Obama Meets Advisers on Afghanistan; Ismail Khan Warns against US Troop Surge

President Barack Obama met Wednesday afternoon for 3 hours with his advisers on the Afghanistan war, including VP Joe Biden and, by teleconference, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He is said not to have made any decisions as yet about a new strategy or increased troop levels, both asked for by Gen. McChrystal. Some of those voiced demanding that Obama make a precipitate decisioin on how to proceed were the same ones, like John McCain, who rushed the US thoughtlessly into a six-year quagmire in Iraq.

CBS has video:

According to VOA, some experts believe that the US needs a different strategy for each of the country’s major regions. Those interviewed by VOA (below) suggest that some insurgents might be amenable to negotiations:

Obama got support from the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, on his deliberate (some say way too slow) policy review on Afghan strategy. Rasmussen agrees that strategy is more important than sheer numbers.

In contrast, John Feffer at Tomdispatch.com wonders if the Afghanistan misadventure will be the thing that tears NATO apart.

And Fred Kaplan at Slate argues that Obama should ask two questions. The first is whether President Hamid Karzai is capable of attracting the allegiance of the Afghan people, so as to be an effective leader and ally of the US. The second is whether a long, costly, and potentially lethal counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan is really worth the cost to the US.

But any Obama “surge” in Afghanistan is going to meet severe opposition from some members of the government of president Hamid Karzai. Aljazeera English reports on a speech by powerful warlord Ismail Khan of Herat, who serves as Energy and Water Minister in the Karzai government, in which he attacks Gen. Stanley McChrystal as ignorant about Afghanistan and condemns the notion of the US sending yet more American troops to Afghanistan.

As I pointed out on Monday, Ismail Khan is furious about the deteriorating security that nearly allowed his assassination, and said that the US will meet a more decisive defeat in Afghanistan than did Russia. And he’s a Tajik member of the Karzai government, which is allied with the US! He is threatening to withdraw from the cabinet.

Ismail Khan says that a Shura Council of Warlords should be formed to direct the country. Afghan president Hamid Karzai presaged this policy by gathering around himself 1980s warlords (then all backed by the US) such as Rashid Dostam (Uzbek from Mazar), Karim Khalili (Shiite Hazara), Muhammad Fahim (Sunni Tajik or Persian speaker) and Ismail Khan himself (Sunni Tajik of Herat and client of Iran). What Ismail Khan cannot understand is that bloodthirsty warlords tore the country apart in the 1990s, and few want them back.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Defense Ministry insists that security problems in northern provinces such as Kunduz and Baghlan have been dealt with and there is an improvement, especially now that local people are vigilant against the Taliban.

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4 Responses

  1. I am quite frustrated to hear the debate over Afghanistan focus so much on troop levels. We have even had audio tapes of President Johnson agonizing over his belief that sending more troops to Vietnam would not help, just before he sent them. That is not where we are.
    If we need a Vietnam analogy, the closest comparison is the period after Vietnamese leaders Diem and Nhu sent troops to attack Buddhist monasteries. Karsai, in Afghanistan, has done nothing so gross, but his corruption in the elections raises similar problems for us:
    Is their government capable of cooperating in effective counterinsurgency, or is it relying entirely on too small an elite or subgroup for political support?
    Does the host government take US support so for granted that it believes it can afford to ignore what it would have to do to become an independent, effective government in its own right?
    All the COIN ideas in McChrystal's report are sound. But if we must look back, remember what that looked like in Vietnam. Does no one remember how materials and money destined to build schools was stolen by corrupt District bosses? It sometimes came to US soldiers stealing things back from the government to get them to the village, occassionally at gunpoint.
    The US may actually have the leverage in Afghanistan that it did not have in Vietnam. We do not have to worry about how the Communist threat would be encouraged if we leave. We have proven we can walk away, because we walked away from Afghanistan after deep involvement in the anti-Soviet struggle.
    So the bottom line is this: Can we get Karsai to accept an agenda of undermining or confronting the warlords, drug traffickers, and provincial thugs? If that is understood, then the long deliberations at the White House are a means to an end. They convey our serious willingness to consider leaving, and that magnifies our leverage to get a partnership that is not self-destructive.

    Scott Corey

  2. The surge in Iraq was 20,000 troops.

    "But any Obama "surge" in Afghanistan is going to meet severe opposition from some members of the government of president Hamid Karzai."

    Obama already HAS added 20,000 more troops to the Afghan occupation. You should be speaking of a "second surge".

  3. The USA's #1 creditor has published an article that strongly suggests the US immediately end the war and remove its [NATO] troops:

    "The United States should first put an end to the war. The anti-terror war, which the former US administration of George W Bush launched in 2001, has turned out to be the source of ceaseless turbulence and violence in the past years.

    "To promote much-needed reconciliation among the parties concerned, the US should end its military action. The war has neither brought the Islamic nation peace and security as the Bush administration originally promised, nor brought any tangible benefits to the US itself. On the contrary, the legitimacy of the US military action has been under increasing doubt."

    Do note the rhetoric about it all being GWB's mess and that Obama has the opportunity to clean it up before it becomes his mess. And there is much more substance to be gleaned as shown by this item's parsing.

    Usually, the holder of the purse strings gets listened to.

  4. A unexpected and significant slip from the author: Rashid Dostum, probably the most significant figure on the mentioned list, was not a “US backed” warlord. During the 1980’s he was squarely in the Soviet backed central Afghan government camp, he began switching sides (which he did several times) in the 1990’s when the Soviets had left and US interest in afghan proceeding disappeared with them.

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