The Seth Jones Experience

Seth G. Jones, the author of “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan,” is a civilian adviser to the American military.

One of the brains behind President Obama’s Afghanistan policy Seth G. Jones, of RAND & McCrystal has a particularly unhinged op-ed in today’s NYT: Take the War to Pakistan.

The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces.

The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. Most Taliban are in or near Baluchi cities like Quetta. These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11. The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas.

The moral bankruptcy apparent in the contrast between two sentences (“none requires military forces”) and (“to hit the Taliban with drone strikes”) is breath-taking. “Baluchi cities” like Quetta only have a million or so people, after all. Our precision strikes are surely only to singe a few curled mustaches. Right, Jones? But, yeah, I know. Crying about civilian casualties from non-military force is a luxury that only the un-informed and un-educated can afford. There are hard choices to make for real wars to end. And harder sells to make, as Nathan Hodge demonstrates in regards to Jones’ colleagues, the Kagans. In any case, Seth G. Jones is so much “civilian” cover for a war that has already spilled into Baluchistan. And WITH ONLY 20 CASUALTIES! Hallelujah.

Since Jones has never shown a predilection to history (or even an understanding of what “past” means. You can see some frank assessments of his earlier works, here and here), so here be a crude lesson about what the U.S. is getting into in Baluchistan: an existing war since 2004.

Seth G. Jones comes from the University of Chicago’s political science program and is an advisee of John Mearsheimer. His dissertation, The rise of Europe: Security cooperation and the balance of power, deals with the EU and intra-country security apparatus. He has no access to any relevant language, or historical archive. All of which, of course, makes him the perfect man to construct and explain this. [pdf]

I am too tired even to complain.

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23 thoughts on “The Seth Jones Experience”

  1. “Seth Jones, an analyst at the RAND Corporation and an adviser to U.S. special operations, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times calling for an expanded drone war in Pakistan. Jones thinks the U.S. should target Baluchistan province, where the Taliban’s senior leadership is reportedly based.

    The NYT fails to mention that Jones’ boss, Brig. Gen. Edward Reeder, might be involved in carrying out those aforementioned drone attacks in Baluchistan. (Noah Schachtman at Danger Room catches that detail.)

    In any event, even if drone strikes might be successful at decapitating the Taliban leadership, this is the kind of reductive thinking that leads to tactical successes and strategic failures. A drone campaign in Baluchistan would be another huge infringement upon Pakistani sovereignty; it would inevitably kill civilians and stoke anti-American anger in Pakistan. It also risks linking Baluchistan’s nationalist movement, a purely local grievance, with the U.S. war on terror. That’s not an outcome U.S. policymakers want.”
    http://www.themajlis.org/2009/12/04/the-meaning-of-containment-in-afghanistan

  2. Seth Jones not be smart. The quote from him is breathtaking.

    “The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan.” = military forces
    “These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11.” = military forces

  3. Most of the available evidence indicates that a high proportion of drones do not hit their targets/fail in flight and of those that do launch attacks, the level of mistaken targets and civilian casualities is very high.

  4. Excerpts from The Predator War
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_mayer
    “According to a just completed study by the New America Foundation, the number of drone strikes has risen dramatically since Obama became President. During his first nine and a half months in office, he has authorized as many C.I.A. aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W. Bush did in his final three years in office. The study’s authors, Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, report that the Obama Administration has sanctioned at least forty-one C.I.A. missile strikes in Pakistan since taking office—a rate of approximately one bombing a week. So far this year, various estimates suggest, the C.I.A. attacks have killed between three hundred and twenty-six and five hundred and thirty-eight people. Critics say that many of the victims have been innocent bystanders, including children.” “In the last week of September alone, there were reportedly four such attacks—three of them in one twenty-four-hour period. At any given moment, a former White House counterterrorism official says, the C.I.A. has multiple drones flying over Pakistan, scouting for targets. According to the official, “there are so many drones” in the air that arguments have erupted over which remote operators can claim which targets, provoking “command-and-control issues.”

