Lonely Afghan Dilemma — Obama’s Daymare

February 6, 2009

Pronunciation: \ˈdā-ˌma(ə)r, -ˌme(ə)r\
Function: noun
: a nightmarish fantasy experienced while awake

(Illustration of the Darul Aman palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, found here).

Afghanistan is one lonely country, and apparently so, becoming more lonely with each passing day.
Down through history, the Afghan motif has been the graveyard of empires, and right now it’s the US turn at bat, with a strikeout nearly guaranteed.
Milton Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989 (and author of the above-linked story), noted ominously in an interview last summer with Harper’s that half the fun is always in the leaving:

  • “The first rule of insurgency warfare is that it’s always easier to be on the side of the insurgents,” he told me during a phone conversation this morning.
    “Everyone goes into Afghanistan fine, the problem is getting out.”

So now President Obama is in a dilemma — face history and attempt to bend it (Yeah! Right!) or do something else — and the biggest obstacle is lack of any kind of strategy.
There’s no plans yet put together to get out of the Afghan mess.

  • According to military officials during last week’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon’s “tank,” the president specifically asked, “What is the end game?” in the U.S. military’s strategy for Afghanistan.
    When asked what the answer was, one military official told NBC News, “Frankly, we don’t have one.” But they’re working on it.

These boys have only had seven years to figure this shit out.

Yesterday, according to Reuters, Obama told US House Democrats during a short, private session at a retreat in the Virginia woods that Afghanistan could not be won by military might alone, but “needs a clear mission” and a key danger for U.S. forces is “mission creep without clear parameters.”
Obama is dispatching Joe Biden to Munich this weekend for a big security conference there and reportedly will match wits with the Russians, who apparently nudged Kyrgyzstan to close Manas Air Base, the major US supply route from the north into Afghanistan.
And so it’s up to jolting Joe:

  • Now, a speech that Mr. Biden is scheduled to deliver Saturday before leaders and defense officials from Europe and Asia will be watched closely to determine what tack America’s fledgling leadership will take regarding Russia.

And with the Russians, go Afghanistan.

Also yesterday, Defense Chief Bob Gates will hold off dispatching additional troops to Afghanistan until Obama has a clear plan on what to do there — which could take some time.
Three additional combat brigades or 17,000 troops were to be immediately sent into the failing war, with upwards of about 30,000 total of new GIs in country by summer’s end.
What now?

  • Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told ABC News that he disputed the idea that today’s non-decision amounted to a delay in the decision-making process.
    “The decision-making process is still ongoing,” Morrell said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as a delay. There is no prescribed timeline for the commander in chief to make decisions about adding more forces to Afghanistan in the near term, and that decision, whenever it comes, does not hinge on the completion of the Afghan strategy review.”

One indication of what’s to happen can be seen with a glance at Russia’s little foray into Afghanistan in the 1980s — once in, the old USSR found it hard to get out.
This commentary from Reuters:

  • The Soviet and American wars in Afghanistan differ vastly in scale and purpose. Moscow wanted to prop up a Marxist government and at the height of its involvement, had a 115,000-strong force in the country. More than 600,000 of its soldiers served there and the invasion drew international condemnation, complete with a (partial) Western boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow.
    In contrast, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was in retaliation to the mass murder of 3,000 people in New York’s World Trade Center and at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. That attack was carried out by members of al Qaeda, which had been given support and safe haven by the Taliban government of Afghanistan.
    The American assault on Afghanistan initially dislodged the Taliban but failed to destroy al Qaeda or eliminate its leader, Osama bin Laden, whom George W. Bush had promised to catch “dead or alive.” Even with a $25 million bounty on his head, bin Laden has eluded capture and broadcast a new audio tape just a week before Obama’s inauguration on January 20.

    Another complicating factor: Afghans don’t like outsiders to interfere in their affairs as successive invaders, from Alexander the Great to the British and later the Soviets, learned at great cost. In his memoir (From the Shadows, 1996), Gates hails the departure of the Soviets as a great victory and adds: “Afghanistan was at last free of the foreign invader.”

Famous very-last words.

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