What Afghanistan Needs to Move Forward: National Unity

Brigadier General Abdul Raziq, Kandahar Chief of Police, speaks to the assembled locals of Kajran in Daykundi Province during a shura on October 22. DoD photo by Cpl. Mark Doran, Australian Defence Force/Released.

Afghanistan’s hero, General Abdul Raziq, was killed just days before the parliamentary elections, leaving a wide power vacuum in the Taliban’s birthplace, Kandahar.

General Raziq was shot and killed as he was leaving a U.S.-Afghan meeting in Kandahar, where Gen. Austin S. Miller, the Commander of American forces in Afghanistan, the Kandahar provincial governor, and other leaders were present.

General Raziq had survived dozens of life-threatening attacks but continued to fight against terrorism in the southern provinces of Afghanistan. He was proactive and took a strong stand against Pakistan, accusing it of providing sanctuary to the Taliban. The Taliban feared him terribly and he was regarded as a rampart against insurgents in the area.

His death is a significant loss for Afghanistan and the southern provinces are likely to be significantly impacted. Not only did General Raziq keep Kandahar and the southern provinces safe, but he also worked hard to facilitate Afghan consensus despite longstanding, intense conflicts between ethnicities and tribes. He had hoped for a bright and peaceful Afghanistan.

He was effective in fighting extremism, in encouraging Afghan unity, and in coordinating with leaders in the U.S. coalition.

Gen. Raziq was an influential American ally in the south where he was loved by Afghans for his patriotism and passion for bringing peace through eliminating insurgency. He was known for hunting and killing Taliban insurgents. Gen. Raziq said repeatedly that the goal was to, “kill them, not capture;” he was keenly aware of their destructive potential.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, greets Maj. Gen. Abdul Raziq, police chief of Kandahar province

Gen. Raziq joined the Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan, led by Ata Mohammad Noor, Gen. Dostum, Mohammad Mohaqiq, and other reps from 34 political parties to vouchsafe a transparent election, and a legitimate government that fights extremism and serves the public.

An attack like the one that killed Gen. Raziq provokes doubt and despair. It spurs suspicions of governmental coordination behind such attacks and others like it: Gen. Daud Daud, Burhan-Uddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan, the bombing of the Ministry of Defense, and others since 9/11. The Taliban leverages such paranoia for its purposes.

What’s next?

Over the past two weeks, America’s special envoy for Afghan Peace and Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks with the Taliban’s political office in Qatar for a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict.

Next, Khalilzad met with senior officials in Saudi Arabi, Pakistan and Afghanistan to facilitate the Afghan peace process. All the while, the Taliban continues to execute deadly attacks, eliminating key figures, suggesting they do not want to negotiate, and undermining any hope for peace.

Going forward, Afghanistan stability relies on the following factors: 1) transparent parliamentary and presidential elections wherein a legitimate government is formed without foreign intervention, 2) a national peace process that includes all of the tribes in Afghanistan with meetings taking place only between Afghans, and 3) creation of a counter-insurgency policy that is three steps ahead of the enemy.

Help From Outside

The international community can foster change by supporting more education, helping with infrastructure redevelopment, and monitoring progress against corruption and social injustice. This would empower Afghans to build resilience against the terrorists who jeopardize national security.

Ultimately, the future of Afghanistan depends on its people. Good governance, transparent elections, economic development, education, and ethnic harmony all lie along the path to peace.

Afghans must realize that discrimination is ruining the nation, corruption is feeding terrorism, and division is eroding the values that ought to unify Afghans. When they recognize those challenges and commit to overcoming them, they can begin taking steps toward a lasting peace.

The Price of a Free Press: Jamal Khashoggi

People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Oct. 10, 2018.

The last time anyone saw Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi alive was Oct. 2nd when security cameras caught him entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Authorities presume he was murdered there. After openly criticizing the Saudi government, Khashoggi moved to Northern Virginia where he lived in self-imposed exile from Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post, has been critical of the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and King Salman for the past 10 years. He questioned the kingdom’s human rights positions, criticized the religious clerics, sided with Egypt during the Arab Spring, and more recently voiced opposition to the Saudi led intervention in Yemen.

