Obama Faces the Key Afghan War Myth


My latest from TIME.com:

President Obama’s plain-speaking Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, on Nov. 12 summed up the Administration’s Afghan dilemma in a single question: “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?” The fact that there’s no good answer explains the Administration’s hesitation in committing more troops to the fight. Indeed, the objectives cited by Gates may function at cross-purposes.

Signaling America’s resolve to prevail is essential, as Gates notes, because as long as Afghans and others in the region believe the U.S. military’s presence in Afghanistan is finite, they’ll hedge their bets. And hedged bets right now work in the Taliban’s favor because, as General Stanley McChrystal has warned, it is the insurgents who have the momentum.

The Taliban knows that time is the indispensable ally of the indigenous insurgent facing a foreign army… Given the limits of U.S. control on the ground and the expectation that, sooner or later, like the Russians, the Americans will leave, many ordinary Afghans see little incentive to risk their lives in supporting the U.S. mission.
The calculations of ordinary Afghans could change, of course, if they believed the U.S. was there to stay and had the will and capability to prevail. But, as Gates also notes, the U.S. military is not in Afghanistan to stay, and Obama is under growing domestic political pressure to find an exit strategy from a costly war whose importance to U.S. national security has grown murky.

The simple answer to the Administration’s dilemma, in the minds of many in Washington, is to train and equip Afghans to do the job themselves. Obama reportedly rejected all four options offered by his national-security staff on Nov. 11 … because they failed to make clear how and when responsibility for the war would be transferred to Afghan forces. By doing so, Obama may have pointed to the elephant in the room. On present indications, the Afghan forces are unlikely anytime in the near future to be ready and willing to take over the fight against the Taliban.

Read the whole thing here

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9 Responses to Obama Faces the Key Afghan War Myth

  1. Pat S. says:

    Hey T,

    Any idea if there is even a least-worst option here? What about the feasibility of Biden’s “pull out the main army and keep the special forces on alert” strategy?

  2. empty says:

    The least-worst option is to ask for help from Afghanistan’s neighbors including Iran and China. The countries whose interests are at stake in Afghanistan are Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and India. Its not NATO but SCO that can provide the US an exit strategy. But a move in that direction would require more courage than Obama has shown he possesses.

  3. Charles Molesworth says:

    “The desertion rate of troops trained in the ANA stands at 20% — and is reportedly even higher among forces deployed in combat. Afghan field officers are in short supply, and the top echelon of the officer corps is dominated by ethnic Tajiks who are often viewed with suspicion by Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group and the one in which the Taliban is based. And the recent killing of five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman they had been mentoring, who then ran off to join the Taliban, highlights the risk of infiltration…”
    This description of the Afghan army (from later in Tony Karon’s piece) seemingly leads to a counsel of despair. Yet the description is hard to argue against. Why, indeed, should Afghans kill Taliban and Al Qaeda outside of America’s “war on terror”? Won’t the terrorists melt away and regroup until they eventually force their way onto the Afghan state?And why should we expect a tribal, pre-industrial people to help us hunt down our enemies? Perhaps if we left the country immediately the Afghans could come to some sort of resolution of their own strife – at great cost, to be sure, but would it be any higher than what will be paid if we continue our presence there? Our military adventurism will remain inconclusive and destructive until we can imagine & foster a country called Afghanistan that doesn’t answer to our needs and our “national security interests.”

  4. eurail pass says:

    The taliban are biding their time – they know as soon as allied forces leave, Afghanistan will one again fall ionto more infighting and war – this is how it’s been for the past 100 years.

  5. Afghan state?And why should we expect a tribal, pre-industrial people to help us hunt down our enemies? Perhaps if we left the country immediately the Afghans could come to some sort of resolution of their own strife – at great cost, to be sure, but would it be any higher than what will be paid if we continue our presence there?

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  8. the Afghans could come to some sort of resolution of their own strife – at great cost, to be sure, but would it be any higher than what will be paid if we continue our presence there? Our military adventurism will remain inconclusive and destructive until we can imagine & foster a country called Afghanistan that doesn’t answer to our needs and our

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