Robert Tracinski At The Federalist: ‘With Bergdahl Trade, Obama Stops Going Through the Motions’

Full piece here.

‘That’s the pattern we’re now seeing. Obama has stopped going through the motions of caring what happens in Afghanistan. Before his term is over, he wants us out of Afghanistan, he wants terrorist detainees out of our custody, he wants to wash his hands of the last vestiges of American intervention overseas.

This is his declaration that he’s just not interested in the War on Terrorism any more. Unfortunately, I suspect we’re going to find in the years to come that the war is still interested in us’

It’s tough to imagine how the Haqqani network and the Taliban are people we can do business with. They’re generally Islamic purists and reactionaries who’ve treated th[eir] own people badly enough. In taking territory, they often kidnap and kill civilians who get in the way, clearing out villages and halting all economic activity during the fighting. When in charge they are usually brutal (unsurprising in a land run previously by tribal and ethnic warlords).

So why are our troops there? Well, even though we supported some of these same guys during the Russian invasion, the Taliban most recently ran Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and still run parts of the tribal, non-government controlled Pakistani border regions (Pakistan is a big draw for terrorist activity all around). They have their own local concerns and ambitions, but acting as Islamic guerrilla fighters, they were natural allies to bin Laden and Al Qaeda leadership whom they harbored; that pan-Arab group of Islamist radicals and guerrilla fighters with global ambitions and briefly, terrible reach.

We have objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they are mainly are to ensure there aren’t further attacks on our soil, nor that this area again becomes a place that harbors the kinds of people who can pose a direct security threat to make attacks on our soil or interests. More broadly, they can threaten not only us, but the West and beyond, and arguably even global stability and order. There are pockets of sympathetic groups throughout the Muslim world, and some even living in the West. But this is the region where pound for pound, it’s most likely you’ll find folks like A.Q. Khan running around, people with nuclear know-how and perhaps the willingness to use it so that it might fall into questionable hands.

This blog welcomes any criticism, or new thinking as how to best address these objectives, and protect our interests, and maybe even redefine or challenge those objectives and interests.

Simply aiming to close Guantanamo Bay where many enemy combatants are being held, or expecting to withdraw troops and announce the end of the conflict in Afghanistan with political timing in mind strikes this blog as naively optimistic, and quite possibly very dangerous without proper consideration of those objectives.Let me know what I’ve got wrong.  I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m trying to figure out what I do know.

There’s Susan Rice again, staying on message.

At what cost?

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Related On This Site:  From Michael Yon: ‘General Petraeus Letter’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”From Bloomberg: More Troops To Afghanistan? A Memo From Henry Kissinger To Gerald Ford?

A Few Thoughts On The FATA Region Of PakistanFrom The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’

Related On This Site:  18 million people and growing: Via Youtube Via Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘VICE Guide To Karachi’

Pauline Baker At The American Interest: ‘Unraveling Afghanistan’

Full piece here.

‘Many Americans think that President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw most if not all U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year will end the U.S. role in that country’s travails. To the extent they think about Afghanistan at all, most Americans seem to assume that when the last combat soldier has departed from what has been the longest war in American history, the United States (and its International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] allies) can close the book on Afghanistan with a mixed record of accomplishment.’

Have we met our objective?

From accounts I’ve heard, what doesn’t often reach the American public is how fierce the fighting in Afghanistan can be, how much we’ve asked of our troops in fulfilling such a broad mission, and how we still haven’t reached our objective, which is to prevent further attacks on our soil.

Corruption runs rampant, illiteracy remains high, and decades of war have ruined the infrastructure.  Under such conditions, and with so many different ethnic and linguistic groups, it’s tough to provide basic security and incentivize the good in people, allowing interested local village elders, farmers and decent folks have a shot at stability. Afghanistan was most recently headed by a thuggish gang of religious purists, warlords and opium-traffickers, and may well soon be again.

Many of these guys, whose ancestors likely fought against the British, and a few elders who fought against the Soviets, are now aiding or abetting the enemy, and/or are fighting our troops. It’s their backyard, after all, but it’d be much better not to have these local and tribal grievances become the fuel for an international fire, and the opening for the Taliban to fill back in. If so, this opens the door to the global ambitions of Islamist franchises like Al Qaeda once again.

Which means we could be right back where we started.

Interestingly, the concerns of Western secular humanists and global peace-workers actually line-up pretty well with traditional, conservative, pro-military supporters:  We’ve got to keep thinking about solutions and a larger strategy when it comes to this region.

