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Monday, October 26, 2009

An opinion: A bold, decisive strategy for Afghanistan

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those that do evil, but because of those that look on and do nothing.” Albert Einstein

President Obama has had Gen. McChrystal’s request for troops for almost two months. Two months in a war that has been going on for eight years; has his senior staff not had enough time to determine what tract to take? Did he not have answers for the war during the debates with Sen. McCain?

We have all heard the calls for President Obama to provide the necessary troops for Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan. We have also heard about the need to re-think the strategy in Afghanistan. I, for one, never criticize a strategy or plan without offering an alternative, so Mr. President, here it is.

First, and foremost, provide the troops, and possibly increase the number by another 10,000, for Gen. McChrystal. If the General feels we may still lose with 40,000 then give him 50,000 and be ready to give him more after that. You and your administration act as if we need to save our military for a rainy day; if the Taliban and al-Qa`ida take over in Afghanistan, it will be worse than a rainy day. You yourself said this was the “necessary war,” so act like it. I understand none of your administration, save possibly for Gen. Jones, possess the military acuity of Gens. McChrystal or Petraeus, therefore, it is they who you should turn for advice.

Second, establish some key, attainable, definable objectives for our military. Our military will fight and they will win; if you give them the resources and tell them exactly what you want. Instead, they are hearing ridiculous ideas, like those promoted by your Vice President, about how we need to separate the Taliban from al-Qa`ida and fight a counterterrorism war instead of a counterinsurgency one; pull back from the outlying areas to protect the bigger cities and simply rely on Predators and other stand-off weapons to take out key al-Qa`ida leadership. Maybe they need to ask the Russians how that plan worked out for them twenty-five years ago or better yet, ask former President Clinton and the widows, widowers, and orphans of the USS Cole attack and 9/11. You must have reliable sources on the ground to provide actionable information to our intelligence services in order to properly execute a strike. If you withdraw the military from the outlying areas and do not provide the requisite number of troops, you risk losing valuable gatherers of information.

Since before 9/11, when former President Clinton first shot cruise missiles into Afghan dirt, the Taliban and al-Qa`ida have been bedfellows. Mullah Omar and his bearded Talib would not give bin Laden up then, they did not vote him out of the cave after 9/11 or after we invaded in 2003, there is no way they are going to lose face and do so now just because you ask them nicely or stop killing their senior leaders with Predators. They will simply take that as a sign of weakness, like we know we cannot beat them so we are trying to cut our losses. I, for one, am glad VP Biden did not come into office after Kasserine Pass in World War II or we might still have to contend with a Nazi Germany.

Third, keep what we take. Our Marines in Helmand Province have remarked that there are places in the province that they have gone into three or four times, kicked out the Taliban, and then left, only to return some weeks or months later and do it all again. Unfortunately, this only makes us look like idiots. No one is ever going to cooperate with us if they know we are just going to leave and let the Taliban come back and kill everyone that collaborated with us; just read Stephen Grey’s article, “Morale dips for American Marines in Afghanistan.” If you or your aides ever bothered to study our first and only defeat you would know that’s Vietnam 101.

As I mentioned earlier this week, there are four objectives that need to be considered; secure the Afghan government, provide security for the Afghan people, deny the Taliban and al-Qa`ida space to operate and plan external terrorist operations, or completely eliminate the Taliban and al-Qa`ida. However, there is no way we can accomplish them concurrently. Therefore, you need to pick one; whichever one you and your military advisers think is the most crucial. Succeeding in one will ultimately lead to success in others. The problem with former President Bush’s strategy was that, like his other strategies, it was vague and tried to do too much at once. We must start small. Remember, no one has ever truly ruled Afghanistan. Maybe they owned the major population centers, but not the entire country. Afghanistan is a tribal culture built on villages and governed locally; we need to think small. Not in terms of troop strength, but in terms of building Afghanistan into a safe country that refuses to allow the Taliban and al-Qa`ida to operate anywhere in the country.

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