Afghanistan: The long haul?



The long haul?

From the Washington Post, two connected stories: President-imminent Obama prepares for a substantially increased military deployment in Afghanistan with a construction boom nobody could miss — as one example from my recent travels, the military hospital at Kandahar has tripled in capacity since 2006, but it’s about to triple again — but he’s actually not sure what his plan is yet.

The less charitable interpretation is that Obama is putting 30,000 heavily-armed carts in front of his horse. The more patient interpretation, which I’m willing to buy pending further evidence, is that he wants to improve his tactical position while he does some (overdue) strategic thinking. From the second article:

“We have no strategic plan. We never had one,” a senior U.S. military commander said of the Bush years. Obama’s first order of business, he said, will be to “explain to the American people what the mission is” in Afghanistan. The officer is one of a number of active-duty and retired officers, senior Obama team members and Bush administration officials interviewed for this article, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the presidential transition.

The military is as concerned about the mission of additional troops as it is about the size of the force and is looking for Obama to resolve critical internal debates, including the relative merits of conducting conventional combat vs. targeted guerrilla war. With limited resources, should the military concentrate on eliminating a Taliban presence — a task for which most think the United States and its allies will never have enough troops — or on securing large population areas?

This strategic rethink is underway and has been for weeks, in Washington, Brussels, Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere. Kabul and Kandahar were like Grand Central Station when I was there: two Canadian deputy ministers had arrived just ahead of me, U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates landed at Kandahar about an hour after I left, and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Bantz Craddock (heir to a post once held by Wesley Clark, John Shalikashvili, Al Haig, and Dwight D. Eisenhower), came roaring through the Kandahar PRT on a 10-minute visit, randomly shaking my hand on his way to a rooftop briefing. Joe Biden was in Afghanistan on the weekend; his meeting with Hamid Karzai apparently went better than their last encounter several months ago, which ended after eight minutes with Biden storming out, muttering “I don’t have time for this crap.” (Karzai was faring little better with Republicans last year. “McCain sandblasted him,” a U.S. official told us cheerfully.)

Obama will have his “ask” ready to present to his allies, by the latest accounts, in time for the NATO summit in France in April. I’m not sure I would recommend that Canada’s prime minister spend the time between now and then issuing confusing, contradictory, veiled, passive-aggressive pronouncements that neither reveal nor permit careful thinking on the future of Canada’s largest fighting military deployment since Korea. Unless I wanted to seem prescient.

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Afghanistan: The long haul?

  1. I’m reminded of Mary Walsh on “This Hour has 22 Minutes” with the shredder in the donut shop. The shredder was Afganistan, the paper she gleefully passed through it all the countries that have invaded and attempted to occupy Afghanistan over the years.

  2. Too right you are taking the more ‘patient’ view. The first para says Team Obama is going to send 30,000 more soldiers but they don’t expect to achieve anything. I am confused because Obama acknowledged that Iraq surge did in fact work and things were getting better there and sending more soldiers to Afghan has been one of his long standing policy proposals but now he’s saying he doesn’t expect to achieve anything. wtf? I think Canada will be getting out of Afghan in 2011 no matter what. We will have been there for a decade by then and it’s time for Afghanis to start doing things for themselves.

    Obama successfully bamboozled many with his soaring rhetoric but he talks out both sides of his mouth just like any other pol. Maybe Obama can give Harper tips on how to get msm to present the more charitable view when it comes to incoherent policies. I am just happy/surprised that Obama is sending the troops at all because he’s done plenty of backsliding on other pledges.

    • Hi jwl.

      I’m curious – just exactly what _backsliding_ [in plentiful amounts, at that] has Obama already done?


      • His positions on Hillary, Gitmo and Iraq come to mind. Sure I could find more examples if I was bothered.

        • Thanks for the reply, jwl.

          First off, regarding “Ol Stone Face” Clinton – how is this backsliding? Did he make an explicit promise _not_ to appoint her to his cabinet? If so, I’m unaware of this.

          How do you define “Gitmo” as a backslide? If you are referring to the alleged “within 100 days ye’ll be oot ‘n aboot”, I don’t believe that actually was a concrete pledge of his…I think it’s a media “add-on”, if you will, though I’m quite prepared to be proven wrong about this.

          Where is the Iraq backslide? Is there a campaign promise about a specific date of withdrawal from the beleaguered country that he has reneged upon? I actually felt that, seeing as he is a first-rate politician, he managed to word his campaign promises in a vague enough manner that he has actually avoided the _backslide_ charge rather handily.

          If you have other examples though – rebutting the above, or perhaps in the economic field, where you may be apt to find some – I’d be happy to hear ’em.


          • Obama said he wanted a new gen of people, who weren’t DC insiders, but his Cabinet appointments suggest otherwise, said Bin Laden needed to be killed but now says as long as he’s living in cave that’s ok, Gitmo was going to be closed within 100 days of taking office and now says the issue is harder than people realize, US troops out of Iraq within 16 months I think it was but I don’t have the sense that’s still the plan.