It’s not really over, even though this is the longest war we’ve ever had:

Vice had some coverage:

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From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Sarah Chayes’ Essay From 03/01/2007:  ‘Days Of Lies & Roses

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

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Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Some Wednesday Links On Afghanistan

From Vice.com:  Some of the daily challenges our soldiers have faced in being asked to do so many things in Afghanistan.

From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Maybe only Pakistan might want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again, but the fundamental poverty, decades of war, illiteracy, ethnic, linguistic and geographical barriers make any stable government in Afghanistan a long-shot at best.  Meanwhile, what we really don’t want are large groups of people trained only in war, in and out of Islamist ideology only emboldened and reverting the region back to what it was before we entered:  A haven for Islamist and terror planning.

This blog remains highly skeptical of the current administrations’ withdrawal plan and lack of strategic planning on Syria and Iran, but also remains aware of the deeper budgetary issues and divisions at home.

From Michael Yon: ‘Afghanistan: A Bigger Monster

‘If we execute a zero option, this is my basic worst-case prediction, which is not far from my most likely scenario prediction:’

Yon envisions a dark future with a direct withdrawal, suggesting it might even be get worse than what it was before we went in.

From Stephen Biddle:  ‘Ending The War In Afghanistan‘.

Biddle pushes for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

‘The international coalition fighting in Afghanistan has long planned on handing over responsibility for security there to local Afghan forces. But the original idea was that before doing so, a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened. The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014. Afghan government forces will thus inherit a more demanding job than expected.’

I still don’t think we’ve met our objective if we just pull-out, and this looks like trying to make the best of a pull-out.

Addition:  How do we meet our objective?

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Stephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Ending The War In Afghanistan’

Full piece here.

Biddle pushes for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

‘The international coalition fighting in Afghanistan has long planned on handing over responsibility for security there to local Afghan forces. But the original idea was that before doing so, a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened. The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014. Afghan government forces will thus inherit a more demanding job than expected.’

There’s much reluctance at home, from bitterly bipartisan politics and deficit spending battles to isolationism and war exhaustion, as to why we should still be in Afghanistan (and addressing the AfPak issue, really).  Much of the fighting there has been pretty nasty for our troops with the enemy either dug-in or easily melting away across the border into Pakistan.

The primary objective was clearly getting bin-Laden and breaking up his network.  We wanted to inflict a real cost on them.  To do that it was decided that the Taliban, with roots in the mujahideen against the Soviets in 1979, as factions of Islamically purist warlords, needed to be removed from power without making war with Afghans nor other Muslims necessarily.  The Taliban have been cleared away for awhile, and coalition forces have gotten rid of bin-Laden, and while I’ve heard the Al Qaeda network still has presence over the border in the FATA region of Pakistan, basic conditions on the ground haven’t changed that much:  The Taliban are pretty much expected to fill right back in, and groups sympathetic to bin-Laden enough to fight alongside, shelter and harbor him are still likely going be active throughout the region.

How do we prevent this region from remaining a haven for terrorist activity?

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome:

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

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And again here’s Zbigniew Brzezinski on a brief visit with the Taliban in 1979, in a rather ‘conspiratorial’ video.  You do what  you’ve gotta do, sometimes:

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Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Stephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Full piece here.

‘The range of achievable outcomes in Afghanistan is narrowing as Western effort wanes. The ambitious goals of the Bush administration were probably never attainable and are certainly not now. But even minimally democratic accountability may soon be beyond reach. If so, some form of delimited warlord rule will be the outer bound of the achievable.’

Meanwhile, at Tahrir Square.

Related On This SiteRelated On This Site:  From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And Pakistan…A tense relationship: Fareed Zakaria At Newsweek: ‘Terrorism’s Supermarket’Christopher Hitchens At Vanity Fair: ‘From Abbotabad To Worse’Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

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Via The Afghanistan News Center: ‘Afghan Public Shows Various Reactions On Long-Term Relations With U.S.’

Full piece here.

‘A four-day Loya Jirga or traditional grand assembly, with over 2,300 participants including tribal elders, notables, lawmakers and government functionaries, kicked off in capital city of Kabul on Wednesday and wrapped up on Saturday. 

In a 76-article resolution read-out at the end of the four-day Jirga, the participants expressed their support to ink strategic relationship with the United States, believing it would benefit war-torn Afghanistan in all fields.’

and:

“It is no matter for me if this country has any relations with others but I am thinking how to cope with this price hike. Living cost is very high here and nobody cares about it,” Sakhi went on to say while complaining about the skyrocketing prices of basic foodstuff and fuel as the winter is coming the war-torn country.’

