Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Strategy

"Obama Has No Afghanistan Strategy

There was a lot of talk about a new Obama strategy in Afghanistan. But according to War Secretary Gates' yesterday testimony, there is none.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday outlined a complicated and at times contradictory set of goals for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, in a Capitol Hill appearance that highlighted the challenges the administration faces in devising a new U.S. strategy there.

Giving his first congressional testimony under his new boss, President Barack Obama, Gates called the Afghan army and police the "exit ticket for all of us," yet he conceded that the Afghan government is too poor to support those forces long term.

The envisioned Afghan army and police force will cost $4 billion a year while the total Afghan GDP is $800 million. That somehow does not look sustainable.

According to the NYT, Obama's administration now sees Karzai as the main problem:

Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in Afghanistan, the officials said, because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.
They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

It was the U.S. who pressed for a centralized government in Afghanistan, against its tradition. Now the Afghan president constitutionally appoints the governors. How does it now expect to be able to work around Karzai with those governors, when he can fire them any day? Oh - simple - let's install a new puppet ...

Leaving economic development (and the bill for it) to Europeans will not work either. It is impossible to implement development during ongoing uncoordinated military operations.

Asked about more development in Afghanistan Gates said:

“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served under Mr. Bush and is staying on under Mr. Obama, told Congress on Tuesday.

Valhalla is where the dead warriors go to serve Odin. Did Gates really mean that or is he lacking education? Then again sending more soldiers to Afghanistan is certainly a way to create a lot of new Valhalla denizens.

Mr. Obama is preparing to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan over the next two years, perhaps to more than 60,000 from about 34,000 now. But Mr. Gates indicated Tuesday that the administration would move slowly, at least for now. He outlined plans for an increase of about 12,000 troops by midsummer but cautioned that any decision on more troops beyond that might have to wait until late 2009, given the need for barracks and other infrastructure.

The same NYT piece accuses NATO of not "fulfilling its promises." Imagine then how Gates' backtracking on U.S. commitments will be received in other countries. Those expectations are high. The Globe and Mail writes:

As Canadian troops wait for an influx of as many as 60,000 U.S. soldiers this year, senior military officials have quietly adjusted their goals. In western Kandahar province's Zhari district, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, the key word is "holding" territory.

60,000 (mistakenly) expected, 12,000 to come - somehow those U.S. allies, who are now barely holding ground, may be miffed about that?

Back to the NYT:

Mr. Gates added that the United States should focus on limited goals. “My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective,” he said.

This is a stupid argument. "Terrorists and extremists" do not need Afghanistan as a base. The 9/11 pilots were trained in the United States, not in Afghanistan. So how is this whole Afghanistan issue supposed to make sense?

What I perceive is that the Obama administration now sees Afghanistan as the 'tar baby' that it is and that Bush left to them. It can not really let it go, but it will also not commit the resources, civil and/or military, to better the situation there. It will simply prolong the quagmire.

The overextended forces there will simply try to hold ground and fight to preserve their lines of communication by bombing civilians. That will certainly not work. The resistance will increase and the retreat will become inevitable. The U.S. commander there demanded 30,000 more troops, Obama/Gates will send 12,000, reduce development commitments and shun the president they installed there.

That is not a strategy, but a mess that will end with lot of dead people and a retreat under fire.


I noticed some of the discrepancies the blogger pointed out in my own war daily's coverage:
U.S. Surges Into Afghanistan