Turkish authorities were quick to support Khashoggi’s fiancé in blaming the Saudi government.

The Saudis allegedly lured the journalist to the consulate in Istanbul where they presumably murdered him. His death has not been confirmed, but there is no security footage of him leaving the consulate. The official position of the Saudi government is they have no additional information.

The King of Saudi Arabia denied all knowledge of the situation to President Trump. However, a new theory and potential Saudi ploy is this was an interrogation gone wrong and an accidental death.

Turkish authorities were quick to support Khashoggi’s fiancé in blaming the Saudi government. Turkey suggested they had both video and voice evidence that the Saudis tortured and murdered Khashoggi in the consulate. There is speculation that Khashoggi might have recorded some of the incident via an Iwatch which sent data to a cloud storage, although this has not been released. The Turkish authorities have said the Saudi government is not cooperating with their investigation.

In an age when the press is already under attack by world leaders, for many, this is a red-line. Interestingly, although not uncharacteristically, U.S. President Trump has waffled in his response. He noted he would like to know what happened to the journalist. But he also noted he believes the Saudi King, and even suggested “rogue actors” could have done this without anyone’s authority. In other words, the American president is running interference for the Saudis. 

Jamal Khashoggi knew he endangered his life by speaking out and questioning his country’s leadership, but he did it anyway.

Trump was again dismissive as he noted, “This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen,” in a chilling devaluation of the Virginian’s life and profession. The President also said if there is definitive proof, he will act swiftly. But Trump is not going to jeopardize a multi-billion dollar arms deal. 

The President places more value thereupon than he does the ethics of journalism and murder. We shall see whether the Republican-controlled Congress falls into step with the President, or maintain their earlier call for sanctions.

If we lack a free press that can question leadership, then we lose transparency and governmental accountability. Jamal Khashoggi knew he endangered his life by speaking out and questioning his country’s leadership, but he continued to do so. He fervently believed in the power and responsibility of a free press, and likely paid the ultimate price. 

As the journalist, Anna Politkovskaya wrote,  “How we react to the tragedy of one small person accurately reflects our attitude…” Politkovskaya, like Khashoggi, was murdered for her willingness to question, seek the truth, and advocate for a free press. The question remains for world leaders, how will we react?   

US Online Counterterrorism Strategy

Last week on October 4th the Trump administration released the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism. The White House strategy rightly prioritizes strong partnerships with allies and is refreshingly devoid of the president’s more controversial ideas. However, it curiously lacks any plan to combat the most serious evolution in terrorist threat since the last strategy was released in 2011. That is the towering success of social media as a tool for terrorists to radicalize, recruit and organize followers the world over.

ISIS’ cunning use of social media radicalized people the world over.

The US government must not only acknowledge this as the major threat that it is but develop new legislation that permits it to combat terrorist activity online. The internet continues to provide free space for terrorists to advance their causes and incite violence, all under the protection of the US constitution’s 1st Amendment. Our government must acknowledge this threat and develop a strategy to stop the dissemination of dangerous domestic terrorist propaganda on the internet. Importantly, it must do so without encroaching on US citizens’ rights to free speech.

Terrorism relies on publicity. ISIS’ capability to radicalize people the world over through its cunning use of social media was widely credited as one of the main reasons for its rapid growth, as well as its ability to create a global brand. Domestic terrorists have used the internet to accomplish the same thing. A 2016 study revealed that American white nationalist movement’s Twitter followers increased by 600% since 2012, surpassing ISIS in follower counts and tweets per day. Online forums and social media accounts provide safe spaces for violent rhetoric that extremists don’t feel comfortable using in public. For both radical Islamists and white supremacists, the internet has provided an effective means to broadcast their malicious,  hateful messages to the world.

Tech companies are not up to the threat; they are businesses with the prime motivator of profit generation, not national security.

The risks of terrorists exploiting the internet are uncontested. However, a broad interpretation of the 1st Amendment has wrapped the US government’s knuckles. Restraints on the government’s ability to censor content have left major national security decisions up to private companies, who lack the expertise to assess a threat to national security and public safety. And while tech giants like Facebook have recently stepped up their efforts to censor and report terror content, private companies should not own that burden alone.  

