A Bittersweet Goodbye Post

So I’ve been dreading this for some time. But this is going to be my last post for FDL, a community I’ve been honored and fucking thrilled to join ever since Jane let me take Attackerman 2.0 here in June 2008. My departure is pretty mundane: the congressional press galleries are wary of giving me permanent credentials while I’m affiliated here, and I don’t want to impede any of my reporting responsibilities at my day job with Wired‘s Danger Room. So off I go.

It’s really hard for me to imagine writing Attackerman without it being a part of FDL. I’ve been incredibly privileged to host it among a community as thoughtful, challenging, provocative and passionate as this one. Thanks to everyone who challenged me in comments: even if I got pissed, you helped me reexamine the weak points in my thinking. I love seeing FDL expand, grow and develop. Now I’ll watch it happen as a commenter, well-wisher and reader.

Just in case you were wondering: this has nothing to do with the Lamo/Manning issue. No one at Wired has ever said anything to me about my affiliation with FDL being remotely problematic; no one at FDL has ever said anything to me about my affiliation with Wired being remotely problematic. Professional circumstance brought me to this point, but it’s my call. You will never hear or read me saying anything about FDL except how awesome it is and will continue to be. (I am, admittedly, guilty of bad timing, as I have been and probably will continue to be for the rest of my life.)

So. Attackerman 3.0 is going to be a stripped-down, no-frills, happily amateurish affair, available for your reading pleasure at http://spencerackerman.typepad.com/attackerman/. I’ll write about the same old national-security stuff, but expect the pace to be more languid, much more like a hobbyblog, while I focus on my day job and take care of stuff like planning my wedding in the new year. I hope you’ll stop by, or at least tweet at me. I’d really hate it if this were really goodbye.

Journey To The End

BACK IN D.C. — Via Juan Cole, Nouri al-Maliki clarifies his intentions for U.S. troops in a Wall Street Journal interview:

‘ WSJ: Some American officials have spoken about contingency plans being drawn now in Washington for the possibility that some American troops will stay after 2011. Do you know about these contingency plans, and do you need troops?

Mr. Maliki: I do not care about what’s being said. I care about what’s on paper and what has been agreed to. The withdrawal of forces agreement [Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA] expires on Dec. 31, 2011. The last American soldier will leave Iraq.

Secondly this agreement is sealed and at the time we designated it as sealed and not subject to extension, except if the new government with Parliament’s approval wanted to reach a new agreement with America, or another country, that’s another matter. This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration, it is sealed, it expires on Dec. 31 [2011]. ‘

“The last American soldier” probably exempts trainers for Iraqi pilots and other residual elements. But if anything, this reads like Maliki warning the Obama administration not to make any requests. And since Obama will need to cite the end of the Iraq war as an accomplishment during his reelection campaign, that probably amounts to an alignment of political interests.

When There’s Nothing On The Horizon, You’ve Got Nothing Left To Lose

IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 1181-10
December 28, 2010
DOD Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. Garrett A. Misener, 25, of Cordova, Tenn., died Dec. 27 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

For additional background information on this Marine, news media representatives may contact the 2nd Marine Division public affairs office at 910-449-9925 or http://www.marines.mil/unit/2ndmardiv/Pages/Media/default.aspx .

When There’s Nothing On The Horizon, You’ve Got Nothing Left To Prove

IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 1180-10
December 27, 2010
DOD Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lance Cpl. Kenneth A. Corzine, 23, of Bethalto, Ill., died Dec. 24 of wounds received Dec. 5 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

For additional background information on this Marine, news media representatives may contact the 1st Marine Division public affairs office at 760-725-8766.

Mapping Failure in Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal scores some classified United Nations maps of Afghanistan showing the deterioration of security in the north and west without notable improvements in security in the south and east during 2010. Joshua Foust properly notes that he told you so.

I’m not going to embed the images of the maps, since I’m not sure what’s fair use here and I’d rather not tempt a lawsuit. But if you click through, you’ll see something striking that escapes comment in the Journal story. Among the changes from the March 2010 map to the October 2010 map is that there are now(ish) more high-risk areas surrounding Kabul. That fits with a longstanding insurgent strategy, as assessed by ISAF and explained to me over the past two years, of infiltration and resupply from the Pakistani tribal areas in the east to the areas near the capitol city, where they lie in wait for the moment to do something big. The Times reports that the Haqqani network, which has targeted Kabul for large complex attacks, has been suppressed by ISAF for the past several months, so it can hardly be said that the coalition is inattentive to an insurgent strategy that it has understood for years. Yet the UN still records the deterioration in strategically significant areas.

