AfPak: The Counter-Intuitive Strategy

Like a lot of people, I’m still scratching my head wondering what President Obama wants to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has been proven that counterinsurgency won’t work, at least not without approximately double the resources the USA can possibly commit. What the president gave us on Tuesday in his West Point speech was simply counter-intuitive. In brief, he wants to deploy another 33,000 American troops and 7,000 additional NATO troops, while at the same time planning a withdrawal to begin in 18 months.

In a matter of weeks, a Marine Regimental Combat Team will be heading to Afghanistan’s Helmand province, to reinforce the thousands of marines already patrolling the sparsely-populated poppy-growing province. Follow-on units will be sent at a rapid pace.

Afghanistan patrol

Here are some possible interpretations. Commenters are invited to add more.

1. It’s a cynical, Iraq-style “surge.” General McChrystal enlisted allies among the same right-wing think tank people (e.g. Fred Kagan) who were behind President Bush’s Iraq gambit. He demanded 40,000 troops, which is the maximum effort possible given the continuing deployment of 20 combat brigades in Iraq. Like the so-called “surge” in Iraq, this is more than we can afford to send, and not enough to make a strategic difference. Casualties will peak, as they did in Iraq. Like the so-called Iraq “surge,” it could work in domestic political terms by staving off defeat and fooling the media. A real exit strategy can be postponed until after 2012. As in Vietnam, the goal is to create a “decent interval” so that the other side can’t immediately declare a triumph when we go.

2. It’s a renewed push for nation-building.
After many broken promises and failed efforts, there is a case to be made for Afghanistan 3.0 — a re-boot that finally brings help to the Afghan people. This means circumventing the corrupt Karzai regime and following through on direct provincial-level efforts targeted to local economic development. It also means an open-ended aid commitment, which Secretary of State Clinton is promising. Another objective of the new U.S. strategy is to “buy space and time” to strengthen the Afghan army and police. But the administration is only sending a single brigade to focus on that mission.

3. It’s a backstop for the main effort in Pakistan. What if the Pakistan-U.S. attack on Taliban safe havens across the border in South Waziristan is actually intended as the decisive engagement? That’s the strategic center of gravity. Recent reports indicate far greater U.S. combat participation in Pakistan than has been openly acknowledged.

I’ve been watching my “Battlestar Galactica” DVDs. It could be that President Obama is “rolling the hard six” (as Admiral Adama would say). Making an all-out, win-or-lose decisive attack to get the Taliban leadership where they live, and force them to the peace table.

UPDATE: Danger Room has a list of hard questions that Congress ought to ask General McChrystal when he tesitifies this week.

UPDATE: For those of us confused about the goals of the Afghan escalation, the Pentagon offers this simple, easy-to-understand chart.

UPDATE: Today on Capitol Hill, General McChrystal identified one fairly large problem: the Taliban pays its fighters more than the Afghan Army pays theirs.

  1. #1 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2009 - 4:03 pm

    Out of those three choices, I would certainly hope it’s number three.

    If Obama knows something we don’t and really starts to succeed, count on the Republicans doing the best they can to make him fail as that would be the best outcome to justify pulling out of all three “wars.”

  2. #2 by cav on December 6, 2009 - 6:16 pm

    Perhaps Obama has trouble with the concept of Michelle Obama Onassis.

    Crossing the ptb is risky business.

    And maybe it’s a set-up to pull the plug at the end of the time-line, pointing the finger at the military’s failure / applauding their success. Could go any number of ways.

  3. #3 by truthdude on December 6, 2009 - 6:24 pm

    google “sayanim”/. learn why the u.s. media is controlled by israel.

  4. #4 by glenn on December 7, 2009 - 10:39 am

    Really Richard, it is so difficult to get out of Parthia, that they may need that many troops as a rear guard so they don’t get kicked in the butt on their way out. That is what we hope. In the meantime, the Taliban don’t come to any peace table, we are invaders in their lands and have supported a useless western puppet in Karzai for years. This is on the order of the 100 years war, there won’t be any real peace agreement.

