October 29, 2010

Gorbachev: US victory in Afghanistan 'impossible'

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has told the BBC that a US victory in Afghanistan is 'impossible.'

"Victory is impossible in Afghanistan," Gorbachev said. "Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be."

Gorbachev was the Soviet leader who decided to pull his forces out of Afghanistan -- a process completed in 1989. Two years before announcing plans to pull all Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, Gorbachev referred to the country as a "bleeding wound."

Earlier this year, US Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal (ret.), then head of US-led forces in Afghanistan, referred to southern Afghanistan's Marjah operations as a "bleeding ulcer."

The AP's Todd Pitman recently spent time in Marjah assessing the progress and discovered that Marines there are still facing a "full-blown insurgency."

In his latest piece on Marjah, Pitman notes that the struggles in Helmand provide a grim picture of what the US and Afghan forces might face in Kandahar once the intensive military offensives wind down.

"The February assault on the poppy-growing hub in Helmand province was supposed to be the first stage here of the counterinsurgency strategy, 'clear, hold, build,'" Pitman writes. "But Capt. Chuck Anklam, who commands 2/9's Echo Company in a northern swathe of Marjah, said all three stages are now going on simultaneously -- and none of them is complete."

As Pitman notes, the traditional fighting season is winding down and weary insurgents may be returning to their sanctuaries in Pakistan. That could give US and Afghan leaders some breathing room to establish credible local governments in areas once dominated by Taliban forces. They will focus on shoring up weak Afghan forces that will be needed to retain control of the one-time Taliban hideouts.

As they did in Marjah, some local insurgents are fading into the background because they know they can't hold their own against US forces. If the US learned lessons from Marjah, chances are that the insurgents did as well.

October 4, 2010

Is US military adopting 'loose lips sink ships' mentality in Kabul?

Loose-lips-sink-ships-posters When U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal was forced into retirement in June and Defense Secretary Robert Gates responded by issuing constricting new media regulations, there was immediate concern that the U.S. military was going to circle the wagons and keep most journalists from getting too close.

"I have grown increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and, in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press," Gates said at the time. "So this is more about our being more intelligent and thoughtful about how we respond to requests for interviews and to try and make sure that the information you're getting is accurate, as well as making sure that our people aren't speaking out about issues where they may be treading on sensitive ground and not even know it."

Translation: Loose lips sink ships!

Although U.S. military officers have repeatedly offered assurances that they are as open as ever to media access, in practice, reporters in Kabul say, it has gotten more difficult to even get basic facts and figures from the new deployment of ISAF public affairs officers to arrive in Afghanistan after McChrystal's ouster.

One recent example took place last Thursday, when a confused US attack apparently killed three Pakistani paramilitary troops on the border. It took hours to reach US military media spokespeople in Afghanistan who were willing to talk about the confrontation.

Over the weekend, after assailants set NATO fuel trucks ablaze in Pakistan, McClatchy asked to interview someone at ISAF to discuss the supply route challenges.

McClatchy asked for basic information on what percentage of ISAF supplies comes through Pakistan, what ususally comes through those border crossings, how ISAF was preparing to deal with plans to shutter the private security firms that protect NATO supply convoys in Afghanistan, and how far ISAF had come in reducing its reliance on the Pakistan supply route since similar attacks in 2008.

After a day of crafting an answer, ISAF ignored the request for an interview and responded with an oblique statement:

"ISAF and NATO have a variety of supply routes to ensure an adequate flow of logistics to support operations in Afghanistan. We have contingency plans in place to deal with interruptions to the normal flow of supplies. That said, it is in all of our interests to ensure that security be maintained -- it is an important element of the Pakistani economy, it's important to our logistics stocks. As attacks take place, NATO has no alternative but to seek other routes into Afghanistan -- we are exploring other logistics routes with other countries in the North."

What makes this kind of response even more curious is that one call to CENTCOM in Florida was all it took to find out that about 50 percent of ISAF supplies comes through Pakistan.

If CENTCOM can provide basic information within minutes, it makes one wonder why ISAF can't even answer the same question in 48 hours.

On the question of protecting NATO supply convoys in Afghanistan, the ISAF statement was no more illuminating than the one put out in August when Karzai announced the ban on security companies:

"ISAF supports President Karzai's object of reducing in the near-term with the goal of eventually transitioning private security responsibilities to Afghan security forces. This is an under-taking that requires a deliberate process. ISAF pledges to work closely with the Afghan government to help make this transition successful."

