Obama's hard war - Macleans.ca

Obama’s hard war


A Washington Post article is only one of many lately to chronicle the extraordinary violence with which the Obama administration is pursuing the war in Afghanistan:

“The pace of Special Operations missions to kill or capture Taliban leaders has more than tripled over the past three months. U.S. and NATO aircraft unleashed more bombs and missiles in October – 1,000 total – than in any single month since 2001. In the districts around the southern city of Kandahar, soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division have demolished dozens of homes that were thought to be booby-trapped, and they have used scores of high-explosive line charges – a weapon that had been used only sparingly in the past – to blast through minefields.”

In deploying tanks to the south, the U.S. is in a sense only catching up to Canada, which has used Leopard tanks for some time in Kandahar. But Gen. Petraeus seems to have gotten over his earlier reluctance to use air support. As Colleague Potter likes to point out, it’s getting harder to find real evidence of counterinsurgency in the Afghan south. Counterterrorism — killing bad guys, in the hopes that’s all you’re killing — has increased radically.


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Obama’s hard war

  1. If the U.S. has pursued the war in Afghanistan with this sort of vigour instead of being diverted into Iraq in 2003 then we would mostly likely have been into the school and nation-building part of our engagement there by now.

    Also, due to the (televisual) media's almost total lack of showing what is going on day-to-day with our troops in Afghanistan it was a bit surprising to read about the deployment of Leopard tanks. Obvioulsy we have APCs but I didn't know about the tanks.

    I go on and on about this on this comment board and I will continue until it changes or we leave. Due to this almost complete lack of televised information Canadians cannot make an informed decision on whatever future role we should play – militarily or otherwise – if any.

  2. I would note that Stéphane Dion was pilloried (as usual) for saying that the combat mission would end on 2011 but that we would not abandon Afganistan and could continue contributing in areas like training the Afghan army. Various useful idiots in the media (not you Paul) said, "But how can there be training without being exposed to combat? This isn't serious." Many of these same useful idiots sat there in silence when PM Steve announced over coffee and muffins that Canada would leave in 2011 and that was that. Of course now he suddenly has a different story.

    BTW Paul, glad to see that you are back to blogging more frequently. You can mostly leave the tweeting on the Twitter to twits like @TonyClement_MP .

  3. You didn't know about the tanks? I thought that would have been common knowledge.

  4. This recent burst of enthusiasm can be characterized as "sauter pour mieux reculer". Obama wants out of Afghanistan and the quicker the better. The U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, such as it was, has failed – in fact, it may even have encouraged the insurgency. So the Yankees are hell bent on killing as many bad guys as they can before they leave in the hopes that they will exhaust the reserves of potential future Al Qaida recruits and sympathizers. Obama needs to end this war so he can focus on filling the fiscal hole the U.S. is in.

    I wonder if Karzai will end up like Najibullah.

  5. Well, it depends on how the mission is being reported and thus perceived by the public.

    All we really hear about are unfortunate incidents when an APC or a soldier on patrol comes in contact with an IED. Nothing really about tanks going through villages, nothing about encounters with insurgents or Taliban fighters, nothing about capture of prisoners or interaction with the local community in jirgas.

    However, lots about the Stanley Cup making a visit, lots about hockey games, lots about Tim Horton's selling double-doubles and sadly far too often ramps ceremonies.

  6. Which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Obama is not a Kenyan Muslim, but an American Christian.

  7. The gloves taken off, and dozens of homes demolished so that Petraeus is "in a much stronger position heading into a Friday meeting of NATO heads of state in Lisbon."

    The families that used to live in those homes must congratulate the general on his increased political leverage.

  8. First, it doesn't need proving. The fact that one out of five Americans seem to think their president is a Muslim says more about the ignorance of one out of five Americans than it does about anything else.

    Second, the way that the Obama administration is pursuing the war in Afghanistan says nothing whatsoever about the president's religious beliefs.

  9. Actually, it does.But if you refuse to think about it, then it doesn't matter.

  10. Incidentally, the widespread use of tanks and close-air support may be explicable in Kandahar. As I wrote in April, Canada was barely able to hold Kandahar City for four fighting seasons, leaving most of the province unpoliced except for very occasional patrols. So maybe the insurgents are clumped up and fairly brazen in many parts of the province; that would make them reachable targets using pretty unsubtle methods. I'm not sure the sort of activity the WashPost is describing should be condemned, but at a minimum it should be noted.