    So you think that Obama is sponsoring an undeclared war in Pakistan, and hiding it from the public? That sure is the opposite of getting all our troops home, and illegal. The president lying about the conduct of the war? Which administration are we in?

  5. #5 by Richard Warnick on December 7, 2009 - 12:24 pm

    Rachel Maddow has courageously raised the question of whether our war against the Pakistani Taliban (i.e. targets selected by the Pakistani government) is actually covered by the 2001 AUMF. If the Obama administration thinks that these operations are authorized by Congress, it may be stretching the meaning of the AUMF.

    The other day, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell remarked on-air that we have troops on the ground in Pakistan. She did not give details, but the impression I got was this is common knowledge among Washington insiders. The Nation has reported that former special ops soldiers are now working as contractors for Blackwater (Xe). Some of them may be deployed with Pakistani units attacking Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan.

  6. #6 by glenn on December 7, 2009 - 4:10 pm

    You have to know by now Richard with all that has transpired, all involved including Obama, just don’t care about that. We are operating in desperation and very likely unlawfully, which is extremely dangerous.

    all that is on Obama’s agenda, is now based lies, from health care reform to global warming, to Afghanistan and now incursions into Pakistan. We are going to crash in my opinion, and then this fool Obama is gone.

  7. #7 by Richard Warnick on December 7, 2009 - 4:14 pm


    I would say it’s premature to start calling President Obama a fool. Short of accidentally starting a nuclear war, it would be almost impossible to be more foolish than Bush.

  8. #8 by James Farmer on December 7, 2009 - 4:25 pm


    Give it a rest – your paranoid delusions are getting the better of you.

    There, boy, take a nice long nap and you’ll feel better in the morning!

  9. #9 by cav on December 9, 2009 - 10:17 am

    Thank god, after 2012, a sparkly new calendar will be coming online!

    18 months, as we now know them, won’t be the same thereafter, and Hamid Karzai has been selected for the re-calendaring position. Woopie!

    December 9, 2009
    Afghan Says Army Will Need Help Until 2024

    KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, underscoring his government’s long-term financial dependence on the United States and NATO even as President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops in 2011.

    Asked if it was not “late in the game” in an eight-year-old war to begin learning these facts about Afghan security forces, Mr. Gates replied that “there’s a lot of this that’s late in the game, frankly.

    send your contributions, children-soldiers to the Obama / McCrystal Peace prize / Real politic Foundation, when you get some to spare.

  10. #10 by Richard Warnick on December 9, 2009 - 11:33 am

    One amusing aspect of the Afghanistan re-boot is clueless Iraq-war-supporting pundit Thomas Friedman(!) making the rounds on cable TV and the Sunday talk shows. So far nobody has asked him to translate 18 months into Friedman Units.

    Perhaps inadvertently, General McChrystal let slip that the Taliban fighters are paid $300 a month, which until recently was more than twice what Afghan Army recruits get. The Taliban still pays better, seemingly has no training or supply problems, and an estimated 20,000 of them are maintaining control of 80 percent of Afghanistan. Maybe we ought to fire Karzai and hire the Taliban.

  11. #11 by Glenn Hoefer on December 9, 2009 - 5:56 pm

    Read this James, and then tell us what it is all about. Al CIA DUH is sooo powerful we need a 1000 to 1 advantage huh? Obama is the best friend the MIC ever had, Bobama. Our leadership is owned!!

    22 months is the gestation time it takes for an elephant to be born. 18 months is the gestation time for this lie to be realized. It is paranoia if they are out to lie to us. What happened to you James?

    2024 Cav, don’t they know the world is going to be over by then? Washington will be underwater and none of this will matter. The nonsense knows no bounds from the prog side of this lying rug of a blog.

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