As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, January 23, 2009

No Escalation?

With continued criticism in both online and op-ed circles about the proposed escalation in Afghanistan, I'm sensing a bit of pullback from the Obama Administration on the issue. While in other areas he has moved swiftly to implement his campaign promises, on Afghanistan I think there's an approach of listening and questioning. For instance, Bob Gates would not commit to a decision on the matter:

Dreyfuss: During the campaign, President Obama said that he would, when elected, send perhaps two to three additional brigades of troops to Afghanistan. Lately, actually since the election, we've heard talk about as many as 30,000 troops -- significantly more than that -- going to Afghanistan. Have any decisions been actually made, pending this review that the president has talked about, in terms of how many American forces might go to Afghanistan this year?

Gates: No final decision has been made. Part of -- part of what the president made clear was that they intend to look at Iraq and Afghanistan holistically. And so I think part of the -- one of the things that the president will expect before making decisions is what the implications are not just for Iraq, but for Afghanistan. And I expect, as I say that, to be part of those decisions to be forthcoming pretty soon.

Do you want to add anything to that?

Mullen: I -- I really wouldn't add a lot except to say that these are the level of forces that the commander has asked for. So again, we've looked very carefully at how to do that. There have been some recommendations that have been made up the chain of command, but no decisions yet.

And consistent with what I said before, I think a very deliberate process now, but rapid as it can be, to both recommend and have the president make this decision -- these decisions.

I'm much better with that than with the idea of putting 30,000 troops into Afghanistan and THEN figuring out what to do with them. In addition, Obama is reassessing our relationship with the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government.

Barack Obama's arrival in the White House and the wind of change sweeping through Washington could lead to the ousting from power of Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, The Independent has learnt.

International support for Mr Karzai, who was once the darling of the West, has waned spectacularly, amid worsening violence, endemic corruption and weak leadership. But until very recently, diplomats insisted there were no viable alternatives even as fighting has intensified and the Taliban insurgency in the south has grown. But four key figures believed to be challenging Mr Karzai have arrived in Washington for meetings with Obama administration officials this week. There is now talk of a "dream ticket" that would see the main challengers run together to unite the country's various ethnic groups and wrest control away from Mr Karzai.

"The Americans aren't going to determine the outcome of the election, but they could suggest to people they put their differences aside and form a dream ticket," said a senior US analyst in Kabul.

Karzai isn't the only problem in Afghanistan, but clearly he has little power outside of Kabul and has ceded far too much territory to the Taliban, mainly through inefficient distribution of goods and services. I'm assuming Richard Holbrooke, the new envoy for the region, will be able to encourage better leadership.

The more things change, however, the more they will stay the same. Expecting a benevolent leader to solve Afghanistan's problems is not a good bet; they aren't constructed for a strong central government. And the recent deal on supply lines through an alternate route in Central Asia suggests that troops will indeed be on the way. However, the effort to foster an "Afghan Awakening" has hit a snag.

Alarmed by the tightening Taliban grip on huge swaths of Afghan countryside, U.S. strategists last year began quietly pushing the idea of using locally recruited tribesmen to protect their villages against an increasingly lethal insurgency.

But since then, this American-backed and Afghan-administered "public guards" initiative has been hit by disputes and delays, clouding prospects for wider success even before a limited pilot program begins.

Proponents say the public guards could provide much-needed backup for thinly deployed Western and Afghan forces -- who, NATO and U.S. commanders say, will remain overstretched even with the arrival this year of as many as 30,000 additional American troops. President Obama has indicated that the Afghan conflict will be a top priority of his new administration.

But Western diplomats and Afghan officials familiar with planning of the public guards program say fundamental disagreements remain over the mission and makeup of the force. The disputes include such basics as whether its members will be armed and by whom, how they will be vetted and who will command them.

I think we have to be very careful applying techniques from Iraq into Afghanistan and expecting them to work. Afghanis have violent memories of local tribal warlords, so arming the tribes would not be welcomed by the population. Neither will continued airstrikes. A drone plane killed 15 in Pakistan today, and there may be a role for such attacks, but there is also a propensity for them to create collateral damage as well as killing militants, and inflame local populations.

These strikes have had negative consequences for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. They are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and inflame an already volatile domestic political environment. Insurgent groups use these attacks to bolster their anti-U.S. propaganda through arguing that they are fighting Americans who launch attacks on Pakistani territory. The military and the people feel deeply threatened by the strikes and may be more resistant to cooperation with the United States and to reorienting their military toward counterinsurgency. Pakistanis believe that these strikes violate state sovereignty, and their leaders have threatened retaliatory action.

Overall, a mixed bag in this first week of Afghanistan/Pakistan relations.

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