Monday, September 21, 2009

Mission Creep In Afghanistan

To the dismay of our military leaders, President Barack Obama is pulling a Brett Favre in deciding to send more troops to Afghanistan. While weighing a change in strategy by the president , Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal warns that unless he is provided more forces and a robust counterinsurgency strategy, the war in Afghanistan is most likely lost.

Today I am filing a comprehensive report on the Afghan divide based on articles in The New York Times and Washington Post. Nothing in these reports convinces me of my conclusions several weeks ago: We should pull out our forces and concentrate on its neighbor Pakistan from afar as we are now doing.

The New York Times:

In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Obama expressed skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure his administration had the right strategy to succeed.

“Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?” Obama said on CNN. “When we have clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?”

Obama said that he and his top advisers had not delayed any request for additional troops from Gen. McChrystal because of the political delicacy of the issue or other domestic priorities. “No, no, no, no,” Obama said when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether Gen. McChrystal had been told to sit on his request.

Obama said his decision “is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment.”

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Obama said his top priority was to protect the United States against attacks from al qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it,” the president said. “We’re not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said.

Obama and his advisers have said they need time to absorb the assessment of the Afghanistan security situation that Gen. McChrystal submitted three weeks ago — a separate report from the general’s expected request for forces — as well as the uncertainties created by the fraud-tainted Afghan elections.

Said the top military official in Afghanistan in a 66-page report to the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." In his five-page commander’s summary, Gen. McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

Reports in both the Times and Washington Post say Gen. McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000.

In his report, Gen. McChrystal issues a withering critique of both his NATO command and the Afghan government. His NATO command, he says, is “poorly configured” for counterinsurgency and is “inexperienced in local languages and culture.”

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors,” Gen. McChrystal says, referring to NATO, “have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

The general also describes an increasingly savvy insurgency that uses propaganda effectively and is using the Afghan prison system as a training ground. Taliban and Qaeda insurgents represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in Afghanistan’s overcrowded prisons.

“These detainees are currently radicalizing non-insurgent inmates,” the report concludes.

The president in March announced the Afghan policy in the broadest of terms. The Washington Post said Gen. McChrystal interprets it accordingly:

McChrystal said he thinks the way to meet the president's relatively narrow objective of denying al-Qaeda's return to Afghanistan involves a wide-ranging U.S. and NATO effort to protect civilians from insurgents by improving the Afghan government's effectiveness. That means not only more troops, but also a far more aggressive program to train Afghan security forces, promote good local governance, root out corruption, reform the justice sector, pursue narcotics traffickers, increase reconstruction activities and change the way U.S. troops interact with the Afghan population. The implicit recommendation is that the United States and its NATO partners need to do more nation-building, and they need to do it quickly.

The White House says the two major game-changers since the policy announcement in March were Afghanistan's presidential election last month, which was compromised by fraud, much of it in support of President Hamid Karzai and recent polls that deem the Afghan war "not worth fighting" by 51% as well as a lack of support from Congressional Democrats.

The Post ended its analysis with this concluding paragraph:

But Obama's deliberative pace -- he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal's report so far -- is a source of growing consternation within the military. "Either accept the assessment or correct it, or let's have a discussion," one Pentagon official said. "Will you read it and tell us what you think?" Within the military, this official said, "there is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration."

Obama should punt. We've been in that country eight years and even though it once was called the "good war" compared to Iraq we must keep in mind that in 1,000 years no invader has ever conquered the Afghans' heart and soul. History usually proves correct in things of this nature. Just ask the Russians.

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