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Few Afghanistan policy watchers anticipated any significant revelations in the Obama administration’s review of the war in Afghanistan.  Administration officials repeatedly downplayed the review and directed National Security staff not to offer policy alternatives. As expected, the overview released to the public reiterates the president’s justifications for the war from his 2009 West Point speech and makes the same weak claims of progress that administration officials have been making in the media in the run-up to the review. Tom Andrews of Win Without War lays out a good list of problems with the Afghanistan strategy that were conspicuously absent from the review.

While the Pentagon and White House are painting a picture of a difficult but surmountable challenge in Afghanistan, the administration’s own intelligence officials see a much starker situation.

Two new assessments by the U.S. intelligence community present a gloomy picture of the Afghanistan war, contradicting a more upbeat view expressed by military officials as the White House prepares to release a progress report on the 9-year-old conflict.

The classified intelligence reports contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban, according to officials who were briefed on the National Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which represent the collective view of more than a dozen intelligence agencies.

The reports, the subject of a recent closed hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee, also say Pakistan's government remains unwilling to stop its covert support for members of the Afghan Taliban who mount attacks against U.S. troops from the tribal areas of the neighboring nation. The officials declined to be named because they were discussing classified data.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross reports that conditions in Afghanistan are the worst they have been in 30 years:

Earlier this month the ICRC in Geneva warned the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was likely to deteriorate further in 2011.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown more than nine years ago, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict. Almost 700 foreign troops have died in 2010 alone, by far the bloodiest year of the war.

But ordinary Afghans have borne the brunt of the fighting. According to U.N. figures, 1,271 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 21 percent more than in the same period in 2009. Most of those deaths were blamed on insurgents.

The ICRC has also reported a spike this year in the number of patients with war wounds admitted at the main hospital it supports in southern Kandahar.

More than 2,650 patients with weapons-related injuries were admitted to Mirwais Hospital in 2010 compared to 2,110 in 2009, the ICRC says. A further 1,000 war wounded were treated but not admitted at the hospital over the past two years.

One of the biggest questions following President Obama’s 2009 speech was the real meaning of his stated commitment to begin withdrawing troops in July of 2011.  It was clearly meant to give some hope to the growing number of people who oppose the military strategy, but much of that hope was dashed by the president’s announcement that NATO forces plan to end the “combat mission” in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 (which could still mean many “non-combat troops” on the ground after 2014 as we have in Iraq).  The president reiterated both of those timelines in his speech about the review today:

This sense of urgency also helped galvanize the coalition around the goals that we agreed to at the recent NATO summit in Lisbon —- that we are moving toward a new phase in Afghanistan, a transition to full Afghan lead for security that will begin early next year and will conclude in 2014, even as NATO maintains a long-term commitment to training and advising Afghan forces.  Now, our review confirms, however, that for these security gains to be sustained over time, there is an urgent need for political and economic progress in Afghanistan.

It’s still unclear how the president envisions this drawdown beginning in 2011. Many people envisioned a serious end to the war beginning next summer, but dragging out a withdrawal beyond 2014 precludes any significant changes next year. The use of the term “conditions-based withdrawal” leaves the administration far more wiggle room than is comfortable, and we’ve already seen the military’s proclivity for manipulating the debate to get greater commitments of time and resources.

People around the country, from members of Congress to Afghanistan experts, are not content to see President Obama let that 2011 commitment of a responsible withdrawal quietly slip away. And the general public is increasingly fed up. A new poll shows that 60% of Americans think the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, on par with the unpopularity of the Iraq war for the first time.

The administration, however, has been rather dismissive of the public discontent. In a press conference today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to the polls with this:

"I'm well aware of the popular concern, and I understand it. But I don't think leaders -- and certainly this president will not -- make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling…

…I think it's understandable, and I'm very respectful of the feelings of the American people, but the question I would ask is, how do you feel about a continuing American commitment that is aimed at protecting you and your family now and into the future?"

If you’re asking me, I’d say I’d feel just fine about an American commitment to protecting us, and I’d like to see this administration show me one. Instead, I’m seeing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, calls for slashing the social safety net and cutting critical domestic spending programs, and billions of dollars wasted on wars that aren’t making anyone safer, and are likely increasing animosity toward the United States worldwide. It’s clear that the American people see through this, and throughout 2011 we won’t let the administration and Congress forget that their responsibility for our safety, security and prosperity means they must take action to end this war now.

Originally posted to Rebecca Griffin on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 01:32 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  10th year and nothing to show for it but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pluto

      dead solders, death and destruction, bankrupting of our nation, and huge profits for those that supply the toys of war!

