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

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Afghanistan Muddle

I was on a phone call today set up by VoteVets to talk about Afghanistan with Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Lawrence Korb and a couple other foreign policy Democrats. And they were talking about various theories and strategies behind what to do in Afghanistan, though clearly with a lean toward escalation. Near the end of the call, I asked, "How exactly are we going to convey these new troops and supplies to bases in Afghanistan?" Sounds like a simple question, but it's not. The Taliban has been going after supply lines out of Pakistan for months, recently destroying a key bridge that has been used by the military on one of the main supply routes. The other main base and point of conveyance into Afghanistan has been from Kyrgyzstan, and they're vowing to close the US base.

MOSCOW — In Moscow to seek financial support, the president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, on Tuesday announced that a decision to close a U.S. air base in his country — a decision that will seriously hamper U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bakiyev arrived in Moscow under pressure to ease economic troubles in Kyrgyzstan, which is heavily in debt to Russia and dependent on remittances from migrant workers. President Dmitri A. Medvedev said Russia would extend a $2 billion loan and $150 million in aid to Kyrgyzstan, which Mr. Bakiyev hailed as “serious and important support.”

At a press conference, Mr. Bakiyev said the U.S. had not paid Kyrgyzstan enough in return for the use of the base – and expressed anger over a 2006 case in which an American serviceman shot and killed a Kyrgyz truck driver on the base. The American left the country, against official protest.

“How can we speak of independence and sovereignty if we cannot enforce the law on the territory of our own country?” he said, at a press conference. “All this has given rise to a negative attitude to the base in Manas. And that is why the government has made such a decision.”

There is a belief that Russia put the Kyrgyz leader up to this. But the underlying machinations don't really matter. This is a key supply and refueling point.

I didn't really get a satisfactory answer from the distinguished panel assembled other than "this is tough." And it seems to me that, if you can't even explain how these escalation troops are going to GET to Afghanistan, you haven't gone very far to explaining what their mission is and why.

The Joint Chiefs report urging a rollback of US goals in the region is very important and even a little encouraging. No longer are we looking for a model democracy to spring up in a country that has never known one. We are simply trying to deny safe haven to forces that would plot terror attacks against the United States. And given this massive scaling back of desires in the region, it seems to me that a major troop commitment, especially when the supply lines are breaking down, doesn't connect at all with those new goals. There are counterinsurgency efforts that could be undertaken with Afghan and Pakistan forces in the lead. The diplomatic effort can be targeted at those countries rooting out homegrown terror cells, as they are now doing. Afghan's government can take shape based on the desires of its own people. But that doesn't require a massive commitment of manpower and treasure without end:

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.

This push to escalate doesn't make a lot of sense when you take a step back.

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