Afghanistan whack-a-mole strategy
The Esquire report on the Afghanistan review is out.
Everyone has an expert on everything these days. I wonder if there is a Marie Claire report on Afghanistan. I’ll check in a minute.
Well, I am not an expert either though I have military training and have worked for the Department of Defense as a consultant for over twenty years.
The Esquire is a chatty little review and interesting for its entertainment value with pungent quips. So, let me get to the heart of it.
· Yes, the Afghanistan strategy is turning into whack-a-mole, and yes there is a comparison to some of the days in Vietnam when we were whacking moles. Then things changed. The enemy gained momentum in their homeland.
· The Taliban are taunting and laying low, sometimes, and they are bold and take some our troops with them when they can. Yet, they are smart because they know we can’t be everywhere, and by June American strength will diminish and we’ll be whacking fewer moles.
· At some point, the Taliban will see Americans as the moles and will start whacking us like in the Tet offensive.
The United States cannot afford to continue to front the high cost of this combat. The Taliban have moved to a safe haven with al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Pakistan isn’t about to change their behavior as they see Americans time schedule and believe we’re leaving soon anyway.
Is there any better path forward than Americans pulling out cold turkey? Ambassador Richard Holbrooke didn’t see a way.
I think substituting military technology to combat terrorists from high in the sky remains viable. We can ramp up that approach. We can work harder to obtain greater investment support from European and other allies to offset some of the cost. It is essential to make terrorism too painful to nations hosting it and to the terrorists and insurgents themselves. More advance technical approaches can achieve this, I think.
Options on the table:
· More UAVs
· More high in the sky target bombing
Top of Form
So the White House just released its much-anticipated review of our ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, mind you). And while President Obama, Bob Gates, and Hillary Clinton took pains to explain in a press conference on Thursday that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," it can also be very difficult to parse propaganda from, you know, the actual end of a modern war. But since this is a reasonably well-written document that the president's talking about here — and since it more or less outlines the past, present, and future of our troops' presence in region in a still-untidy five pages — it seems worthwhile to deconstruct the review line-by-line... and (white) lie-by-lie. Here goes.
The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa'ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country.
Hard to argue with that — sensibly focused, worthy, and justified by both U.S. national security and our overall foreign policy goals in the region. Moving on...
Specific components of our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are working well and there are notable operational gains. Most important, al-Qa'ida's senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001.
In Pakistan, we are laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation, and enhanced exchange and assistance programs.
When you have to say it, the trust just ain't there. This do-gooder stuff in the badlands ranks pretty high on the BS meter by anyone's standards. Speaking of which...
And in Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible.
Now there's a glass-half-full analysis for you. Yes, the Taliban has been "reversed in some key areas" — but clearly resurgent in others.
While the strategy is showing progress across all three assessed areas of al-Qa'ida, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable.
Here comes the catch . . .
With regard to al-Qa'ida's Pakistan-based leadership and cadre, we must remain focused on making further progress toward our ultimate end state, the eventual strategic defeat of al-Qa'ida in the region, which will require the sustained denial of the group's safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, among other factors.
Now there's something fully open-ended for you. But if you want a president who's "tough on terrorism," that is a pretty aggressive standard.
And in Afghanistan, we are confronting the inherent challenges of a war-torn nation working to restore basic stability and security in the face of a resilient insurgency that finds shelter in a neighboring sanctuary.
Diplomatically stated, to say the least! Where's Holbrooke when you need him?
More broadly, we must continue to place the Afghanistan and Pakistan challenges in larger and better integrated political and regional contexts.
This is where the White House wonks lose me, and I'm pretty much a wonk. Have you spotted any serious effort to regionalize the politics? Because I haven't. Yeah, we cooperate a bit with the Russians and the Indians, but, especially in the latter case, we're choosing to throw our lot in with those wily Pakistanis. Our cooperation with China on this subject is close to zero, despite Beijing's close ties to Islamabad and its clear eagerness to exploit Afghanistan's substantial mineral and energy resources. So I guess I buy "must" even as I believe "continue" to be a complete snow job.
The accelerated deployment of U.S. and international military and civilian resources to the region that began in July 2009 and continued after the President's policy review last fall has enabled progress and heightened the sense of purpose within the United States Government, among our coalition partners, and in the region.
"Sense of purpose," eh? Rah, rah! As for our coalition partners, NATO recently committed itself to sticking around until 2014, even as individual nations are pulling out. So the "in the region" stuff is pure nonsense: everybody in the region is giving every indication of gaming the inevitable withdrawal.
As a result, our strategy in Afghanistan is setting the conditions to begin the responsible reduction of U.S. forces in July 2011.
If you say so, Mr. President, but this decision seems more like a campaign promise fulfilled than a sound strategic judgment justified by facts on the ground. No respected military expert is saying we'll need fewer troops next summer.
This review also underscores the importance of a sustained long-term commitment to the region — in Pakistan, by way of our growing strategic partnership; and in Afghanistan, as reflected by our own long-term commitment, as well as the NATO Lisbon Summit's two outcomes: the goal for Afghans to assume the lead for security across the country by 2014, and NATO's enduring commitment beyond 2014.