    General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand. The Air Force’s fleet has grown from some fifty drones in 2001 to nearly two hundred; the C.I.A. will not divulge how many drones it operates. The government plans to commission hundreds more, including new generations of tiny “nano” drones, which can fly after their prey like a killer bee through an open window.” …
    “Should something go wrong in the C.I.A.’s program—last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan—it’s unclear what the consequences would be.”
    ….
    “The development of the Predator, in the early nineteen-nineties, was supposed to help eliminate such mistakes. The drones can hover above a target for up to forty hours before refuelling, and the precise video footage makes it much easier to identify targets. But the strikes are only as accurate as the intelligence that goes into them. Tips from informants on the ground are subject to error, as is the interpretation of video images. Not long before September 11, 2001, for instance, several U.S. counterterrorism officials became certain that a drone had captured footage of bin Laden in a locale he was known to frequent in Afghanistan. The video showed a tall man in robes, surrounded by armed bodyguards in a diamond formation. At that point, drones were unarmed, and were used only for surveillance. “The optics were not great, but it was him,” Henry Crumpton, then the C.I.A.’s top covert-operations officer for the region, told Time. But two other former C.I.A. officers, who also saw the footage, have doubts. “It’s like an urban legend,” one of them told me. “They just jumped to conclusions. You couldn’t see his face. It could have been Joe Schmo. Believe me, no tall man with a beard is safe anywhere in Southwest Asia.” In February, 2002, along the mountainous eastern border of Afghanistan, a Predator reportedly followed and killed three suspicious Afghans, including a tall man in robes who was thought to be bin Laden. The victims turned out to be innocent villagers, gathering scrap metal.

    In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the local informants, who also serve as confirming witnesses for the air strikes, are notoriously unreliable. A former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th told me that an Afghan source had once sworn to him that one of Al Qaeda’s top leaders was being treated in a nearby clinic. The former officer said that he could barely hold off an air strike after he passed on the tip to his superiors. “They scrambled together an élite team,” he recalled. “We caught hell from headquarters. They said ‘Why aren’t you moving on it?’ when we insisted on checking it out first.” It turned out to be an intentionally false lead. “Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs,” the former officer said. “Often, they say an enemy of theirs is Al Qaeda because they just want to get rid of somebody. Or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable, so that they could make money. You couldn’t take their word.”

    The consequences of bad ground intelligence can be tragic. In September, a NATO air strike in Afghanistan killed between seventy and a hundred and twenty-five people, many of them civilians, who were taking fuel from two stranded oil trucks; they had been mistaken for Taliban insurgents. (The incident is being investigated by NATO.) According to a reporter for the Guardian, the bomb strike, by an F-15E fighter plane, left such a tangle of body parts that village elders resorted to handing out pieces of unidentifiable corpses to the grieving families, so that they could have something to bury. One Afghan villager told the newspaper, “I took a piece of flesh with me home and I called it my son.”

    Predator drones, with their superior surveillance abilities, have a better track record for accuracy than fighter jets, according to intelligence officials. Also, the drone’s smaller Hellfire missiles are said to cause far less collateral damage. Still, the recent campaign to kill Baitullah Mehsud offers a sobering case study of the hazards of robotic warfare. It appears to have taken sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the C.I.A. succeeded in killing him. During this hunt, between two hundred and seven and three hundred and twenty-one additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon. “

  5. “Certainly, aerial control did save British lives and money, but Iraqi and Afghan anger about civilian deaths and constant foreign surveillance produced decades of coups and conflict with the west, leading up to the current wars. Determined insurgents found ways to evade the “all-seeing” eyes in the sky. As long as the Royal Air Force remained in Iraq, where it functioned as an imperial administration (1922-58), the legitimacy of the “independent” Iraqi government was compromised and insurgency was rife.

    The air policing regime lasted as long as it did because heavy censorship and secrecy prevented even officials from perceiving the extent of the damage it was doing. No one knew how many Iraqis and Afghans were killed. Likewise, today’s drones operate in secrecy. The trickle of reports on air strikes cannot assess the number and identity of their victims. The US government routinely offers no comment on strikes. In a rare front-page story on the drones, The New York Times reported that 70 of the 195 $150m Predators had crashed but said nothing about human losses. In a recent interview, Col Kilcullen said in Pakistan 14 al-Qaeda leaders had been hit, at the cost of 700 civilian lives – “a hit rate of 2 per cent on 98 per cent collateral. It’s not moral.”

