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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Conway vs. Petraeus with Obama as the Puppet Master

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” —John Adams

U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, who is set to retire this fall, said Aug. 24 that the current July 2011 deadline to begin a draw down of combat forces from Afghanistan is emboldening the Taliban. “In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” he said in his final Pentagon news conference before retiring. “In fact, we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’” According to a STRATFOR source, Taliban commanders have been instructing their fighters for years to do just that — not to win battles, but to frustrate Western forces in order to hasten their inevitable withdrawal.

The compressed timetable for the American strategy has been clear from the beginning, but progress in the Taliban’s core turf in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan has proved elusive. Conway was explicit about the timetable: “Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines,” he said, referring to the Marine presence centered in Helmand province.

Granted, the focus on Helmand and Kandahar, which currently is the main effort of the entire U.S.-led campaign, was meant to take the fight to the Taliban. It was sure to be some of the of the toughest fighting in the country (one need only ask the British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch troops who have been holding the line there for years). Even under the most optimistic scenarios, these two provinces would likely be among the last to be truly controlled by Kabul. Even the White House is insisting that the surge of troops is just now being completed and that the strategy needs time to work (if an Aug. 23 speech to the American Veterans of Foreign Wars by Vice President Joseph Biden is any indication, this could be the White House line on the subject through the U.S. midterm elections Nov. 2). And Conway’s remarks are not inconsistent with recent statements by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that in many areas the massing of forces has only just begun in what is likely to be a multi-year cycle.

But the July 2011 date and the expectation for a draw down have been concessions to an American public weary of the war. The fact is, the imperatives for briefly sustaining domestic support for the war — already limited and finite — inherently contradict the military imperatives for waging it. Quoting one of his own commanders, Conway said: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

At the heart of this is the Afghan Taliban’s self-perception. The movement sees itself as winning, and the draw down date has enormous value for propaganda and information operations. It emboldens Taliban troops and commanders while encouraging those in the middle to at least not actively resist the Taliban. And ultimately, since a negotiated settlement with “reconcilable” elements of the Taliban is an important political objective, the draw down date provides even less incentive for them to negotiate meaningfully. Unless some other factor shifts fundamentally against them, they see both their military position and their negotiating position improving as time progresses.

Responding to Petraeus’ public relations blitz, the Afghan Taliban disputed his claims that their progress had been blunted. Afghan Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi called the proof-of-concept operation in Marjah a failure and insisted that the Taliban resurgence had not been impeded and, to the contrary, that Taliban offensives were being conducted around Kabul, specifically in Logar, Kapisa, Wardak and Laghman provinces.

At the heart of the matter is classic guerilla strategy. The Taliban have long aimed to decline combat with superior forces and to engage the enemy only where he is most vulnerable, thus maximizing their chances of surviving as a cohesive force. While the Taliban are not about to take control of the Afghan capital, Ahmadi’s denial that their progress has been blunted reflects the Taliban’s hard-won mastery of guerrilla warfare. The ISAF’s focus on establishing security and getting local buy-in for clearing operations (buy-in that equates to publicly announcing impending military operations) is an inherent part of the counterinsurgency strategy. But because resources and manpower are limited even when troops are being massed, there are few excess forces that can be used to trap the Taliban in decisive combat. This means that the Taliban have a great deal of freedom of action in choosing where and how to engage both foreign and government forces (the Taliban have been targeting local police specifically as a softer target).

The heart of the American strategy in the long run is to deny key bases of support to the Taliban. But one consequence of that strategy in the short run is that the Taliban are not systematically being engaged (with the significant exception of efforts by special operations forces). Under the current strategy, the bridge between an effective long-term counterinsurgency and a pressing political demand to extract forces from the country is the so-called “Vietnamization” of the war, the effort to spin up indigenous forces to bear the weight of providing security in Afghanistan.

Conway’s remarks are a reminder that as long as the United States continues to pursue the current strategy, even with expanded training efforts, the toughest fighting in Afghanistan will still involve U.S. and other Western troops for years to come. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who runs the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, has already pushed completion of Afghan security-force expansion back to October 2011. Though this signifies a delay of only a few months, there remain significant concerns about the quality of personnel. Afghan troops are being recruited, but many are poorly educated and prone to desert.