And The Military Looked At Industry, And Industry Looked At The Military, And No One Could Tell Who Was Who

Give Bryan Bender and the Boston Globe a Pulitzer for this doggedly-reported piece on how ubiquitous it is for retired generals who represent defense corporations to be included in decision-making on major military programs. It’s a wonderful piece that defies quick bloggery, but check out Jack Keane’s pull in stopping the cancellation of the Humvee while in the employ of its manufacturer.

Maps

The Wall Street Journal scores some classified United Nations maps of Afghanistan showing the deterioration of security in the north and west without notable improvements in security in the south and east during 2010. Joshua Foust properly notes that he told you so.

I’m not going to embed the images of the maps, since I’m not sure what’s fair use here and I’d rather not tempt a lawsuit. But if you click through, you’ll see something striking that escapes comment in the Journal story. Among the changes from the March 2010 map to the October 2010 map is that there are now(ish) more high-risk areas surrounding Kabul. That fits with a longstanding insurgent strategy, as assessed by ISAF and explained to me over the past two years, of infiltration and resupply from the Pakistani tribal areas in the east to the areas near the capitol city, where they lie in wait for the moment to do something big. The Times reports that the Haqqani network, which has targeted Kabul for large complex attacks, has been suppressed by ISAF for the past several months, so it can hardly be said that the coalition is inattentive to an insurgent strategy that it has understood for years. Yet the UN still records the deterioration in strategically significant areas.

Pure, Unadulterated Fear

I’m several days late to Marvel’s announcement of an “extinction-grade threat” in its summer 2011 crossover Fear Itself — and we’ve never, ever heard that before — but this is going to be a story I’ll be sorry to miss. Getting married is expensive and doesn’t allow for comic collecting. (I need to cancel my Comixology subscriptions as an exercise in budgetary discipline.) Marvel hasn’t struck me as thinking big recently: Siege was a mess and the “Heroic Era” has been a placid, inoffensive, unexciting new-normal. Matt Fraction is one of comics’ best writers, so seeing him spin out an elaborate social commentary within the confines of Marvel’s apparent corporate-structured inability to identify particular demagogues ought to be a worthy exercise, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pick it up in the TPB post-wedding.

Oh, and by the way, THIS. I figure I can cancel all my subscriptions except for S.H.I.E.L.D. and still meet my budget. As long as Hickman is writing S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s worth reading.

Afghanistan to the East: Deterioration

Pioneering Vet clinic in Taliban country
photo: Helmandblog via Flickr

The eastern provinces of Afghanistan abutting the Pakistani tribal areas provide cross-border access to the Taliban-led insurgent coalition. Whatever else you think about the Afghanistan war, the Obama administration decided in 2009 to deemphasize security operations in the east at the expense of a wide-ranging effort to reverse Taliban momentum in the south. The best that can be said of that effort so far is that Taliban momentum, by the administration’s account, is stalled. Meanwhile, in the east, this is what’s happening, the Times reports:

The September parliamentary elections further illustrated the Taliban’s grip on eastern Ghazni, about 90 miles south of Kabul. In Andar, a district of about 100,000 people, only three people voted.

And:

One place the government’s minimal footprint can be seen is in the schools. The government pays teachers’ salaries and buys books. But even here, the Taliban assert their influence. At a school of about 1,300 boys and 30 teachers in the nearby village of Chawni, the Taliban recently posted a letter on the wall detailing the curriculum that was to be taught.

“So here they get money from the government, books from the government, and they think it’s perfectly legitimate to teach what that Taliban tells them,” said Captain Schwengler, who commands the Third Battalion’s Company B.

Is that meant as criticism of a population that has to live under the Taliban’s grip even while an American presence patrols in the area? Seems like a perfectly rational calculation to me.

So how goes Maj. Gen. Campbell’s plan to secure eastern Afghanistan at its halfway point? There’s hardly enough evidence from a piece about part of Ghazni to judge, but the early signs are ominous ones.