    The controversy over civilian deaths in a strike on Afghan villages last week is partly due to the fact that the bombs ripped people to shreds, leaving nothing left to count.

    In short, there is no public scrutiny of drone activity or any reason to take their effectiveness on trust. Today’s drones may be more precise than the crude bombers of the past, but they will not create a secure environment for Iraqi, Pakistani, Afghan or US interests. Military sceptics warn of the impossibility of analysing the data the drones collect.

    News reports confirm that civilians are often caught in their lethal sights. Uncertainty about the number of deaths feeds rumours of the worst kind. Similarly, news of a temporary halt will not allay suspicions of their continued, even more covert use: the effort to defuse Afghan anger over last week’s strike shows that when a covert imperial power issues a denial, no one listens. The casualties and the imposition of continual foreign surveillance provoke more anger and insecurity than the system contains.

    Just as the British failure produced our present discontents, mistaken faith in an aerial panacea will fuel the conflicts of the future. Mr Obama must heed local rulers’ requests to end drone attacks – as a matter of tactical as much as political wisdom. ”

    The shadow of history passes over Pakistan: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/679a7c8e-4587-11de-b6c8-00144feabdc0.html

  6. “Proponents of drone warfare insist that its military advantages outweigh its political ramifications; they remain blind to the fact that their military opponent draws its sustenance—its recruits and resources—from the political capital it gains (and the American government loses) as a result of drone attacks. It grows with each American homage to the imperial politics of the past. Mr. Obama must heed local rulers’ requests to end drone attacks—as a matter of tactical as much as political wisdom. As long as Iraqis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis can look upon their governments as Janus-faced collaborators in violent and covert American military activity, those governments will not be able to stand up, and American troops will not be able to stand down. Let’s not fall for groupthink again; let’s connect the dots correctly between the escalation of drone warfare and the Taliban’s sudden advances.”
    http://www.digitalnpq.org/archive/2009_summer/08_satia.html

  7. Salman December 4, 2009 at 6:20 pm, if not for the drone strikes in Pakistan, might the Taliban have defeated the Pakistani Army earlier this year? The Pakistani government has co sovereignty over drone strikes inside Pakistan and approves these strikes, because most of them target militants attacking Pakistan.

    To repeat the question, is it possible that a major contributing factor in recent Pakistani Army successes against the Taliban was the major step up in drone strikes?

  8. Omar – there is the question of operational effectiveness and civilian casualities:
    the US airforce has stated that 50% of its drones have either been shot down or crashed (with crashes being by far the greatest cause of loss) since 2001. Most attempts to record civilian casualties indicate that the number of civilian deaths per insurgent killed is very high, estimates range from 30 civilians killed for every militant (according to official Pakistani figures) to 10 civilians killed for every militant.

    The Brookings Institute had a paper on this,

    http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world/13+drones+kill+10+civilians+for+one+militant-za-09

    I think with its high attrition rate and large civilian death rate, the drone is not a good substitute for effective intelligence on the ground or the use of ground forces. They might be of use to reach specific individual targets, in isolated and remote areas but are hardly suitable for mass deployment or use in populated areas – which is what some people and the Obama admin seem to be wanting to do.

  9. “which is what some people and the Obama admin seem to be wanting to do.” Only inside Pakistan. Pakistanis must understand that unless they defeat the extremists, other countries will bomb the extremists inside Pakistan’s borders.

    If Pakistan is lucky, those bombings will be by American drones. Bombing by other countries is likely to be . . . less pleasant.

    Pakistanis have choices to make, and other countries will make their choices based on Pakistani choices. If Pakistan doesn’t defeat the extremists there will be other major terrorist attacks against the international community emanating from Pakistan based extremists . . . with all the consequences deriving from that.

    Notice two back to back terrorist attacks against Russia? Today’s was in a nightclub with 200 people. What would happen to Pakistan if a nuke went off in a Russian city?

  10. “Pakistanis must understand that unless they defeat the extremists, other countries will bomb the extremists inside Pakistan’s borders.”

