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Friday, October 23, 2009

We need a new strategy in Afghanistan

The president needs to re-assess the current strategy for Afghanistan. In essence, the strategic objectives given to Gen. McChrystal when he assumed command in May are vague and unattainable without a change in resources on the ground. This is a key reason Gen. McChrystal is requesting additional troops; to implement the strategy outlined back in March. That strategy was doomed from the beginning. It asserts that our strategic goal is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa`ida and its safehavens. However, it does not define what those terms, disrupt, dismantle, defeat, mean nor does it says anything about the Taliban.

There are basically four, very different and very important 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. These are all very diverse objectives that require different configurations of military and diplomatic forces. Though achieving one objective can lead to the success of another, we cannot accomplish them all simultaneously. Clearly identifying which objective has priority is the first thing the president must do.

One of President Obama’s promises during the presidential campaign was a more transparent government. However, after Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s public comments on his need for additional troops in Afghanistan, we saw a flurry of activity, to include a speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates where he essentially admonished the General for publicly advocating additional troops and comments by President Obama’s National Security Adviser, retired Marine Corps General James Jones, who also came out against Gen. McChrystal’s comments, stating that military commanders need to respect the chain of command and provide any advice through it and not the media.

These statements and the failure by President Obama to immediately approve Gen. McChrystal’s request for additional troops are indicative of not only indecisiveness, but, more importantly, are reflective of the fact that the strategy outlined by the Obama administration back in March has not been successful due to a lack of resources and insight.

For example, it states, “we will fully resource our efforts to train and support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).” The way the strategy is written it makes one think these are both viable entities simply lacking some training and resources, which is completely inaccurate. Neither of these organizations is effective in either providing security for the Afghan people or taking on the Taliban. Also, like the rest of the Afghan government, they are completely corrupt. As a result, U.S. troops are needed to not only provide training, but also to execute the missions these organizations should be carrying out until such a time as they are dependably staffed and able to effectively conduct the missions. Unfortunately, most experts agree it will take generations to effectively root out the pervasive corruption in Afghan governmental organizations.

President Obama handpicked Gen. McChrystal back in May for a reason; because of the General’s vast experience in counterinsurgency and special operations. That is also a key reason why Gen. Petraeus was appointed the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Those two men alone have more military and combat experience than President Obama’s entire cabinet combined and for him to essentially ignore their recommendation on how best to achieve the current strategy is blatantly calling that experience into question.

The Afghan people, for the most part, are simple and hardworking people that only want to tend to their fields or go to their job, make a decent wage, return home at the end of the day, and raise their families, all in a secure and peaceful Afghanistan. They do not want to attack America, but at the same time they are not looking for a Western-style democracy or American values; they want to maintain their own culture and identity. Unfortunately, in order to provide some semblance of peacefulness, American troops are required to provide security for the fields, the cities, the State Department U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) workers out helping to build dams and roads and other infrastructure projects the Afghans sorely need.

President Obama’s March strategy made one other significant point; the “new approach will be flexible and adoptive and include frequent evaluations of the progress being made.” Maybe the president and his advisers need to go back and re-read that part of the strategy.

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