3 February 2019

The Endgame to Afghanistan's Long War Takes Shape

Though the speed and scale of its drawdown have yet to be determined, the United States will push to withdraw from Afghanistan as it shifts its focus to its strategic competition with China and Russia.

Because a U.S. withdrawal is so critically important to the Taliban, they will most likely commit to a tentative cease-fire agreement, yet their desire to drive a hard bargain could complicate the larger peace negotiation process.

Pakistan will encourage an orderly and measured U.S. drawdown to prevent a security vacuum from emerging on its western flank.

At the same time, Islamabad will push for any post-conflict government in Kabul to include strong Taliban representation.

The Afghan scenario is far from gloomy


The statement by Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman in Doha, via an exclusive video message to Associated Press on Wednesday saying they are not seeking a “monopoly of power” in Kabul could be regarded as the first real sighting of land in the insurgent movement’s uncertain voyage to a homecoming.

Shaheen said: “After the end of the occupation, Afghans should forget their past and tolerate one another, and start life like brothers. After the withdrawal, we are not seeking a monopoly on power.”

He added pointedly that the Taliban want to avoid a return to the anarchy of the Mujahideen takeover in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. But what Shaheen didn’t say out of deliberation is far from inconsequential either – that the Taliban do not want a replay of the late 1990s. Simply put, Taliban are not seeking power all over again, only to remain an international pariah and be denied any international assistance to rebuild their country and put the ravages of decades of war behind them.

Taliban must show real commitment to peace

Not for the first time in the fragile negotiations between the US and the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan has hope been followed almost immediately by doubt. After six days of talks, both sides intimated progress had been made on chief concerns, including a possible ceasefire and the drawdown of American troops. Within hours, and in contradiction of an earlier statement by the organisation, a Taliban spokesperson denied an 18-month timeframe had been agreed for such a withdrawal.

Not too much should be read into every such apparent setback. Public posturing is in the very nature of negotiations of this kind, with both sides keenly aware of the need to keep on side diverse players, both domestic and foreign. Such ripostes should not overshadow a far more significant development – that discussions between Taliban negotiators and US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad touched on the possibility of a permanent ceasefire. Until now, the Afghan government has not been not involved in the talks but will eventually need to be, clearly a vital step before any inclusive agreement can be agreed upon. After 17 years of war, there has been remarkable progress since preliminary talks took place in November, followed by meetings in Abu Dhabi in December. The two sides have met several times since. Just months ago, few could have foreseen that the Taliban would be brought into a process of dialogue, let alone the prospect of the organisation giving up bombs and guns in favour of a role in a legitimate government. But if the ultimate prize of the talks are a national government in which the Taliban take part as willing participants in a political process, it is time for the organisation to demonstrate that its commitment to peace extends beyond mere words.

Agreeing to Agree: The Afghan Peace Process Sort of Moves Forward

By Catherine Putz

It’s telling that the biggest news about the ongoing Afghan peace process is that negotiators have “agreed to agreements in principle” on some key issues. On Monday, following six days of talks in Qatar with Taliban representatives, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in a statement that progress on vital issues had been made and the two sides had “agreed to agreements in principle on a couple of very important issues.”

Khalilzad went on to acknowledge that more work needs to be done. According to the Associated Press, the statement continued: “There is a lot more work to be done before we can say we have succeeded in our efforts but I believe for the first time I can say that we have made significant progress.”

The US-Taliban negotiations breakthrough: What it means and what lies ahead

Vanda Felbab-Brown

After intense negotiations with the Taliban, the chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad announced yesterday that core elements of a deal to end the U.S. counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan have been basically agreed. The disclosed core elements are not surprising: The Taliban promises Afghanistan’s territory will not be used by international terrorist groups and the United States agrees to withdraw its forces.

