AC360 Monday 8p

There are growing questions about the ferry crew's actions. The latest on the South Korean ferry disaster live on AC360.
October 26th, 2009
12:00 PM ET

US losing Afghan war on 2 fronts

 For years, Afghanistan was considered the forgotten war but Americans have started paying attention again.
For years, Afghanistan was considered the forgotten war but Americans have started paying attention again.

Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

We are losing in Afghanistan, on two fronts. The most important center of gravity of the conflict - as the Taliban well recognizes - is the American public. And now, most Americans are opposed to the war.

For years, Afghanistan was "the forgotten war," and when Americans started paying attention again - roughly around the time of President Obama's inauguration - what they saw was not a pretty sight: a corrupt Afghan government, a world-class drug trade, a resurgent Taliban and steadily rising U.S. casualties.

Many surely thought: Didn't we win this war eight years ago?

Americans, of course, hate seeing the deaths of fellow citizens in combat, but even more they hate to see those deaths in the service of a war they believe they are either not winning or maybe even losing, which is one of the reasons why they largely turned against the Iraq war in 2006.

Keep Reading...


Filed under: Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
October 22nd, 2009
04:26 PM ET

The Drone War

Program Note: Tune in tonight for more from Peter Bergen . AC360° at 11 p.m. ET.

Remote-controlled drones, such as the Predator, are proving increasingly popular with the U.S. military.
Remote-controlled drones, such as the Predator, are proving increasingly popular with the U.S. military.

Peter Bergen | BIO
CNN National Security Analyst

The Al Qaeda videotape shows a small white dog tied up inside a glass cage. A milky gas slowly filters in. An Arab man with an Egyptian accent says: "Start counting the time." Nervous, the dog starts barking and then moaning. After flailing about for some minutes, it succumbs to the poisonous gas and stops moving.

This experiment almost certainly occurred at the Derunta training camp near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, conducted by an Egyptian with the nom de jihad of "Abu Khabab." In the late 1990s, under the direction of Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman Al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab set up the terrorist group's WMD research program, which was given the innocuous codename "Yogurt." Abu Khabab taught hundreds of militants how to deploy poisonous chemicals, such as ricin and cyanide gas. The Egyptian WMD expert also explored the possible uses of radioactive materials, writing in a 2001 memo to his superiors, "As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, among which are radioactive elements that could be used for military operations." In the memo, Abu Khabab asked if it were possible to get more information about the matter "from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere." This was likely a reference to the retired Pakistani senior nuclear scientists who were meeting then with Osama bin Laden.

In the pandemonium following the fall of the Taliban in the winter of 2001, Abu Khabab disappeared into the badlands on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The United States put a $5 million bounty on his head and, in January 2006, attempted to kill him and Zawahiri while they were believed to be in the Pakistani hamlet of Damadola, targeting them with a missile launched by a drone aircraft.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Pakistan • Peter Bergen
October 7th, 2009
06:01 PM ET

Harsh Afghan outposts raise serious challenges for U.S.

CNN obtained this photo of a U.S. helicopter above Forward Operating Base Keating in the Nuristan province
CNN obtained this photo of a U.S. helicopter above Forward Operating Base Keating in the Nuristan province

Ed Hornick
CNN

Mountainous terrain and harsh weather in remote parts of Afghanistan have proven a deadly combination for the U.S. military in its push to reduce mounting violence in the country.

On Saturday, Taliban militants attacked American and Afghan troops in the Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan. Eight American troops and two members of the Afghan national security forces were killed, according to the Pentagon.

It was the largest number of Americans killed by hostile action in a single day since July 13, 2008, when nine troops died, according to CNN records.

The fighting was so fierce that at one point U.S. forces "had to collapse in on themselves," a U.S. military official with knowledge of the latest intelligence reports on the incident told CNN. These revelations about the battle that engulfed Forward Operating Base Keating are a further indication of how pinned down and outmanned the troops were. Watch more on the attack in rural Afghanistan »

The base was scheduled to be closed in the next few days, CNN has learned. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, wanted to cede remote outposts and consolidate troops in more populated areas to better protect Afghan civilians.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • al Qaeda • Barack Obama • Hillary Clinton • Peter Bergen • Robert Gates • Taliban
September 11th, 2009
11:37 PM ET

Where's Osama bin Laden?