Whoa there with the schizophrenia: So we're starting to pull out troops next summer even as we're committing ourselves to a long-term commitment? That's some pretty tortured bureaucratese, which I'm sure was shaped by many hands. Honestly, some clear wording would have been welcome, such as, "Yes, even as we start reducing America's troop presence in Afghanistan, we remain committed to a long-term military relationship with both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and some of our key NATO allies seem willing to stick with us in this endeavor — for now." Alas, on to the meaty stuff, the "Summary of Findings," beginning with Al Qaeda.
We remain relentlessly focused on Pakistan-based al-Qa'ida because of the strategic nature of the threat posed by its leadership, and in particular the group's continued pursuit of large-scale, catastrophic anti-Western attacks and its influence on global terrorism...
"Relentlessly focused" is code for unprecedented use of armed drones, which I think most Americans would agree is justified, given the circumstances and Al Qaeda's clear ambitions. The Pakistanis? Maybe not.
The compounding losses of al-Qa'ida's leadership cadre have diminished — but not halted — the group's ability to advance operations against the United States and our allies and partners, or to support and inspire regional affiliates. Indeed, terrorist plotting continues against the United States and our allies and partners.
That's pure ass-covering, but accurate ass-covering.
Al-Qa'ida's eventual strategic defeat will be most effectively achieved through the denial of sanctuaries in the region and the elimination of the group's remaining leadership cadre. Even achieving these goals, however, will not completely eliminate the terrorist threat to U.S. interests. There are a range of other groups, including some affiliated with al-Qa'ida, as well as individuals inspired by al-Qa'ida, who aim to do harm to our nation and our allies. Our posture and efforts to counter these threats will continue unabated...
In effect, our trigger-pullers' hunting license will never be revoked — a bold-enough statement on assassinations in unsure times. Anyway, Pakistan...
Pakistan is central to our efforts to defeat al-Qa'ida and prevent its return to the region...
See, Al Qaeda isn't the only side in this fight that gets to declare a "central front." Obama's got his "good war" and he's sticking to it — time-wise, at least.
Progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last year has been substantial, but also uneven...
As in, Pakistan openly hates us and we secretly hate them.
We worked jointly in the last year to disrupt the threat posed by al-Qa'ida, and Pakistan has made progress against extremist safe havens, taking action in six of seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. These gains came at great cost, as Pakistan has endured thousands of casualties in their military ranks and among their civilian population from terrorist attacks.
No question that Pakistan is finally paying for the years of keeping these guys in their strategic tool-kit.
There was also improvement in our security assistance, with increased training cooperation, more support for Pakistan's military operations, and greater border coordination.
After years of Pakistan spending billions of our aid dollars on military hardware designed to fight India, we finally — finally! — twisted enough arms in Islamabad to force a refocused effort.
In 2010, we also improved the United States-Pakistan relationship through the Strategic Dialogue...
Let's be honest: the United States has "Strategic Dialogue" with countries we deeply mistrust. Like, you know, China.
The Dialogue improved mutual trust, prompted attention to reforms critical to long-term stability, and addressed development objectives important to the people of Pakistan. Civilian assistance increased with more aid flowing through Pakistani institutions, improved civilian stabilization activities, the development of critical energy and other infrastructure, and a robust flood response and recovery effort — which NATO directly assisted.
"Robust flood response"? Your average Pakistani would offer a harsher judgment. We've arguably wasted more aid in Pakistan than any other country in the world.
We believe our renewed bilateral partnership is helping promote stability in Pakistan.
Shhh: "drone" is a dirty word these days —: best not to mention all of them too explicitly.
It clearly communicates U.S. commitment to a long-term relationship that is supportive of Pakistan's interests, and underscores that we will not disengage from the region as we have in the past.
That's being rather frank about our tendency to screw over Pakistan, meaning we reap what we sow.
The review also highlights particular areas in our strategy for Pakistan that require adjustment... the denial of extremist safe havens cannot be achieved through military means alone, but must continue to be advanced by effective development strategies.
Ixnay on the "ationnay uildingbay."
In 2011, we must strengthen our dialogue with both Pakistan and Afghanistan on regional stability. Toward that end, Secretary Clinton plans to host foreign ministers from both countries in Washington... /
There you have it folks, "regional stability" means our new strategy involves both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Talk about a wide strategic lens! Oh, and speaking of Afghanistan...
As a result of our integrated efforts in 2010, we are setting the conditions to begin transition to Afghan security lead in early 2011 and to begin a responsible, conditions-based U.S. troop reduction in July 2011. Moreover, at the recent NATO Lisbon Summit, we forged a broad Afghan and international consensus, agreeing on a path to complete transition by the end of 2014...
Again, lipstick on a pig, as a modern political philosopher once opined. Afghanistan is, by general coalition acclaim, a good three years from being able to police itself, and yet Obama's sticking with the political fiction that troop withdrawals can commence next summer.
In Afghanistan, substantial international resources have been assembled from 49 allied and partner countries to implement a focused, integrated civilian-military approach...
