Afghan Afar Up Close

January 24, 2009

afghan One building agenda-item in President Obama’s gnarly smorgasbord of agenda-items is the dangerous, weird-ass situation in Afghanistan.
Despite new supply routes to bypass nasty Pakistan, the US presence in country is about to strike another, harder chord.

Pakistan, however, still remains front and center.
And Obama is apparently staying the course, okaying a drone attack inside Pakistan today, reportedly killing 15 people, including three children.

(Illustration found here).

And from the Washington Post online this evening (set for print tomorrow):

  • The shaky Pakistani government of Asif Ali Zardari has expressed hopes for warm relations with Obama, but members of Obama’s new national security team have already telegraphed their intention to make firmer demands of Islamabad than the Bush administration, and to back up those demands with a threatened curtailment of the plentiful military aid that has been at the heart of U.S.-Pakistani ties for the past three decades.

    It remained unclear yesterday whether Obama personally authorized the strike or was involved in its final planning, but military officials have previously said the White House is routinely briefed about such attacks in advance.
    At his daily White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to answer questions about the strikes, saying, “I’m not going to get into these matters.”
    Obama convened his first National Security Council meeting on Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday afternoon, after the strike.

Even Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state, didn’t pull her punches either during confirmation hearings.

  • In blunt terms in her written answers to the committee’s questions, Clinton pledged that Washington will “condition” future U.S. military aid on Pakistan’s efforts to close down terrorist training camps and evict foreign fighters.
    She also demanded that Pakistan “prevent” the continued use of its historically lawless northern territories as a sanctuary by either the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
    And she promised that Washington would provide all the support Pakistan needs if it specifically goes after targets such as Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be using Pakistani mountains as a hideout.

What bothers is the strategy — what’s happening here?
Don’t tell me Obama is going with the disaster George Jr.started and couldn’t finish.
From McClatchy this afternoon:

  • The deteriorating relationship between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his foreign allies, however, is only one of myriad obstacles that Obama and his just-named special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, are confronting in Afghanistan, Obama on Thursday called “the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.”

Central front? Front line? George Jr. is still lurking about.

  • Although the Taliban, al Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups remain active along the remote border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Bush administration failed to develop a coherent strategy to coordinate security operations in Afghanistan with international efforts to improve governance and provide schools, roads and other infrastructure.
    U.S. commanders, however, say they don’t have enough troops to execute such a strategy, and Obama has embraced a call for another 30,000 U.S. troops.
    Senior U.S. military officials, however, say that increase is probably insufficient for Afghanistan, which is twice the size of Iraq, and they say they lack answers to basic questions, such as what realistically can be achieved in the next three to five years.

And although the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, reportedly said last fall an “Iraq-style” surge won’t work in Afghanistan, Obama plans to dispatch 30,00 more US GIs into the country within the next 90 days — another surge by any other name.
The tactic of covert operations, such as all those drone missions, is bound to fail as the real tie-breaker came with the Iraqi invasion near six years ago, changing the attitude of Pakistan, and hence creating the current knot-like situation.

Although Obama’s pick of Richard Holbrooke should send a fairly-strong warning to Hamid Karzai about the future, the US will encounter enormous difficulties in country and must first settle on a overall, workable strategy — apparently from all indications, beyond the additional troops and related resources, there’s not much: “They are picking up after a period in which the Bush administration was very ambitious in rhetoric and not at all ambitious in resource,” CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey tells “And now, the question is, how do they intend to square that?”

Or the US will end up back at square one.

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