Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mission NOT Accomplished

Remember how we left Afghanistan on the back burner to go after Iraq? Well, it looks like someone is either trying to kill this story by leaking it or float it as a trial balloon...

Pentagon officials are quietly considering a significant change in the war command in Afghanistan to extend U.S. control of forces into the country's volatile south.

Such a move, partly linked to an expectation of a fresh infusion of U.S. troops in the south next year, would in effect mark a partial "re-Americanization" of the combat mission in Afghanistan.

Taliban resistance has stiffened in the south since NATO took command there in mid-2006, and some in the Bush administration believe the fight against the Taliban could be strengthened if the U.S., whose span of control is now limited to eastern Afghanistan, were also in charge in part or all of the south.

Blaming our NATO allies for the resurgence of the Taliban isn't going to fully satisfy people who have been paying attention. Frankly, there is huge disagreement between NATO and the US over the use of airstrikes. The people who know Counterinsurgency within NATO understand that killing dozens of civilians with a JDAM makes their work harder, not easier. This rift has been around for a while, going back to this Reuters article from January, 2008:
Behind stepped-up commitments from the United States and Britain, stark differences are emerging between the two biggest powers operating in Afghanistan about how best to tackle the Taliban and al-Qaeda threat.

On the face of it, there's joint action: the United States is sending 3,200 more troops [the Marines who just arrived] and a British politician is to be named as the new, high-profile envoy to Afghanistan.

But analysts say the squabble is symptomatic of uncertainty over how to deal with Afghanistan, which is emerging as a more complex and nuanced battleground than Iraq, and a desire to show who is in the lead under the NATO umbrella.

The dispute has focused on Britain's proposal to use untrained neighbourhood defence teams -- known as 'arbakai' -- to help improve security in the volatile south were it operates.

In unusually frank and public criticism, U.S. officials and military commanders have said the idea will not work, could fuel fighting and that Britain doesn't understand counter-insurgency.

The dispute began after Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a speech to parliament last month saying he wanted to see a shift in strategy towards "hard-headed realism" that worked "with the grain of Afghan tradition".

"One way forward is to increase our support for community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai," he said.

Immediately afterwards, Washington began speaking against the plan, even though similar tactics have been employed by U.S. forces to quell the Sunni-led insurgency in western Iraq.

General Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO's International Security and Assistance Force, told the Financial Times flatly that the idea would not work and could fuel insurgency.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the criticism a step further on Wednesday, telling the Los Angeles Times that Britain and other forces operating in southern Afghanistan didn't seem to know how to combat a guerrilla insurgency.

"Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counter-insurgency," Gates said.

What the hell is the difference between the "neighborhood defense teams" and "the Sunni Awakening councils?" It seems to me that we're being a little disingenuous--the British are simply using a very basic approach of getting the local population invested in their own security and defense, one that we've used in Iraq. And it takes a lot of balls to suggest that the British, who make up a large chunk of the NATO force in Afghanistan, don't know COIN. They're joined by elite troops from other European powers who have probably had as much, if not more training and instruction in these areas. This goes back to sneering at the Canadians--big mistake. They have a smaller but professionalized military that emphasizes competence and skill over 19th century drill tactics and overwhelming firepower.

The resurgence of the Taliban owes itself to the safe haven provided by Pakistan. Without that safe haven, it is highly unlikely that the Taliban could have come back so strong.

Change in the command structure in Afghanistan is being driven by political realities and won't happen soon:

The defense officials doubted a decision would be made before fall and possibly not until a new administration takes office in 2009. Two officials said there appears to be no high-level advocate for making such a change in the near term, although there is growing concern that while higher U.S. troop levels in Iraq have helped reduce violence there, the trends in Afghanistan are less positive.

There are now about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan — the most at any time during the war, which began in October 2001. They include 3,400 Marines who arrived this month as reinforcements for combat missions in the south and to help train Afghan security forces. Those Marines are scheduled to leave in October, but if replacements are not offered by NATO allies soon the Pentagon likely will either extend the Marines' deployment or tap another unit to fill the void.

With who? Who do they think they're going to send? We're down to a few National Guard brigades that are stressed as it is.

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