However, many difficult questions remain: How fast will the United States withdraw its military forces—in as few months as the Taliban wants (militarily infeasible and strategically unsound for the United States and Afghanistan), or between 16 to 24 months as the United States seeks? Will there be a residual U.S. military force, of say 1,000 soldiers, to protect the U.S. embassy, which—wink, wink, with the Taliban’s permission—will have the capacity to conduct limited counterterrorism strikes, something the Obama administration had contemplated in 2014? Will the Taliban finally agree to negotiate with the Afghan government, as President Ashraf Ghani, very leery of the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, has been insisting? Will the Taliban agree to a ceasefire while it negotiates with the Afghan government? And will the U.S. military remain in Afghanistan (and at what strength) until the agreement is concluded? If not, the U.S.-Taliban deal will merely be a fig leaf for U.S. departure while the Afghan government and people are left on their own to face the Taliban.

Taliban say they are not looking to rule Afghanistan alone


ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban said Wednesday they are not seeking a “monopoly on power” in a future administration in Afghanistan but are looking for ways to co-exist with Afghan institutions — the most conciliatory statement to date from the militants.

The Taliban, who now control almost half the country and carry out near-daily attacks mainly targeting Afghan security forces, issued the statement amid intensified U.S.-led talks to resolve the long-running Afghanistan war. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reported this week that there had been “agreements in principle” toward a framework for peace with the Taliban.

The statement Wednesday by Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen appears aimed at easing fears among those worried about any agreement that includes the Taliban. Its unusually conciliatory tone also could offer Khalilzad greater leverage as he seeks to rally Afghanistan’s leadership behind his peace efforts.

Peace with the Taliban? Trump warned of Afghan pullout risks

By: Deb Riechmann, 

WASHINGTON — Trump administration claims of progress in talks with the Talibanhave sparked fears even among the president’s allies that his impatience with the war in Afghanistan will lead him to withdraw troops too soon, leaving the country at risk of returning to the same volatile condition that prompted the invasion in the first place.

Discussions between a U.S. envoy and the Taliban are advancing weeks after the administration said it wanted to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan. That has prompted some critics to note that President Donald Trump is telegraphing a withdrawal — the same thing he accused President Barack Obama of doing by saying he wanted to end the American combat mission in 2014.

To Slow U.S. Exit, Afghanistan Leader Offers Trump a Cost Reduction

By Mujib Mashal

KABUL, Afghanistan — Unnerved by fears of a rushed American deal with Taliban insurgents, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan sent a letter on Tuesday to President Trump offering him reduced costs for keeping United States troops in the country.

The letter, confirmed by three officials and described by one who had seen its contents, is among the strongest signs yet that Mr. Ghani is worried about the consequences of an abrupt American withdrawal from an intractable war that has lasted nearly two decades.

Mr. Ghani has made no secret of his concern about a hasty American exit by an increasingly impatient Mr. Trump, fearing it could unravel the fragile Afghan state and lead to a renaissance in power by the Taliban, which have been steadily gaining territory.

The Afghan leader’s anxiety has punctuated the contrast between the political backdrop in Afghanistan and the circumstances of the American pullout from the other conflict that arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — the American-led war in Iraq.

Let China Fail in Africa

by Wilson VornDick

America should continue to maintain its key African relationships and interests while China digs a debt hole.

An old African proverb warns that even the best cooking pot will not produce food. American policymakers should consider this saying as they weigh China’s growing clout and the implementation of President Donald Trump’s new Africa Strategy . But China’s economic reach in Africa is teetering on overreach. Just like the prized pot, China may not produce all that is promised. Over the last two decades, China has gained influence as it pumped billions of dollars in projects and investments across Africa focused predominantly on resource extraction and infrastructure. However, this influence comes at a cost. China may be stretching its economic largesse beyond its own capacity, jeopardizing its financial stability both at home and abroad. In July, the Financial Times noted that 234 out of 1,674 Chinese-invested.

