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Oct 7th, 2009

Afghanistan: Where do we stand? (NBC Nightly News, Oct. 7, 2009) — At the eight-year mark of the war in Afghanistan, there are more U.S. troops deployed than ever before, 869 troops have died and an estimated $300 billion has been spent in pursuit of a man who continues to elude the might of the American military. (06:07)

Obama Gets Commander’s Afghan Troop Request

President gathers advisers to decide course of increasingly unpopular war

October 7, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has received a copy of the request for more troops in Afghanistan from the commander of the war there, the Pentagon said Wednesday. …

Details of the document have not been officially released, but officials have said privately that Gen. Stanley McChrystal asked for up to 40,000 more troops.

Obama was gathering his national security team for another strategy session Wednesday after signaling that a troop withdrawal is not under consideration. His White House session comes eight years after the war started and amid new poll statistics showing that support for the conflict in this country is waning.

Obama, who inherited the war when he took office last January, is examining how to proceed with a worsening combat situation that has claimed nearly 800 U.S. lives and sapped American patience. Launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to defeat the Taliban and rid al-Qaida of a home base, the war has lasted longer than ever envisioned. …

Public support for the war now stands at 40 percent, down from 44 percent in July, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. A total of 69 percent of self-described Republicans in the poll favor sending more troops, while 57 percent of self-described Democrats oppose it.

Obama said the war would not be reduced to a narrowly defined counterterrorism effort, with the withdrawal of many U.S. forces and an emphasis on special operations forces that target terrorists in the dangerous border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. …

The president did not show his hand on troop increases. His top commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal, has warned that more troops are needed to right the war, perhaps up to 40,000 more. Obama has already added 21,000 troops this year, raising the total to 68,000. …

Mission strategy ‘up in the air’ (MSNBC, Oct. 7, 2009) – The military mission in Afghanistan is under scrutiny as President Barack Obama gathers his national security team for another strategy session. NBC correspondent Richard Engel and MSNBC military expert Col. Jack Jacobs discuss. (05:05)

Obama may be considering a more modest building of troops — closer to 10,000 than 40,000 — according to Republican and Democratic congressional aides. …

The president insisted that he will make a decision on troops after settling on the strategy ahead. He told lawmakers he will be deliberate yet show urgency. …

What’s clear is that the mission in Afghanistan is not changing. Obama said his focus is to keep al-Qaida terrorists from having a base from which to launch attacks on the U.S. or its allies. …

McCain: ‘Half-measures’

The president made clear he would not “double down” in Afghanistan and build up U.S. forces into the hundreds of thousands, just as he ruled out withdrawing forces and focusing on a narrow counterterrorism strategy. “Half-measures is what I worry about,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters.

He said Obama should follow recommendations from those in uniform and dispatch thousands of more troops to the country — similar to what President George W. Bush did during the 2008 troop “surge” in Iraq. …

Full story


Why a Surge is Not a Sure Thing in Afghanistan

Image: Soldiers from the U.S. Army on patrol in Afghanistan
Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Charlie troop, 371 Cavalry, 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) based in Fort Drum, New York, patrol in Kherwar district in Logar province on Oct. 4, 2009. (Photo credit: Nikola Solic / Reuters)

Analysis by Richard Engel
NBC News chief foreign correspondent
October 7, 2009

Richard Engel
Chief foreign correspondent

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. policy in Afghanistan is clearly at a crossroads. The war is getting more deadly. The Taliban are moving into new areas outside their traditional strongholds in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Militant groups are trying to overrun American outposts. This summers presidential election was marred by widespread allegations of fraud.

Comparisons are being made to Vietnam, and some American generals and policy makers are looking to Iraq for solutions.

The top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommends a troop surge similar to the one in Iraq two years ago. It worked in Iraq, the thinking goes. The military hopes it will work again.

But will it? A comparison of the two countries suggests a surge in Afghanistan may give U.S. forces here, stretched thin already, some badly needed short term relief, but may not be enough to turn the tide of the war.

Full story

See Richard Engel’s documentary about the war in Afghanistan, “The Tip of the Spear” on MSNBC this Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009 at 8 p.m. ET.