Peter Bergen | Bio
CNN National Security Analyst

Eight years after September 11, the "war on terror" has gone the way of the dodo. And President Obama talks instead about a war against al Qaeda and its allies.

What, then, of al Qaeda's enigmatic leader, Osama bin Laden, who has vanished like a wisp of smoke? And does he even matter now?

The U.S. government hadn't had a solid lead on al Qaeda's leader since the battle of Tora Bora in winter 2001. Although there are informed hypotheses that today he is in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province on the Afghan border, perhaps in one of the more northerly areas such as Bajaur, these are essentially guesses, not "actionable" intelligence.

A longtime American counterterrorism analyst explained to me, "There is very limited collection on him personally."

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
September 11th, 2009
06:15 AM ET
September 9th, 2009
09:00 PM ET

Helmand: Bombs, Drugs and the Taliban

A U.S. Marine sweeps for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) along the pathways around their base at Camp Jaker.
A U.S. Marine sweeps for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) along the pathways around their base at Camp Jaker.

Peter Bergen | Bio
CNN National Security Analyst
Nawa District, Helmand, Afghanistan

If the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand were a country it would be the world’s leading producer of opium and its derivative, heroin. More than half the world’s heroin originates here – much of it destined for the veins of junkies living in Europe.

In June 2005, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials and Afghan police raided the office of Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand, and found nine tons of opium in his office. He is no longer the governor.

According to an unpublished threat assessment by the Afghan army of the security situation as it was this April in Afghanistan which was obtained by CNN, Helmand province had the highest percentage of territory controlled by the Taliban of any of the country’s 34 provinces.

Nearly 60 percent of Helmand in April was fully Taliban-controlled, and the remainder was classified as “high risk” for Taliban attacks.

According to a senior Marine officer 20 percent of the Taliban in Helmand are “ideologues’ who are not from the local area and are influenced by the Pakistan-based central command of the Taliban – such as its leader Mullah Omar. The other 80 percent are local “opportunists” who are making money being paid by the Taliban to do jobs such as planting roadside bombs known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

U.S. intelligence officials estimate that the Taliban can pay approximately $300 a month to its rank-and-file soldiers. An Afghan policeman is lucky if he makes $100 a month.

Since early July, some 4,500 American U.S. Marines and hundreds of Afghans soldiers have launc hed offensives against the Taliban in Helmand and, according to a senior US Marine officer, as a result the Taliban “are on their arse, literally.”

The officer said that of the 13 districts in Helmand, only one is now fully controlled by the Taliban. However, they continue to maintain a persistent presence in the province and are capable of launching IED attacks at will throughout Helmand.

In Dawa District, in central Helmand, Marines at a dusty, spartan base with no electricity or running water venture out on several-hour foot patrols. They move through canal-fed corn fields armed with metal detectors and a bomb-sniffing dog looking to discover and disable IEDs.

The IEDs range from simple victim- operated bombs, typically pressure plate devices made from wood and springs, to more complex devices that are remotely detonated using a command wire. The corn rows that stand 10-feet high provide an ideal environment in which the IED triggermen can hide.

During World War II, 3 percent of American combat deaths were caused by mines or booby traps. By 1967 during the Vietnam War the figure rose to 9 percent. In Iraq during the latter half of 2005, IEDs were the leading cause of American combat deaths, responsible for 65 percent of all fatalities and half of all nonfatal injuries.

According to Brigadier General Laurence Nicholson, who is in charge of the Marine brigade in Helmand, an astonishing 80 percent of the casualties of the Marines under his command are now caused by IEDs.

Just one more statistic that helps explain why Helmand remains one of the more dangerous places on the planet.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
September 8th, 2009
06:15 PM ET

South to Kandahar

Program Note: For more on Afghanistan follow AC360° and ac360.com all this week. Anderson Cooper will be reporting live from Afghanistan and will be joined by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Michael Ware and Peter Bergen.

The crew boards a C130 at ISAF Kabul airbase.
The crew boards a C130 at ISAF Kabul airbase.

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst

Over the loudspeaker system, a female voice announces “ISAF flight number 44 from Kabul to Kandahar is leaving at gate 1.” Just like for any other flight we grab our hand luggage and boarding passes but what makes this boarding a little bit different is that all the passengers are wearing flak jackets and clutching helmets. We troop in double file to the whale-like C-130 transport plane operated by a crew of reservists out of Missouri and strap in for the ride.

