Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Afghanistan, Targeted Killings, and U.S. Policy Priorities

by Micah Zenko
January 31, 2014

A U.S. soldier at the site of a suicide attack on a NATO base in Zhari on January 20, 2014. (Nadeem/Courtesy Reuters) A U.S. soldier at the site of a suicide attack on a NATO base in Zhari on January 20, 2014. (Nadeem/Courtesy Reuters)

Alice K. Ross, “Leaked official document records 330 drone strikes in Pakistan,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 29, 2014.

The Bureau is today publishing a leaked official document that records details of over 300 drone strikes, including their locations and an assessment of how many people died in each incident…

The Bureau estimates that at least 2,371 people died in the time covered by the document (excluding 2007, which is missing from the record), while it records 2,217 deaths in total…

Bureau v Paki Doc Strikes

(3PA: In a recent blog post, I tracked the differences in reporting of all U.S. targeted killings and fatalities through 2013 by comparing estimates from three NGOs.)


Brian Knowlton, “McCain Calls China a ‘Rising Threat’ in Baucus Confirmation Hearing,” New York Times, January 29, 2014.

McCain went on: “This is a matter of a rising threat or challenge to peace and security in Asia because of the profound belief in the Chinese leadership that China must, and will, regain the dominant role that they had for a couple of thousand years in Asia.”


Mark Hosenball, “Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels,” Reuters, January 27, 2014.

Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according to U.S. and European security officials.

The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets.


Deficit Reduction Declines as Policy Priority,” Pew Research, January 27, 2014.

The Pew Research Center’s annual survey of policy priorities, conducted Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 adults, finds that the public’s agenda continues to be dominated by the economy (80% top priority), jobs (74%) and terrorism (73%). As in past years, the lowest-rated priorities are dealing with global warming (29%) and dealing with global trade (28%).

Pew Poll Top PRiorities Jan 2014

(3PA: You will note the bottom three priorities for Americans are often the top three demands for foreign policy columnists, such as Tom Friedman.)


David S. Cloud, “Top general to ask Obama to keep more troops in Afghanistan,” Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2014.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is planning to go to the White House on Monday to argue for keeping about 10,000 troops in the country after this year, a subject that has exposed a fissure between some of President Obama’s top advisors and the Pentagon. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who commands all international forces in Afghanistan, is recommending that U.S. troops stay to help train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations against Taliban insurgents and Al Qaeda-linked militants. All other U.S. troops will be withdrawn this year.

To make the deployment more attractive to a skeptical White House, Dunford says the 10,000 should pull out by 2017, when Obama leaves office, according to two officials, who confirmed a Wall Street Journal report. The Pentagon previously had favored deploying the troops for a decade.

But Vice President Joe Biden and other key White House aides favor leaving only 1,000 to 2,000 troops, said the officials, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal deliberations…


Contractor Support of U.S. Operations in the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility to Include Iraq and Afghanistan,” U.S. Department of Defense, January 2014.

In 1st quarter FY 2014, USCENTCOM reported approximately 99,057 contractor personnel working for the DoD in the USCENTCOM AOR.  This total reflects a significant decrease from the previous quarter.  The numbers of contractors in other USCENTCOM locations make up about 17.9% of the total contractor population in the USCENTCOM AOR.  A breakdown of DoD contractor personnel is provided below:

DoD Contractor Personnel

(3PA: This is the first decrease in the number of U.S. citizen contractors in Afghanistan since 2010, when there were 10,016. In 2011, there were 19,381. This rose to 25,287 in 2012, and reached a peak in 2013 at 33,444.)

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    Not sure how the Obama Administration and Congress can justify arming an insurgency against a sitting government with representation at the United Nations, sans a Security Council resolution. If the lack of a Security Council resolution makes the arming of an insurgency a criminal act, why are not the perpetrators immediately apprehended, indicted, and tried before a court?

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    Thanks again for the updates:

    “McCain went on: ‘This is a matter of a rising threat or challenge to peace and security in Asia because of the profound belief in the Chinese leadership that China must, and will, regain the dominant role that they had for a couple of thousand years in Asia.’”

    Either I’m missing something really fundamental or McCain needs to read up on petroleum. The PRC doesn’t have any. Nor do they possess the ability to reach shale oil. Like everyone else except Canada and the U.S., they will be competing for an ever-slowing trickle that’s coming out of the ground from conventional sources. Russia will hold out for a while. SA is already putting its fields under water and gas pressure to reach global demand. Not a good sign. Then the whole house of cards will come down like boulders from Crater Lake. What we are seeing in the PRC is the last gasp of what could have been. Geology in NA; good. Geology everywhere else; bad. Drilling technology in the west; good. Drilling technology everywhere else; poor. 90 million barrels a day, not gonna last. Follow the yellow brick road.

    Then again, maybe Dorothy is just messing with us and the fields really aren’t slowing down. It’s possible, but I doubt it; for reasons not the least of which is that Dorothy doesn’t exist.

    This is what scares the be-jesus out of me about our national leadership. They should know this stuff. And it is why I post here. Does he not realize this? Has he been trapped in a fatal “advisory co-dependency”? From NASA with our seeming inability to figure out how to obtain resources off-planet which, by the way, is totally within our technological grasp just as much as deep see oil rigs are (but how many people actually even realize that?) to the petroleum issue, to terrorism, the economy, to just about anything USG touches. What is going on over there in D.C.? Who is running this show?

    Meanwhile, CNN is chock full of interesting tid-bits about the “horror” of a music video. I neither know who this woman is or why it is such a horror, it’s just someone swinging around on a crane. Over half the population still believes make-believe things are real. And I’m not talking about the small children either.

    If I had 30 minutes; just 30 minutes, I could spin that Rubik’s cube right in front of them. It is the lack of any grasp whatsoever of how the world works that is scarier than the challenges we face, imo.

    As for the Syria bit, USG must do something about petroleum distribution through Syria lest it leave it to war booty. Because that’s what’s going to happen if we aren’t careful about who controls the remaining petroleum. Managed by USG, we’ll make the best use of it. Left alone, it will cause wars. There is a Greater Good that does not, unfortunately, always resonate well with Americans. That is too bad. Having said all that, I say abandon in place. The wars fought over petroleum will be brief and definitive (the wars will just burn up what they have left). I believe the outcome is already known. We need to focus on building a space transportation infrastructure yesterday.

    I believe history will record that one of NASA’s greatest and most heroic achievements next to Apollo was the development of the RS-25 turbo pump, the first and only re-fireable rocket engine. Next, we need a re-useable airframe. SpaceX has made a great head-start on this. Then we need a Robert Zubrin Salt water rocket. Talk to him about his rocket. The guy is a freaking McGyver. All of this is off the shelf. If we don’t do this billions are going to needlessly die when an entire civilization based on petroleum halts. The banks and energy industry can capitalize this as a consortium. Trillions can be made. Someone in D.C. please start thinking more carefully.

    So, Mr. McCain – I appreciate your service to your country – but with all due respect, get some different advisors … please. You’re scaring me and most people I know.

    - kk

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