Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Situation Report: The Battlefield Impact of Badruddin Haqqani’s Death

The lag after the Haqqani hit, Pentagon makes progress on the 'holy grail,' Stephen Walt on Allen's "upbeat assessment," Mike Mullen at FP and more.

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The battlefield impact of Badruddin Haqqani’s death last week may not be felt until next year. We’re told that Badruddin, thought to be one of the top operational commanders of the Haqqani network, had approved another two months of missions that are already in the works. But because the fighting season will end at about the same time as they do, the effect of his death won’t be clear until next spring, when fighting resumes. "You have a potential loss of a key leader, but you’re about 60 days out of closing the fighting season, so that potentially masks the impact because of the timeframe," a senior ISAF official told FP. Still, the official said, the coalition expects to see "reduced capacity" from the Haqqani network.

Revenues keep Haqqani alive. The network is a Pashtun group that is considered responsible for numerous attacks in Afghanistan but that operates with relative impunity from within tribal areas across the border in Pakistan’s North Waziristan. It is one of the best-organized groups because of various and well-established streams of revenue, including from the sale of both licit and illicit commodities. "A critical capability of the Haqqani network is its financial capacity, which distinguishes them from other insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan," wrote the Institute for the Study of War’s Jeff Dressler, who this week released a research paper on the group. "Because of its diversified and robust revenue streams, the Haqqani Network brings to bear a powerful and growing fighting force in Afghanistan."

Skill sets dwindling. Although Badruddin’s death has been confirmed by multiple sources, ISAF officials say they have no way to confirm it independently. But there’s little question his passing will have an effect, sooner or later, on a group whose leadership is reasonably centralized. Few people could easily replace Badruddin’s unique capabilities, the ISAF official said. (Badruddin ran the network with his brothers Sirajuddin and Nasiruddin and other family members, and the group was founded by their father, Jalaluddin Haqqani.) "The over-the-border influences don’t change," the ISAF official said. "But what you have is less capable leadership. The age and experience level is slowly making its way down, and you’re getting lower and less experienced fighters."

Meanwhile, the Haqqani network will be officially branded a terrorist organization, according to the NYT’s Eric Schmitt today: "Many other senior officials, including several in the White House, expressed deep reservations that blacklisting the group could further damage badly frayed relations with Pakistan, undercut peace talks with the Taliban, and possibly jeopardize the fate of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier known to be held by the militants. But in the past few days, supporters of designating the group apparently eased most concerns or put forward contingencies to mitigate the risks and potential consequences."

Earlier this week, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen stopped by the party FP held at its new offices on Dupont Circle to celebrate the launch of its new national security channel, which includes three new news blogs and a stable of new national security writers, including Rosa Brooks, Gordon Adams, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dave Barno, and many more. Mullen chatted with The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous:

The word is "attribution," and the Pentagon’s ability to master it will make it easier to quickly link cyber attacks to cyber villains. A top cyber official in the Pentagon told Killer Apps Man John Reed that the Defense Department has  "made a lot of progress" toward attribution, considered the "holy grail" of cyber security. "It’s definitely not perfect and it’s definitely not a silver bullet, but it’s an area that we’re making progress in," Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, told John.

Do you find yourself losing the argument when you talk to your friends about drone warfare? Rosa Brooks’ piece on FP, "What’s Not Wrong with Drones," deconstructs the criticisms, from "drones kill civilians," to "drones turn killing into a video game," to "drone strikes are bad because killing at a distance is unsavory." In answer to that last, Ms. Brooks: "Really? If killing from a safe distance (say, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada) is somehow ‘wrong,’ what should be our preferred alternative — stripping troops of body armor, or taking away their guns and requiring them to engage in hand-to-hand combat?"

Coming next week: Rosa makes the case against drones.

Five criteria Obama uses before approving a drone attack: (as Obama told CNN earlier this week; thanks to Danger Room). One, "that It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws," two, that "It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative," three, that it "has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States," four, that "we’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties," and five, "that while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process."

FP‘s Stephen Walt on Gen. Allen’s "upbeat assessment" of the war: Walt takes Allen to task for being, like other ISAF commanders of the past, upbeat about the situation on the ground. "Well, it’s déjà vu all over again: Today, despite a dramatic increase in "green on blue" attacks (i.e., attacks by Afghan security forces on U.S. or ISAF personnel) and the announced departure of other U.S. allies, the latest American commander continues to portray our efforts in a positive light, especially with respect to the progress made by Afghan security forces."


Obama’s pledge to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014, and his reiteration of that pledge in Charlotte last night, has struck some as not altogether factual. It depends on what your definition of "over" is. The U.S. will have to negotiate another SOFA agreement with the Afghans and, should they win this one, a small force — likely heavily favoring special forces and other trainers — will stay on for years to come. From last night: "In 2014, our longest war will be over."

NYT’s Sanger: "Well, maybe. That is the deadline for pulling out all American and other foreign troops. But the White House has said that it envisions an ‘enduring force’ in Afghanistan for years to come that could amount to 10,000 to 15,000 troops. They would not be in combat, but they would be there to stop the Taliban from overtaking Kabul, the capital, and to keep Pakistan from losing control of its 100 or so nuclear weapons. The United States’ combat role may soon be over; it is less likely the war will be."


Getting intelligence right the first time. Michael C. Horowitz and Philip E. Tetlock write on FP that the National Intelligence Council might get their intelligence predictions right more often if assigned themselves "more explicit, testable, and accurate probabilities to possible futures." "Academic research suggests that predicting events five years into the future is so difficult that most experts perform only marginally better than dart-throwing chimps. Now imagine trying to predict over spans of 15 to 20 years. Sisyphus arguably had it easier. But that has not deterred the intelligence community from trying; that is its job."


The Wall Street Journal’s Jose de Cordoba and Darcy Crowe report Colombia’s Santos warns more short-term violence. "In an interview Thursday at the presidential palace, President Juan Manuel Santos said that holding talks with Latin America’s biggest and oldest insurgency is well worth the risk of failure because an end to the conflict would not only would end bloodletting, but also bring a "peace dividend" of up to 2% additional economic growth a year to the Andean nation’s economy. It already enjoys annual growth of about 5%."

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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