            The flip-flopping is typical pol behaviour, to be expected, but the Obamaaniacs seem to think he’s the second coming and it’s just not true.

    • Lots of Afghanis are doing things for themselves. We just don’t like what they’re doing. Because it leads to filling Canadian body bags.

      I’m pessimistic that additional troops will yield good results. If BHO can find a way to “engage ” the Taliban … if he can find anyone with the Taliban to ” engage ” with … and spread enough money around, he might buy enough time to exit with ” honor ” . And maybe extract an unenforceable pledge to abandon whatever remains of Al-Qaeda by that time.

  3. I suspect that once you strip away all the political posturing, Harper’s position on Afghanistan is almost identical to Ignatieff’s. Both of them think that the mission is accomplishing worthwhile military and humanitarian objectives. Both think that Canada’s participation pays mega-dividends on the world stage, and improves Canada’s influence with our US and NATO allies.

    Both are sensibly waiting until the NATO summit before issuing serious pronouncements on the deployment and possible escalations/extensions.

    If Harper issues any clear, thought-provoking statements before then, his opponents will turn those statements into a mallet and bash him over the head with it, almost regardless of what he actually says or what his opponents actually think.

    • If i thought that our men and women were losing their lives solely to improve our influence with the US and Nato allies and garnering mega-dividends on the world stage i would immediately join the chorus of those voices who are demanding they come home. Frankly i don’t give a flying f*** what anyone thinks of us. If the Afghans want us there we should remain and do what we can. If not walk away.

  4. Job one is to buy up the poppy crop instead of eradicating it. I don’t like to disparage the geniuses who got us into the mess (one’s just retiring, and his final act could be to pardon himself), and managed to screw it up from day one, because in fact it’s hard because they do such a good job themselves. I think I’ve mentioned before that the War on Drugs is America’s and Canada’s private psychotic obsession, and enriching the lives of foreigners with our lunacy is only good for laughs for so long. Buy all the poppies, turn them into morphine for which there’s a global need, pay the farmers a good buck with which they’ll buy their own damned tractors, and build their own damned schools and hospitals; start vineyards the way they did before the soviets came in to screw up their lives. Grow their own food, raise their own livestock, have their own nutty arguements about global warming. I’m reminded of that line from that song: He can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine.” That’s got to be what a lot of Afghans are thinking.

    • I think you’re on to something.

      I have two good friends going off to serve in Afghanistan. I want to believe that we are over there helping the Afghans, but running a war on drugs is probably not it. Probably similar to the Americans coming in to eradicate BC’s marijuana crop. At first we might welcome the reining in of the lawlessness and gangs, but a few missed airstrikes and wiped out wedding parties, and the welcome would be worn out.

      The mounting body count and no end in sight is making me nervous.

  5. I think Obama’s message is quite clear – that the 30,000 troops will help stabilize but isn’t the solution in Afghanistan. This is refreshing since in Iraq, the surge was billed as THE plan. While there is agreement that the surge reduced violence, there is not agreement that it is the only pillar required to rebuild Iraq.

    It also does not concern me that 6 days before the man is even sworn in, they haven’t completed a strategic plan. But I agree one should be excpected, and by April is certainly a reasonable time-frame.

  6. Are you ready for War?

    While Hamas groupies cheer from Europe, Young Street Toronto, and in the corners of some Canadian political parties, something very scary is growing in the not so distant future.

    WASHINGTON- All out nuclear war between Israel and Iran: a doomsday scenario that we all fear deeply. A new study compiled by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), headed by former Pentagon analyst Anthony H. Cordesman, explored just such a nightmare scenario, noting that it could lead to the death of between 16- 28 million Iranian civilians, and 200-800 thousand Israelis.

    This hypothetical, research-oriented study also explored other contingencies for unconventional warfare in our region, noting the tactics that various countries could potentially employ in such instances.

    As pertains to nuclear warfare, the study found that an Israeli nuclear scrimmage with Iran would most likely last for about three weeks. Aside from the aforementioned direct casualties, the study could not determine how many additional long-term casualties would arise from fallout and radiation in the weeks and months following such an attack.

    One essential requirement for nuclear confrontation in our region, according to the study, is allowing Iran’s nuclear program to develop, unhindered by a pre-emptive strike by either Israel or the United States. If US or Israeli preemption does not occur, the study found, Iran could very well have 30 nuclear warheads available for warfare between 2010-2020. Israel, by comparison, currently has 200 nuclear war heads with both air and sea launch capabilities, according to the study.

    Given certain conditions, Israel could potentially survive such a nuclear scenario, the study found. Iran, on the other hand, would be completely and utterly obliterated. “Iranian recovery is not possible in the normal sense of term, though Israeli recovery is theoretically possible in population and economic terms,” wrote Cordesman, who compiled this study entitled “Iran, Israel, and Nuclear War”.