Taliban Say They’re No Threat to Other Countries

8 years after U.S. invasion, insurgent group says ready for ‘prolonged war’

Image: Afghan tribal leaders and district officials
Afghan tribal leaders and district officials drink tea during a dialogue session with U.S. Lt. Col. William Clark, background right, at Camp Costell, in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009. Clark, commander of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, pledged economic and security assistance to the local leaders as part of the strategy to defeat the Taliban. (Photo credit: Romeo Gacad / AFP — Getty Images)

October 7, 2009

KABUL — Afghanistan’s insurgent Taliban marked the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion Wednesday saying they have no “agenda” to harm other countries but would continue fighting as long as America and its allies remain in the troubled nation.

The Taliban insistence that it would pose no threat to other countries appeared aimed at countering suspicions that the Islamist movement would support al-Qaida’s global jihad if they returned to power. Supporters of the war fear that al-Qaida would regain its once-dominant position in Afghanistan if the Taliban topple the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

In an Internet statement Wednesday obtained by the SITE Institute, a U.S. group that monitors terror messages, the Taliban said their goal was “independence and establishment of an Islamic system.”

“We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor we have such agenda today,” the group said. “Still, if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war.”

War enters ninth year

The statement came on the anniversary of the U.S. invasion that ousted the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. U.S. forces first launched airstrikes into Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after al-Qaida carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington and New York.

U.S. troops, with help from Northern Alliance militia members from Afghanistan’s north, quickly pushed the Taliban out of Kabul and their southern stronghold in Kandahar, leading some U.S. officials to declare the Afghan fight a quick and easy victory.

But that original military success has turned into an increasingly violent counterinsurgency fight in recent years.

An unprecedented number of U.S. troops — about 65,000 — are in Afghanistan today, along with 40,000 more forces from other NATO countries.

The Taliban called on foreign forces to leave, an unlikely event despite heated debate in the U.S. over how to quell the conflict. …

Civilian deaths spike

A U.N. report issued last month said August was the deadliest month of 2009 for civilians because of violence from the insurgency. A total of 1,500 civilians died in Afghanistan between January and August, up from 1,145 in the same period of 2008. About 68 percent of the deaths were caused by the insurgents, the report said. …

Full story


Insurgents Breached Base During Afghan Battle

The Associated Press and Reuters via
October 7, 2009

KABUL — Insurgents fought their way inside an American base in Afghanistan last weekend in a rare security breach before they were driven back under heavy fire during the deadliest battle for U.S. troops in more than a year, a U.S. official said Wednesday.

The bold assault raised serious questions about the security of thinly manned outposts spread across the troubled nation’s volatile border region with Pakistan, and reflects growing insurgent resolve. …

Saturday’s nearly six-hour battle in mountainous Kamdesh district of Nuristan province, near the eastern border with Pakistan, left eight American and three Afghan soldiers dead — one of the heaviest U.S. losses of life in a single battle since the war began. …

Read full battle report


10/11/09 Update

Afghan Outlook Bleak as Taliban Grabs Territory

Image: U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division
U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, cajole an Afghan donkey to carry supplies to their mountaintop post in southern Afghanistan, in 2006. (Phot0 credit: Rodrigo Abd / AP file)

Analysis by Jason Straziuso

October 11, 2009

KABUL — My closest Afghan friend held out his Taliban-era photo. A decade younger, he had a thick black beard that the oppressive regime forced men to grow.

My friend won’t grow one again. He is already thinking about when to flee.

As generals, politicians and pundits in Washington debate the next best step for America’s eight-year war in Afghanistan, the Taliban takes new territory by the day, despite the record 64,000 U.S. troops here.

I arrived in Afghanistan in spring 2006, just as violence began to explode. I leave after three years as the chief correspondent for The Associated Press, and never have things seemed so ominous. As one of America’s top military analysts, Anthony Cordesman, says: The U.S. “is now decisively losing.”

No one thinks Kabul will fall while American forces are here. But even top U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s latest assessment says that without reversing insurgent momentum in the next 12 months, defeating the insurgency will no longer be possible.

The quiet truth whispered by soldiers in the field and aid workers in Kabul is that the Afghan government is not likely to ever control southern Afghanistan’s wildlands, the foreboding territory beyond the provincial capitals.

Villagers fear thieving police more than militants, and the August presidential election laid bare how pervasive corruption is here. The Taliban is playing to the general disgust with corruption by offering itself as an alternative.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a large man with a woolly black beard, once served as the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan. He always greets me with a smile and seems an unlikely representative for a hardline regime. He uses an iPhone — though his grandson recently broke it.