Fortunately, at the moment, the farther one moves away from ISAF HQ, the easier it is to find out what's going on. U.S. forces out at the far flung bases across Afghanistan have no qualms about speaking candidly about the war.

September 23, 2010

Fallout from Rolling Stone-McChrystal scandal

The finger pointing over the unceremonious dumping of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal (ret.) continues.

The U.S. military has submitted a special report on the controversy that blames lower level aides to McChrystal for the most disparaging comments made in the Rolling Stone article that led to the general's dismissal. Lady-gaga

The report concludes that neither the general, nor his top officers, made the inflammatory comments to reporter Michael Hastings.

Instead, the report places the blame on an unnamed U.S. Navy special warfare officer and two unnamed civilian aides to McChrystal.

The Navy officer was apparently never interviewed by investigators and has denied being a source for critical quotes.

One top civilian aide to McChrystal, Duncan Boothby, was the first to resign -- hours after the article came out.

The most disparaging thing attributed to McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article was a caustic comment when he received an e-mail from Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special rep for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Even so, Obama's top military leaders in DC agreed that the article made it impossible for McChrystal to keep his job in Afghanistan.

Fallout from the controversy prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately issue new media restrictions that have made it more difficult to find US military sources willing to talk candidly about the state of the war in Afghanistan.

It has also become more difficult to secure interviews with top US military officials who were once happy to sit down with reporters to discuss the lay of the land.

The US military media folks contend that there is no deliberate attempt to restrict media access.

Whatever the reason, it seems clear that military officials have become much more wary of speaking their minds since McChrystal was forced out.

July 21, 2010

A haji's farewell to Marjah


(Haji Zahir, the former district governor of Marjah, takes a phone call in March at his sparse, U.S.-protected office in Marjah.)

He was supposed to be a central piece of US Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's "government in a box" plans when US-led forces stormed into Marjah and quashed hard-core Taliban resistance in the dusty Helmand town.

Well McChrystal has gone. And, now, so too has Haji Zahir, the one-time Marjah district governor.

Zahir was quietly removed from the post last week.

Military officials in southern Afghanistan said he had been removed because he refused to take a long-delayed government competency exam. But, chances are, it had more to do with his performance. Or lack thereof.

Zahir's removal isn't a big shocker.

After all, soon after Haji Zahir took control in the wake of the US Marine offensive, Josh Partlow at The Washington Post reported that the new Helmand leader had been convicted in Germany of stabbing his step-son.

Zahir vehemently denied the allegations, even as the AP and other reporters in Germany found court records and news reports showing that Zahir had served four years in prison for the assault.

At the time, the top NATO civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, was quoted as defending Haji Zair by suggesting that the assault conviction was no big deal.

"This country is not going to be run by choir boys," Sedwill reportedly said at the time.

A new guy has been brought in to try and get a handle on the place McChrystal, before he was unceremoniously ousted, called a "bleeding ulcer."

No word yet on whether the new district governor has any hidden problems in his past...

July 13, 2010

Were US reporters AWOL in Afghanistan?

One of the unexpected casualties of the recent ouster of US Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been the battered credibility of the mainstream media.

Critics have fallen over each other to mock the MSM for letting freelance writer Michael Hastings -- a former MSM war reporter -- swoop in and produce one of the single-most immediately impactful stories in a decade of Afghanistan coverage.

Recently, writer and media critic Charles Kaiser claimed that the MSM was "humiliated" by the Rolling Stone story.

And, in the most cutting of late-night jibes, Jon Stewart mocked MSM coverage of Afghanistan.

"At approximately 11:04 a.m. Eastern Standard Time," Stewart intoned in his piece on the impact of the Rolling Stone article, "the American news media finally realized they kind of suck."

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Criticism of the "lamestream media" (to use a favored Sarah Palin term) is easy. And, in many ways, lazy.

Were US reporters AWOL in Afghanistan?

Instead of hanging around at Kabul bars trolling for drunken sources (as some critics imply), reporters are often out with the soldiers. Not a day goes by without war reporters documenting how the war is going on the front-lines.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who won a Peabody Award this year for her coverage of Afghanistan, produced an emotional piece on the death of one US Marine who was shot right next to her in the early days of the Marjah operation.