Reports of Belt and Road’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated Don’t Underestimate China’s Resilience

By Nadège Rolland

With the vast, ambitious investment project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China meant to pull the world closer, making itself the political and economic center of gravity for more than 60 countries within the project’s sweep. But domestic and international opposition to the initiative has mounted in the five years since President Xi Jinping announced its start. Intellectuals within China have expressed concerns about wasteful spending and overstretch. Several governments that were initially enthusiastic about Chinese investment have faced popular backlash to the terms of the loans and the potential for corruption. And the United States has recently joined countries in Europe and the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in an effort to counter the Chinese endeavor with an alternative investment scheme.

The Chinese Railways Remolding East Africa

By Nicholas Muller

Just a year ago, Ethiopia and Kenya were mired in political crises on the brink of potential civil war from inter-tribal conflict. Since then, major changes have taken place in Ethiopia under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has enacted numerous reforms and brokered a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea. After a highly disputed election, Uhuru Kenyatta is once again the president of Kenya. As two of the largest economies on the continent, the two East African powerhouses are at the center of China’s largest transport infrastructure investments on the continent.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing has financed more than 3,000 strategic infrastructure projects in Africa and provided tens of billions of dollars more in the form of loans. A decade ago, China surpassed the United States to become Africa’s largest trading partner. Ethiopia and Kenya account for a substantial portion of Chinese lending in Africa, along with Djibouti; their debt obligations to China are high and growing. China is now Kenya’s largest bilateral debt lender and Kenya’s debt to China has increased tenfold in just five years. China has invested approximately $14 billion in Djibouti, much to do with its geostrategic location and hosting of China’s first overseas military base. 

Xi’s China Is Steamrolling Its Own History

By Pamela Kyle Crossley

Chinese President Xi Jinping is directing a vast ideological war across multiple theaters—politics, culture, ethics, economy, strategy, and foreign relations. Among its most intense flashpoints is historiography, particularly of China’s last empire, the Qing, which ruled from 1636 to 1912. Historians, whether foreign or domestic, who resist Xi’s determination to design a past that serves his ideology have been targeted repeatedly by state propaganda organs. A new editorial suggests that this attack on Qing specialists is escalating.

Xi has a powerful weapon at his disposal. In 2003, 10 years before his assumption of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated an ambitious project dedicated to Qing history. It was granted headquarters in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing, next to China’s leading technology companies. Its budget—never definitively quantified but clearly stratospheric as far as historiographical enterprises go—supported a threefold mission:

Cyberattacks: China and Russia can disrupt US power networks warns intelligence report

By Steve Ranger

Countries could launch damaging attacks against gas pipelines and electricity grid, says assessment.

Both China and Russia now have the capabilities to launch cyberattacks that could at least temporarily disrupt US critical infrastructure such as gas pipelines or power networks, according to intelligence officials.

The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community is a document published each year, which itemises the significant threats to the US and its allies. 

It said that currently China and Russia pose the greatest espionage and cyberattack threats to the US but also warned that other adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly build and integrate cyber espionage, attack, and influence capabilities into their efforts to influence US policies.


CHINESE TELECOM GIANT Huawei could face millions in fines if convicted of all charges in two indictments unsealed by the US Department of Justice Monday. But the money is likely the least of Huawei’s worries.

The first indictment accuses Huawei and its executives, including CFO Meng Wanzhou, of crimes including bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to alleged violations of sanctions forbidding the sale of US-made equipment to Iran. The potential blow to the company is particularly severe because Meng is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei; she was arrested in Canada last month and is awaiting extradition to the US.

The other indictment accuses the company of stealing intellectual property from T-Mobile, as part of an effort that included offering bonuses to employees who stole confidential information from competitors. According to the indictment, a company policy promised employees they wouldn’t be disciplined for such actions, and encouraged them to use an encrypted email address for particularly sensitive information.

As Washington Exits, Russia's Syria Strategy Comes Under Scrutiny

by Dmitriy Frolovskiy

Washington’s December announcement of a Syria pullout came as a surprise to many in Moscow. A sense of confusion lasted for few weeks and only then had been replaced with a perception of the new reality on the ground. Although the Kremlin’s Middle East strategy had been undergoing a shift before the decision was known, the new paradigm might come as a litmus test for its strategy, hence deserving greater international scrutiny.

