Small Wars

This Week at War: Send in the Spies

What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.


The CIA finds job security in Afghanistan

On Sept. 30, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell made it clear that the objective of President Barack Obama‘s Afghanistan policy — "to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al Qaeda" — remains unchanged. According to Morrell, what is open for discussion among Obama senior advisors is "whether or not counterinsurgency is still the preferred means of achieving that end."

As I discussed last week, Gen. Stanley McChrystal thinks counterinsurgency is the right course and has asked for at least 40,000 additional U.S. soldiers to implement this approach. It is now up to Obama to assess the risk of McChrystal’s strategy and weigh whether the costs measure up to the promised benefits.

While Obama and his team deliberate, other developments are underway that will either support McChrystal’s request or perhaps create alternatives. On Sept. 20, the Los Angeles Times reported on another "surge" into Afghanistan, this one by the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the article, the CIA‘s head count in Afghanistan will increase to 700, led by increases in paramilitary officers, intelligence analysts, and operatives tracking the behavior of Afghan government officials.

The piece discussed how McChrystal, while in charge of special operating forces in Iraq, formed teams composed of CIA paramilitary officers and special operations personnel from the U.S. military. This fusion of capabilities is credited with improving intelligence collection and direct action operations against insurgent networks. McChrystal may now be using this same technique in Afghanistan.

But raising the CIA’s presence in Afghanistan to a higher plateau might set the stage for alternative approaches to U.S. strategy. Popular discussions of U.S. alternatives for Afghanistan focus on three options: McChrystal’s beefed-up counterinsurgency campaign; a counterterror campaign using special operations raids and drone strikes; and abandonment. In reality, there is an entire continuum of options formulated by U.S. planners to achieve Obama’s stated objective. Some of these options would focus on training, equipping, and advising Afghanistan’s official security forces. Others might focus on enhancing security at the local level through village and tribal militias. Still others might attempt to turn the clock back to 2001 and 2002, when the CIA and special operations forces essentially hired Afghan warlords to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda. And there are many more options, all with varying degrees of plausibility.

One thing all of these options have in common is a requirement for greater CIA participation. Options that have fewer U.S. military forces directly providing security imply more Afghans providing security. This will require greater employment of U.S. liaison officers and advisors from both the U.S. military and the CIA’s clandestine service.

If Obama chooses McChrystal’s most military-intensive recommendation, it seems as if the CIA’s role in Afghanistan will still increase both now and in the future. A successful military surge in Afghanistan will eventually be followed by a drawdown and a handoff to Afghan security forces. In the wake of this scenario, U.S. military advisors and CIA officers would maintain contact with Afghan security forces and keep watch on the residual al Qaeda threat.

Afghanistan seems bound to provide job security for the CIA.

Can Israel get MAD with Iran?

One option, perhaps the most likely option, for dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran is the tried-and-true Cold War model: containment, deterrence, and the related doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD). The United States and Soviet Union deterred a nuclear first strike against their territories and forces when they were able to convince the other side that a devastating second-strike force would always survive to retaliate after a first strike.

U.S. and Soviet submarine-based nuclear forces guaranteed MAD and stabilized nuclear deterrence for the duration of the Cold War. Even if land-based missiles and bombers were wiped out in a surprise attack, the submarines lurking in the deep would survive and be ready to retaliate.

While publicly vowing to prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon, Israel might also be developing its own submarine-based nuclear force in an attempt to achieve a MAD deterrent in the event that prevention efforts fail. The Sept. 29 edition of Defense News noted that Israel took delivery of two German-built submarines, adding to the three it already operates. According to the article, Israel’s submarines are capable of launching cruise missiles, which could possibly be fitted with nuclear warheads.

Israel cannot rely on land-based missiles and aircraft for nuclear deterrence. In fact, relying solely on land-based forces would end up being highly destabilizing. Israel’s land area is tiny and it has few places to disperse these forces. They will someday become vulnerable to Iran’s advancing ballistic missile threat. With missile flight times from Iran measuring just a few minutes, Israel would have to adopt a highly dangerous launch-on-warning doctrine for its land-based forces. The possibility of nuclear war starting by accident would be greater than it was during the Cold War.

As with the Cold War, a submarine-based deterrent force would add stability to the Israel-Iran nuclear competition. If Israel could maintain at least one submarine on patrol at all times and in contact with Israel’s leadership (no small challenge), there would be a greatly reduced need for a hair-trigger alert.

Of course, the arms race between Israel and Iran was never supposed to happen. However, Israel never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is widely assumed to be a nuclear weapons state. The NPT has hardly lived up to its promises among its signatories; the U.N. Security Council has been unable to enforce the resolutions it passed when it concluded that North Korea and Iran violated the treaty.

With the NPT shown to be either ignored or unenforceable, the international community may have to resort to managing rather than preventing such arms races. Germany’s decision to sell cruise-missile-capable submarines to Israel will make one such arms race safer. If outside powers cannot stop the nuclear arms race between Israel and Iran, they will have to consider what other steps they can take to reduce its risks.

Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal.