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Lieutenant General Stanley McCrystal has warned Washington that we are losing in our battle against the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan. He has called for an additional 10,000 to 40,000 troops, and he has the backing of his very popular boss, General David Petraeus.  There is a parallel to the "clear and hold" strategy employed in Vietnam, but McCrystal would be more careful with firepower and more interested in economic development.

During the campaign, Barack Obama said Afghanistan was the necessary war.  Now those remarks are haunting him as he ponders the sad history of foreign involvements in Afghanistan and our unpromising situation there now. Much of latter was due to the policies of the Bush Administration, but voters have short memories, and Obama will pay for lack of success in Afghanistan.

For the moment, Obama is taking time to reconsider our objectives in Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden, after much study and two unpleasant meetings with Hamid Karzai, has concluded that the current regime in Afghanistan will not be a reliable partner for  an effort to establish security for the population in Afghanistan. National Security Advisor James L. Jones agrees.  Their view is that the US needs to focus less on Afghanistan and more on Pakistan, where Al Qaeda is and where instability makes that nation’s nuclear weapons a potential problem.

With the remarkable exception of George Will, Republicans back the former Special Forces commander. They stand to gain no matter what Obama does in Afghanistan.

      A common argument is that any backing away from an all-out effort will give Al Qaeda new energy and attract more recruits to their standard. In truth, American policy in Iraq and our tactics in Afghanistan, which harmed many civilians, were responsible for recruiting people for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Sami Yousafzai’s interviews of Taliban people in the current Newsweek demonstrates how   Bush Administration tactics alienated many and  strengthened the Taliban. It is  unlikely that the  salutary change in course under General McCrystal can reverse the damage. Moreover, his turn toward the exercise of soft power and economic and social development are all to the good,  but they will require  more time than we have. It can be recalled that it took John Paul Vann many years to work economic and social miracles in the Mekong Delta.

A similarly weak argument is that we must prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state so that Al Qaeda will not use it as a base of operations. This wrongly  assumes that there are no other failed states Al Qaeda can use as a base. Moreover, the terrorist organization appears to be unhampered in its operations in Pakistan.

Republican columnist Michael Gerson eschews the most simplistic arguments and admits the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan. Still, he senses that Obama is in a no-win situation. Gerson redefines the civilian-military relationship a bit by insisting that suggesting that tradition demands that Obama select his best general and get out of the way.  He even mentions Harry S. Truman in this respect, though the use of that precedent can be debated. In the end,  Abraham Lincoln accepted U.S. Grant’s meatgrinder approach, but he had been involved in many military decisions throughout the war.  Another way to look at this is to recall that Lincoln bucked the popular George Mc Clellan and that Truman sacked th4e very popular Douglas Mc Arthur.

Those who insist that Obama bow to Petraeus and McCrystal is that they think that copying the surge strategy in Afghanistan will work. The surge worked best in the urban areas of Iraq, and there are few urban areas in Afghanistan. The surge also worked in Iraq because the United States literally bought off its enemies, paying large amounts to tribal leaders and monthly stipends to their armed retainers. Only Bob Woodward has  openly discussed another reason why the surge worked. Special Forces in Iraq, under McCrystal, carried out something like the Vietnam War’s Operation Phoenix and eliminated thousands of the insurgent cadre.

Repeating some version of Phoenix in Afghanistan does not require a huge increase in American forces there. Over seven years, we have spent $38 billion in Afghanistan, with  few discernable positive results.  Perhaps more of the money sent there should be used to buy off warlords and put their troops on retainer. Its worth a try.

We still come down to whether a large new commitment in human lives, money, and American prestige should be made in Afghanistan. Many Afghans believe that the present regime is hopelessly corrupt. The recent rigged election is one indication of how weak the Karzai regime is. Of course, policy makers recall that in Vietnam the elimination of the corrupt Ngo Dinh Diem resulted in even worse leaders.

The idea that we can, using soft power,  somehow win over large numbers of Karzai opponents to support him is fanciful.  The counter insurgency strategy has been based upon the idea that we could eventually build a  large and effective Afghan army and matching police force. After seven years, we have made little success.  
There is also the lesson of Vietnam, where we did build a large, well-equipped ARVIN force that was ineffective and heavily infiltrated by the enemy. There were also many "potted plants," units that existed on paper but not in reality.

