Commentary Magazine


Topic: counterterrorism

“Success” at the Counterterrorism Forum

At Friday’s State Department press conference, spokesman Mark Toner was asked again about the U.S. commitment to get Israel involved in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which will be meeting again on December 13 without Israel. Reporter Matt Lee asked Toner “what exactly the Administration has done … since the last [GCTF] meeting, when you all said that you were going to try to get [Israel] included in this group, or at least some of this group’s work.”

Toner responded that “we’ve succeeded and agreed with our partners in the GCTF to have this issue as a formal agenda item on the – at the December 13 meeting.” That produced this colloquy:

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At Friday’s State Department press conference, spokesman Mark Toner was asked again about the U.S. commitment to get Israel involved in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which will be meeting again on December 13 without Israel. Reporter Matt Lee asked Toner “what exactly the Administration has done … since the last [GCTF] meeting, when you all said that you were going to try to get [Israel] included in this group, or at least some of this group’s work.”

Toner responded that “we’ve succeeded and agreed with our partners in the GCTF to have this issue as a formal agenda item on the – at the December 13 meeting.” That produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: Okay. What exactly is it that’s on the agenda? I mean, what is – can you say what –

MR. TONER: To have this issue discussed about –

QUESTION: Israel’s participation as a full – in the — …

MR. TONER: That the GCTF needs to develop more concrete policies on the involvement of non-members.

Lee asked whether the agenda item is specifically about Israel, and Toner said no: it’s about all non-members, although “certainly, Israel would be included” in this category. OK, but is the agenda item at least about how non-members can become members?

MR. TONER: No. On how to get them involved. As I talked about, this is about mobilizing the best and the brightest strategists from around the world.

QUESTION: Okay … Is membership closed? Is it full? Can no one else get in?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that membership is closed in this organization. What we’ve been working towards … is getting Israel, with its expertise, with its experience, involved in some of the activities that this group’s involved with.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you want them to join or you’re pushing for them for full membership?

MR. TONER: It does not necessarily assume membership, but we want to see their expertise reflected.

Lee then summed up the colloquy with this exchange:

QUESTION: So I guess then my quick question is just is the agenda item that you’re talking about being – it does not anticipate or does not get into whether non-members can actually become members?

MR. TONER: No. What we’re talking about here is the issue of participation of non-members, including Israel, in these kinds of events.

So we’ve gotten the GCTF, which we co-formed and co-chair, to agree to an agenda item that does not mention Israel; does not anticipate Israel becoming a member; will not be the occasion for pushing Israel for membership; is simply a discussion about how 163 non-member countries, at some point in the future, might get involved in “some of the activities” of the GCTF; and we have announced this as a success.

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Re: Clinton Excludes Israel Again from Counterterror Summit?

Michael Rubin’s incisive post on the apparent exclusion of Israel from another meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) identifies a significant effect of U.S. acquiescence in the exclusion: an implicit U.S. endorsement of the drive to delegitimize Israel, by signaling that even on the issue of counterterrorism (on which Israel has obvious knowledge and expertise); even in the case of a prominent international forum on that subject (co-founded and co-chaired by the United States); and even though the U.S. has repeatedly announced its “commitment” to the inclusion of Israel, the U.S. will continue to permit Israel’s exclusion.

There is another unfortunate effect, highlighted by the way the issue was treated at yesterday’s State Department press conference, where the deputy spokesman announced that Secretary Clinton would participate in the December 14 ministerial meeting of the GCTF. The following colloquy occurred:  

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Michael Rubin’s incisive post on the apparent exclusion of Israel from another meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) identifies a significant effect of U.S. acquiescence in the exclusion: an implicit U.S. endorsement of the drive to delegitimize Israel, by signaling that even on the issue of counterterrorism (on which Israel has obvious knowledge and expertise); even in the case of a prominent international forum on that subject (co-founded and co-chaired by the United States); and even though the U.S. has repeatedly announced its “commitment” to the inclusion of Israel, the U.S. will continue to permit Israel’s exclusion.

There is another unfortunate effect, highlighted by the way the issue was treated at yesterday’s State Department press conference, where the deputy spokesman announced that Secretary Clinton would participate in the December 14 ministerial meeting of the GCTF. The following colloquy occurred:  

QUESTION: You announced that the Secretary is going to be attending the Global Counterterrorism Conference –

MR. TONER: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: — in Abu Dhabi, which opens the can of worms about whether Israel has been invited to participate in any capacity at all. Do you know if they have or if there are plans to get them involved, if not at a ministerial level, at a lower level?

MR. TONER: You know where we stand on this, which is that we’ve discussed with our partners in the Global Counterterrorism Forum ways to involve Israel. We said this before. We’re committed to doing so. We’ll raise it again in this venue.

QUESTION: But not this time?

MR. TONER: I don’t know if they are going to be invited. I’ll try to get more information on that.

Back in June, asked whether the U.S. had sought to get Israel involved in the GCTF, the State Department said the issue had been discussed and that the U.S. was “committed to making this happen.” In July, when Israel was not invited to the 29-nation GCTF conference, the spokesman did not know whether anything had been done by the U.S. regarding its commitment, but confirmed that the U.S. was “committed to making it happen.” Every time the issue is raised, the State Department spokesman repeats the commitment, but has trouble explaining what has been done about it.

Now Israel has apparently been excluded again, and in announcing the meeting the State Department spokesperson did not think it necessary to inform himself on the issue before meeting the press. The unfortunate effect is to call into question the meaning and effect of the U.S. “commitment,” sending a signal to Turkey (the other GCTF co-chair) and other nations that perhaps the word doesn’t mean what they think it means.  

