In a closed-door meeting with U.S. legislators, Administration officials said President Barack Obama is not considering ending the occupation of Afghanistan, eight years after the U.S. invaded.
Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny at The New York Times report President Obama told leaders on Capitol Hill he “would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there”—ruling out a withdrawal from occupation and changing to a counterterrorism strategy against suspected Taliban and al-Qa’ida operatives along the Af-Pak border—“but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general [General Stanley McChrystal].”
Administration officials—unnamed due to the nature of the meeting being “closed-door”—noted the president referred to the so-called ‘debate’ being that of “doubling down or leaving Afghanistan” a “straw man argument”. Mr. Baker and Zeleny report: “Several administration officials and lawmakers who attended the session on Tuesday said Mr. Obama was intent on using it to dismiss any impression that he would consider pulling out of Afghanistan. ‘There is no option that would entail a dramatic reduction in troops,’ said one Administration official.”
Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, speaking at George Washington University, “Because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, [to send] enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” acknowledging that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border—known as ‘Af-Pak’— is “where the mujahideen defeated the other superpower”—speaking of the Soviet Union.
“They now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower, which more than anything would empower their message and the opportunity to recruit and fund raise and plan operations,” he added.
The NYT adds: “Mr. Obama and [Vice President Joe Biden] made it clear that the option Mr. Biden had proposed was not a pure counterterrorism alternative, relying only on drones and Special Forces to track down leaders of Al Qaeda. Instead, Mr. Biden’s approach would increase the use of such surgical strikes while leaving the overall size of the American force in Afghanistan roughly at the 68,000 troops currently authorized.”
Gen. McChrystal said Mr. Biden’s proposal “is probably a short-sighted strategy” because he doesn’t assess it would stabilize Afghanistan—though, his counterinsurgency [COIN] suggestion calling for a massive U.S. troop presence is to “reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (12 months)” and says it’s important that U.S. is not seen as occupiers to “win the hearts and minds” the population.
Afghanistan is a country with a police force to be trained by NATO—with $7bn in U.S. funding in 2009 and another $17bn in 2010—to serve a government that’s legitimacy is questionable, at best, among the local population.
“[COIN] is only as good as the government it supports,” David Kilkillen, former adviser to CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, wrote at the NYT over the weekend. “NATO could do everything right—it isn’t—but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government,” adding that “merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse”. Without a government viewed as legitimate, Mr. Kilkullen writes the U.S. should “draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban—which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will”.
The Los Angeles Times Monday editorial read: “No matter how many additional troops the United States and NATO send to Afghanistan, or which strategy Obama decides to employ against the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies, it cannot succeed without an Afghan government that is seen as legitimate by the people.”
A COIN strategy is inherently married to the local government. The U.S. lost the support of the Pakistani people during the Bush Administration for its support of the brutal regime of General Pervez Musharraf. Support rose as elections ousted the dictator, but fell quickly as the view of the U.S. went from ally to dictator-enabler to democracy-spreader to occupier with a massive U.S. embassy being erected. The operation headed by a criminal U.S. contractor, DynCorp, increases resistance among the Pakistani people for U.S. presence in its political and military affairs—though, support is still high for the Pakistani Army’s battle with insurgents within.
Continued aid to the tune of billions to Pakistan’s corrupt government is aptly seen as continuous bribery. In the same op-ed with Mr. Kilkullen, Professor Paul Pillar, a former officer for the Near East and South Asia at the C.I.A. called U.S. support to Pakistan, “one of the biggest paradoxes in the rationale for the counterinsurgency: the Pakistani government that our efforts in Afghanistan are supposedly helping to save is assisting the forces from which we are trying to save it.”
With death so highly rising and no achievable objectives leading to “stabilizing Afghanstan”, Gen. McChrystal’s assessment should be that anything short of withdrawal “is probably a short-sighted strategy”. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown defied the Army’s recommendation and refused more troops to the U.S.-led coalition as 56% of the country oppose British operations in Afghanistan.
A recent CNN poll revealed that 58% of Americans oppose the Afghanistan occupation with 2009 already being the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion. October 7 marks day #1 of year #9 and the options to 68% of Americans isn’t even win or lose.
Mr. Obama will defy public opinion to ship off more kids to kill and die in a war without reason that takes us closer and closer to bankruptcy—as we continue to lose our homes, our jobs, our pensions, our futures—and more kids come back sick, deformed and wanting to die if they aren’t already dead.
Even if the president doesn’t add 40,000 troops, his refusal to backtrack into the moral decision to end this war now is a show of cowardice. Mr. Obama boosted the U.S. troop level to 68,000 this year—as he promised he would during his presidential campaign in 2007-08. It’s time to let reason humble the celebrity. It’s time for the winner of the popularity contest last November to become a man bring the troops home and end the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.