Unless Karzai abandons brutality and corrupt practices overnight and becomes a Boy Scout, the prospects of bringing much stability to Afghanistan are slim. The man is a Pashtun and that should have helped him with the nation’s largest ethnic group. Instead, the Taliban, also largely Pashtun, have been able to play on Pashtun nationalism to enlist support.

Effectively ending with Taliban jihadism may be beyond our ability. The Pakistani Army, though secular,  has sponsored Islamic  jihadism for decades as a means of threatening India and destabilizing Kashmir.  The problem is that India is much more powerful and Pakistan needed the counterweight of terrorism. It also needs to have a strong influence in Afghanistan and, with the help of the United States, in the late 1970s and eighties, nurtured jihadism in Afghanistan.  Now the problem is that Pakistan has a home grown Taliban, and that it is allied with jihadists in Kashmir and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even worse, the Taliban has infiltrated the officer corps.  Elements in the ISI, the Pakistani counterpart to the CIA,  believe it is in the interest of Pakistan to help the Afghan Taliban because the US will not be there forever.

Unless Pakistan can be induced to stop its help of the Afghan Taliban, a US counter insurgency program will require far more troops that McCrystal is now requesting.
In retrospect, it appears that most of the billions poured into Afghanistan were a poor investment. The money would have been better spent buying off the Pakistan generals and ISI and bringing greater political stability to Pakistan. Fortunately, Congress has just tripled its appropriation for Pakistan; but the amount is still relatively small.

Biden and Jones suggest ramping down the counter-insurgency effort and focusing on damaging Al Qaeda, partly through Predators and Air Power. Spies and Special Forces and other black ops would also be involved.  Of course, the US will need enough stability in some parts of Afghanistan so they can be used as bases to launch all manner of assaults against Al Qaeda. In the long run, it is doubtful that we can put Al Qaeda out of business, but we should make it out top priority inflicting as much damage as possible.

The situation in Afghanistan is very complex and, according to Richard Holbrooke, "Its worse than the Nam!"  It is very important that the American people understand what is involved here because   a decision to make a long term commitment to pacification and nation-building will require years of commitment, massive amounts of money, and far more troops than we are now contemplating. Even with all that, there will be no guarantee that we can succeed in building a stable nation there.  That is why House Minority Leader  John Boehner is so angry that President Obama wants to take time making this decision. If thoughtful independents come to understand much of what is involved, they might support Obama in redefining the mission there.    Information is , as usual, the enemy of Republican policy here. The more people understand, the less damage Afghanistan will inflict on Obama’s political future.  

Originally posted to ShermanDeBrosse on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 12:38 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Some problems have no solution. Make that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    no solution that would satisfy anyone. I propose one thing in our national interest. Buy the opium crop at a fair price. It's a cash crop already in place and is better than a direct bribe since it keeps people employed.

    What we learn from History: History repeats itself. History never repeats itself. Histories lessons are always ignored.

    by Hector Gonzalez on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 12:50:20 PM PDT

  •  Question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Isn't Afghanistan a NATO mission?

    Doesn't the whole of NATO have a say in the whole mission?

    •  In theory. In actuality . . . (0+ / 0-)

      if we leave there won't be anyone from NATO there to mind the store.

      "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex" Dwight D. Eisenhower

      by bobdevo on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 02:04:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  One correction, please. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Luetta, esquimaux

    Effectively ending with Taliban jihadism may be beyond our ability.

    Taliban has never had internaational jihad goals.  Their goals are local, and regional, NOT international.

    AQ has international jihad goals.

    A few give much, a few give all, and most Americans give....NOTHING! ~~~ Support our troops - Bring them home

    by Hound Dog on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 12:59:18 PM PDT

  •  FL Vets for Common Sense Position (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobdevo, Hound Dog

    Here is the position of FLVCS:



    To justify spilling more blood and treasure in Afghanistan, basic questions must be addressed:  Is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have an attainable mission? Is the operation "winnable" and is there a plausible exit strategy?

    At one time, the United States had a vital interest in Afghanistan and that was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorists who found refuge there. We invaded and toppled the government, but allowed bin Laden and other terrorists to flee by diverting troops and material to Iraq.