Given that President Vladimir Putin has declared victory and withdrawal from Syria on a few occasions, but never really kept his word, Russian officials struggle to grasp that Washington’s snap decision could actually take place. Even if true, many in Moscow believe that Washington would still operate via CIA operatives or military advisers to keep Iran and ISIS in check, as well as using its facilities in Jordan and Iraq. In effect, for the Kremlin it is vital to see how the implementation would occur before it decides to adapt its own multilayered strategy.

The Arab League Mulls Whether to Readmit al Assad's Syria

Readmitting Syria to the Arab League would mark the first normalization of high-level ties with Damascus since other countries in the organization turned against Bashar al Assad's government in 2011.

Faced with the reality that their strategies to counter Damascus in the civil war have failed, some powerful Arab states are warming up to the idea that working against Syria is no longer as strategic an option as working with the country. 

The Arab League's reinstatement of Syria would not immediately pave the way for the rest of the world to welcome Damascus back into the international fold, but it would mark a first step in the lengthy process of enabling others to do business with al Assad's government.

A Brotherly Takeover: Could Russia Annex Belarus? (Op-ed)

Minsk and Moscow are like an old married couple; they tend to air their long-standing grievances in public. This time, a dispute over compensating Belarus for a Russian oil tax maneuver prompted Moscow to revisit the oldest disagreement: the 1999 Union Treaty that has never been implemented.

Russia issued Belarus what sounded like an ultimatum: financial support in return for greater integration with the Russian state. But with the constitution preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin from seeking another term after 2024, many viewed the ultimatum as a threat. A barrage of publications, official statements, and even anonymous social media posts claimed that the annexation of Belarus is inevitable. Such a move, the theory goes, would then allow Putin to become president of the Russian-Belarusian Union State.

Escape From Venezuela

In an escalation of the crisis developing in Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaido has now declared himself the country's interim president.

The United States, alongside Canada, Brazil, Colombia and others, were quick to indicate their support for Guaido, leading the beleaguered President Nicolfls Maduro to cut diplomatic ties with Washington - ordering all diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. The declaration from Guaido comes after two nights of protests in the country which have led to the deaths of at least 14 people.

Venezuela's problems are extensive and varied, with political, social and economic crises making life in the country very difficult. As our infographic shows, this has led to a huge increase in migration out of the country. In 2015, there were almost 700,000 Venezuelans living in other countries. Fast forward to July 2018 and this figure has risen to 2.3 million - representing 7 percent of the country's population. These are only the official figures, too. The actual number that have fled the country is thought to be much higher.

Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue

PDF file 0.3 MB 

Russia and China represent distinct challenges to U.S. national security. Russia is not a peer or near-peer competitor but rather a well-armed rogue state that seeks to subvert an international order it can never hope to dominate. In contrast, China is a peer competitor that wants to shape an international order that it can aspire to dominate. Both countries seek to alter the status quo, but only Russia has attacked neighboring states, annexed conquered territory, and supported insurgent forces seeking to detach yet more territory. Russia assassinates its opponents at home and abroad, interferes in foreign elections, subverts foreign democracies, and works to undermine European and Atlantic institutions. In contrast, China's growing influence is based largely on more-positive measures: trade, investment, and development assistance. These attributes make China a less immediate threat but a much greater long-term challenge.

Four Problems on the Korean Peninsula

PDF file 20.7 MB 

North Korean provocations and threats have created an unstable environment on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles increases the possibility of their use against regional states, furthering instability across the region and beyond. The United States, its allies, and other theater powers, including China and Russia, must attend to four interconnected threats. Failure to prepare will increase the chance of mistakes and miscalculation and constrain options to reduce the likelihood or gravity of future conflicts.

Problem 1: North Korea is on a trajectory of nuclear development that has transformed it into a fundamentally different kind of strategic challenge — a state with a significant nuclear arsenal, an increasing range and number of delivery systems, and a nuclear doctrine of early or even preemptive use.