  11. One may not believe the claim, but if the homes were actually booby-trapped than either a) no one was living in them or b) the people living in them should be thankful that their empty home was demolished, as opposed to their whole family being killed by an IED.

    (and, again, I realize that this argument only applies if one takes the Generals at their word that the homes were actually booby-trapped).

  12. It DOES depend on how it is being reported, no doubt. But the tanks were widely reported & one can safely assume they are there for their utility in the application of firepower.

    Granted, making assumptions is a mugs game these days.

  13. Re: the use of insurgents

    I had thought that the use of this term was a euphemism, wondering why the, recently, more common term "rebel" or rebellion wasn't being used. I suspected it was a more recently coined term. Turns out it is actually quite old, it's root coming from insurge: to rise up against, used in 1535. See: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=insurgen

    Still, it has alway struck me as a little out of sorts. Then I clued in (seems to be taking awhile these days). The USA has two major historical touchstones of rebellion, and it just wouldn't do to have the activities of the Pashtuns in Afganistan confusing in the minds of the Western populace if rebellion was being bandied about.

    In Star Wars (and other fictions) the rebels were the good guys, hence, insurgency and insurgents.

  14. I'd seen the article before PW pointed it out, and it's the usual good WaPo overview of what's happening.

    I chuckled when I read that the tanks are "powered by jet engines", which is only true if you're explaining it to 4-year-olds.

    Has anyone noticed how different war reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq is from that in our grandparents' day in WWII? The embedded reporters have been great, but most political reporters seem to have no more knowledge of military matters than when they left high school (i.e., not much). They constantly use terms carelessly, and are confusingly vague about where things happen and who they happen to or are done by. Formations are always described as "units", which apparently covers everything from a fire team to a division. End of rant. :-)

  15. I do think there's a bit of a subtle distinction, at least in my mind, between "insurgent" and "rebel", but perhaps that's because of the way they're used in modern times, as you infer.

    For some reason, I always think of rebels as being something of an outside force (more accurately, a formerly inside force that has separated itself from their foes) , whereas insurgent suggests to me a force rising from within. So, in the Star Wars example, the separation of the Rebel Alliance from the Empire suggests "rebels" to me, whereas if a group of Stormtroopers started attacking the Empire from within with IEDs, I would think of them as "insurgents", though still as good guys fighting the evil Empire. In that sense, I'd view small bands of guerrillas in the American Revolution (Mel Gibson in "The Patriot") as "insurgents" but the Colonial militia as "rebels". I acknowledge that this distinction may only be in my own mind, and the OED doesn't really make it explicit, but I've always thought of the two words as being closely related, but subtly different, (and intentionally, but not necessarily conspiratorially so).

  16. A far more interesting difference is the main source of news not being on film reels before the main feature, lauding the hundreds of Stukas bravely shot down over London per hour each day, while still keeping us mindful of the yellow peril.

  17. I should say that I think I would probably apply this distinction to Afghanistan as well. So, the majority of what the Taliban et al. are doing I'd probably call "insurgency", however, when the Taliban consolidates in the Hills, and comes out to face NATO forces on an open battlefield (as opposed to IEDs or small arms fire in the city streets, for example) I think I'd maybe call them "rebels". Again, perhaps my distinction is invalid, and it's complicated in that it at least partially has to do with tactics, as opposed to people (i.e. those same rebel forces massed in the hills may have been several small insurgent groups in the cities a month earlier) but in broad strokes that's always the type of distinction I've made between the two terms.

  18. Regardless, it appears you hate the troops.

  19. "(and intentionally, but not necessarily conspiratorially so). "

    You have a more charitable disposition in this matter than myself.

    Not that this is a terribly relevant tangent, but the "rebels" in Star Wars were, in ficticious fact, the remnant of the Republic and those that founded the Empire were the insurgents (those invidious Sith!) that temporarily overthrew the Republic.

    In The Patriot, Mel & Co. were an irregular/guerrilla formation acting in concert with the over-all revolt/rebellion/insurgency. So they would be called guerrillas, no?

    The thing is, LKO, the American revolutionaries are almost never called insurgents. Certainly, insurgency was never used by the winning side. It just strikes me as such an obivious spin/deflection as part of the conflict management strategy.