    Since bin Laden and Al Qaeda fled, what vital national security interest remains in Afghanistan? Bin Laden and Al Qaeda do not need Afghanistan as a sanctuary. Al Qaeda can operate anywhere. Some terrorists who crashed planes into buildings on 9/11 trained to fly in the United States and Al Qaeda is most probably centered in Pakistan, an American ally.

    Is the mission in Afghanistan to establish a democratic central government? The central government in Kabul only controls a third of the country. Perhaps the Afghans prefer a decentralized government based on tribes and clans instead of a western style central government propped up by outsiders. We should honor their traditions.

    It’s not the job of the United States military to prop up corrupt politicians and failed governments. Afghans must solve their political problems in their own indigenous ways. Our military knows little about Afghan culture or societal organization. It is not designed to build governments, but to kill people and destroy property.

    No matter how well intentioned, American troops will be viewed as an occupying power. Interactions between our troops and locals inevitably lead to misunderstandings and resentments. Few soldiers speak any of the Afghan languages. We must ask ourselves, how would American citizens react if foreign troops were stationed in our towns patrolling our streets, stopping us at checkpoints, and killing and maiming our friends and relatives?

    A continued presence in Afghanistan is contrary to America’s vital national security interest. America cannot afford a large, long-term military commitment in Afghanistan in either blood or treasure. Our military has been over-stretched by the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. Through August 30, 2009 over 5,000 soldiers have been killed and over 81,000 have been wounded or made ill from the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Personnel have served multiple deployments and many suffer post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury from explosive blasts.

    Veterans for Common Sense estimates one million veterans will be treated by VA with as many filing disability claims against VA, which will cost as much as 1 trillion dollars over the next forty years. Our economy cannot afford the staggering costs to maintain military operations in Afghanistan without borrowing from competitor nations or raising taxes that will further cripple our economy. Like the Soviets before us, we weaken ourselves by keeping troops in Afghanistan.

    If the mission in Afghanistan is to protect the population, the cost escalates. Afghanistan is about the size of France with a population of over 33 million people. The topography is rugged and mountainous. For American forces to "clear, hold, and build" it will take hundreds of thousands of troops that we do not have available without substantially increasing the size of the army. Every soldier costs about $100,000 to maintain for one year.  (Each additional 10,000 soldiers will cost $1 billion dollars per year.)

    The American military is not built to fight a "long war." We have already been in Afghanistan longer than we fought in both world wars. No one can articulate a time frame for withdrawal.

    A new policy is needed for Afghanistan that uses limited military force only when absolutely necessary to hunt, capture or kill identified terrorists who target the United States and our allies.

    Florida Veterans for Common Sense, Inc., a 501 (c) (4) corporation, 100 Wallace Ave. Suite 255, Sarasota, FL 34232 contact



    •  Costs of War: Eyes Wide Open exhibit on the... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      This weekend, October 3rd and 4th, the American Friends Service Committee, and Military Families Speak Out, are sponsoring the Eyes Wide Open exhibit, which will be the first such exhibit showing the cost of war in Afghanistan.

      A pair of boots representing each service member who has died as a result of military operations in Afghanistan will be displayed on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. There have been 837 officially identified as killed in action to date at the Washington Post Faces of the Fallen site.  Shoes representing civilian deaths will also be exhibited.

      This is a very powerful visual display of the cost of the war in Afghanistan to our troops, their families, and the nation.

      A previous Eyes Wide Open exhibit:

      Find out more.

      Over 830 pairs of boots must be transported to the Ellipse. A team of dedicated volunteers will arrange the exhibit, and you can see from the photos that this is done with great care and respect for those who have given their lives and for the solemnity of the exhibit.

      Volunteers must stay with the exhibit overnight.  Once the event is concluded, all the boots must be repacked and transported again.

      Needless to say, there are costs to create this exhibit, and the sponsors are not getting grants from the Military Industrial Complex.  If you click the links provided above, you can see how five dollars can help support it.



      A few give much, a few give all, and most Americans give....NOTHING! ~~~ Support our troops - Bring them home

      by Hound Dog on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 01:17:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's only a quagmire if we stay. (0+ / 0-)

    If we get the f*** out promptly, instead of a quagmire it's just one of George Bush's MANY foolish, wreckless and irresponsible testosterone-challenged disasters.

    "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex" Dwight D. Eisenhower

    by bobdevo on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 02:03:40 PM PDT

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