More recently, NPR's Tom Bowman and David Gilkey have been facing constant danger as they document the unfolding military operations in Kandahar Province.

Last fall, McClatchy's own Jonathan Landay was caught in a deadly ambush in eastern Afghanistan.

During the fight, a US Marine tossed Jonathan a wounded comrade's M-4 and said: "This is your rifle now."

That prompted Jonathan to take a closer look at what went wrong and produced a definitive examination of the battle -- an investigation that drew the ire of McChrystal's team in Kabul because it blamed the top general for making flawed decisions that forced US forces out on deadly patrols in remote areas last fall.

Jonathan's story is but one example of reporting in the MSM to challenge the US military.

In one recent case, Josh Partlow at The Washington Post, Laura King at the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Quil Lawrence all produced stories that challenged the US military's version of a deadly night raid in May that killed nine people.

In his critique of the MSM, Kaiser singled out Dexter Filkins of The New York Times for writing a fawning profile of McChrystal. Filkins was also co-author of an explosive story stating that President Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali, was on the CIA payroll, a revelation that irked many in Washington.

The list goes on and on.

In a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, Hastings actually praised the MSM.

"I think the reporters covering stories have done a great job, for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, McClatchy, they do a great job of covering this stuff," Hastings said. "I think it just happened to be this moment, where in Rolling Stone we were able to take all these sorts of feelings and sentiments that were out there and just concentrate it in 8,000 words or 6000 words and that's why it created such an impact."

At one point, Hastings also suggests that McClatchy's "bleeding ulcer" story upset the White House and set the stage of McChrystal's ouster when the Rolling Stone story came out.

(McChrystal's team swiftly criticized the "bleeding ulcer" piece in a letter to McClatchy editors and called the headline, which referred to McChrystal's "bleeding ulcer" quotes, as "intellectually dishonest."  McChrystal's team strongly urged McClatchy to change the "bleeding ulcer" headline. McClatchy Foreign Editor Roy Gutman politely declined.)

"If he had not just called Marjah a 'bleeding ulcer' a couple of weeks earlier, he’d probably still have a job," Hastings said on Democracy Now!. "Success gets you a lot of support in Washington... "

"Part of the trick with counterinsurgency is that you need to communicate," Hastings added. "It’s a battle of perceptions both in Afghanistan and America and you need to have sort of a great communicator to tell the story about why you’re having success, to create this narrative of success or this narrative of how we will reach success. I think when all is said and done, General McChrystal’s great failure in fact was his inability to communicate his strategy and what they perceived as having success. If you want to communicate a strategy of success, I would avoid using words like 'bleeding' and 'ulcer.'"

This week, the ombudsman at PBS weighed in.

"The idea that a military beat reporter might not have reported this, I think, is a bum rap," wrote Michael Getler, a former military reporter and top editor at The Washington Post. "We'll never know for sure, but the rap itself is harmful. I covered the military for many years and I can't think of a reporter who would back away from this story. It is true that many blockbuster stories — the My Lai massacre and Watergate in the 1970s, for example — were uncovered by those outside established beats. But the secret bombing of Cambodia at that time, a huge story that led in part to the fateful search for leaks by President Nixon, was also reported by the New York Times Pentagon reporter, and the recent Washington Post expose of outpatient conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was also done, in part, by a national security reporter."

May 28, 2010

Gorbachev's history lesson for McChrystal

As several McClatchy readers inside and outside the U.S. government have pointed out, there may be a particular reason that U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his team were especially perturbed by the "bleeding ulcer" headline of McClatchy's recent story about the general's battlefield assessment in Helmand Province.

The "bleeding ulcer" phrase, as Andrew Sullivan noted at The Daily Dish, hearkens back to the Soviet era when USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev referred to Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound" (about six years into the occupation). Two years later, Gorbachev announced plans to pull all Soviet forces out of Afghanistan.

May 27, 2010

McChrystal v. McClatchy

Last week, US Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's office extended a rare invitation to McClatchy to join the top military commander in Afghanistan on a day-long assessment of the situation in Helmand.