    Re: “Countries unwilling or unable to prevent terrorist violence emanating from their territory forfeit their right to territorial integrity, and others can declare war on them to pursue the problem at its root. But those who adhere to the motto “Terror can only be countered with terror” should remember who coined that phrase: Adolf Hitler. ” http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/spaemann3

  11. There are really 2 options to take out the taliban/AQ leaders in Pakistan. You choose:

    1: Predator flies in, target is pinpointed and hellfire is locked on the building target is in. Hellfire takes out the target, along with everyone else in the building.

    2: James Bond and Jason Bourne type operations by team(s) of (blackwater) operatives, who are allegedly already hiding in various cities of Pak. Target is pinpointed, Bond and Bourne come in in the dark of the night (or fog of dawn) take out the target and then try to get away. While the actual operation is clean and precise with no collateral damage, the attempt to get away by the attackers could be very lethal and deadly. These guys are trained to kill and not-get-killed, they will take out whoever and whatever gets in their way to save their own asses.

    The OTHER option of handing the intelligence information to the Pak forces/authorities to let the Pak jawans to take out the target is not a valid option, at least not from Umreekun perspective. Due to heavy infiltration of Taliban (and Taliban sympathizers) within the ranks of Pak forces, any such operation will miraculously end-up in the target learning about the most intimate details of the coming operation before it ever happens.

    And yes, if Taliban track down the messers Bourne and Bond before they have completed their mission then uncle sam wont bitch and moan. These operatives are selected, trained and deployed with the understanding that all is fair in love and war.

    I say, let the games begin!

  12. If Pakistan is lucky, those bombings will be by American drones. Bombing by other countries is likely to be . . . less pleasant.

    I doubt it, unrestrained bombing of a country with nuclear capability would be to put it mildly – stupid. A collapsed or unstable Pakistan would be a nightmare, especially for its neighbours.

  13. @anan
    The “other countries” wont DARE attempt bombing Pakistan. Even USA has to get some level of consent of Pak govt. before any drone operations.

    Pak society may be in the middle of some serious internal turmoil, but not even the most ultra anti-govt and the extreme anti-taliban elements of Pak will tolerate and accept any actions by any other “other countries” to excercise their vegetarian muscles.

  14. S. Harpasand December 5, 2009 at 12:38 pm, if a nuclear device explodes in Russia, France, Britain, US, China, India or Israel, all bets are off.

    Do you doubt for a moment that some of the extremists are mentally insane enough to try something like that, however much the Pakistani Army might try to stop them?

    S. Harpasand, other countries have limits to their forbearance too.

    What is wrong with being “vegetarian”? Many Pakistanis were vegetarian in the 6th century AD.

  15. People do not give ISI and Pakistan enough credit, prior to 9-11 they propped up a stable regime in Afghanistan that brought (a brutal) peace. The survival of the regime was intertwined with their relationship with the Pakistani Military. In return, Pakistan received “strategic depth”, client state, and a guarantee on the Durand Line. While at the same time their relations with the US improved. This was a great setup for Pakistan! Did the ISI or Pakistani Military know that Bin Laden wanted to take on America? Probably not. But he did, and they got royally screwed.

    Now they have drones violating their territorial integrity daily, they are conducting a war with their own people in the border region, Afghanistan feels shielded by the superpower that Karzai leader openly dissents against Pakistan. Also, let us not forget the introduction of suicide bombings into the Pakistani culture as a legitimate tactic. Yikes. It took Israelis 50+ years of war and apartheid before they were exposed to suicide bombing. It took Pakistan 6 years.

    Of course, the aftermath of 9-11 affected many countries. But it can be argued that Pakistan has been hurt the most.

  16. Anan,

    ‘other countries have limits to their forbearance too.’

    Stop thinking in terms of countries. Neither India nor Pakistan has control over ‘insurgents’. They are running free from Assam, Nagaland to Baluchistan in British/Mughal India, or India and Pakistan as you call them.

    What is wrong with being “vegetarian”? Many Pakistanis were vegetarian in the 6th century AD.

    The funny thing is most Hindus eat meat! Of course if your Hindu India is Brahmin Bania Middle Class land, its a different issue. Hindu Jats used to eat meat till Dayanand told them they were ancient Hindus. That was in late 19th century.

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