Saturday, November 28, 2009

War Notes: November 28, 2009

Washington Post columnist Colbert King asks a perfectly reasonable question:
But what happens if, in the face of an U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda moves its terrorist network to Pakistan or beyond? Will U.S. forces follow?

I suppose the short answer is that Blackwater is already there, and U.S intelligence is undoubtedly working with the Pakistani military. The question is whether our soon to be 100,000 troops will be fighting a single Al Qaeda operative six months from now. Some would call that a reason to claim victory and go home. If we get bogged down fighting the Taliban, along with related and completely unrelated insurgents, however, that war could last a lot longer.
Quickly reviewing all major post World War II wars in the process, the New Yorker's Henrik Hertzberg also asks a series of tough questions he would like the president to answer on Tuesday:

Does it make sense, for example, to spend lives and treasure trying to eradicate “safe havens” in Afghanistan when Al Qaeda has so many other—well, options, from Sudan to Hamburg? Will a bigger, longer, and presumably bloodier occupation advance or retard the ultimate aim of discouraging Islamist terrorism? Will adding American troops—at a million dollars a year per soldier—encourage Afghans to fight for themselves or prompt them to leave the fighting to us? Can Afghanistan’s nominal government, with its President elected by fraud and its recent rating as the second most corrupt on earth, be finessed or somehow remade?

The sum we are already spending annually on Afghanistan is greater than its gross domestic product. Are there nonmilitary ways we could deploy that sum which would advance our goals as efficaciously? Would even forty thousand additional troops suffice for anything resembling the ambitious nation-building program that General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, has proposed? (Counterinsurgency theory suggests that it would take more than ten times that many; would forty—or ten, or twenty—thousand be only a first installment?) Any counterinsurgency campaign, we’re told, requires a very long commitment. Is the voluntary association of democracies called NATO, organized to deter war more than to wage it, capable of sustaining a twenty or thirty years’ war? For that matter, does the United States—a decentralized populist democracy struggling with economic decline and political gridlock—have that capacity? And what about Pakistan?


A graphic from the National Post, a Canadian paper, highlights the geographic hotspots where NATO forces have suffered their casualties. The Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southwestern Afghanistan lead the way, with 342 and 210 fatalities respectively. The charts also provide some visually jarring data of the increase in NATO deaths and deaths from IEDs from the relatively tranquil days of 2005 to the present.
Reuters runs a speculative article quoting administration sources that believe the U.S will begin drawing down troops from Afghanistan beginning in 2013. Their logic is that by then the U.S will have concluded its training of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police, such that they can help themselves. Other officials scoffed at the notion, calling it unrealistic. One truth we can be assured of is vague 'future withdrawal' rhetoric from the Obama administration, whether from his lips or in the form of 'secret leaks' to the press. This will be done to damper down opposition to the war. Rank and file Democrats will say, "I don't approve of this war, but I guess it will be over soon." We all know how this will go down. And yet we watch...

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