Against the assessment of his national security adviser, the president will reportedly increase the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan by 34,000 in 2010.

President Barack Obama could announce he will send another 34,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan after completing a week-long trip to Asia and a Nov. 23 meeting with NATO allies, Jonathan Landay reports at McClatchy.

Officials within the military and the Obama Administration confirm the plan will add:

  • One Marine and three Army brigades, totaling up to 23,000 combat and support troops;
  • 7,000 troops to “man and support a new division headquarters for the international force’s Regional Command (RC) South in Kandahar”; and
  • Up to 4,000 additional trainers

Though the plan falls well short of the request following the assessment of General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who said the situation was risking “mission failure” without a full-scale counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. The “low risk option”, he reportedly said, would be an increase of 80,000 troops. , Mr. Landay reported October 16 with Nancy Youssef.

Officials told them “his medium risk option” was an increase of 40- to 45,000 troops with around 20,000 being a “high risk option”. They added that the U.S. can only send an additional 30,000 troops “without putting excessive strains on the Army and Marine Corps” and report that Gen. McChrystal says that such a plan would not suffice.

Saturday’s report adds, with Nancy Youssef and John Walcott contributing:

Coalition forces now include 67,000 U.S. and 42,000 troops from other countries. The Army’s counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan’s population would require about 600,000 troops.

Although the administration privately is holding out little hope of persuading Canada or the Netherlands to abandon their plans to withdraw combat troops, much less getting additional allied troops, it wants to avoid creating the impression—at home and abroad—that the U.S. “is going it alone” in Afghanistan, said one military official.

In an interview with The New York Times, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, “complained that the American administration is leaving its NATO allies in the dark about its new strategy”, McClatchy adds.

The Administration also wants “time to launch a public relations offensive to convince an increasingly skeptical public and a wary Democratic Congress—which must agree to fund the administration’s plan—that the war, now in its ninth year and inflicting rising casualties, is one of ‘necessity’, as Obama said earlier this year”.

General James Jones, national security adviser to the Administration, told Der Spiegel, this weekend: “Generals always ask for more troops…. You can keep on putting troops in, and you could have 200,000 troops there and Afghanistan will swallow them up as it has done in the past.”

Instead of a nation-building mission, Gen. Jones said the focus should be “a better plan with the allies to gradually turn over responsibility for the country to Afghan institutions and organizations in as short a time as possible”, adding: “And we will put much more emphasis on battling corruption and putting competent and honest people in positions of authority. We will be working with our friends and allies to do that.”

“Other military officers, particularly in the Army, warn that committing more troops to Afghanistan could risk ‘breaking’ the force by reducing the time soldiers can spend at home between deployments, overtaxing equipment and destroying families,” McClatchy reports. “Those problems could worsen if Iraq’s January elections are delayed or disrupted, and with them the administration’s timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from that country.”

The Administration made it clear that withdrawing was not an option on the table. The only alternative to a COIN strategy—focused on aiding the Afghan government in establishing its monopoly on power and “winning the hearts and minds” of the local population—was a counterterrorism (CT) strategy, proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, to focus on targeted assassinations stretching into Pakistan.

The assassinations would target leaders of the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, according to intelligence and committed by unmanned aircrafts (drones). The Administration has committed more airstrikes in 2009 than the Bush Administration did in the three years prior—greatly increasing the civilian casualties, aiding militant recruiting and further dividing the population away from sympathizing with ISAF.

Early on, it seemed this proposal was not taken seriously. The rhetoric just wasn’t as blunt as the president saying a “drastic reduction in troops” was “not an option”. Officials and experts have all predicted the president would add at least 10- to 15,000 more troops, but nowhere near 80,000 to find what’s been called a “middle ground”.

The mainstream poli-intellectual class is generally only criticizing policy, not ethics. They don’t form opinions as the ‘op’ in ‘op-ed’ would suggest. They identify two, maybe three, common threads that seem to be regurgitated most and pick a bandwagon. The so-called ‘realists’ usually deviate by immediately brushing off the most extremely hawkish ‘option’ as devoid of reality and the most ethical as… devoid of reality. Only their opinion, the most controversial of the three, said in a calm tone, in true reality [sic].

David Ignatius at The Washington Post (WaPo), reporting from Afghanistan, strongly supports a heavy increase in troops: “I think he should add enough troops to continue the mission he endorsed in March to ‘reverse the Taliban’s gains‘ and improve security in Afghanistan’s population centers. I don’t know whether the right number is the roughly 40,000 that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has recommended, but it should be the minimum number necessary.”

Thomas Friedman at the NYT was, surprisingly, more realistic that usual: “We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.”

Fareed Zakaria, international editor of Newsweek, is predictably following the lead of Thomas Ricks, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Mr. Ricks and his cronies are pushing a COIN-CT hybrid—population control in the urban areas and targeted assassinations in the rural areas and Pakistan.

