You Say AfPak; I Say PakAf

By Al Kamen
Friday, September 18, 2009

Catchy names, phrases, acronyms and the like are most important in Washington. They can be critical to selling policies and programs, or to killing them. Roosevelt had his "Four Freedoms" to rally folks during the Depression. Wilson had a few points too many in his "14 points" and was unable to persuade the U.S. to join the League of Nations. Ford had the much-derided "WIN" buttons exhorting everyone to "Whip Inflation Now." (Didn't do much for inflation but was popular with the leather crowd.)

Clinton deflected GOP calls for using the budget surplus for a tax cut with the phrase "Save Social Security First." And of course there was the Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT, which was so good even White House spokesman Robert Gibbs used it at a briefing long after the administration decided to abandon the term. Then there's TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) or aid to bankers, and the great MNSTC-I (pronounced "Min-Sticky"), which is the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.

So it was of no small moment last week when State Department inspector general Harry Geisel, testifying about waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the House oversight subcommittee on national security, called the region "PakAf."

"You referred several times to PakAf," said ranking Republican Jeff Flake (Ariz.). "Are you suggesting a shift in emphasis here? I've not seen that in other testimony, but is State leading the way?"

"I hope not, sir," Geisel said, "I just like the alliteration of PakAf more than AfPak. I think they both work."

"Is that just you," Flake asked, "or are others expected to do that?"

Geisel said he would check and, a few minutes later, offered this. "My staff has been kind enough to explain to me how AfPak became PakAf. And the answer is it was Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who started using PakAf."

That came as news to a senior State official, who said AfPak remains the more common formulation in Foggy Bottom. In any event, left unanswered is why the change, and Flake's suspicion of an emphasis shift may be right. (Holbrooke privately has been known to refer to AfPak.) It could be that Holbrooke's so upset with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the election disaster, that he's downgrading Afghanistan.

Or maybe AfPak conjured too many images of that duck in the insurance company ads?


Or it may be that the State Department is simply following the Pentagon's lead. Folks there seem to have leaned toward the PakAf formulation, though both are used, sometimes on the same page of a document, judging from the summary of a strategy briefing given in August to Maj. Gen. Mike Flynn, a senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

Flynn approved several parts of the strategy, including having Gallup poll 5,000 Afghans in key areas in Afghanistan such as Kunduz, Helmand and Paktia provinces, according to a summary of a teleconference report. There's been lots of polling in Afghanistan, but this is a huge sample.

The summary said Flynn "needs to understand what causes someone who is disaffected, but otherwise does not want to join the Taliban, to distance himself from the insurgency, whether that is a job or an improved security environment."

After eight years of war, the intelligence folks probably have a pretty good clue on the answers. The new Gallup polling report is due at the end of January. Meanwhile, reducing civilian casualties and holding a fair election might help.


Tom Dine, a former Senate aide, the longest-serving head of Radio Free Europe and the near-legendary director of pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has a new gig: he's now working the Hill and consulting to al-Hurra television, the troubled, little-watched U.S.-government-funded television station that vainly tries to compete with behemoth operations such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, the only Arab network to score an interview with President Obama. He's also consulting with Radio Sawa, al-Hurra's sister station.

Dine, getting settled in just as the State Department inspector general's investigation of alleged mismanagement and other concerns at al-Hurra clicks into high gear, said in an interview with ProPublica's Dafna Linzer that his enthusiasm for international broadcasting and his knowledge of the Middle East would help him to promote the network on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration.

So now a government-funded station that seeks to influence the Arab world sends a former AIPAC lobbyist to the Hill. Well, might see an increase in viewers in Israel.


Looks like folks at the National Counterterrorism Center are going to have to scramble a bit as they work on the 2010 edition of the NCTC's popular weekly planning calendar. At least two top terrorism suspects -- featured on the calendar for years now with their very own pages -- were reported killed this week.

Saleh Ali Nabhan -- Page 34 in the 2009 calendar -- a Kenyan wanted for involvement in the bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Kenya in 2002 and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was reported killed early Monday in southern Somalia by U.S. Special Forces.

On Thursday, Noordin Muhammed Top -- Page 82 -- called by one expert "the most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia," apparently was killed in a shootout with Indonesian police. He's been blamed for numerous bombings, including two in Bali that killed 222 people and at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004.

Remember: That number to call if you were the one who dropped a dime on those guys is: 800-US-REWARDS. Operators are standing by. Or you can e-mail Some serious reward money may be yours.

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