Now Can We Call It A Quagmire?
Along with everything else in this busy week, the pressing problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to percolate. Obviously the establishment impulse, as authored by John McCain and Joe Lieberman, is to escalate, escalate, escalate. But their prescriptions call for a counter-insurgency commitment that, though unexpressed, would require hundreds of thousands more troops. The Administration won't go that far, instead preferring a smaller escalation that cannot pull off such a COIN strategy, along with a civilian surge to rebuild Afghan civil society (which I actually support), and a doubling of the Afghan security forces, which could lead to unintended negative outcomes.
...one of the smartest defense analysts I know raised a concern a few weeks ago that while yes, more Afghan soldiers might be less expensive than we are, a massive security apparatus of 400,000 men might be more than the Afghan economy can sustain over the long term. I know our near term goal here is to secure as much of the population as quickly as possible, but I hope that at the very least someone is thinking about that rather serious caveat emptor.
Under such a strategy, we either commit to a costly manpower commitment or a costly financial commitment to keep an outsized Afghan army clothed, fed and armed. And meanwhile, the real problem isn't even in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, where the Administration is mulling a wider war.
President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.
According to senior administration officials, two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.
Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the Taliban government that was ousted in the American-led invasion in 2001, has operated with near impunity out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies.
Already, there has been an expansion of drone attacks into Pakistan, the very unsustainable activity that angers civilian population and has led pro-escalation advocates to call for more troops in Afghanistan. Will the same advocates call for troops in Baluchistan under the same principle?
Pakistan needs support before they fall into instability. But the military's strength and their continued understanding with the Taliban fighters, suggest a Chinese box scenario, where we get deeper and deeper without being able to extract ourselves.