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Clinton Excludes Israel Again from Counterterror Summit?

Last year, the Obama administration and State Department promoted the Global Counterterrorism Forum, but acquiesced to Turkey’s demand that Israel be excluded from the forum. Apparently, as seen by his repeated endorsements of Hamas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that terrorism is always bad, unless directed at Israelis.

Last July, Rick Richman and Jonathan Tobin noted that long after Secretary Clinton had promised to do what was necessary to win Israel’s inclusion, forum meetings were going ahead without the Jewish state’s presence. Well, it’s happened again.

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Last year, the Obama administration and State Department promoted the Global Counterterrorism Forum, but acquiesced to Turkey’s demand that Israel be excluded from the forum. Apparently, as seen by his repeated endorsements of Hamas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that terrorism is always bad, unless directed at Israelis.

Last July, Rick Richman and Jonathan Tobin noted that long after Secretary Clinton had promised to do what was necessary to win Israel’s inclusion, forum meetings were going ahead without the Jewish state’s presence. Well, it’s happened again.

According to CNS’s Patrick Goodenough, the State Department has acquiesced to the forum again excluding Israel. Goodenough reports, “Six months after the Obama administration said it was ‘committed’ to involving Israel in its flagship international counter-terrorism initiative, there has evidently been little progress….”

The issue is not simply Israel’s exclusion, or the State Department’s belief that more intolerant states like Lebanon and Turkey might stay away if Israelis were at the same forum. Rather, the problem is that these radicals believe that U.S. acquiescence to their refusal to allow Israel’s inclusion is an implicit U.S. endorsement of their drive to delegitimize Israel completely. Clinton’s refusal to pull the carpet out from under the meeting by putting U.S. participation on the line not only undercuts global counter-terrorism by signaling that terrorism against Israel needn’t be on the table, but also convinces the Erdoğans of the world that momentum is on their side.

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Will Obama Duplicate Iraq Errors in Afghanistan?

Kim and Fred Kagan have a typically trenchant op-ed in the Washington Post today on the minimal force requirements necessary for post-2014 Afghanistan. Bottom line up front: They argue a force of at least 30,000 personnel will be needed for a bare-bones counterterrorism and advisory mission.

They begin by assuming that the U.S. will need three major bases outside Kabul–in Jalalabad, Khost, and Kandahar. Each base will require a battalion of ground troops, primarily for protection, and a battalion of combat-aviation to enable drone strikes and operations by Special Mission Units. That adds up to two brigades, or 10,000 troops. Add in 5,000 or so logisticians to keep those bases supplied and you’re up to 15,000. To prevent the areas around those bases from going to hell, it will also be necessary to send some advisors to the local Afghan army and police headquarters. That adds another 6,000 or so personnel. If you add in “the security forces for a base near Kabul, a theater headquarters, route-clearance packages, theater logisticians and other ancillary units,” you are pushing “the requirement above 30,000.”

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Kim and Fred Kagan have a typically trenchant op-ed in the Washington Post today on the minimal force requirements necessary for post-2014 Afghanistan. Bottom line up front: They argue a force of at least 30,000 personnel will be needed for a bare-bones counterterrorism and advisory mission.

They begin by assuming that the U.S. will need three major bases outside Kabul–in Jalalabad, Khost, and Kandahar. Each base will require a battalion of ground troops, primarily for protection, and a battalion of combat-aviation to enable drone strikes and operations by Special Mission Units. That adds up to two brigades, or 10,000 troops. Add in 5,000 or so logisticians to keep those bases supplied and you’re up to 15,000. To prevent the areas around those bases from going to hell, it will also be necessary to send some advisors to the local Afghan army and police headquarters. That adds another 6,000 or so personnel. If you add in “the security forces for a base near Kabul, a theater headquarters, route-clearance packages, theater logisticians and other ancillary units,” you are pushing “the requirement above 30,000.”

That is not a grandiose objective; it is a bare minimum. As the Kagans write: “At that level U.S. forces in Afghanistan could do nothing beyond the minimum necessary to allow us to continue counterterrorism operations in South Asia: no nation-building, no effort to affect the Afghan political process or help the Afghans secure presidential elections in 2014, no development assistance; only defensive operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups from three bases.”

Their math adds up. It is indeed similar to my own calculation that 25,000 to 35,000 troops would be needed–a figure echoed by other serious security analysts. So it is with some alarm that I read reports that the administration may have settled on keeping only 10,000 troops. Such a force would have trouble doing much beyond keeping itself supplied and secure; it would be hard-put to have much of an impact against the major terrorist networks that call Afghanistan and Pakistan home. If such a decision has indeed been made, it is hard to see how it can be justified on the merits: the Kagans’ calculations are hard to dispute. But sound as the Kagans’ strategic thinking may be, it does not accord with what passes for political wisdom in the White House, where war-weary politicos are eager to draw as many troops out as quickly as possible, without fully thinking through the consequences of their actions.

One consequence they should consider is that, given how little a force of 10,000 could contribute to the long-term security of the government of Afghanistan, it is by no means a sure thing that Hamid Karzai will make the necessary concessions, in particular granting U.S. troops complete immunity from Afghan prosecution, that are necessary to conclude a Status of Forces Agreement. We could in fact be heading for an Iraq Redux disaster, wherein the Obama administration squanders the goodwill of our local ally by not making a real commitment to its future, thereby torpedoing diplomatic negotiations on a long-term U.S. presence. If that were to happen in Afghanistan, it would be an even bigger disaster than in Iraq because Afghanistan remains our best–indeed virtually our only base–to strike into the heart of terror in Pakistan, as SEAL Team Six did with its raid on Osama bin Laden.

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