Related On This SiteFrom Foreign Affairs: ‘Q & A With Stephen Biddle On Afghanistan’

From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanRepost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry Kissinger

Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

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From The WSJ: ‘Taliban Strike Heart of Afghan Capital’

Full piece here.

‘The Taliban launched a coordinated attack on the Afghan capital Monday, paralyzing the city for most of the day as militants set off explosions, took over buildings and attempted to disrupt the swearing-in of new cabinet ministers.’

The security of Kabul has been transitioned to Afghan forces, and many people in Kabul don’t feel very secure today.   My pessimism comes from the rank corruption of the current administration, including the current conditions that so easily lead to corruption:  poverty, geographical isolation, high illiteracy rates, tribal identities and loyalties, decades of war and economic incentive to grow and move opium, a porous border.  The Taliban perhaps can be hoped to have some incentives to disassociate from Al Qaeda, but in many ways, not much has changed, including the logic of why the U.S. is there and why our troops have such a difficult and sometimes confusing mission.

Related On This Site:  From Foreign Affairs: ‘Q & A With Stephen Biddle On Afghanistan’

From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanRepost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry Kissinger

Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

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From Foreign Affairs: ‘Letter From Kabul’

Full post here.

“In Obama’s speech, the main justification for leaving Afghanistan was that al Qaeda is crippled and compromised — and this is sufficient from the U.S. perspective. But for Afghans, defeating al Qaeda has never been as urgent as ending the Taliban insurgency, which, in its tenth year, needs a political solution, not just a military one. Obama acknowledged as much, saying, “As we strengthen the Afghan government and Security Forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.” But it is unclear how such a settlement could come about under the truncated timetable of U.S. withdrawal.”

Related On This Site:   From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanRepost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry Kissinger

Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

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Dexter Fillkins At The New Yorker: ‘Endgame’

Full comment here.

Filkins offers a few thoughts:

‘In strategic terms, the U.S. has swung between counter-insurgency and counterterrorism. Or, put another way, between enlightened self-interest and a more naked kind.’

And the problems still aren’t really solved.  We likely can’t build a nation with our military and without the will of the people toward their own aims, yet the threat of terrorist figures meeting, planning, taking advantage of/having some collaboration with the locals and perhaps attacking us is still very high.

Addition: The Afghan military isn’t looking so good.  U.S. public opinion against the war is high and anti-American AfPak sentiment high at the moment.

Another Addition:  The WSJ has a piece on Andrew Bacevich, which is not favorable.  It seems Bacevich has lost sight of what can and can’t get done in war, and perhaps in human nature.

Related On This Site: From CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’…perhaps Bacevich is turning inward upon religious belief, and doesn’t have a larger analysis to put the war within, despite his insight: From Commonweal: Andrew Bacevich “The War We Can’t Win: Afghanistan And The Limits Of American Power”

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Repost-‘Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Full article here. (Filkins’ piece published 09/27/08)

The FATA area of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan is mostly lawless and ungoverned. What’s more, Filkins argues, is that the Taliban operating there has continually been propped up by the Pakistani government:

“The origins of the present predicament date to 1994, when Pakistan, unnerved by the bloody civil war that had engulfed Afghanistan following the Soviet Union’s departure five years earlier, turned to a group of fierce but moralistic Afghan tribesman who had won a string of victories.”

Why? In part because of the politics of not just Pakistan, but the region:

“The single most persuasive explanation for Pakistan’s continued involvement with the Taliban is the country’s obsession with India. Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since they broke with the British Empire in 1947, and the rivalry lives on. India has allied itself closely with the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.”

We’re mulling over (now signed)  nuclear arms deal with India.  Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association discusses some potential consequences of this deal here.

We’ve also been sending billions in aid to a now deposed military leader, who while perhaps having had reasonable control of his country (and perhaps some interest in serving his people)…also played us quite well.

“It may be that the Pakistan Army is too inept to destroy the Taliban, but there is abundant evidence suggesting that at least some elements of the army do not want to do that. “

And no doubt, many of the Pakistani people don’t want to do that either, as Musharraf made a risky move. Leaders can’t be (or be seen to be) too far from the interests of their own people for too long.

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And how is the current government handling the old feudal system, the floods, economic growth…as well as the FATA region?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

by Ilyasansri

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