Time to Pull the Plug

Afghanistan-pullout.jpg

From the Passdown at Military.com:

Six months after President Obama dispatched a new Afghanistan war commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to win the "just" battle there, the White House seems indecisive about giving the general all the tools he needs to fight it. For weeks, the administration has been urging caution after McChrystal's leaked assessment called for 40,000 more troops to support the kind of comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy Obama proposed in March.

The first explanation was that the recent Afghan presidential election was potentially fraudulent -- that Karzai might not be worth defending with American troops if Afghans viewed his presidency as illegitimate. Then it was that fulfilling McChrystal's request for more troops without a strategy would be foolhardy -- the White House needed more time to assess and discuss options from a variety of viewpoints before sending more resources. Now, National Security Advisor, retired Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones, says it's "hypothetical" that a Taliban takeover of the Afghan government would mean a return of al Qaeda -- and besides, he said during a CNN appearance on Oct. 4, al Qaeda is largely defeated in Afghanistan with less than 100 operatives in the country right now.

Recent polls show that the "all in" counterinsurgency strategy increasingly lacks American public support. With ever-aggressive assaults by Taliban militants killing U.S. troops in high-profile ambushes that nearly overrun American outposts and leave U.S. trainers stranded with dwindling ammunition and no fire support -- the nation's ability to eek out some kind of "victory" in the land where the 9-11 attacks were planned is in doubt.

Just six months ago President Obama said the U.S. must "overcome the trust deficit' it faces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where many believe that we are not a reliable long-term partner." Now the Administration is considering a more antiseptic "counterterrorism" model of drone strikes and commando raids. In March, the administration said that its "new strategy of focusing on our core goal -- to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually destroy extremists and their safe havens . . . will require immediate action, sustained commitment, and substantial resources," but now it challenges the resources requested by its newly appointed commander to achieve security in Afghanistan.

Military action calls for decisiveness and leadership. Commanders know they have to adapt their plans to reality, but that if a military objective is set, you have to figure out a way to achieve it even through the toughest obstacles. With that in mind it's hard to imagine how an administration that delivered such a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy to secure Afghanistan back in March could be questioning some of its most basic assumptions and tenets just six months later -- how a president could fire a commanding general, appoint a hand-picked successor then turn around and challenge that general's request for the tools he needs to achieve the president's stated goal.

To what extent has the Obama national security team demonstrated its commitment to the dirty business of winning a counterinsurgency fight? Clearly America can't have its national security policy run by the generals and a robust discussion of options to any geostrategic challenge is healthy and necessary, but the way Obama is flinching right now is worrisome. Even if the president granted McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops, it seems doubtful that he would have the resolve to lead through the inevitable combat and casualties those new forces would suffer in a stepped up effort to defeat the Taliban.

Maybe Vice President Joe Biden has a point. Maybe his idea of a winding America's combat commitment to Afghanistan and launching a re-tooled counterterrorism effort there is the best option from a host of bad ones -- but not for the reasons Biden thinks. It's not a better option because we can't defeat the Taliban and secure Afghanistan or because it's not worth the effort in the long run. Instead Biden's drone/commando option might be the way to go because President Obama's team doesn't have the fortitude to go "all in" and stick with a COIN strategy to the bitter end -- and that deficit would ultimately waste the lives of American forces.

So let's skip it. Send in the drones.

-- Christian

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