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Aug 29th, 2009

In Southern Afghan City, Fears of Taliban Takeover

‘Alarming setback’ for Barack Obama’s war strategy

An Afghan man wounded by Tuesday’s car bomb explosions is seen on a bed at a hospital in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009. The Taliban on Wednesday denied any responsibility for a major bombing that killed at least 43 people and wounded 65 in the city just after dark Tuesday. (Photo credit: Allauddin Khan / AP)

Aug. 27, 2009

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Southern Afghanistan’s largest city, Kandahar, is slipping back under Taliban control as overstretched U.S. troops focus on clearing insurgents from the countryside — a potentially alarming setback for President Barack Obama’s war strategy. …

Losing Kandahar, a city of nearly 1 million and the Taliban’s former headquarters, would be a huge symbolic blow because it is effectively the capital of the ethnic Pashtun-dominated south, the main battlefield of the Afghan war.

It is difficult to measure the extent of Taliban control, and NATO officials publicly discount the possibility that Kandahar is about to fall to the militants.

Thousands of U.S. and Canadian troops are deployed throughout the province and around the city, which includes a major NATO base. NATO officials say the U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan will enable them to send more troops into Kandahar. …

Nevertheless, many Afghans believe more Taliban forces are operating clandestinely in the city, while the Islamist movement tightens its grip on districts just outside the urban center. …

Full report


AfPakWar Court

The Washington Post
The AfPak War

Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan


U.S. Toll Hits Monthly High in Afghanistan

45th death makes August deadliest month in eight-year war

Deadliest month ever for U.S. GIs in Afghanistan (NBC Nightly News, Aug. 28, 2009) — At least 45 American troops have been killed so far this month in Afghanistan, a record in the eight-year war. NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel reports on what is causing the uptick in casualties. (01:47)

Aug. 28, 2009

KABUL — An American service member died in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Friday, making August the deadliest month of the eight-year war for U.S. forces, the U.S. military said. …

The death brought to 45 the number of U.S. troops who died in Afghanistan this month, meaning August surpassed July as the deadliest of the conflict.

Afghan-U.S. strains

Earlier Friday, President Hamid Karzai angrily accused the U.S. of pushing for a runoff in the Afghan presidential election during a heated meeting with the special envoy to the region, officials familiar with the encounter said Friday.

The reported exchange was another sign of strains between the U.S. and Afghan authorities. …

Strains in U.S.-Afghan relations emerged after President Barack Obama’s administration took office this year. Karzai enjoyed close ties with the Bush administration, which helped propel him to power after the collapse of the Taliban government in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Running mate linked to drug trade?

In another sign of strain, The New York Times reported this week that the Obama administration is alarmed at the prospect that Karzai’s running mate, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, may be linked to the drug trade. …

Relations between the Americans and Afghans have also been strained by the U.S. policy of detaining suspected insurgents without charge and killing civilians in military operations. The new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has issued new orders sharply limiting use of airstrikes and encouraging U.S. troops to protect civilians. …



Time to Get Out of Afghanistan

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Sept. 1, 2009

“Yesterday,” reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, “I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine’s] pressure plate and lost both legs.” Then “another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning.”

“I’m sorry about the drama,” writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die “so that each of you may grow old.” He says: “I put everything in God’s hands.” And: “Semper Fi!”

Allen and others of America’s finest are also in Washington’s hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America’s involvement in Afghanistan, where, says the Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province, walking through the region is “like walking through the Old Testament.”

U.S. strategy — protecting the population — is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about “deteriorating” (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

The U.S. strategy is “clear, hold and build.” Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country — “control” is an elastic concept — and “‘our’ Afghans may prove no more viable than were ‘our’ Vietnamese, the Saigon regime.”

Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only “police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for ‘vacation.'”

Afghanistan’s $23 billion gross domestic product is the size of Boise’s. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan’s poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan’s recent elections were called “crucial.” To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American “success,” whatever that might mean.

Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a “renewal of trust” of the Afghan people in the government, but the Economist describes President Hamid Karzai’s government — his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker — as so “inept, corrupt and predatory” that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, “who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.”

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan’s “culture of poverty.” But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many “accidental guerrillas” to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases — evidently there are none now — must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen’s, is squandered.

For more debate on U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, read William Kristol’s No Will, No Way and Topic A: A War Worth Fighting?


Obama Weighs Afghan Report with 5 Measures


22 killed in Afghan suicide bombing (NBC Nightly News, Sept. 2, 2009) — A massive suicide bombing killed at least 22 people, including Afghanistan’s number-two intelligence officer known as an expert on Al Qaeda. NBC’s Brian Williams reports. (00:12)

Sept. 2, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is weighing an expected request for more U.S. troops against concerns that an expanded American presence could be perceived by Afghan civilians as an occupation army and not a liberating force battling a determined and bloody Taliban resurgence. …

The troop recommendations are expected to come in the next several weeks, following a wide-ranging review of the war and civilian efforts that arrived Monday from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Five measures

[A] senior White House official, speaking anonymously to detail Obama’s thinking, said the concern about how Afghans, Americans and NATO allies would view a troop increase was part of five broad measurements the president was applying to the assessment and an expected request for more troops. The other concerns, the official said, are:

  • How force size changes might be countered by al-Qaida propaganda and tactics.
  • What impact any change would have on neighboring and nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the al-Qaida leadership — including Osama bin Laden — are believed hiding along the rugged, mountainous border.
  • The effect on the “health” of U.S. forces, already strained from repeated deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • How more forces effectively would propel Obama’s goal of denying al-Qaida and its Taliban allies safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

By the end of the process, the overall request for additional forces could be relatively small – perhaps below a standing request for 10,000 additional troops that McChrystal’s predecessor left behind. …

Support for war fading

Whatever Obama decides, he’s facing vexing problems on a signature foreign policy and security issue and growing opposition at home.

Polling shows Americans increasingly against deeper involvement in the war if not in outright opposition to its continuation, even among his liberal Democratic base. With troop deaths at a record level last month as the war approaches the end of its eighth year, Americans are impatient and war-weary.

And U.S. resources, badly crimped by the economic downturn and vast federal spending to prop up the U.S. financial system, are desperately needed for other major projects that Obama has promised — like an overhaul of the U.S. health care system.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago Today — August 29, 2008

On the Campaign Trail: Day 46

One year ago today, on the 46th day of my campaign against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination as House of Representatives candidate in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my campaign focus on national security issues I addressed the role of the Iraq war in empowering Iran and noted links between the Iraqi government and Iran.

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