      4 more years of war and 10 to 15 years of occupation?

      It is unbelievable that we as Americans are allowing this, and yet in our last election, the wars were never an issue.

      After more than nine years and a full year of a massive escalation policy:
      the insurgency continues to gain in size and strength, more U.S. troops are dying than ever,
      more civilians are dying than ever, violence in the country continues to spike, Pakistan is playing a double game with the U.S. and the military strategy lacks credible prospects for a turnaround.

      And yet, we are told we can expect a report touting security gains and "progress," and that there's virtually zero chance of any significant policy change from this review. It sort of begs the question:

      just what level of catastrophe in Afghanistan would signal that we need a change in direction?

      Daniel Ellsberg - "It was always a bad year to get out of Vietnam."

      by allenjo on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 02:03:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What Exactly (0+ / 0-)

    Is the "action" that you propose taking to "end this war now"?

    •  There is no action that can be taken (0+ / 0-)

      The Federal Government is not under the control of the American people. Certainly President Obama has no power.

      I'd say, everyone is without blame -- and each should do the best they can to keep their heads down and get by as best they can.

    •  The US should transition (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Prince Nekhlyudov

      to a nonmilitary strategy. Set a date for a quick, responsible military withdrawal and implement a policy based on regional diplomacy, political negotiations, development, and civilian counterterrorism.

      •  A Good Answer (0+ / 0-)

        Thank you for giving me a sensible answer.  You are not saying that the US should simply pull out and say to hell with Afghanistan, which is too often what you hear from opponents of US military action.  However, your alternative is unrealistic IMO.  If the US sets a date for a "quick" military withdrawal, I see no reason why the Taliban, or more importantly its backer Pakistan, would engage in political negotiations.  In addition, it is hard to see how "development" can be carried out while the country is at war.  Development is only feasible after some measure of security has been achieved. The war would continue with or without a US military presence.  The Taliban has support almost exclusively among the Pashtun, which represents less than 50% of the Afghan population, and the other groups (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara, Baluchi) would continue to fight the Taliban with outside support, primarily from India and Iran, which was precisely the situation prior to the NATO intervention in 2001.  I'm not sure what you mean by "civilian counterterrorism".  Regional diplomacy is unquestionably a good idea, but I don't see how the US can do anything to help bring this about if it has no military presence in Afghanistan.  Why should the regional powers listen to the US - a country on the other side of the world which has no presence in the region and has demonstrated that it has no interest in making a long-term commitment to Afghanistan?  Without US influence, the regional powers (India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and the former Soviet republics, China) are more likely simply to pursue their own narrow interests, which will result in continuing chaos in Afghanistan.

        Holbrooke's death was a great loss.  As he showed successfully in the Balkans, US military force can be an effective tool for implementing diplomatic solutions.

        •  The talks with various factions in Afghanistan (0+ / 0-)

          should start now. The Taliban has expressed a willingness to negotiate if the US plans to withdraw. We need to bring a number of different groups to the table.

          There are plenty of groups who have done development in Afghanistan for years without US troops there. In fact, most of them are complaining that the US military presence is making things worse because the distinction between military and aid workers is blurred and that puts them in greater danger. There are ways to do Afghan-led development that is unlikely to face major security problems because it is based in the community. The work Greg Mortenson does is just one example of that.

          Civilian counterterrorism means using intelligence and policing and treating terrorists like the criminals they are instead of attacking them with military force. The Rand Corporation did a report in 2008 that showed that military force only works against terrorism 7% of the time. The rest of the time, it was either policing and intelligence or political reconciliation. In case of Al Qaeda (which is the group that has an agenda against the US, not the Taliban) they recommend the former. We've seen with various cases like the Christmas Day bomber and the Times Square bomber how good intelligence would be far more valuable in protecting Americans than a war in Afghanistan.

          As far as regional diplomacy, it's not about them "listening to the US." It's about them engaging in discussions based on shared interests. They have a stake in a more stable Afghanistan as well and are surely willing to come to the table to discuss that.

          Overall, we also have to accept the limitations of what we can do, regardless of what we would like to do, and let go of the idea that the US should control everything. Afghans should have agency in determining their future, which also means other countries besides the US are going to have influence there.

  •  They know there is no "winning" in Af- (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, Prav duh

    ghanistan.  It's just a matter of time.  We're only there for 1 reason: to give money to the M-I-C.

    The government could have saved themselves a lot of bother by just giving all the money to the contractors.  Better outcome, too.

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