  20. For what it's worth, here's what Wikipedia has to say on its page on "Rebellion":

    "A limited rebellion is an insurrection, and if the established government does not recognise the rebels as belligerents then they are insurgents and the revolt is an insurgency. In a larger conflict the rebels may be recognised as belligerents without their government being recognised by the established government, in which case the conflict becomes a civil war." (emphasis added)

    So, while the Empire would recognize the Rebel Alliance as belligerents ("You are part of the Rebel Alliance, and a traitor.") they likely wouldn't recognize a group of rogue Stormtroopers attacking the Empire with IEDs as "belligerents" in the same sense.

  21. You seem to be conflating guerrilla warfare as a mode of war using irregular tactics with insurgency as a mode of politics using armed conflict as a means of redress for real or supposed wrongs.

  22. The Taliban have not been recognized as belligerents? Didn't they used to be the government? Who are they fighting against? The newly constituted goverment or the invading force? Both? Wouldn't the Karzai government be the (successful) rebels (even though they mearly filled the void created by the Nato invasion)?

  23. Okay, I'll bite. How does the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan say anything about the president's religious belief?

  24. There's a lot of good reporting from Afghanistan but it sometime takes a while
    to reach North America …. kinda like reporting on the Ashanti wars used to be.

  25. The very end of the WaPo article is a real hoot. Making homeless peasants traipse
    to a regional HQ to lodge a complaint presents an opportunity to win hearts and
    minds. Now, that represents clear thinking. Also the thinking of the WaPo.

  26. I'll go for a nibble myself. I like both facts and fiction!

  27. Indeed. Plenty of things have changed since those not so politically correct times. Much of the propaganda is shocking when viewed by modern standards.

  28. I'm sure this is why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, because he's more violent than Bush.

  29. The world is so much "harder" for Obama, than it was for Bush.

    So easy to blame Bush (he had a southern accent after all, so he must've been stupid, and to blame for pretty much everything….according to the "acceptable" bigotry of academic intellectual class that is).

  30. No, the Taliban aren't insurgents, but insurgents are doing a lot of the damage. Not everybody blowing stuff up is "the Taliban" is all I'm saying. Mullah Omar and a small army of guys, they're not insurgents. However, there are plenty of insurgents around doing a lot of harm.

    The Taliban are the Rebel Alliance (only bad) but there are plenty of rogue Stormtroopers around blowing the Empire's stuff up.

    I take your point on the Karzai government but they're not really the successful rebels, they're the guy's who got elected after the successful rebellion.

  31. Or, he's directing his violence in a more appropriate place. More Afghanistan, less Iraq.

  32. The American Revolutionaries also almost never called "rebels" either. The "rebels" are the Confederacy in the Civil War.

  33. Only once (in the comments) do I see the word:
    This always happens when the 'let's not quit now' mantra gets thrown around. Especially by fence-sitting journalists who see the HarpRaeTieff coalition of the willing, and a 53% 'training force' approval from dubious polls.
    THAT'S what you are committing professional soldiers to: KARZAI. Every month, there's some new WTF?! nonsense from that corruption-committed goon. One day he's hosting Iran's leader, next dissing Petraeus' revived 'shock and awe' policy, then something else.
    And every few months there's the obligatory, pro forma mantra: "Karzai must reign in/curb/reduce (pick your verb-flavour of the week) corruption." It comes from NATO, then from Obama, then Petraeus, Ignatieff. Just in case the global public gets too jaded from hearing it.
    How 'bout: "We cut off a Karzai finger every time $1000 goes under the table."
    Forgetful minds. Another 4 years? (5? 6?…)

    C'mon. Outa there. No trainers. Everyone out. Enough of this.

  34. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

    Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy

    Thou shalt not kill.

    Turn the other cheek.

    His religion is supposed to lead to this kind of behaviour.

  35. If Afghans, who are not necessarily Taliban, are rebelling against foreign invaders, maybe they should be called patriots.

  36. More like a puppet government.

  37. An independent reporter (I think) with an informed view:

    "…“They've washed their hands of the democratic process," he tells Skyreporter. "They've given up on ensuring that good government will take root in the country, and that's a huge mistake.

    “It will only make the current Afghan government appear even more irrelevant, and that will encourage the insurgency…"

  38. Another independent with an informed view:

    "…Canadian journalists who opposed continuation of the Afghan War, or exposed many of the lies that justify it, have been purged from their newspapers under pressure from the Harper government – which claims, ironically, to be fighting in Afghanistan for “democracy.”…"