KandsmalleThe Marjah military campaign has come under increasing criticism in the media. And political leaders in DC and Europe gave McChrystal an ear full of concerns about the pace of progress in Helmand and its impact on the unfolding plans in neighboring Kandahar.

McChrystal and his team gave McClatchy privileged access throughout the day. McClatchy was allowed into every briefing, save one short meeting at the beginning of the day when McChrystal first arrived in southern Afghanistan at Camp Bastion.

The result was this story, titled "McChrystal calls Marjah a 'bleeding ulcer' of Afghan campaign."

The story, especially the headline, sparked an immediate furor as the US military called the headline "intellectually dishonest" and strongly requested that the on-line headline be changed.

In response, McClatchy Foreign Editor Roy Gutman defended the article and said there appeared to be no need to change the headline.

"Good headlines always pick the most salient point of a story in order to grab reader's attention, and this one did its job," Gutman wrote.

As might be expected, the "bleeding ulcer" quote came up during a Pentagon briefing yesterday with UK Major-Gen. Nick Carter, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

As we noted in the story, Carter told Pentagon reporters in February that it would take about 90 days to assess the success in Marjah.

"I guess it will take us another 25 to 30 days to be entirely sure that we have secured that which needs to be secured," Carter said in February.  "And we probably won't know, for about 120 days, whether or not the population is entirely convinced by the degree of commitment that their government is showing to them. So I guess looking downstream, in three months' time or thereabouts, we should have a pretty fair idea about whether we've been successful. But I would be very cautious about any triumphalism just yet."

About 100 days after making that prediction, Carter again appeared via satellite to talk with Pentagon reporters yesterday about the state of affairs in southern Afghanistan.

One of the first questions Carter fielded was about the "bleeding ulcer" quote.

"When General McChrystal referred to Marja as a bleeding ulcer, he was talking about the perception of the outside world," Carter told the Pentagon reporters. "And of course, in the same way that it's important that Afghan perceptions go in the right direction, it's important that the outside world also has the right perceptions. And I think his feeling was that some people in the outside world would regard Marja as being a bleeding ulcer. That's not the way he sees it in theater, nor, indeed, is that the way that the Afghans see it. It's very important, I think, that things are set properly in context."

In short, McChrystal's folks felt as if the headline and structure of the story made it appear as if McChrystal was pessimistic about the way things were going in Marjah when he was merely trying to light a fire under his commanders.

But McChrystal wasn't just talking about public perceptions in the outside world. He raised significant questions about the pace of progress and suggested that more troops at the start might have done a better job of securing the area.

The story made it clear from the opening anecdote that McChrystal was trying to convey to his commanders that political impatience was growing in Washington and Europe. And the full "bleeding ulcer" quote included in the story made that point clear.

Because of the extraordinary access given to McClatchy to classified briefings in Helmand, all quotes used in the story -- including the contested "bleeding ulcer" quote -- were run by McChrystal's team before being published.

In fact, because of the delicate political dynamics, McClatchy went back a second time to make sure that McChrystal's folks had no objections to McClatchy printing any of the quotes used in the piece - including the "bleeding ulcer" line.

Again, McChrystal's media folks gave the go-ahead to use the information.

The only thing McChrystal's folks asked to make clear was that McChrystal was joking when he told Carter it was "your plan" when they debated troop strength.

At no point before the article was published did McChrystal's team object to using the "bleeding ulcer" quote.

Now, Gen. McChrystal's folks are accusing McClatchy of intellectual dishonesty.

Readers of the story, and the exchange of letters, can judge for themselves.

May 25, 2010

McChrystal lights fire under Marjah commanders


(U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal aboard a helicopter in southern Afghanistan during a day-long assessment of progress in Helmand on Thursday, May 20, 2010.)

The questions were deliberately provocative. The discussions sometimes grew animated as generals and civilians verbally sparred with U.S, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as he oversaw a 10-hour, high-level assessment last week of progress in Helmand.

In meeting after meeting last Thursday, McChrystal worked to light a fire under U.S. generals, British commanders and Western strategists working to transform Marjah into a success.

After his recent visits to DC and Europe, McChrystal returned with a renewed appreciation for the political anxiety in the global capitals.

"People are asking: Are we failing?" McChrystal said in one briefing.

Throughout the day, McChrystal tried to impress upon the top military and civilian strategists that they needed to kick it into high gear.

