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

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Open-Ended Commitment

American military commanders like to tamp down expectations and prep the battlefield for a long commitment, but this stretches it a bit:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said Monday it will be years before coalition forces can make a complete handoff to Afghan security forces, despite the arrival of thousands of new troops beginning this month and signs of diplomatic progress.

Army Gen. David McKiernan told newspaper executives gathered at The Associated Press annual meeting that militant havens across the border in Pakistan remain a challenge. And while he said that the Afghan army is now leading 60 percent of missions in Afghanistan, Afghan police lag in their ability to provide security [...]

"What we want to do is make a significant impact on the foundation of security ... and continue to move toward developing sufficient Afghan capacity and specifically, their army, their police, so at some point we can get to a tipping point where they lead the security in this country," he said.

"You're going to ask me when is that tipping point. I can't say, but I think it is a matter of years away," he said in a live satellite interview from Kabul.

What McKiernan describes above, frankly, is nation-building. That is a COMPLETELY separate issue from denying and dismantling safe havens for militant extremists. You can argue that the local forces being stood up here will eventually take that role, but the size of the security forces scheduled for Afghanistan, a poor country, would cost more than their total budget to maintain. We could easily move into a strategic overwatch position, using intelligence capabilities and law enforcement, to disrupt those safe havens (which occur throughout the world and not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan) and contain the threat. But instead, we use military means, which may be creating more terrorists than we destroy.

Even as the Obama administration launches new drone attacks into Pakistan's remote tribal areas, concerns are growing among U.S. intelligence and military officials that the strikes are bolstering the Islamic insurgency by prompting Islamist radicals to disperse into the country's heartland.

Al Qaida, Taliban and other militants who've been relocating to Pakistan's overcrowded and impoverished cities may be harder to find and stop from staging terrorist attacks, the officials said.

Moreover, they said, the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.

"Putting these guys on the run forces a lot of good things to happen," said a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity because the drone operations, run by the CIA and the Air Force, are top-secret. "It gives you more targeting opportunities. The downside is that you get a much more dispersed target set and they go to places where we are not operating."

U.S. drone attacks "may have hurt more than they have helped," said a U.S. military official who's been deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. The official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly, called the drone operations a "recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban."

Ultimately, this is why Americans are wary of Afghanistan. We have a defined goal to start and then it morphs into building security forces and protecting the central government until we are intimately entangled in the lives of millions of people half a continent away. Obama supposedly refined the mission, but the top commander is spouting the same rhetoric of entanglement. Seemingly our wars get longer with each successive generation, and no more decisive, either. The troop morale seems to still be high, but of course that's more a function of people wanting to protect their buddies in the unit than a sense of mission.

It disturbs me that we are already beginning to see signs of mission creep.

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