Intelligence Chiefs Diverge From Trump On Main Threats to US


The things that worry America’s intelligence community can’t be stopped by a wall.

U.S. intelligence heads went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and described the threats facing America in terms quite different from those offered by the White House.

North Korea is still committed to developing nuclear missiles. ISIS, though weakened, still commands thousands of fighters. China’s reach into the global telecommunications industry presents an intelligence and security concern. Russia continues to sow disinformation to undermine the United States and its allies. It was a list of security problems that defied easy solutions. Agency heads and lawmakers seemed unsure what to do about the disconnect, besides talking more in a closed session.

Donald Trump’s Chance to Bring Peace to Afghanistan and End America’s Longest War

By David Rohde

Afghanistan, in the foreign imagination, has never been associated with certainty. For centuries, visitors and invaders alike have applied conflicting stereotypes to the country—that Afghans are simultaneously courageous and treacherous, honorable and corrupt, courteous and warlike. This week, Afghans themselves face an uncertainty of their own: Donald Trump’s intentions.

On Monday, Trump’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that, after six days of negotiations, he had achieved a “framework” for a peace deal with the Taliban—something that has eluded American diplomats for more than a decade. The Taliban pledged not to allow any organization to carry out an international terrorist attack from the territory of Afghanistan, in exchange for a full withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. The news sparked surprise—and applause—from American diplomats who have tried and failed to negotiate with the Taliban in the past. “I think this is the beginning of a credible process for the first time in ten years,” Dan Feldman, who served as the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told me.

Most People Overlook Artificial Intelligence Despite Flawless Advice

If you were convinced you knew the way home, would you still turn on your GPS?

Army scientists recently attempted to answer a similar question due to an ongoing concern that artificial intelligence, which can be opaque and frustrating to many people, may not be helpful in battlefield decision making.

“The U.S. Army continues to push the modernization of its forces, with notable efforts including the development of smartphone-based software for real-time information delivery such as the Android Tactical Assault Kit, or ATAK, and the allocation of significant funding towards researching new AI and machine learning methods to assist command and control personnel,” said Dr. James Schaffer, scientist for RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory (ARL), at ARL West in Playa Vista, California.

According to Schaffer, despite these advances, a significant gap in basic knowledge about the use of AI still exists, and it is unknown which factors of AI will or will not help military decision-making processes.

Imperfect Proxies: The Pros and Perils of Partnering with Non-State Actors for CT

The Issue
The recent history of the United States and Western allies working “by, with, and though” non-state actors for counterterrorism (CT) operations when unable or unwilling to partner with a host-nation government—such as in Mali, Libya, and Syria—has generated mixed results on the ground.

Militias can provide a ready-made local ground force willing to fight capable terrorists but lack the legitimacy, effectiveness, and staying power to hold and sustain military gains.

Conducting CT campaigns by empowering non-state proxies poses unique dilemmas and policy trade-offs for Western policymakers, with limited options to secure swift CT wins without stoking local conflict and generating instability resilient terrorists can exploit.

The proxy approach will likely remain appealing to Western countries as well as great power rivals as low-cost means to reduce exigent terrorist threats and pursue their security and strategic interests vis-à-vis competitors.

The Cybersecurity Workforce Gap

As cyber threats continue to grow in sophistication, organizations face a persistent challenge in recruiting skilled cybersecurity professionals capable of protecting their systems against the threat of malicious actors. With cybercriminals now responsible for billions in losses per year and state-sponsored hacking groups posing an ever-greater threat, the need for individuals capable of securing networks against attackers has never been greater. However, education and training institutions in the United States have so far found it difficult to keep pace with the growing need for cyber talent. This paper highlights the gaps that exist in the nation’s current cybersecurity education and training landscape and identifies several examples of successful programs that hold promise as models for addressing the skills gap. It then highlights recommendations for policymakers, educators, and employers.

