Bonn Agreement signed in reaction to the September 11 attacks, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) created the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for a mission of security and state-building in Afghanistan. The purpose was to train Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), stabilize the government of Afghanistan (GOA), and dispel insurgent groups—namely the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The ISAF established four Regional Commands (RCs) in Afghanistan each commanded by signatories of the Bonn Agreement:  Germany contributed troops in the RC-North; Italy in the RC-West; the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands rotated command in the RC-South; and the RC-East was commanded by the United States. While this was an international effort, it was clearly led by the United States. Kabul was situated in the RC with the most active counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts, RC-East.  Read more

Counterinsurgency in Eastern Afghanistan — Governance

After 9/11, the United States recognized the instability within made Afghanistan a sanctuary and breeding ground for terrorism — evident in the growing presence of al-Qaeda in the eastern half of the country. U.S. policy pivoted from containment to counterterrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (COIN) and focused on the three pillars of security, governance, and economic development.

In these excerpts, Kemp discusses the efforts of the coalition in building governance:  the role (and liability of corrupt) local governors in the COIN efforts; the creation of the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG); the challenges the IDLG faced; and the delicate task of devolution of governance from the coalition to the GOA.

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Suicide Bombers and the Rapper M.I.A. — The Sad Legacy of the Sri Lankan Civil War

Artistic inspiration, such as it is, can come from the most unexpected of places. Case in point, Grammy-nominated one-hit wonder rapper M.I.A. (2007’s “Paper Planes”), who fills many of her songs with references to the violent conflict in Sri Lanka. Her father, Arul Pragasam, founded the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), a political Tamil group affiliated with — and later absorbed by — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1990 during the civil war in Sri Lanka. The LTTE would gain worldwide notoriety as the innovators of suicide bombing vests.  Read more

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan — December 1979

It was to last nearly a decade and would plant the seeds for the rise of the Taliban and Islamic terrorism and the subsequent invasion by the U.S. more than 20 years later.  On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union sent thousands of troops into Afghanistan and immediately assumed complete military and political control of Kabul and large portions of the country. It was the only time the Soviet Union invaded a country outside the Eastern Bloc. Read more

The Bhopal Chemical Disaster

On December 3, 1984, a gas leak began at a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide located in Bhopal, India.  Due to the leak of more than thirty tons of chemicals and the highly toxic gas, methyl isocyanate, over half a million people were exposed to the toxic substances immediately that night as densely populated slums and shanty towns surrounded the plant.  The immediate death toll from the initial release of the toxic gas was confirmed by the State Government to be 3,787 people.  Individuals exposed to the gas suffered from cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, burns in their throats and eyes, as well as nausea.  Within two weeks, more than 8,000 individuals had died.  Over the years, it is estimated that 15,000 deaths, and over half a million injuries and disabilities were directly caused by the Bhopal disaster.     Read more

Not-So Full Disclosure

So you have been entrusted with a very important mission — in this case, trying to convince several countries in the 1950’s to allow take-off and landing of a new, super-secret aircraft, the U-2, which would allow the U.S. to conduct surveillance over the USSR at such a high altitude that Soviet MiG-17s would be unable to shoot them down. One problem, however — a few key countries, like Pakistan, would not normally allow U.S. spy planes on their territories. What to do, what to do? Such was the dilemma of Anthony Marshall, who worked at the CIA at the very beginning of the U-2 program. (At right, a U-2 with fictitious NASA markings at Edwards Air Force Base, 1960.) Read more

Egos and Architecture — The Joys of Embassy Building in the 1980s

The design of U.S. embassies has swung through varying phases over the past several decades. Some embassies, such as the one in Athens, were designed by world-renowned architects like Walter Gropius. Security concerns beginning after the Embassy Beirut bombing in 1983 led to the construction of embassies with blast-proof walls and long setbacks, which were often built away from city centers in the suburbs and were often criticized for being “fortress embassies.” In the past few years, the pendulum has swung back toward the middle, to critically acclaimed buildings like those in Beijing and London which are also secure. (Go here to read more.)

Whatever the trend, the task falls on the State Department’s Office of Foreign Building Operations (FBO), to design U.S. embassies, consulates and other government property worldwide. And sometimes, the difficulties of security and architecture can take a backseat to the more vexing problems of tight budgets, multiple demands, and in-house politicking. Read more

“A Recipe for Endless War” – The Rise of the Taliban

After conquering Kabul in April 1996, the Taliban established the ultra-conservative Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, enforcing a radical interpretation of Islamic law which severely curtailed individual social and religious freedoms, especially for women. Because of its radical policies, its massive violation of human rights, and abysmal failure to provide basic governmental services, the Taliban were internationally condemned and almost completely isolated.

After offering safe haven to Osama bin Laden, the Taliban survived for years off of al Qaeda funding. In the following interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning July 2004, Ambassador to Pakistan Thomas W. Simons Jr. discusses initial attempts to reach out to the Taliban (or as he called them, “backwoods Muslims”) and Pakistan’s rationale for establishing ties with them and al Qaeda. Read more

Blessed — An Encounter with Mother Teresa

Born in Albania on August 26, 1910, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, later known as Mother Teresa, devoted the majority of her life to serving India as a teacher, nurse, missionary and head of a major charitable organization. After joining the Sisters of Loreto as a young woman, Sister Teresa traveled to India and worked as a teacher at a convent school for twenty years. Grieved by the continuous religious violence, rampant poverty and widespread starvation of India, Sister Teresa left the school for the Calcutta slums, where she vowed to care for the poorest of the poor.

During the first year, Mother Teresa and her small group of followers struggled to find food and supplies and were often forced to beg for basic necessities. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity and, fifty years later, was operating more than 500 charities, hospitals and orphanages in over 100 countries. Read more

India and Pakistan on the Brink: The 1998 Nuclear Tests

In May 1998, India conducted its first nuclear bomb tests since 1974 at the Indian Army Pokhran Test Range. Known as Pokhran-II, the tests involved five detonations and were followed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declaring India a full nuclear state. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had come to power in the 1998 elections with a platform promising to be “openly nuclear” and challenge Pakistan’s control of parts of Kashmir. After the Indian detonations, American diplomats attempted to dissuade Pakistan, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, from following suit. Fifteen days after India’s tests, Pakistan conducted six underground nuclear tests at the Chaghi and Kharan test site.

The nuclear tests were swiftly met with international condemnation. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the tests and renewed efforts to pressure the two countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By law, the United States was required to impose immediate economic sanctions on both countries. U.S. intelligence was also sharply criticized for failing to detect the preparations for the test. Several other nations reacted with their own sanctions and condemnation.

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