"This is a bleeding ulcer right now," McChrystal told strategists at one point on the trip.  "You don't feel it here, but I'll tell you, it's a bleeding ulcer outside."

Perhaps the most animated discussion of the day took place in the Helmand PRT where civilian and military leaders are working together to secure Marjah and Nad Ali.

"I think the pace of progress is satisfactory," said Ghulam Gilani Popal, the Afghan head of the independent directorate of local governance. "Some of the things we cannot expedite. Like how to restore the confidence of the people. That needs time. But the rest of the things are good."

"I have a slightly different view," McChrystal replied as his top commanders looked on. "I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower… I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better. That’s a bleeding ulcer right now. You don’t feel it here, but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside. We’re making progress. I have no doubt about that. But Kandahar is being judged through the lens of Marjah and that lens may not be fair, but that’s the lens…"

"In 2001, we were viewed as omniscient and omnipotent," said McChrystal. "That has decreased every year since. When we can’t secure, I think there’s a perception that we don’t want to secure or there’s a perception that we’re not what they thought we were."

McChrystal's deliberately provocative attempts to spark a debate about troop levels did exactly that.

U.S. Major-Gen. Nick Carter, the commander of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, challenged McChrystal.

"I don’t agree with you about putting more forces in there," said Carter. "I agree with Director Popal. This is about convincing people."

"You’re going to feel that," McChyrstal cut in in with a deadpan joke "It’s your plan."

"I am, sir," Carter replied. "You would have to put about five brigades in to achieve the effect you’re talking about and, even then, I bet the Taliban would get through because it’s in the minds of people. And I really don’t think, in Marjah in particular, it would have made much difference. I think what’s going to make the difference, whether we marketed it right or not at the beginning, is time. And it’s about persuading people."

"I think we have let too much move along without overwhelming enough security, and I think we are paying the price for it," said McChrystal.

Later, McChrystal explained his thinking more.

"What we have done, in my view, we have given the insurgency a chance to be a little bit credible because we’ve put in more forces than ever in an area with a unique situation. We said: We’re taking it back. We came in to take it back, and we haven’t been completely convincing."

McChrystal's staff invited McClatchy along for the day-long strategic assessment in an apparent attempt to convey the challenges strategists are facing and spotlight the progress they are making in Helmand.

To McChrystal's team, the progress in Marjah is "mixed" and there is no need to panic.

On the flight back to Kabul, McChrystal expressed confidence with the plans in southern Afghanistan.

McChrystal's view was backed by Mark Sedwill, the former UK ambassador to Afghanistan who is now NATO's senior civilian representative in the country.

Marjah, Sedwill conceded in an interview with McClatchy "is taking longer, frankly, than any of us would have hoped."

"Have they changed as fast as was reasonable to expect?" Sedwill said. "I don’t know. It was a long way gone, therefore I think patience is necessary. But I can quite understand why the sheer amount of attention created a sense of expectations that’s hard to fulfill. I think it wasn’t really until we started holding these shuras that we realized, not how bad it was under the Taliban, because in a sense that was fairly obvious. But actually, what we hadn't really appreciated was how bad things had been beforehand and why the Taliban found fertile ground into which they could move and do well enough to raise their flags over it. You can only do that with the support of the people. And none of us, including the Afghans, had really understood why that had happened and quite how appalling the circumstances had been beforehand."

In a recent speech at London's Chatham House, Sedwill laid out a sobering picture of success in Afghanistan.

"If we succeed in regaining the initiative, resolving political tensions and transitioning responsibility, what will Afghanistan look like by 2014 when President Karzai's second term concludes and history begins the judgment of the legacy he hands his successor?" Sedwill asked in the address.

"Afghanistan will still be poor and rough, especially to the western eye," he said. "Illiteracy will still be rife, worse among women and worse still in the rural areas. Respect for human rights, especially women's and children's, will still be patchy. Corruption will still be entrenched – getting Afghanistan up the Transparency Index to the levels of much of Africa will be a dramatic success. To Western eyes, the levels of violence, mostly tribal, land and water disputes, might seem eye-watering, punctuated by eye-catching terrorist attacks from whatever remains of the insurgency."