Yoda: International Appeal – Stop 5G on Earth and in Space

We the undersigned scientists, doctors, environmental organizations and citizens from ( ) countries, urgently call for a halt to the deployment of the 5G (fifth generation) wireless network, including 5G from space satellites. 5G will massively increase exposure to radio frequency (RF) radiation on top of the 2G, 3G and 4G networks for telecommunications already in place. RF radiation has been proven harmful for humans and the environment. The deployment of 5G constitutes an experiment on humanity and the environment that is defined as a crime under international law.

Executive summary

Telecommunications companies worldwide, with the support of governments, are poised within the next two years to roll out the fifth-generation wireless network (5G). This is set to deliver what is acknowledged to be unprecedented societal change on a global scale. We will have “smart” homes, “smart” businesses, “smart” highways, “smart” cities and self-driving cars. Virtually everything we own and buy, from refrigerators and washing machines to milk cartons, hairbrushes and infants’ diapers, will contain antennas and microchips and will be connected wirelessly to the Internet. Every person on Earth will have instant access to super-high-speed, low-latency wireless communications from any point on the planet, even in rainforests, mid-ocean and the Antarctic.

How deception changes the rules of engagement in cyber security

Carolyn Crandall, Chief Deception Officer at Attivo Networks, explores how deception techniques can provide not only early detection of malicious activity but also an invaluable insight into an attacker’s methods

Throughout history, deception has been one of the classic strategies underpinning offensive and defensive tactics in military warfare. Camouflage, concealment, and fake information, such as false propaganda or physical decoys, have been used to mislead, confuse, and slow down enemy forces to gain a strategic advantage. It’s one of the classic philosophies from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.”

America's National Defense Strategy and the Paradox of Technology

by Chad C. Serena, Colin P. Clarke

The current national defense strategy emphasizes the role technology will likely play in the United States’ ability to compete effectively in future conflicts, especially those against near-peer and peer adversaries. Developing more defensible and robust equipment, information networks and cyber capabilities will likely be critical to most, if not all, future warfighting tasks. This could include using artificial intelligence for target acquisition or network defense and attack, robots and autonomous vehicles for logistics missions, or constellations of satellites for positioning and navigation. A strategy emphasizing these capabilities not only makes sense but is requisite if the United States is to maintain its military prominence. However, if it is devoid of compensatory improvements in the training of basic and time-tested nontechnical or analog skills and tasks, such a strategy could worsen the U.S. military’s overreliance on technology.


These Are the New Russian Capabilities That the West Should Really Worry About

Military scare stories are coming thick and fast from Russia. One involves Poseidon, a huge nuclear torpedo or drone. Russia is eagerly leaking details of its range and yield. Some of them may even be true. Another supposedly unbeatable weapon is theAvangard hypersonic missile, due to enter service this year.

These and other new additions to the Kremlin arsenal will certainly give Western military planners and intelligence agencies plenty to ponder. But they do not change the big picture. Russia is militarily much weaker than the United States and its allies. In any full-scale confrontation, it loses. If it comes to an all-out nuclear exchange, we all die. That hasn’t changed since the cold war. The real significance of the new weapons is domestic: they exist to reassure Russians that their country is still a superpower, and that the tax rubles pouring into the military-industrial complex are being wisely spent.

#NatSecGirl Squad: The Conference Edition White Paper — The Role of the Intelligence Community in National Security and Defense

By Abigail P. Gage

Abigail P. Gage is a U.S. Army Veteran. She recently earned a Master of Arts from Johns HopkinsSAIS. Previously, Abigail worked for the House Armed Services Committee and served on active duty in Iraq and Germany. She continues to serve today in the U.S. Army National Guard. Find her on Twitter @AbigailPGage. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Panel Title: Creative Problem Solving: The Role of the Intelligence Community (IC) in National Security and Defense

Author and / or Article Point of View: Abigail P. Gage is a national security policy professional with defense experience in the military and on Capitol Hill. This paper is the result of her work with the #NatSecGirlSquad Conference edition, where she designed a panel exploring modern challenges faced by the IC.