David Ignatius at The Washington Post, claims the U.S. has a “responsibility” to use its military to simply “buy some time” for Kabul’s effort to forge relations with the Taliban. What he calls “Mission Impossible” is chronicled in Dexter Filkins’ feature at The New York Times Magazine, “Stanley McChrystal’s Long War.”

15 Oct 09 | InfoShop News

David Ignatius writes in his column at The Washington Post today, “Obama’s challenge on Afghanistan is to identify a mission there that is achievable, and then to provide the necessary resources”, arguing that “stabilizing the whole country is Mission Impossible”.

Dexter Filkins writes at The New York Times Magazine this weekend of the recommendation to the White House given by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal: “McChrystal’s plan is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men.”

“There will be a lot of fighting,” Gen. McChrystal told Mr. Filkins. “If we do this right, the insurgents will have to fight us. They will have no choice.”

“At the heart of McChrystal’s strategy are three principles: protect the Afghan people, build an Afghan state and make friends with whomever you can, including insurgents,” Mr. Filkins adds.

Mr. Ignatius writes that a counterinsurgency strategy would be to “provide security for major population centers in the south and east” in order to “buy some time to train the Afghan army and encourage President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to reach a political reconciliation with the Taliban”— whether or not “this strategy [is] really doable”, he’s “still looking for answers”.

Last week, he seemed to have those answers. In his October 8 column, he stated the U.S. has “continuing responsibilities” to: train the Afghan army and provide security; support economic development and more effective governance from Kabul; and “[encourage] Afghan political reconciliation”.

Today, he is saying that the U.S. has a “responsibility” to take on a ‘mission’ to “buy some time” for the Kabul government with a likely end of a ‘cost too high’? Buy time for what? If stability is “Mission Impossible”, what’s to debate?

Mr. Ignatius consistently agrees with Mr. Obama that a withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an option, but “a reckless course at a time when neighboring Pakistan is facing its own brutal onslaught from the Taliban”.

‘Buying some time’ in the pursuit of “Mission Impossible” isn’t a “reckless course”?

Mr. Ignatius wrote on October 11: “It may actually be easier for the Pakistani military to battle the Taliban and al-Qa’ida if it’s seen by the public as standing up defiantly to American pressure.”

Deliberately manufacturing anti-American sentiment in a region the U.S. is a colonial power isn’t a “reckless course”?

He wrote that Pakistani intelligence is to ‘blame’ for still “playing a double game with the terrorists”, but the U.S. mission should “encourage President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to reach a political reconciliation with the Taliban”? Who’s playing the “double game” now?

Isn’t this “double game” a far more “reckless course” than troop withdrawal?

“It’s not self-evident that doing more will accomplish more,” Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass told Mr. Filkins. “And I’m skeptical about how central Afghanistan is anymore to the global effort against terror. I’m not persuaded that you can transform the situation there.”

Last week, Taliban leadership—consistent with their historical ambitions—says the group “did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor… such agenda today”, but if a foreign power would “want to turn [Afghanistan] into a colony”, it will maintain “an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war”.

“You can kill Taliban forever,”—Gen. McChrystal told Mr. Filkins—“because they are not a finite number,” adding later that the idea would not be to flip Taliban leadership to ally with the U.S.-led coalition, but the “foot soldiers”—a stark contrast with the Iraq Surge.

Mr. Filkins adds: “The notion that large groups of Taliban fighters could be persuaded to quit is not new. Previous efforts have ended in failure, often because neither the Americans nor their allies were able to protect people who changed sides.”

He reports that Gen. McChrystal’s assessment of the Taliban and Pashtun culture is: “most of the people fighting the United States, he argued, are motivated by local and personal grievances.”

Mr. Filkins adds: “The killing of Afghan civilians, usually caused by inadvertent American and NATO airstrikes, has become the most sensitive issue between the Afghans and their Western guests. Each time civilians are killed, the Taliban launch a campaign of very public propaganda.”

Zbignew Brzezinski, Carter Administration National Security Adviser and the most significant crafter of Realpolitik theory, recently assessed the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan runs the “risk of suffering the fate of the Soviet Union” due to the “Afghan perception that they are foreign invaders” that “suggests transformation of the conflict is taking place”.

Isn’t a mission strengthening the Taliban propaganda of the U.S. as occupying colonists the “reckless course” that Gen. McChrystal, said would “likely result in failure”?

“Gentlemen, I am coming into this job with 12 months to show demonstrable progress here — and 24 months to have a decisive impact,” Gen. McChrystal said in a June 2009 briefing, Mr. Filkins reports. “That’s how long we have to convince the Taliban, the Afghan people and the American people that we’re going to be successful. In 24 months, it has to be obvious that we have the clear upper hand and that things are moving in the right direction. That’s not a choice. That’s a reality.”

“In a tour of bases around Afghanistan, McChrystal repeated this mantra to all his field commanders: Time is running out,” Mr. Fiklins reports.

“So many things could scuttle McChrystal’s plans,” he adds later. “A Taliban more intractable than imagined, the fractured nature of Afghan society and, no matter what President Obama does, a lack of soldiers and time. But there is something even worse, over which neither McChrystal nor his civilian comrades in the American government exercise much control: the government of Hamid Karzai, already among the most corrupt in the world, appears to have secured its large victory in nationwide elections in August by orchestrating the stealing of votes,”

Asked how the U.S. can build “security forces” for the Afghan government seen as widely illegitimate by the locals, Gen. McChrystal said, “Then we are going to have to avoid looking like we are part of the illegitimacy. That is the key thing”

Mr. Ignatius is correct. Buying some time with priceless, exploited blood for the war profiteers’ pockets is the best “Mission Impossible” can hope for.

  1. […] the COIN strategy is created to “buy some time”–as David Ignatius at the WaPo wrote–and little more, arguing that “stabilizing the whole country is Mission […]

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