"I know that doesn't sound as inspiring as some of the early nation-building rhetoric, but think how much we will have achieved," Sedwill argued at the end of his speech. "Afghanistan will be stable enough that the integrity of the nation is assured. Afghanistan's territory will not be a safe haven for al-Qaeda or other groups to attack us or disrupt Pakistan. Afghanistan's kaleidoscope of ethnic groups will be working together through authentically Afghan and thus to the western eye confusing parliamentary, shura and jirga mechanisms to share political power and the economic benefits of Afghanistan's huge mineral resources. President Karzai will be the first democratic Afghan leader to hand power to a democratic successor, and one of very few to hand over his country in a dramatically better condition than he inherited."

In the interview on Sunday, Sedwill conceded that the military coalition may have a difficult time at year's end demonstrating concrete progress.

If all goes well, Sedwill argued, the international coalition will be able to point to a series of positive benchmarks: From beginning to stabilize Marjah and holding a successful international conference this July in Kabul to helping to hold comparatively fair parliamentary elections and containing Taliban control in Kandahar.

"Personally, I'm probably slightly more confident than I am saying, but I'm not willing to jump ahead of where the evidence lies," said Sedwill. "The raw data I many areas will not look dramatically different by the end of the year, but I do believe that we will be able to show that the direction is positive... It's a hard argument, but it has to be good enough, because nobody every promised that it was going to be better than that."


(A U.S. military helicopter flies over a military base in southern Afghanistan.)

May 18, 2010

Kabul blast hits NATO convoy near COIN academy

The attacker hit just after 8 a.m. and detonated more than a half ton of explosives as a NATO convoy made its way through early morning traffic on the edge of the Afghan capital.

From a few miles away, outside the presidential palace, the car bomb sounded like a large, hollow trucking container being dropped on a nearby street.

But the explosives, which one investigator estimated to be about 1,300 pounds, sent armored SUVs aloft and blew a massive hole in the cement wall alongside the road.

Afghan officials said 12 Afghan civilians were killed and four dozen more were injured. Many of them were riding on a public bus that was hit squarely by the nearby blast.

NATO said six service members, including five Americans, had been killed by the bomber.

Bombblog1 A few yards from the crater, American soldiers used a camouflage blanket to cover one body alongside a ravaged Suburban that appeared to be part of the NATO convoy.

Blood soaked into the dirt road and shrapnel could be found in fields hundreds of yards from the blast site.

The attack took place on a crowded, dusty, pothole-riddled street running from central Kabul out towards the Afghan parliament, and an Afghan army base nestled in the valley below Kabul's Darul Aman Palace, the iconic hilltop palace built in the 1920s by King Amanullah Khan.

(The bullet-riddled, bomb-scarred, abandoned palace has become a longstanding symbol of the ravages of decades of war in Afghanistan.)

The valley is also home to the U.S. military's counter-insurgency academy, the intelligence center meant to push the dominant military thinking in Afghanistan that puts protecting the civilian population as the priority ahead of killing insurgents.

Tuesday's attack took place two hours before Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a palace press conference meant to showcase his successful Washington visit that was engineered to rebuild his brittle relationship with the Obama administration.

His press conference was largely overshadowed by the morning's attack.

April 30, 2010

Daily Show hits PowerPoint Afghan war

Last December, thanks to Richard Engel at NBC, Checkpoint Kabul brought you the Great Afghan Spaghetti Monster, an ominous PowerPoint slide from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that purported to show the dynamics of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan.

This week, The New York Times brought more attention to the slide and the simmering hatred for PowerPoint among many folks in the military.

While many mock PowerPoint, last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart was quick to point out that there is a long history of PowerPoint usage by legendary military leaders, from Patton to Braveheart.

You can see the skit below...

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In writing about the slide last year, Engel wrote:

"For some military commanders, the slide is genius, an attempt to show how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration. It represents a new approach to war fighting, looking beyond simply killing enemy fighters. It underscores what those fighting wars have long known, that everything matters.

"But for others, the diagram represents a fool’s errand that the United States has taken on in the name of national security. Detractors say the slide represents an assault on logic, an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. They say the concept of occupying a foreign nation to protect security at home is expensive, time consuming, ineffective and ultimately leads to the 'spaghetti logic' of the slide. They say this slide is what happens when smart people are asked to come up with a solution to the wrong question."


Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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