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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sucked Into Another Quagmire

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen just put Barack Obama in an unwinnable position today by endorsing an effort to escalate the war in Afghanistan even further.

The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday that thousands more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to regain the initiative against a worsening Taliban insurgency, and that a new program is underway to offer "incentives" to persuade Taliban fighters to switch sides.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 2,000 and 4,000 military trainers from the U.S. and its NATO partners will be required in order to accelerate and expand the growth of Afghan army to 250,000 troops and increase the size of the Afghan police force in coming years.

Mullen also strongly suggested that more U.S. combat troops will be required to provide security in the short term, while the Afghan forces are being developed.

"A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably needs more forces," Mullen said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling the effort both "manpower and time-intensive."

These Afghan forces Mullen speaks about here? They're mostly functionally illiterate, they frequently abandon the army when they find out they'll be deployed to dangerous areas, and they are 100% dependent on American troops:

If we left Afghanistan tomorrow, lock stock and barrel, two things would happen to the security forces. The first would be the ANA and ANP would completely evaporate as functioning institutions in much of the country, probably in a matter of days if not hours. They are still very much artificial constructs that we've imposed, and wholly dependent on our technology for their survival so long as they continue to use the tactics we've taught them. The second would be that the revitalized Northern Alliance and other forces that the ANA replaced would resume doing exactly the kinds of nifty hit-and-run things, to protect their enclaves, that Malevich is talking about. Because that IS how they fight, when left alone.

To get the current Afghan army to do those things, you're talking basically starting over at this point... or taking a good chunk of the country and letting them run it with a bare minimum of Western troop support, operating almost covertly within their ranks. It would have to be a low-risk area of the country, because if you did that right now in the South the insurgents would eat them for lunch, but in another part of the country it might be possible.

Here's what we've trained the ANA to do, instead. They can in some circumstances involving the locals be useful interfaces for our forces. They can hold and defend fixed locations and the immediate environs. They can force-multiply small Western dets, which would be a lot more useful if there weren't more westerners in the south than ANA right now. They can do effective IED sweeps daily, and other such activities where the cumulative risk to Western troops would simply be too high. Umm, that's about it.

They've been trained for eight years as glorified interpreters and chum for explosives. And so increasing those forces will do nothing but provide more chum. If I didn't know better, I'd say that the US training and equipping effort for Afghan security forces was designed to fail to ensure a long-term American commitment that would act as a money funnel for the military-industrial complex. Heck, even if the Afghans were well-trained, maintaining an Army of that size would cost three times their gross domestic product, which is impossible.

I appreciate the strategy to buy out Taliban fighters - hey, it worked in Iraq - but there's still no articulation of an overall mission strategy or goal here, probably because if the public knew what that was, namely, building a democratic state in an part of the world which has never known one, they would react violently in opposition. They've already lost most of the country in the absence of any strategy.

We know how this game will be played. Gen. McChrystal will offer a menu of options and Obama will pick the one in the middle, so he can say he rejected the hawks and the doves. But that middle course will escalate the war. Mullen basically forced Obama's hand here, and the freak-out if the President rejected the advice of the top military commander would be unyielding.

There's a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on this tomorrow. The Democrats are walking into a huge trap if they rubber-stamp an escalation for an unpopular war.

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