At this point, the prospect of transferring responsibility for the counterinsurgency to indigenous forces across much of Afghanistan in late 2011 and early 2012 remains difficult to imagine. This means that the struggle to bridge the distance between pressing domestic political realities at home and long-term military objectives in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.

In the coming month, after Obama’s Iraq victory speech Petraeus will begin a public relations campaign with notables in the mainstream media. Three days ago he had an interview with Fox’s Jennifer Griffin a heroic reporter who has just beaten a double mastectomy, 17 chemo treatments and 7 radiation treatments.

On day two of exclusive access to U.S. and NATO top commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus, National Security correspondent Jennifer Griffin and the Fox News production team witnessed two, live-fire training missions conducted by some of Afghanistan's most elite fighters

You can read more by clicking here

Petraeus is a persuasive speaker and no stranger to the camera. But the official refrain from the White House and the Pentagon for the last year has been about moderating expectations in the United States ahead of some tough fighting. It appears that this refrain could be about to change, as Petraeus takes the lead in trying to describe a feasible foundation for real progress in a very short amount of time.

I have posted what I consider one of Patraeus’ answers. You can read the entire transcript of the interview by clicking here.

GRIFFIN: Do you believe in reconciling with the Taliban and bringing them into the tent?

PETRAEUS: Well, let's talk first about reconciliation in general, and reintegration, as well.

There are two terms here in Afghanistan. The first is reintegration, which covers the turning the $10 a day Taliban, as they're called sometimes, local individuals almost chameleon like sometimes in their allegiances because that's how they stay alive over 30 years of war here in this country. And they certainly in many cases can be reconciled or reintegrated into society.

In fact we had two cases in the last two days alone where small groups of these kinds of individuals with a lower-level leader came in, laid down their weapons and in one case were given reintegration certificates by the governor of the province and so forth. So the prospect of that is very real.

I learned today, by the way, that the reintegration order that builds on the decree that President Karzai signed some weeks ago that actually gives the mechanics now (ph), that that was signed today and that should be published shortly that gives the guidance to the provincial governors and the peace counsel and others. And that's a positive step, as well.

It appears to me that there is a split in opinion between Patraeus and Conway. Spits between generals are not new and have been going on in every war ever fought. The major problem with his split is that the Commander-in-Chief does not have an overall strategy for winning in Afghanistan. Isn’t this what General McChrystal got fired over?

This is typical Obama. He will delay and waffle on decisions and send mixed messages. In typical community organizer style he will forgo decisions until the last moment and then make a weak and confusing decision for which he will bear no blame. Trust me if things go wrong in Afghanistan General Patraeus will take the blame and the whole deal will be Bush’s fault. Obama has never taken responsibility for anything in his life and he is not about to change now.

Patraeus is trying to implement the same strategy he used so successfully in Iraq. He is attempting to use a “pacification’ strategy without a big surge in troops like he had in Iraq. But unlike Iraq the Taliban is close to al Qaeda while Iraq, while tribal, had more history with a central government and was not in the opium business.

On another note pertaining to the activities of the Taliban, the same Taliban Patraeus wants to negotiate with are planning to attack foreigners assisting in the aftermath of devastating floods in the country, a senior U.S. official warned Wednesday.

According to a Fox News report, the Tehrik-e-Taliban plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan," the official told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban "also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad," the British broadcaster quoted the official as saying.

It is not yet clear what effect the terror warning will have on U.S. involvement in the relief efforts, but Pakistan has assured the U.S. it will press its campaign against insurgents inside its borders despite the extraordinary demands on the its military from the floods.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban faction is a key architect of extremist violence that has left more than 3,500 dead in Pakistan over the last three years.

If you thought Vietnam was a mess Afghanistan will be a disaster unless the leadership in the White House can delineate a clear and unambiguous mission and strategy for winning.

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