Zaeef is a conduit between the Afghan government and Mullah Omar’s Taliban. Zaeef told me the militant leadership refers to its forces not as Taliban now, but as “mujahedeen,” a throwback to the Afghan “holy warriors” who ousted the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s. The reason is that only one out of 10 militant fighters is a true “Taliban.” The rest are ordinary Afghans, Zaeef said.

Is U.S. shift too late?

That bodes extremely ill for U.S. and NATO efforts.

“Every day you are killing people. Dozens of people. They have brothers, they have fathers, they have sons,” Zaeef said. “The Taliban are my brothers, the Taliban are my sons. The Taliban are my cousins. They are not different from us. They did not come from the sky. They did not come from another Earth. They are all from Afghanistan.”

McChrystal wants to shift the fight from killing militants to protecting the population. But the U.S. is now eight years into the fight, and there are signs — the spreading of the insurgency to the north, rising U.S. deaths — that it could be too late.

McChrystal knows the issue of civilian deaths caused by U.S. forces has turned many Afghans against the West. I witnessed my first such deaths in the summer of 2006, when I shadowed Lt. Will Felder and his platoon on a night-time helicopter invasion of Helmand province’s Baghran valley.

Felder, a West Point graduate who left the Army in June after fulfilling his five-year commitment, battled in Helmand, Kandahar and Paktika provinces. He is frank about his time here.

“The things that we were able to accomplish tactically obviously were useless. You can pretty much point to every area we gained, to any sort of tactical success, and in the intervening years those areas have been lost and gained tactically many times,” Felder told me from Atlanta, where he is a first-year law student. …

Slow to realize Taliban’s comeback

The U.S. was also slow to identify the Taliban comeback for what it was. A top U.S. military official in Kabul told me that for too many years the rising violence here was mistakenly seen as a rise in crime, the drug trade and corruption. Instead, he said, it was the beginning of an insurgency against the government.

The Taliban’s leaders, and their al-Qaida partners in Pakistan, decided to make a stand, “to fight the West,” the official said.

Now, the harsh social rules that Taliban imposed under their reign in the 1990s have already returned — or never left — in many of Afghanistan’s hinterlands, like rural Helmand. Women can’t leave the house unaccompanied. Music and movies are banned. Beards are mandated.

As Washington debates whether to send 10,000, 20,000 or 40,000 more forces, it’s worth remembering that a former top commander here, U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, said in an interview with NPR last summer that “well over 400,000” troops are needed to tame the country. He then called it “an absurd figure,” because Afghanistan will never see that many troops. U.S. and NATO forces now number 100,000. The Afghan army has 90,000.

After eight years, fewer Americans than ever support the war. More troops would mean more forces driving over increasingly lethal roadside bombs.

There is little domestic support for the decades of work Afghanistan requires. That’s why, Zaeef told me, Taliban leaders, militant commanders and ordinary Afghans are already laying the groundwork to prevent another civil war when the U.S. and NATO draw down. …

Peace talks between the Taliban and President Hamid Karzai’s government in Saudi Arabia last year went nowhere, said Zaeef, who took part in the failed attempt. U.S. officials say talks are unlikely now that the Taliban has the upper hand.

Widely rigged election

The latest fiasco — the Aug. 20 election — was so widely rigged that it will take months of investigations to declare a winner. Worse yet, the fraud has shown the world precisely how crooked the Afghan government is, bringing the most salient question to the fore: Do American families want their sons and daughters to die to defend it?

Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, recently told AP that McChrystal is trying his best to succeed, but that “at this stage it will be very difficult for him to change the direction” of the war.

“The more troops you bring the more troubles you will have here,” said Kabulov, who knows from the experience of the Soviets, who were defeated bitterly in Afghanistan more than two decades ago. …

A best-case scenario for the country is that the U.S. and NATO train enough Afghan soldiers to protect the provincial capitals, and the U.S. maintains a small counterterrorism force to watch over al-Qaida and Pakistan. The wild hinterlands will be left for the Taliban.

But Zaeef believes the Taliban will rule again one day, though they may not be able to take Kabul by force. How long will America stay? As the Taliban likes to say: “The Americans have the watches, but the Taliban has the time.” …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 7, 2008

After the Primary Election: Day 28

One year ago today, on the 28th day after losing my 2008 primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my focus on national security, I examined the differences between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain with respect to handling the war in Iraq.

9 Responses to “Afghanistan: The 8-Year War”
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