Monday, October 26, 2009


What is Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan? What will more troops do? What will a ‘surge’ of US troops Afghanistan accomplish?

The war in Iraq is far from over, it is still simmering and could spiral out of control again. The “surge” was preceded by the ‘Anbar Awakening,’ a coalition of tribal and religious groups who had grown weary of the endless killings, and began to strike back at the extremists whose goals ranged from revenge killings to seeking Shia or Sunni dominance. The “surge” of American troops was preceded by a massive influx of money for weapons, civilian reconstruction and infrastructure projects, and personal payoffs for those tribal war lords in Anbar Province, who agreed to take the battle to the militias, and Al-Qaedda in Iraq.

The strategy included paying Iraqis who fought for the extremist militias and Al-Qaedda in Iraq to come over to the Americans, and fight for us and the Anbar Awakening, or, at the very least, remain neutral. Four-thousand Marines had their tours extended in Anbar Province and 16,000 Army troops were added to Baghdad by July 20007.

In January 2007 President Bush announced the surge, and it goals were to:

1. Let the Iraqis lead;
2. Help Iraqis protect the population;
3. Isolate extremists;
4.Create space for political progress;
5.Diversify political and economic efforts; and
6.Situate the strategy in a regional approach.

Iraqi civilian casualties decreased from 24,354 in 2007, to 9,225 in 2008.  US troop KIA’s decreased from 83 in January 2007 to 23 in December 2007. Whether this decrease was a result of the Anbar Awakening, the US surge of 16,000 troops in Baghdad and the 4,000 Marines held over in Anbar is arguable, but a welcome relief from the carnage of the prior five years. The reasons for the decrease in US and Iraqi casualties in 2007 and until late 2008 is far from clear. Iraq is still a very fragile area, ready at anytime to burst into open civil war, and spin into chaos.


Petraeus has that right. Click on the first entry of this blog on the phrase, “Eastern Afghanistan Tribal Areas,” and you will see a slideshow of the numerous and discrete tribes in eastern Afghanistan located in mountains ranges from 9,000 feet to 18,000 feet set deep and isolated valleys. Now it is winter in Afghanistan, even further complicating military incursions. 

President Obama: “Security and humanitarian concerns are all part of one project.”

There is no government in or even a historical tradition of a central government in Afghanistan. 

We are told over and over that there can be no economic development in Afghanistan until the country is stable, and that’s why we have to destroy the Taliban. Legitimate government, root out corruption, accountable governance; only when Afghanistan is secure can it prosper; when Afghanistan is secure we are secure; counter-insurgency and/or counter-terrorism; we need to destroy the Taliban to build a state; without a legitimate state we will again create a breeding ground for terrorists, Taliban and Al-Qaedda; to build a state we need to eliminate poverty, human rights, eliminate corruption, and create an infrastructure; but before we can do that we must destroy.

We are fixated on ‘policy speak’ that comes from thousands of consultants, ‘white papers’, think tanks, consultants, pundits, politicians, self-described experts, and political science PhD’s. We hear it so often in so many venues that it must be true. But when the iconic boots on the cold ground meet flying metal, blood flows, and soaks the hard ground, what is gained? If we can articulate what is worth the death of one American kid in this cause, I want to hear it. I want to hear it in the context of the death of one kid on the other side of the world, alone, except for his brother troopers. If we are struggling to articulate the definition of ‘win’ then we already have lost. 

We rarely have the chance to see dead American kids in places we have never heard of, in countries that most of can’t even locate on globe. What country borders Afghanistan on the east? What countries border it to the north? The west? During the American War in Viet Nam the evening news would often have video of wounded and killed Americans, as well as Viet Cong, and North Viet Namese. The mainstream media even covered the execution of a bound Viet Cong prisoner, and the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk protesting the war. Today, it is an ethical and constitutional basis for discussion among media experts. 

We have become so mesmerized with the nomenclaturism of war and foreign policy speak which serves to obfuscate critical decision making, that we don’t even know what reality is anymore. There is no shared sacrifice, there are only bumper stickers. There is little sense of loss; there are only vague concepts such as our national security.

Yet, we continue to do the same things that have sent former young generations of Americans, Soviets, and British soldiers to the same forgotten oblivion for an illusive cause. We haven’t learned from history. We have spit in its face, as proof that we are exceptional. We perceive our culture and mores as superior to theirs; that they should adopt our rule of law over theirs [even though we are invading their country]; and then, and only then will security and peace will flow from a socio-economic partnership between us. But first the nettlesome Taliban and their comrades, the Al-Qaedda, must be destroyed.

In 1994 the Taliban rode into Kabul on their Soviet made tanks and took control of the country and its loose confederation of tribes. Not all tribes fell to them, however, and a lengthy and brutal civil war broke out, until the insurgent tribes joined the NATO attack on the Taliban in October 2001, ending with the Taliban leaving their last stronghold in Kabul in December 2001. Most of the fierce on the ground fighting was done by the Northern Alliance, whose tribes had been at war with the Taliban since 1994. Over the three-month campaign many Taliban fighters deserted and crossed over to the NATO and Northern Alliance fighters. Most Afghan fighters find glory and prestige to be on the winning side, and have no overarching political ideology. They find democracy a strange form of governance, far preferring the Loya Jirga, Pashto for “Grand Assembly,” where important regional decisions are made by tribal leaders, war lords, and elders. The concept that a vote of an 18 year old would have the same weight as that of a tribal leader or war lord is both laughable and stupid to Afghanis. The idea that "all politics is local" is far more applicable to Afghanistan than it is to the United States.

So why do we need troops to fight a protracted guerilla war in Afghanistan? Why not have some NATO special forces, Air Forces, drones, disaffected Afghan tribes, and the CIA do what they did so successfully in 90 days in 2001? There were no large, unwieldy infantry units on the ground to be supplied by an incredibly difficult logistical operation in terrain that precludes the movement of large military forces in 2001. What has changed? There are not hordes of Taliban pouring out of the mountain villages, caves, and ravines, about to overrun Kabul or any other major city. Now, the Taliban have the Pakistani Army in large numbers on their eastern border, and some one is provoking Iran on their western border.

What’s up? Al-Qaedda could go anywhere, and have. They could train in Chicago, or California, or at a flight school in Florida. They can plan and train in many places that have far less scrutiny than Afghanistan or Pakistan. They could go to a “failed state” such as Yemen, Sudan, or Somalia. Of the nineteen hijackers of 9/11, one was Egyptian, three were from the United Arab Emirates, and 15 were from Saudi Arabia, as is Osama bin Ladin. It is believed the majority of the hijackers had been to training camps in Pakistan and/or Afghanistan, but that is not completely clear. Certainly the hijackings were planned by Al-Qaedda, where at least some of their leadership might have been at the time. 

Why a large scale war is now to be waged in Afghanistan is not clear to me. Has President Obama been trapped by his own campaign rhetoric or has he ever met a general who doesn’t want more troops to wage war?

More to follow...

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