Thursday, December 10, 2009

Afghanistan Surge

The Obama plan is not what I would have hoped for since other than the July 2011 date to begin withdrawal there is no exit strategy. Perhaps there is one, but the strategy was not announced. To my mind, this was a necessary step in explaining the entire plan to the public. Now, however, and despite statements to the contrary, the withdrawal must really begin in the summer of 2011.

General McChrystal largely got what he wanted. The media, as usual, reported that the approved 30,000 was short of the troop surge that he had requested. He has more. The media conveniently forgot the 21,000 sent earlier this year. So, the US has committed another 51,000 and not 30,000. So be it and I really hope the general is correct in his assessment because he has 18 months to prove it.

If the troop withdrawal does not start in July 2011 then the surge will convert to an occupation in the eyes of the Afghans, something I would hope the US had learned to avoid from its ongoing experience in Iraq. This would be a mistake of enormous proportions because it would be seen that the US is supporting a corrupt regime in the face of an indigenous Pashtun uprising with an army made up of minority Tajiks.

Furthermore, Obama has stated that this is not a war of choice, but of necessity. Maybe - but I still wonder who we are fighting. That the Taliban are a despicable throw-back to twelfth century beliefs does not make them the enemy. Distasteful, oppressive and dangerous internally to Afghans - particularly women - they may be. But, the US cannot wage war on those grounds everywhere. So is the Mugabe regime, not to mention the proposed legislation in Uganda calling for the death penalty for homosexuals (supported, by the way, by the US homegrown Taliban known as the far right christian fundamentalists and their Republican allies).

If the purpose of the surge is to protect areas long enough to solidify opposition to the Taliban, then who is going to do that after the withdrawal? The Afghan army is composed largely of Tajiks who will have serious trouble operating in Pashtun majority areas. Indeed, it has taken 8 years to train 100,000 Afghan troops. Is the plan to train an equal number in 18 months even remotely feasible?

Is the goal to destroy al Qaida? It wouldn't seem necessary to employ 55,000 troops to go after a shattered organization which has not mounted a serious attack in 5 years. In any case, destroying the terrorist organization should not be the goal in Afghanistan not merely because its total destruction is likely impossible, but because the goal should be to deny it a base. Again, that does not take 55,000 troops.

The US has indulged in nation building in Iraq and is dangerously close to that goal in Afghanistan. This is the worst mistake since it is not a nation and only can be dealt with - if that's the phrase - as a collection of tribes and clans. The US cannot afford to stay in Afghanistan to cobble together a unified nation and certainly not with Karzai, the mayor of Kabul.

My take on this strategy is that there are too many points where it can fail ranging from the perception of occupation by foreigners to a corrupt, ineffective government that has lost legitimacy but which will attempt to keep the US in the game well beyond the 2011 withdrawal phase.

Beyond the borders of Afghanistan, the US and the surge will produce additional tensions between India and Pakistan. The latter have no desire to see Afghan Taliban, supported by the Pakistan government, pushed into Pakistan only to be followed in hot pursuit by troops or an increase in drone attacks. Pakistan is also concerned by Indian influence in Afghanistan and, paranoid or not, feels that India is encircling it.

Then there is Iran which seems to be involved in a slow motion drain circling dance internally but which also appears to be deliberately provoking the West. With troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, a belligerent Israel and an independent minded Turkey, how does Obama deal with a sudden Iran crisis? More importantly, how does he deal with the massive unemployment in the US while funding these military interventions.

I hope McChrystal is right and the Obama strategy works - at least to a certain extent - so that the US can declare it has done what it can do for Afghanistan, eliminated a base for al Qaida to operate within to train and launch attacks, and then leave.

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