Tech companies have proven themselves to be inadequate to face this threat. They are businesses with the prime motivator of profit generation, not national security. In addition, they typically hold strict Libertarian views of the internet. Such companies see the internet as a common space for the free sharing of ideas. They tend to be extremely resistant to censorship of any kind. Too much government cooperation could sway public perception to their being in bed with Big Brother.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has clearly stated the significance of US leadership in passing new legislation: “It would be extremely helpful to other countries if the United States could find a solution to its limited ability to furnish judicial cooperation concerning foreign incitement offenses resulting from its jurisprudence concerning freedom of speech and expression.” 

The US cannot afford to continue without a strategy to combat digital terrorism. We must open the issue to new scrutiny. Such scrutiny starts with developing a clear and specific definition of what kinds of content can be censored. Laws that allow censorship already exist, such as the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and recent Congressional prohibitions on sex traffickers. Why not censor content shown to be a precursor to terrorist attacks? Only content deemed to cause “imminent lawless action” would pass constitutional muster for restriction. What the US needs is a new federal bureau with combined expertise in national security, law, and technology.

In the event congressional action fails, what is a good interim solution?

With new legislation in place, tech companies will no longer decide what constitutes a threat to national security. They will also avoid the perception of denying free speech since they will simply be complying with the law. Some have suggested that a “Code of Ethics” be developed for social media companies which would create a more uniform approach to combatting terrorism. In the event congressional action fails to materialize this would be a good interim solution. If we can effectively fight terrorism in the virtual space, we can prevent the loss of lives in the real world.

Lone Wolf Bio-Terror: Are We Prepared?

It’s no secret that the lone-wolf threat to Europe is bad, and worsening. However, it’s not just an increasing number of lone wolves, but the variety of tactics they’ll employ in terror’s service that makes prevention a challenge. 

[pullquote]It’s no secret that the lone-wolf threat to Europe is bad, and worsening.[/pullquote]

According to Britain’s Security Minister and top counter-terrorism officer, Ben Wallace, it is likely that a biological or chemical terror attack is on the horizon. At a security conference in London, last Tuesday Wallace warned, “The only limit to the ambition of our adversaries is their imagination.

Chemical and biological weapons are getting closer.

Chemical and biological weapons are getting closer. They have developed and worked on a better arsenal. We have to be prepared for the day when that comes to our streets.” Implicit in his remarks was the notion that counter-terror specialists, as well as governments, must be equally imaginative in their pro-activity.

One major challenge governments face in trying to thwart chemical and biological attacks is the scale. If one person releases tiny amounts of a chemical agent like Anthrax, it could have implications for hundreds, or, millions of people. Traffic flow disruptions, water supply tainting, exposure areas untouchable, these are just some of the possibilities. 

Governments and private contractors have little experience with bio-terrorism. If terrorists were to release biotoxins in civilian areas, the damage could be enormous.

A terrorist need only infect one person, who could then infect her (sic) social circles. Epidemic exposure rates could be a reality faster than you can say Cipro, bringing repercussions on a global scale. The terrorists would need to do very little. The disease would naturally spread at a velocity that grows exponentially.

The probability of these attacks is increasing, and it’s time that governments took note. Currently, there is no international system in place specifically to combat chemical and bio-terror.

If a terrorist infected someone with a biological agent in New York, and then that person flew to Germany infecting people in Berlin, German and American authorities would have no pre-existing framework within which they could cooperate, info-share about how to stop the disease’s transmission, and help those infected. 

[pullquote]The international community will have to work together with maximum efficiency. Unfortunately, it seems governments, unlike terrorists themselves, have a fixed view of terrorism.[/pullquote]

It is critical that such a framework is in place before the scenario unfolds. In the event of a biological or chemical terror attack, time will be of the essence. The international community will have to work together with maximum efficiency. Unfortunately, it seems governments, unlike terrorists themselves, have a fixed view of terrorism.

