Friday, July 31, 2009
Eye Off The Ball
I've heard for seven years that George W. Bush had the chance to capture Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the mountains of Tora Bora, and we pulled out to focus on the invasion of Iraq. John Kerry ran on that point. Barack Obama ran on it. The whole idea was that Iraq was the bad, unnecessary war, and Afghanistan was the good war, and we needed to move our focus back on Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was, to disrupt their safe havens.
Turns out the commander in Afghanistan thinks we have focused too much on Al Qaeda in the war ostensibly designed to dismantle al Qaeda.
U.S. military leaders have concluded that their war effort in Afghanistan has been too focused on hunting Al Qaeda, and have begun to shift Predator drone aircraft to the fight against the Taliban and other militants in order to prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy.
The move, described by government and Defense Department officials, represents a major change in the military's use of one of its most precious intelligence assets. It also illustrates the hard choices that must be made because the drones are in short supply [...]
"We have been overly counter-terrorism-focused and not counter-insurgency-focused," said one U.S. official.
Senior government officials said Bin Laden remained a prime target but that they needed to focus on fighting the Taliban.
"We might still be too focused on Bin Laden," the official said. "We should probably reassess our priorities."
I think the proper response is that we've been counter-terrorism-focused because OUR MISSION HAS ALWAYS BEEN COUNTER-TERRORISM. Or at least it was, until the new Pentagon kewl kids decided you could hug the ones you bomb and make them love you.
Without consultation with the country, the military completely transferred the mission in Afghanistan. They are less concerned with dismantling Al Qaeda and more concerned with a counter-insurgency bank shot. Gen. McChrystal, a real white-whale chaser, described his strategy in the Washington Post today. And surprise, it'll take more personnel.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way U.S. and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama's national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.
Senior military officials said McChrystal is waiting for a recommendation from a team of military planners in Kabul before reaching a final decision on a troop request. Several members of the advisory group, who spoke about the issue of force levels on the condition of anonymity, said that they think more U.S. troops are needed but that it was not clear how large an increase McChrystal would seek.
"There was a very broad consensus on the part of the assessment team that the effort is under-resourced and will require additional resources to get the job done," a senior military official in Kabul said.
This is flat-out mission creep. We entered Afghanistan to deny a staging ground for attacks against America. And now we're there to nation-build. One isn't necessarily unrelated to the other, but we're admittedly nation-building only in the areas where the Taliban isn't already dug in, meaning we are allowing various safe havens and staging grounds. To the extent that we're trying to split the Taliban, counter-insurgency methods have their role; but this sounds really more advanced than that. Spencer writes:
But there's a big difference between that and a counterinsurgency strategy for a nation-building objective, and a still greater one between that and a counterinsurgency strategy for a prophylactic objective. The American people have never approved sending 68,000 troops to suffer for Hamid Karzai, and certainly never approved sending them to keep Pakistan from falling to the Taliban. (Which, by the way, seems like a distinctly unrealistic scenario, especially now that the Pakistani military moved into Swat. The Taliban-led insurgency is a threat to Pakistan. It's not going to rule the country. Westerners have a tendency of predicting the imminent fall of Pakistan every five years or so.)
Perhaps I'm misreading what it is the people around McChrystal are saying, but it seems fair to say that the balance of evidence favors an interpretation that Afghanistan strategy is coming unmoored from the actual objectives of the war, and the actual interests at stake, and the White House is being either deluded or outright dishonest about what's happening. "Our goal is to deal with the terrorist elements that are in that country and are making life for Afghans and potentially life for millions throughout the world more dangerous through their activities," Robert Gibbs said from the White House podium today. That is simply not what's coming from McChrystal's circle.
The White House either has to rein in this effort, or own it. And if they own it, they must explain their deception to the public, and why the policy became hijacked by a clique in the Pentagon who treats anything "unconventional" as prima facie brilliant.
...Understand, I think the whole idea of "dismantling safe havens" is flawed, especially considering that, if you look at recent arrest reports, the last safe haven was in North Carolina. But shifting the mission simply to achieve short-term results is completely unwise.
dday 7/31/2009 08:09:00 AM