McChrystal Warns of Failure in Afghanistan without More US Troops; Obama not ready to make Decision

There is a serious and growing rift between the Obama White House and the uniformed officers over Afghanistan policy, according to Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung at WaPo. They have seen the review produced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal,which warns that unless more US troops are injected into Afghanistan during the next year, the counter-insurgency effort could fail. McChrystal sketched out his approach, modeled in some ways on what the military learned in Iraq, at a time when Obama had momentum on Afghanistan and he assumed that Washington was committed to a counter-insurgency effort.

In the meantime, the US public turned against the war, the Democrats in Congress started resisting sending more troops, and Hamid Karzai destroyed the legitimacy of his government by trying to steal the presidential election. Some administration advisers are apparently urging the US to get out of Afghanstan but to retain the capability of hitting dangerous persons and groups with aerial drones.

On the Sunday talk shows, Obama seemed somewhat hostile to the idea of sending more troops, and certainly before the strategic goals were spelled out.

Apparently military officers are just furious with the president for not making a decision by now one way or another. It is true that Hamlet wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Afghanistan.

I wonder if another thing that happened wasn’t the successful Pakistani military campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley, which revealed to Washington that Pakistan is not after all a failed state on the verge of collapse, and that there were regional actors who could and would take on the extremists under some circumstances.

One hope that Washington repeatedly expresses is that an Afghan national army can be trained and the country turned over to it in only a few years. Ann Jones at Tomdispatch.com suggests, based on her own experience in Kabul, that the Afghan army may not actually exist, and may, in fact be a scam whereby an Afghan joins, takes the basic training pay, and then disappears. Some may even go through it two and three times. She points out that when 4,000 Marines went into Helmand Province this spring, they were accompanied by only 600 Afghan troops, and she wonders where the others are. She has a dark suspicion that no such army tens of thousands strong even exists. The US may even have trained persons who then defected to the Taliban.

The Afghan elections are not over, and may not be over until next spring. It is still not clear if a ballot recount to counter fraud will cause enough ballots to be thrown out to force incumbent Hamid Karzai into a runoff against his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. It is probably too late to plan and hold a runoff this fall, since winter snows are coming in the mountains, so things may just be unsettled until the spring.

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10 Responses

  1. "She points out that when 4,000 Marines went into Helmand Province this spring, they were accompanied by only 600 Afghan troops, and she wonders where the others are. She has a dark suspicion that no such army tens of thousands strong even exists."

    Well that's certainly a non-researched sample of 1 to support a such a large claim.

    Perhaps the answer was contained in the question about what that operation was:

    "…sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds…"

    Whatever numbers of ANA troops have been claimed, nobody's accused those numbers of being as capable as ISAF forces.

    And what worthwhile and persuasive question she poses:
    "where are any of these troops that I haven't looked for, not even those where their numbers in the thousands at particular locations are published".

    Fantastic. And supposedly from someone who's actually visited the country. I guess it didn't occur to her that when someone says there are 1500 troops garrisoned in a given province then the ideal thing to do would be to go see if they are there before declaring they are not.

    If you find grand conspiratorial claims based on zero research worthy of repeating, then I know some people who'd like to talk to you about WTC7.

  2. Afghan National Army Order of Battle September 2009 update
    link to longwarjournal.org

    Oh, if only they had included pictures in their OOB, so that she could "see" these troops.

    Anyway, at least we've established a benchmark for how many US troops reporters can claim are in Afghanistan. Official figures don't count, nor do numbers deployed to certain provinces and you can only count the number engaged in a single operation. So do we have any advance on 5000 Marines ?

  3. This is an interesting and risky time for Obama. The moment calls for clear, decisive leadership. Unfortunately, this is not really Obama. He likes to "reach out" and compromise and appease and avoid taking a hard line in the face of opposition. Afghanistan looms very large. His presidency could easily drown in this quagmire– if something else doesn't get him first.

  4. ref : “military officers are just furious with the president for not making a decision by now — one way or another. and imho, They have every right to be outraged. They're the ones stuck, suffering in this third-world backwater black hole: there is no prize, no Old Glory; they are despised as foreign occupiers Over There and a hideous KIA metric afterthought Over Here. The newly-elected American President has so far only managed to send enough troops, resources equivalent to a Band-Aid rescue — Then, apparently either delusional or a complete tyro, he commanded them to mount a full-scale, ill-fated attack on Helmand Province. That absurd, historically gigantic "vertical insertion" made necessary because the road network in Afghanistan is too perilous to support either massive ground troop deployment or standard logistical supply convoys. imho General McChrystal is saying, rightly so, if these are the kind of B.S. ‘operations’ that you intend to send us on, then you, yourself and your Administration need to get comfortable with being unashamed ‘conquerors’ and just do it : either give your military enough resources to vanquish — to conquer these peoples in the traditional sense, or change The Mission to some lesser scale that does suit your "comfort zone" for warfare, whatever that is. But do something, Mr. President — something!

  5. PLEASE, Mr. Obama, bring ALL our troops home NOW !!! This chorus is going to grow louder if you don't listen to the public.

  6. So, the Senator who promised repeatedly to intensify the war in Afghanistan and broaden the war to Pakistan, and immediately began to do so on becoming President is suddenly supposed to be not war-minded enough. Forgive me for doubting this.

  7. I read recently that during and since Vietnam, Generals pout and throw hissy fits until they get their way with the Executive branch and they usually do. I get the feeling that many Presidents fear the Joint Chiefs and Generals. Obama may be of that crowd, but regardless, the JCS and lower level Generals are testing him and looking to push him around to their career and policy advantage. Hopefully Obama will see this as a power grab, get or borrow a pair, and can some of these asses. Start with Petraeus.

  8. Norwegians were recently shocked when the Aftenposten reported that the Afghani soldiers that were being trained by Norwegians in Northern Afghanistan smoked pot and then deserted at night with their weapons. It would seem that the Taliban is getting a good portion of its weapons from NATO. The other effect of the war seen in Norway is an upturn in asylum seekers from Afghanistan and inexpensive heroin on the streets of Oslo. We recently read of several Afghanis who were arrested in Moscow, then delivered to the Norwegian border as a "service" by the Russian police.

  9. "The US may even have trained persons who then defected to the Taliban."

    If you were the Taliban and you had the chance to get your men trained and armed by the Marines wouldn't you send them along?

  10. Obama's hands are tied because of the financial meltdown and continuousness of the recession despite rhetoric otherwise. IMO, the domestic economic situation will determine Afghan and Iraq policy, just as it prevented any sort of attack on Iran. IMO, the Great Recession, as it's now being called, will continue to worsen, with over 20% unemployment (BLS, U6) by the start of 2010. The reality of the domestic economic problem is becoming a great political liability, and the only way to really solve it is to massively reduce National Security State spending across the board and put the monies to work building the absolutely necessary non-fossil-fuel dependent economy that will put some of the unemployed back to work. It's long past time for America to come home.

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