Our good friend Perry wrote:
(W)e are losing ground in Afghanistan, even with the injection of 40K more troops. Obama is absolutely correct to reconsider the strategy before committing even more troops. Would you have him make a hasty decision that might get us mired down further in the place, and without an exit strategy, like Bush, “stay the course”?
I responded briefly here, but the war in Afghanistan is a topic which deserves a bit more space and consideration than a comment thread which has kind of scattered far and wide.
Thanks to Sharon, I found this article:
Top Officials Challenge General’s Assessment
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 2, 2009
Senior White House officials have begun to make the case for a policy shift in Afghanistan that would send few, if any, new combat troops to the country and instead focus on faster military training of Afghan forces, continued assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders and support for the government of neighboring Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban.
In a three-hour meeting Wednesday at the White House, senior advisers challenged some of the key assumptions in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s blunt assessment of the nearly eight-year-old war, which President Obama has said is being fought to destroy al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and the ungoverned border areas of Pakistan.
McChrystal, commander of the 100,000 NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked Obama to quickly endorse his call for a change in military strategy and approve the additional resources he needs to retake the initiative from the resurgent Taliban.
You know thw deal: I can’t just quote the whole article. But it continues to say that a senior Administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said:
A lot of assumptions — and I don’t want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions — were exposed to the light of day.
Civilian control of the military is a long and cherished part of our nation, one that should never be changed. But I have to wonder just what Administration experts there were who could challenge the “assumptions” of the man on the scene. Who amongst President Obama’s team of advisers knows and understands Afghanistan better than General McChrystal?
Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal’s contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.
Gee, I wonder; could it be the fact that al Qaeda has helped the Taliban, and the fact that the Taliban provided safe haven to al Qaeda before September 11, 2001, that has General McChrystal persuaded that a return to power by the Taliban would mean sanctuary for al Qaeda?
The story continues to say that “White House officials” have said that al Qaeda has not regained a foothold in Afghanistan even as the Taliban have gained strength. One wonders how they know this, but, even if it is true, such would be reasonable: the Taliban are fighting one battle, to regain control of Afghanistan, while al Qaeda is fighting another, longer-ranged terrorist attacks on Western interests and influence. That their targets are different does not mean that their philosophy — the political establishment of Islam — is not the same, nor that the Taliban and al Qaeda would not be perfectly willing to continue the marriage of force and faith they had previously.
The Washington Post article stated that it was senior Administration officials who asked the sharpest questions, while the uniformed military leadership did not dissent from General McChrystal’s assessment; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates kept their views to themselves. Vice President Biden was said to have assumed the role of “skeptic in chief.” Mr Biden has long touted his foreign policy experience, but has had neither education nor training in the field; his claim is based solely on long tenure in, and one-time chairmanship of, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been a foreign policy commentator, but never had any actual foreign policy responsibilities.
The Post article said that the Vice President is of the opinion that deploying more troops to Afghanistan would be counter-productive, by giving al Qaeda and the Taliban more ammunition to attack the war and occupation in Afghan public opinion. That strikes me as too clever by half: does it really make sense that the Afghan people would resent a slightly larger number of American troops more than they resent having American troops there at all? The Taliban will not be appeased if we reduce our troop strength there by half; they will only be happy when it is eliminated.
I started this article yesterday, and set it aside. Today I saw this article from Donald Douglas:
Eight U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan: Aggressive Attack Shows Insurgents Gaining at AF-PAK Border
It’s the big foreign policy story this morning. Both NYT and WaPo have big stories. The fighting took place in the remote eastern section of Afghanistan, in Nurestan province. The news reports describe a brazen offensive featuring tribal militias making cross-border raids. From the Washington Post‘s report:
The U.S. military said it was not immediately clear how many insurgents were involved in the fighting. The attack involved Taliban fighters and appeared to be led by a local commander of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin insurgent group, which is run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former mujaheddin leader during the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
The attack took place in a sparsely populated area of forested mountains near the town of Kamdeysh. The deputy police chief of Nurestan province, Mohammad Farouq, said the insurgents intended to seize control of the Kamdeysh area and that hundreds took part in the fighting. He said more than 20 Afghan soldiers and police have gone missing since the fighting began and may have been taken hostage.
“Americans always want to fight in Afghanistan,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, who took credit for the attack by telephone. “If the Americans want to increase their troops, we will increase our fighters as well.”
