x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Obama focuses on Afghan war

Within hours of being named a Nobel peace laureate, the US president Barack Obama had once again convened his war council for crucial talks with his senior civilian and military advisers on overhauling the strategy for the faltering Afghan war. Faced with the risk of 'mission failure', the top US commander has given the administration three options for raising troop levels, even doubling the current number.

Within hours of being named a Nobel peace laureate, the US President Barack Obama had once again convened his war council for crucial talks with his senior civilian and military advisers on overhauling the strategy for the faltering Afghan war. "The three-hour session in the White House situation room was devoted to Gen Stanley McChrystal's recent assessment that the Taliban have so much momentum that the US and its allies face possible 'mission failure' unless the US sends tens of thousands of American reinforcements to Afghanistan," The Wall Street Journal reported. "Gen McChrystal has given the administration three options for increasing US troop levels, with the largest calling for an influx of more than 60,000 troops, according to US officials - which would roughly double the US military presence in Afghanistan, which will hit 68,000 by year-end. Gen McChrystal and other senior members of the military want a somewhat smaller troop increase of 40,000, but the White House appears uneasy about escalating a war that is rapidly losing public and congressional support." The Times said: "The White House is uneasy about sending so many on top of an extra 21,000 already dispatched this year, fearing this could escalate the war which has already claimed the lives of 241 American soldiers this year. "Obama's delay in coming to a decision has led generals to warn that the Taliban will see it as lack of resolve and take advantage. The Taliban stepped up attacks last week with a bomb in Kabul, which killed 17 people, and an onslaught against a US military post in which eight Americans died. "Anthony Zinni is one of a number of retired generals who have taken to the airwaves insisting more troops should be sent. 'The risk if you take too much time is you look like you're dithering and both our allies and enemies will wonder if we're really committed,' he warned. "The president is reportedly frustrated that the debate has become polarised between those who want to send more troops and their critics, who say it would lead to another Vietnam. They advocate more reliance on drones and special forces. "Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the president has only himself to blame. 'It was Obama who insisted in March and again last month that this was a "war of necessity" and must be fully resourced rather than looking at what we really have at stake in Afghanistan.'" Dr Nasim Ashraf, a former minister in the Musharraf administration in Pakistan wrote: "The sooner Afghanistan is stabilised politically, the earlier the United States can disengage militarily. How does America do that? "Initiate a political dialogue with the various Pashtun leaders in Afghanistan and the Taliban but also enlist the help of their tribal cousins in Pakistan. Pakistan would welcome such a move and definitely would assist, as it is entirely in Pakistan's interest to have peace in Afghanistan. "The political instability and ethnic imbalance brought about in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, when the US essentially outsourced the country to the Northern Alliance - comprised of the minority groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras - marginalised the Pashtuns and pushed them into the Taliban fold even though the Pashtuns were not ideological supporters of Taliban. Hamid Karzai, although a Pashtun, was never accepted by the Pashtuns as their legitimate representative, as he was an outsider and did nothing to stop the disenfranchisement of the Pashtuns. When his defense minister and later his running mate in the recent elections, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik warlord, raised 80,000 troops for the Afghan National Army, it had hardly any Pashtun representation. This created resentment and forced the Pashtuns to seek jobs with the Taliban and other local warlords. "All Taliban may be Pashtuns, but all Pashtuns are not Taliban. While the majority of Pashtuns are fighting alongside the Taliban against the US and coalition forces, they are not ideologically aligned with, nor do they support the Taliban. For them, it is a matter of custom and tradition to fight against any outsider." Jason Straziuso, chief correspondent for the Associated Press in Afghanistan who is about to leave after a three year assignment, said: "The quiet truth whispered by soldiers in the field and aid workers in Kabul is that the Afghan government is not likely to ever control southern Afghanistan's wildlands, the foreboding territory beyond the provincial capitals. "Villagers fear thieving police more than militants, and the August presidential election laid bare how pervasive corruption is here. The Taliban is playing to the general disgust with corruption by offering itself as an alternative. "Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a large man with a woolly black beard, once served as the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan. He always greets me with a smile and seems an unlikely representative for a hardline regime. He uses an iPhone - though his grandson recently broke it. "Zaeef is a conduit between the Afghan government and Mullah Omar's Taliban. Zaeef told me the militant leadership refers to its forces not as Taliban now, but as 'mujahedeen,' a throwback to the Afghan 'holy warriors' who ousted the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s. The reason is that only one out of 10 militant fighters is a true 'Taliban'. The rest are ordinary Afghans, Zaeef said. "That bodes extremely ill for US and Nato efforts. " 'Every day you are killing people. Dozens of people. They have brothers, they have fathers, they have sons,' Zaeef said. 'The Taliban are my brothers, the Taliban are my sons. The Taliban are my cousins. They are not different from us. They did not come from the sky. They did not come from another Earth. They are all from Afghanistan.'" In The Boston Globe, Andrew J Bacevich wrote: "Obama ran for the presidency promising change. The doves sense correctly that Obama's decision on Afghanistan may well determine how much - if any - substantive change is in the offing. "If the president assents to McChrystal's request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths - costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge. "As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That 'keeping Americans safe' obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial. "If the Afghan war then becomes the consuming issue of Obama's presidency - as Iraq became for his predecessor, as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson, and as Korea did for Harry Truman - the inevitable effect will be to compromise the prospects of reform more broadly. "At home and abroad, the president who advertised himself as an agent of change will instead have inadvertently erected barriers to change."

pwoodward@thenational.ae