“I think Gen. McChrystal’s plan, which calls for a major troop increase in order to carry out a counterinsurgency campaign, is better than any alternative I can see (especially a return to whack-a-mole counterterrorism, supposedly advocated by VP Biden),” Mr. Ricks wrote at The Daily Beast.

“In other words, let the Taliban try to set up bases in these remote areas with prickly locals. NATO forces can then periodically disrupt the Taliban rather than the other way around,” Mr. Zakaria follows-up in his Newsweek column, after Mr. Ricks gave his take on Mr. Zakaria’s CNN Sunday program, the week before. “In fact, the crucial judgments that have to be made involve what the troops will do and how much of Afghanistan to cover. Ricks said to me, ‘Why not do the Petraeus plan [counterinsurgency] for the major population centers and the Biden plan [counterterrorism] for the rest of the country?’ That sounds like a middle course that is smart and practical, which might need some more forces or perhaps can make do with the almost 100,000 already there.”

And there you have it. ‘Realpolitik‘ in action. CNAS is the new PNAC.

There’s an opinion missing from the intellectual circle jerk, though…. The people who actually own the land ISAF is occupying: the Afghan people.

“If the foreign forces are not seen so by Afghans already, they are on the cusp of being regarded as occupiers, with little to show people for their extended presence, fueling wild conspiracies about why they remain here,” Alissa Rubin reports at the NYT (on Saturday, when no one reads it).

Sean Smith of the London Guardian spent a month with U.S. troops and saw the Afghans make it very clear they want the troops to leave (7:09):

C.I.A. and military officials have confirmed that Ahmed Wali Karzai, provincial council chairman of Kandahar and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, “gets regular payments from the [Agency], and has for much of the past eight years”.

“He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists,” the report added.

A top former Afghan Interior Ministry official familiar with Afghan counternarcotics operations said that “a major source of Mr. Karzai’s influence over the drug trade” is “his control over key bridges”, making him “able to charge huge fees to drug traffickers to allow their drug-laden trucks to cross the bridges”.

One has to ask about the ones who have been assassinated by U.S. forces from leads out of the C.I.A. The poppy fields selected to be incinerated. The traveling factions hunted down.

The targets chosen by Mr. Karzai to ’supply information’ to the C.I.A. are obviously the people not paying the taxman. The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime reported the Taliban is also collecting taxes. Of course, the Karzais want a surge of foreign forces. They want to knock out the tax-collecting competition like any mafia called a “government”. And as the Karzais receive more beef, the resistance polarizes: it significantly fights back which begs for more C.I.A.; or goes away and the Karzais get their opium monopoly.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to the Carter Administration and architect of the mujahideen insurgency to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, is largely critical of the U.S. self-defeating strategy.

He notes to al Jazeera that the 2001 U.S. invasion started with the Air Force, a small number of Special Forces troops in the hundreds that sustained a larger partnership with homegrown resistance—mostly, cynical druglords whose interests were plundered by the ruling Taliban—and there was little resistance from the locals after the small Taliban ruling faction was overthrown. But now, the U.S. troop levels are over 60,000 and the “military commanders are telling us we’re not winning. What’s that tell you? Where’s the resistance? Obviously, it’s from the Taliban.”

But it’s not “The Taliban”, as in those overthrown in 2001. He continues: “It’s Afghans. Afghans who increasingly identify themselves with something they were pleased to be seen overthrown eight years ago. That’s a bad trend.”

Asked if the U.S. is following a trend similar to that of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—which led to the U.S.S.R. demise—in the 80’s, he replies, “I’ve been saying that for three years.” Last month, he said it was due to the “Afghan perception that [U.S. troops] are foreign invaders“.

The U.S. and U.K. presence in Central Asia is largely due to its natural gas resources and Afghanistan is necessary for a pipeline, former U.K. ambassador Craig Murray says.

“Enron acquired Uzbekistan’s natural gas rights. Turkmenistan, next door to Uzbekistan, has even more natural gas, incredible amounts of natural gas,” he says. “The natural gas reserves of Turkmenistan are equal in worth to the oil reserves of Iraq, if not greater. But you can’t get it out. There’s no way out of Central Asia for this oil and gas, except through Russia, and the Russians won’t let it go to the West, or through Iran, which the Americans aren’t keen on. The only way to get it out would be to have a pipeline going over Afghanistan.”

He added: “There are so many lies about Afghanistan. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s about drugs, it’s about the abuse of human rights, it’s about degradation, and it’s about all of us paying, through our taxes, for wars which benefit a tiny clique.”

  1. […] by 34,000 and announcing it after his trip to Asia in a week, Jonathan Landay reported at McClatchy over the […]

  2. […] At least 40,000 additional troops, the ‘medium-risk’ option from General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of the U.S.-led occupation—the ‘low-risk’ option being an escalation of 80,000 troops; […]

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