On the plane is a motley crew of young Asian women likely destined to work at the massive US/NATO base at Kandahar Air Field; a smorgasbord of soldiers from various European countries, and American military contractors wearing their uniform of baseball caps, cargo pants and shades. Most snooze through the 75-minute flight.

As we fly south to Kandahar I start thinking about the perfectly good highway constructed for several hundred million dollars—much of it American taxpayer money– that connects Kabul and Kandahar and the fact that anyone on this flight would be likely committing suicide if they drove it without a significant security detail as it is now a gauntlet of possible Taliban ambushes.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
September 4th, 2009
08:25 PM ET

The Afghan Phoenix

Program Note: For more on Afghanistan follow AC360° and ac360.com all next week. Anderson Cooper will be reporting live from Afghanistan and will be joined by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Michael Ware and Peter Bergen.

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst

The first surprise is Kabul airport. The new terminal - “a gift of the people of Japan” - appears to have been airlifted in from a small American city; light-filled, modern and staffed by young men in uniforms of khaki pants and blue shirts who politely answer travelers’ questions as they direct traffic through the quiet, marble halls of the terminal.

This is quite a change from the old Kabul airport terminal, which was not much more than a big shed that broiled in summer and froze in winter with one wheezing baggage belt disgorging luggage to a chaotic press of travelers.

I have visited the Kabul airport since 1993 and it has been an accurate barometer of Afghanistan’s shifting fortunes. In the mid-90s the country was in the grip of a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died and the airport of the capital was littered with the carcasses of airplanes large and small that had crashed on landing or takeoff during the past decade-plus of war.

Under the Taliban - whose fantasies about establishing a 7th century utopia here on earth did not extend to the simplest acts of real governance - no effort was made to clear up this mess. Once their regime fell in 2001, gradually the rusting hulks of the crashed planes were cleared from the runways.

Then came the mine sweepers. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world and the strategically significant Kabul airport was mined particularly heavily. It took years for the mine sweepers to clear the airport runways but now they are long gone, as they are from much of the country.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
August 18th, 2009
05:42 PM ET

Hardly winning

A man carries a child injured in an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.
A man carries a child injured in an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.

Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

"Taliban Now Winning" declared Monday's headline in the Wall Street Journal based on its interview with Gen Stanley McChrystal. But the headline was a classic case of a editor hyping the substance of a story, which the reporters of the story themselves had already applied a little touch of their own gilding to when they characterized General McChrystal's position in their interview to be that the Taliban now had the "upper hand."

In fact, when the WSJ reporters actually came to quote him, General McChrystal said rather more innocuously of the Taliban, "It's a very aggressive enemy right now... We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It's hard work."

Read more...


Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Global 360° • Peter Bergen
August 12th, 2009
11:09 PM ET

Hardly winning

A U.S. soldier takes his position near a building attacked by the Taliban south of Kabul, Afghanistan.
A U.S. soldier takes his position near a building attacked by the Taliban south of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst
For Foreign Policy

"Taliban Now Winning" declared Monday's headline in the Wall Street Journal based on its interview with Gen Stanley McChrystal. But the headline was a classic case of a editor hyping the substance of a story, which the reporters of the story themselves had already applied a little touch of their own gilding to when they characterized General McChrystal's position in their interview to be that the Taliban now had the "upper hand."

In fact, when the WSJ reporters actually came to quote him, General McChrystal said rather more innocuously of the Taliban, "It's a very aggressive enemy right now... We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It's hard work."

McChrystal added that the Taliban were moving beyond their strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west. But that's a lot different than saying either that the Taliban is "winning" or has the "upper hand." (Would the pre-Murdoch WSJ have headlined the piece in this hyped-up manner? Just asking.)

McChrystal's views about the Taliban were more accurately captured by a USA Today article that appeared on the same day as the WSJ article in which he said "I wouldn't say we are winning or losing or stalemated... What I would say at this particular point is that the insurgency has a certain amount of initiative and momentum that we are working to stop and, in fact, reverse."

That doesn't sound much like the Taliban are "winning" or gaining the "upper hand" either.

Aside from the obvious implausibility of an American four-star general theater commander in the middle of a war saying that the enemy is "winning" in an on-the-record interview with a major U.S. newspaper - short of the Taliban appearing en masse at the gates of Kabul - there is another problem with this concept, which is that the Taliban are not winning or anything close to it.

Read More...


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
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