The usual, boiler-plate bragging.
Progress is most evident in the gains Afghan and coalition forces are making in clearing the Taliban heartland of Kandahar and Helmand provinces...
Because we've focused most of our effort in those areas. Meanwhile, we've let the Taliban resurge everywhere else, apparently. It's true, but it's still cherry-picking.
The Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior, with help from the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, have exceeded ANSF growth targets...
Very true and very necessary, since desertion "targets" are also routinely exceeded.
While the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, these gains remain fragile and reversible...
"Much of the country" seems close to a falsehood. It would be more honest to say that we're winning wherever we concentrate our whack-a-mole strategy.
The purpose of women Marines in Afghanistan is to gain credibility with Afghan women. Without them, counterinsurgency is handicapped.
“How Women Will End the War in Afghanistan In search of peace in the war-torn nation, the Marine Corps has embedded one of the first all-female engagement teams. By Elise Jordan
It's 2 a.m. in the pitch dark of early morning on April 14, 2010, when four female Marines reach Patrol Base Jaker in the Nawa district of Helmand — a former Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, now tenuously calm. After an exhausting five-day journey flying from California's Camp Pendleton, the women have finally reached their home for the next six months. They're the first group of women ever to be stationed in Nawa.
"We honestly thought we were going to live in two-man tents, so we were pretty stoked to see barracks," Corporal Christina Oliver tells me when I arrive at the base two weeks later. Oliver, an opera-loving rookie from Sacramento who joined the Marines in 2008, celebrated her 25th birthday on the flight over.
The 200-square-foot wooden cabin they call home reminds me of summer camp lodges, with sleeping bags on top of board-stiff cots covered with mosquito nets. Thin, floor-to-ceiling plywood sheets create a makeshift divider to give the four women privacy from the 10 or more male Marines they bunk with. The group's leader, 29-year-old New Mexico native Sergeant Guadalupe Rodriguez — who was rejected by the Marines in 2004 after failing the shooting range test but was admitted when she reapplied two years later — convinced her commander to buy them a green nylon rug from Nawa's local bazaar to add some color.
Outside, their barracks are concrete sinks and showers, but the clean water supply is limited, so they often rinse off using bottled water. Near the sinks are the only mirrors at the outpost, but makeup is pointless — it'll smear immediately in the punishing 104-degree heat. "I miss my eyeliner and mascara," says Lance Corporal Angela Pacheco, 31, a former cheerleader from Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania, who left her job at a jewelry store to join the Marine Corps when she turned 30. "We're the first females ever to do this. It's a challenge," Reservist Corporal Heather Sample tells me. Sample, 22, a Southern California native, enlisted at 17 but left active duty for a year in 2009, frustrated that she was spending more time at a desk than in a combat zone.
These four women are part of the Marine's first organized effort to send all-female units, known as female-engagement teams, into Afghanistan. Women account for only 6 percent of all 205,000 Marines, notoriously the most male-dominated branch of the armed services. In 2009, General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan
, green-lit an idea from his southern Afghanistan command to focus on Afghan women as a way to win the war. As a result, these Marines — along with 36 others — were stationed in small groups throughout the Helmand province with the explicit mission of communicating with Afghan women. By custom, Afghan men won't let their wives and daughters talk to men they aren't related to, so for the last nine years that the U.S. has been on the ground, Afghan women have been largely excluded from the peace process.
"We need female counterinsurgents if we're going to have a shot at building credibility with the female population," says Matt Pottinger, a former Marine officer involved with developing the first engagement team. The program recognizes that Afghan women, who may appear invisible to the outside world, are quiet influencers in the community and often hold intel about local bomb makers and terrorist training camps. "I came back to active duty specifically for this mission — I wanted to make a difference," Sample says.
And the expectations are high for the women to do just that. Their assignment: Gather information on women's health issues and get clearance from Afghan elders to build a center where women can meet without male chaperones. The hope is that an initial peace offering of medical care could translate into an alliance.
The team stops at each home, asking through an interpreter if the patriarch will allow them to speak to the women who live there. "We don't see many women on the streets," says Pacheco. "And when we do see one, she's escorted by her brother or father or husband." Unlike cities such as Kabul, where Afghan women have gained limited freedoms under a post-Taliban regime, in remote, conservative provinces like this one, women rarely leave the house. "Women in Kabul may go out, but here in Nawa — better women, better Muslims," an Afghan man says when they ask to speak with his wife.
Ironically, the female Marines have a similar problem: As an attachment unit, they can't leave the base for their engagement expeditions unless they are with at least six male Marines. "When we step off this base, we have no idea what we're walking into," says Pacheco. On foot patrols through the bazaar, they encounter another threat: Afghan men. Wearing traditional salwar kameez outfits and embroidered prayer caps, the men encircle the four American women one afternoon when I'm with them, aggressively asking questions like, "Are you married? Do your husbands know you're out?" The men freely grab at their bodies. "The double standard is annoying," says Sample. "In America, I'd defend myself, but here I can't act on how I feel. I didn't expect to be so soft on them."”