    Israeli missiles have greater strike range

    The bottom line, according to this study, is that Israel quite simply has more potent and effective bombs. Israel currently has a 1megaton (mt) nuclear bomb, whereas Iran does not yet have the ability to develop a bomb with more than 100 kilotons of power. What this means, in essence, is that the Israeli bomb can lead to three times as many casualties as its Iranian counterpart (chiefly due to third-degree burns), and has an “area of extreme lethality” (the range within which a nuclear bomb is fatal) ten-times as great.

    Which Israeli cities are most likely to be targeted by Iran? Tel-Aviv and central Israel (all the way down to Ashdod) are the most likely targets, as is Haifa. Israel, conversely, has more than 10 Iranian cities on its “hit list” including Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Qazvin, Shiraz, Yazd, Kerman, Qom, Ahvaz, and Kermanshah.

    Cordseman also noted that Iran would have lower fission yields, and less accurate force into cluster targeting on Israel’s two largest urban complexes, and that the Iranian side would also most likely be thwarted by Israel’s missile defense systems. Notable among these is the “Arrow 2” anti-ballistic missile which could most potentially shoot down most nuclear missiles launched by Iran.

    Furthermore, Israel could strike Iran with far grater accuracy and precision, hitting its cities with deadly aim utilizing both its own satellites, as well as those of the United States.

    The study also examined what would occur if Syria would join the Israeli-Iranian nuclear fray. Syria, Cordesman estimated, could kill an additional 800 thousand Israelis with missiles armed with chemical or biological warheads. The Syrian side, however, could suffer up to 18 million casualties should Israel respond with a nuclear strike.

    If Egypt should join its Arab neighbors in battle, the study finds, Israel would most likely respond with a nuclear strike at Cairo and other major cities, as well as by destroying the Aswan dam.

  7. Part of the reason for getting American troops out of Iraq, is to deny Iran an opportunity to nuke them or destroy them with other weapons. This thing is very real and it makes zero sense to encourage Iran by cheering on it’s proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

  8. So Canada is on track to having spent $20 billion + on a military mission for which there was, according to the senior U.S. military commander quoted above, *never* any strategic plan.

    Perhaps there’s no harm done, though, since those billions could *never* have been put to any other use by Canadian governments, could they?

    After all, why should anyone count mis-spent billions against the public purse until a weeks-long (yes, weeks!) strategic re-think has been in the works some seven years after the authors of the Iraq ‘triumph’ offered their swift military ‘victory’ in Afghanistan as evidence of their strategic genius, and, hence, of their likely success in Iraq.

    Will anyone ever be held accountable for the wasted resources, the reckless policy, or the lost lives?

    Sadly, I fear the questions answer themselves.

  9. Probably the best NATO can do– other than wage a low level counter-insurgency in the mountains for the next 50+ years– is to pull back to Kabul and Kandahar and in protecting those cities hopefully allow a stronger civil society to develop. I wouldn’t be surprised if Canada sticks around in more of a German-style sentry capacity for several more years after 2011 in concert with increased aid and development in the cities. But as far as “getting rid of” the Taliban, good luck with that…

  10. Hi jwl.

    I’m sorry that I had to break up the comment pyramid – there was no option to _reply_ to your post.

    I just have a few nitpicks with your response:

    1. Obama said he would bring _a new tone_ to Washington. He never said he was only bringing in Washington outsiders to staff his administration. You can argue that expecting old people to achieve new things is an improbability, but he is not backsliding on a promise here – especially as he has not taken office yet.

    2. Obama, to my knowledge, has never said that he would close Guantanamo _in 100 days_. I see this magic number cropping up everywhere, but as far as I can tell, such a promise was not made by him. He did say, unequivocably, that he would close it – and, as of today, this appears to still be his intention.

    3. Obama made a promise to have all combat brigades withdrawn from Iraq within 16 months, leaving what he termed a _residual force_ – naturally, this _residual_ force would be of unspecified size, unspecified makeup, and its mandate completely open to interpretation. I do not see anything in Obama’s actions over the past six weeks that leads me to believe this timetable will not be adhered to.

    I’m not trying to be pedantic here, jwl – I’ve just noticed how sloppy most people are with the charges they hurl around – and this is common in both political spectrums. You claimed that Obama has committed _plenty_ of backslides, whereas I maintain you’ve yet to show one. You are absolutely correct that the Obamaniacs ridiculously spin their leader and ignore valid criticisms; but it’s also true that the Obamalignants make up the most absurd charges against him.

    I’m neither particularly pro- nor anti- Obama. I do think that he’ll govern as he campaigned – as a centrist, even somewhat conservative, Democrat. Those that think he’ll do otherwise have deluded themselves and believe their own propaganda, whether on the far left or far right.

    Just my two cents – it’s nothing personally against you jwl.