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Oct 3rd, 2009

President Obama, Gen. McChrystal Meet on Air Force One

Strategy review prompted in part by Afghanistan commander’s critical assessment of war effort

Image: Obama and McChrystal meet aboard Air Force One
President Barack Obama meets with Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, aboard Air Force One on Friday, Oct. 2, 2009. (Photo credit: Pete Souza / The White House)

October 2, 2009

COPENHAGEN — At a pivotal point in the administration’s Afghanistan strategy, President Barack Obama and his top Afghan war commander met privately aboard Air Force One on Friday for a talk the White House described as productive.

The 25-minute meeting with Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, aboard Air Force One as it waited to carry the president home from Denmark, gave Obama a chance to step outside the circle of advisers he has convened to study the problem of Afghanistan. His war council has been sharing differing opinions on whether the U.S. should send thousands more troops to tamp down the Taliban, or shift to a narrower focus on al-Qaida in neighboring Pakistan. …

Request for more troops

At issue is Obama’s looming decision to stick with the current mission in Afghanistan — which could require adding as many as 40,000 additional U.S. troops — or scale back the military option and expand operations targeting terrorists in Pakistan. …

The meeting was the third conversation between the two since McChrystal disclosed in a television interview that aired Sunday that he had spoken with Obama only once since taking over the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. Obama tapped McChrystal in May to replace ousted Gen. David McKiernan. …

Waning support

The president had long been expected to approve McChrystal’s plan to mount a military push against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But waning public support for the war and concern about his top commanders’ call for as many as 40,000 more U.S. troops has exposed emerging fault lines inside the White House. …

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and special Afghan and Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke appeared to be leaning toward supporting a troop increase, while White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, appeared to be skeptical of troop increases. Vice President Joe Biden also has been reluctant to support sending more troops, favoring a strategy that directly targets al-Qaida fighters who are believed to be hiding in Pakistan. …

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both support McChrystal’s strategy.

Full story



In Anbar, U.S.-Allied Tribal Chiefs Feel Deep Sense of Abandonment

By Anthony Shadid
The Washington Post
October 3, 2009


Nowhere is the U.S. departure from Iraq more visible than in Anbar, where the 27 bases and outposts less than a year ago have dwindled to three today. Far less money is being spent. Since November, more than two-thirds of combat troops have departed. In their wake is a blend of cynicism and bitterness, frustration and fear among many of the tribal leaders who fought with the troops against the insurgents, a tableau of emotion that may color the American legacy in a region that has stood as the U.S. military’s single greatest success in the war. …

[Tribal leaders] want funds to keep flowing in a region that, more than any other part of Iraq, appears wedded to kleptocracy.

“The Americans never understood Iraqi society,” [said Sheik Hamid al-Hais,] sitting in his diwan with a plaque from the U.S. military that reads, “Allies in battle, friends in peace.” …

The American project here was always infused with contradictions. Iraq was never as sovereign as U.S. officials insisted, never as secure as the military proclaimed. The United States called itself a partner, even as it presided over the destruction of the country’s fabric. In Anbar, it proclaims a return to normalcy, amid a withdrawal it deems responsible, in a land that will long bear its mark. …

“The Americans took what they wanted from them and left them behind. You can’t do that in Iraq,” said Col. Mahmoud al-Issawi, Fallujah’s police chief. “It’s shameful to the worst degree. It’s not just shameful, it’s actually a huge scandal.” …

Full story


10/8/09 Update

After Six Years, ‘We’re Worthless’

Image: U.S. Army soldiers prepare to redeploy
U.S. Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment prepared in August to leave Iraq. The U.S. withdrawal began in earnest in June 2009, as troops pulled out of cities. All U.S. combat troops are to leave the country by August 2010. (Photo credit: Hamza Hendawi / Associated Press)

By Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post
October 8, 2009


BAGHDAD — Weeks after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, as parts of the capital were still smoldering, American soldiers and diplomats turned to men like Hassan Shama and Omar Rahman Rahmani in their quest to plant the seeds of representative democracy. …

[Neighborhood advisory council] members were among the U.S. military’s staunchest allies. They provided information about extremists, offered insight into Iraqi society and gave American-imposed security measures a veneer of Iraqi legitimacy.

As U.S. troops have sharply disengaged from Baghdad in recent months, local representatives say they are feeling powerless and abandoned. The Iraqi government has taken no steps to hold elections for the councils, and the Baghdad provincial council is culling them of members it deems unqualified or unfit for service.

The looming demise of the local councils — at least as the Americans established them — is an ominous sign of the brand of democracy that is likely to reign in Iraq as the Americans depart, council members say. They worry that constituents will no longer have grass-roots representation and that power will become far more centralized in the hands of a few.

Council members, who in recent years became top targets of insurgents, are among a growing number of Iraqis who feel that the impending American pullout will leave them exposed and helpless.

“I never expected we’d come to this point,” said Shama, the head of the Sadr City District Council. “The U.S. Army and the U.S. Embassy have abandoned us. After six years of very hard work, we’re worthless. They call us agents, spies for the Americans.” …

The nine district and more than 100 neighborhood advisory councils were formed hastily at a time when the Iraqi government and its security forces were dismantled or paralyzed.

Rahmani visited the Bush White House last year as part of a delegation of local Iraqi politicians. When he got his turn to shake George W. Bush’s hand, he said, he told the president that democracy in Iraq was not taking root.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and the Baghdad provincial council, also led by Shiites, seemed uninterested in working with the local councils, Rahmani said he told Bush.

“Every party is working in Saddam’s shadow,” Rahmani said, referring to ousted president Saddam Hussein. “Everyone wants to be a Saddam. Everyone wants power in their own hands.” …

Shama said he wants political asylum in the United States. Sitting behind his wooden desk in the U.S.-rehabilitated council building, he said he has no hope that Iraqi troops will keep the peace when the Americans pull out.

“Right now, the militias are waiting behind the wall,” he said. “When they know the U.S. is out of the city, they will come back and eat the Iraqi army alive.”

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 3, 2008

After the Primary Election: Day 24

One year ago today, on the 24th 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 reported that the U.N. had declared the Pakistani capital of Islamabad unsafe for the children of its international staff, putting the once tranquil city on par with the capitals of Afghanistan and Somalia. In a troubling development paralleling events in Afghanistan today, one year later, I also reported that the then U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, had appealed to President Bush for more troops to stem the deteriorating security situation in that country.


U.S. commander says more troops needed in Afghanistan (MSNBC, Oct. 1, 2008) — The top American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, says he needs more troops and other aid “as quickly as possible” in a counterinsurgency battle that could get worse before it gets better. Dara Brown reports. (01:02)

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