Really? Were we to believe Mr Mujahid’s statement, we’d have to concomitantly believe that the Taliban are deliberately holding back, deliberately restraining their war efforts. Perhaps they read David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, and figured out that that’s how American civilian strategists wage war. Unfortunately, from the Washington Post article I cited above, that seems to be just how Vice President Biden thinks.
He said the battle began about 6 a.m. Saturday and involved 250 Taliban fighters. He claimed that dozens of American and Afghan soldiers were killed, along with seven Taliban fighters. Mujahid also claimed that the district police chief and intelligence chief were among the hostages, but that could not be confirmed.
I’m reminded of how I felt in November 2006. Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek‘s liberal but respected foreign policy analysts, published a big report entitled “The Drawdown Option.” The piece threw down the gauntlet on the Iraq war. Go all in or get out. My response, amid the frustrations, was to give the U.S. a year to turn things around. We had face over two years of catastrophic danger in the war, and the radical left has long declared the conflict a debacle. I’m not quite there yet on Afghanistan, but the way the media’s spinning this conflict – and the way the Obama administration is positioning itself for a cut-and-run — I may well be soon.
I wrote of the stakes in Afghanistan last week, following a New York Times report indicating that the Mumbai terrorists were gearing up for a new round of conflict. See, “Another Mumbai? Qaeda-Taliban-Lashkar Ready to Strike Again.” It turns out that Dan Twining, at Foreign Policy, wrote a report last week as well, “The Stakes in Afghanistan Go Well Beyond Afghanistan”:
The problem with the current debate over Afghanistan is that it is too focused on Afghanistan. There is no question that the intrinsic importance of winning wars our country chooses to fight — to secure objectives that remain as compelling today as they were on September 12, 2001 — is itself reason for President Obama to put in place a strategy for victory in Afghanistan. But the larger frame has been lost in the din of debate over General McChrystal’s leaked assessment, President Obama’s intention to ramp up or draw down in Afghanistan, and the legitimacy of the Afghan election. In fact, it is vital for the United States and its allies to recommit to building an Afghan state that can accountably govern its people and defeat the Taliban insurgency — for reasons that have to do not only with Afghanistan’s specific pathologies but with the implications of failure for the wider region and America’s place in the international system.
The facts are lost on congressional Democrats and the hardline antiwar left. But as I noted at my report above, a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will invite another attack on America on the scale of September 11. And both security experts and military personnel agree: “This is a moment in history we must not miss.” What’s missing is a committed and resolute civilian leadership to see to it that America gets the job done.
Dr Douglas nailed it:
What’s missing is a committed and resolute civilian leadership to see to it that America gets the job done.
Barack Hussein Obama asked for us to hire him to be our Commander-in-Chief, and the majority of American voters — I was not in that majority — chose to give him that job. Mr Obama told us, when he was running for President, that President Bush had erred by focusing on Iraq, and giving scant attention to Afghanistan. Well, he is now President Obama, and has been for 8½ months now. President Obama did do one thing right: he decided, last March, that the problems in Afghanistan and the lasless areas of Pakistan were really one problem, requiring a comprehensive, overall strategy. OK, fine. Trouble is, since making that wise determination, President Obama and his team have done nothing else. We are seeing this problem brought to the forefront of public attention only because General McChrystal went public with his request for more troops and a stronger commitment.
In the middle of last May, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates replaced General David McKiernan with Lieutenant General Stan McChrystal as head of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. We’re 4½ months into General McChrystal’s command, and we still don’t have any changes in the policy of the civilian leadership toward Afghanistan. The President put General McChrystal in command of executing our policy, but hasn’t made any changes to the policy yet, and I doubt that the civilian leadership had any plans to turn over policy to a military commander.
Yet with a new man on the ground, one who is a former Green Beret and formerly commander of the military’s clandestine special operations in Iraq, the Washington Post story indicates that the White House leadership, led by “skeptic in chief” Joe Biden — odd that the Post story didn’t mention the actual President’s role — seem locked in to the same type of thinking that brought us the measured responses which served us so well in Vietnam.
Still, there is a much more basic decision to be taken, and it can only be taken by the President of the United States. Are we going to fight to win in Afghanistan, or are we going to fold and flee? Tactics can and will change, as the strategic situation changes, but that very basic decision must be taken first.
Dr Douglas, a self-proclaimed neo-conservative — when he has commented here, he has signed himself as the Americaneocon — is certainly not one inclined to the fold and flee position, but even he is frustrated by our lack of commitment. One way or the other, the President has to take a decision, to fight or to fold. Our President asked us for this authority and this responsibility; to continue to let it fester is an abdication of his duty.