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

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mission Creep

You really start to feel a chill up your spine when reading another American general arguing for more troops to fight a war with vague goals and no end game strategy:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama's strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

Such an expansion would require spending billions more than the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years, and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. troops as trainers and advisers, officials said.

Obama has voiced strong commitment to the ongoing Afghan conflict but has been cautious about making any additional military resources available beyond the 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 military trainers he agreed to in February. That will bring the total U.S. force to 68,000 by fall.

Instead, Obama has emphasized the need to pay equal attention to other aspects of the U.S. effort, including bolstering Afghanistan's economy and governance. Announcement of any additional military resources this year would raise questions from Congress and the American public about whether his overall strategy is working as intended [...]

"There are not enough Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police for our forces to partner with in operations . . . and that gap will exist into the coming years even with the planned growth already budgeted for," said a U.S. military official in Kabul who is familiar with McChrystal's ongoing review.

Without significant increases, said another U.S. official involved in training Afghan forces, "we will lose the war." Gates would have to agree to any request from McChrystal for additional funding or troops, and recommend it to Obama.

We know the history of how "advisors and trainers" converted into soldiers and airmen in Vietnam. That has been the nature of post-World War II American combat, in many respects. America has mastered the art of committing itself deeper and deeper into war, but not the art of extricating itself from them.

McChrystal isn't the only general asking for more Afghan troops and trainers. And that's because, obviously, the whole military has become consumed with counter-insurgency missions that are labor-intensive and require large numbers of troops to clear, hold and build areas. Without them, insurgents melt away when attacked, retreat to safer ground and carry out operations unimpeded. Afghanistan is a large country with rugged terrain, and to carry off this COIN strategy would require many more troops than currently available.

And for what? We are ostensibly in Afghanistan to deny Al Qaeda safe havens, but commanders on the ground have acknowledged that Al Qaeda left Afghanistan long ago, and indeed most of our counter-terrorism actions are taking place in Pakistan. The war has morphed into a low-level (yet expanding) conflict against home-grown Taliban insurgents who do not come out of the same Wahhabist Islam cult, but are primarily comprised of angered citizens who either fight for money or because US airstrikes killed their relatives. We must question whether stopping this force from participating in the Pashtun areas (they have no support elsewhere) is worth the cost in American lives and treasure. From a national security standpoint, can't we further our goals through local law enforcement and intelligence in the region? Can't we find a diplomatic settlement instead of the stalemate we have today?

If we fail to reckon with the overall mission, we will just add more and more troops for no good reason. The President needs to get on top of this today. Maybe the commitment should determine the strategy, not the other way around.

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