Governments use major resources to plan for shooters, suicide bombers, and other common acts of terror. Diversifying those resources and intensifying the focus on biological and chemical terrorism could, in the future, save countless lives.

Nuclear Terrorism: Threat Profile and Potential Impact

The typical profile of a terrorist attack may include gunmen storming a government building or a suicide bomber detonating his explosive vest in a crowd of festival attendees. However, arms wonks, policy makers, and scientists have long been attuned to a more sinister threat: a radiological dispersal device, or dirty bomb. A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive outfitted with a radiological contaminant such as strontium or cesium, which kills not only through explosive force but radioactive contamination as well.

Terrorist groups can create dirty bombs without much scientific expertise–the difficulty is not in designing the weapon but acquiring the radioactive material. However, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, radiological sources are common in commercial or medical devices and are often poorly secured and vulnerable to theft. In fact, as early as 1998, nineteen tubes of radioactive cesium were stolen from a hospital in North Carolina and were never recovered. Poorly secured nuclear facilities in Russia and former Soviet states are also at threat for theft of nuclear materials, with facilities in a number of Russian provinces and Georgia reporting theft.

A Center for Nonproliferation Studies outlined four possible threats of nuclear terrorism. These include the theft and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon, the theft or purchase of radioactive material and subsequent construction of an improvised nuclear device, attack against nuclear power plants, and the construction and detonation of a dirty bomb. Some sources have stated that nuclear terrorism may already be a reality: documents found in Herat, Afghanistan have indicated Al-Qaeda has been in possession of a dirty bomb since 2003, and radioactive contaminants before then.

In 2017, Indonesian militants acquired low-grade radioactive Thorium-232, which they hoped to transform into more potent Uranium-233. This uranium would then be combined with a homemade explosive to produce a dirty bomb. When ISIS conquered Mosul in 2014, radioactive Cobalt-60 was housed on a university campus in the city, ripe for the taking.

While the terrorist group proclaimed they had seized radioactive material and took over laboratories at the same university, Iraqi government officials later discovered they had not touched the Cobalt-60. Terrorist groups have long been aware of the deadly capabilities of a nuclear attack and have sought to plunder, purchase, or create dirty bombs with which to carry out nuclear attacks. At the same time, governments and nuclear scientists are aware of the threat posed by terrorists to nuclear facilities and actively work to upgrade security systems to combat it.

Despite efforts by a number of terrorist groups to obtain radioactive material and build a nuclear bomb, some experts believe the threat of nuclear terrorism is overblown. A number of explanations for terrorist nuclear abstinence have been proposed. These include the difficulty of carrying out such an attack, the disruptive impact of counter-terrorism efforts, and the potential for a nuclear attack to undermine the terrorist cause rather than advance it. Since the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks to date have been simplistic strikes such as those utilizing knives, conventional explosives, or vehicles, a RAND Corporation analysis concluded, “Governments would be better off focusing their efforts on combating the spread and use of conventional weapons,” as opposed to countering nuclear terrorism.

Even assuming a terrorist group was able to carry out a dirty bomb attack, its impact may be limited. While the public may imagine dirty bombs as capable of killing hundreds or thousands of people, the death toll would more likely be limited to fewer than 100 people. If impacted civilians leave the area quickly, remove contaminated clothing, and shower to wash off radioactive debris, a dirty bomb does not pose much of a threat. However, the economic, psychological, and social costs of a dirty bomb would be much larger. As such, governments must be prepared for the long-term impact of a nuclear terrorist threat more than an initial attack. Costly, long-lasting decontamination efforts may be necessary depending on the level of radioactive contamination, and the public may be afraid of returning to the attack location, causing economic and social disruption.

Nuclear terrorism is a threat that has been underappreciated by the general public, but it has been recognized by counter-terrorism experts, governments, and scientists for some time. While the likelihood of a nuclear terror attack may be slim and the initial deadly effects small, the long-term threat of a dirty bomb attack means governments must upgrade nuclear security efforts at hospitals, power plants, and other facilities containing nuclear materials. Although prior thefts of radioactive material have not yet resulted in nuclear terrorism, it is only a matter of time before a dirty bomb or other nuclear threat becomes a reality.