The Secretary of Defense appeared on Fox News Sunday today. Chris Wallace, the moderator, took the opportunity to ask every divisive, provocative question available and Gates breezed through the interview coolly answering all questions in a factual, calm way that utterly defeated the Fox instinct for trouble making.
There has been concern here about the new US policy in Afghanistan. When asked if Obama was denying the US command there of forces, Gates said that the president had approved all requests that he, Gates, has made for deployment authority for forces going to Afghanistan. When asked what the US goal is in Afghanistan, Gates repeated the president's statement that we are there to "defeat, disrupt and destroy"al-Qa'ida forces in the country. Wallace tried several times to expand that mission statement to include the Taliban. Gates ignored this and would not be drawn. The implication is clear that an attempt will be made to suborn the more suborn-able parts of the insurgent array. Wallace also tried to insist that a lot more troops would be needed. Gates ignored that as well. There will not be a lot more US troops over and above the 60,000 number that are now scheduled. These are several reasons for that. The most important one is that the administration does not want to be pulled into an open ended commitment to Afghanistan. Al-Qa'ida is the objective, not a renaissance for Afghanistan. The second most important reason for a limited force in Afghanistan is the state of exhaustion of the US Army. Materiel, soldiers, families, are all exhausted. The force is brittle. Money for the "operations and maintenance" costs of another big war would be unsustainable. The right wingers on FNS want to see a bigCOIN campaign in the policy that Obama announced for Afghanistan. They want to see a policy that represents an Obama acceptance of what they call the "Bush Surge." In fact the Obama Afghanistan policy if very limited in scope, and cleverly disguised to look like something that the right thinks it likes. pl
Okay great GATES outfoxed FOX! If the effort in Afghanistan is as stated then AQ is the primary focus, correct PL? Based on the open source materials what do we know of AQ’s actual strength, and ops in that country? Other factors might also be of interest such as principal areas or groups subject to recruitment by AQ and providing that proverbial sea of Mao’s allowing the guerilla to swim in? Are our forces configured to impact this sea? Does the remote control quality of PREDATOR strikes anywhere indicate that they do more than temporarily disrupt leadership or other key cadres? What is the international authority for PREDATOR strikes across international boundries? How are these strikes organized and structured to implement US policy or are they just the military doing what now is becoming easy without much thought as to ultimate strategy or tactics except temporary disruption? Who is thinking about all this in leadership circles? Is technology starting to drive policy as did development of special weapons in the post WWII era? Again because we can do something, should we do it?
I did not watch Fox, but I just finished watching the live WH interview of the President by Bob Scheiffer on CBS and then watched McCain on Meet the Press and then the Chris Matthews (esp. David Ignatius)…
… and while McCain tried to suggest the the choice in the WH had been between doing as little as possible while slinking out of the region versus full-blown nation-building, it was clear from the consensus – especially Obama’s own words – that they have narrowed the target set to Al Qaeda while broadening their field of vision to encompass Pakistan on the same level, if not exactly the same terms, as Afghanistan.
So from what you have offered here, Pat, I can only hope that Secretary Gates sticks around for a while…
I was glad to see the comment of Gates refusing to include the Taliban in the US Afghan mission. Our military presence there provides the prime recruiting tool for expansion of the Taliban.
I don’t understand, however, the use of 60 000 troups to defeat al-Qaëda. This seems like a police/special forces operation rather than a military operation. Large deployment of troups, once again, seems the best way to ensure the continued existence of al-Qaëda somewhere, whether that be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, or…
A successful strategy can not be as simple as you seem to want. Some conventional troops are needed as a protective screen behnd which to do your other program elements. pl
After spending the weekend reading, it seems your voice is the only one following this line of reasoning. I have a good-sized contrarian streak, so I’m always interested in analysis that diverges from accepted wisdom, so your comments are quite seductive to a guy like me. Contrarian viewpoints get me to consider other possibilities. So my comments below are predicated on the assumption that you’re right in all this and virtually everyone else is misreading this strategy:
ISTM this new strategy, which doesn’t sound particularly new, is only partly a strategy document. Its main purpose is political and is designed to provide President Obama with political space and flexibility to implement the goal of substantial force reductions before 2012. From a political angle, this makes perfect sense. Coming out now with a definitive plan for disengagement from Afghanistan would bring a lot of blowback and accusations of “cutting and running,” etc. and that blowback would probably be severe enough to continue the paralysis of south Asian policy in general, and Afghanistan in particular, and constrain the President’s options for dealing with the region.
Assuming that’s correct, then the recent troop increases should be seen as enabling a rollback of real and perceived gains by Afghan armed opposition groups and not a long-term escalation of the conflict. Rolling back those insurgent groups is probably necessary regardless in order to provide space to implement other essential tasks and policy options, particularly building the capacity of Afghan security and tribal forces. The latter, tribal, effort is still in a “pilot” phase and is called the Afghan Public Protection Program, or AP3, for those who haven’t heard of it yet. For Afghanistan I think such a combined government-tribal strategy makes sense.
On the Pakistani side, I would not expect to see any overt US presence or escalation beyond the current not-so-covert-anymore CIA operations. Denying the Pakistani safe-haven is a much longer-term effort and it appears the Administration is going to work on that through greater engagement and support to Pakistan. I’m glad to see that President Obama’s campaign rhetoric about violating Pakistani sovereignty was just that – rhetoric. This strategy also promotes another critical interest – a stable Pakistan that can control and secure its nuclear arsenal.
As I’m sure many know, the US relationship with Pakistan has never been very good and historically, the US has been an ally of necessity and convenience only. Pakistan believes, probably with justification, that once AQ is no longer considered a threat, then Pakistan will return to a pariah status for the United States. So it appears that President Obama (judging from his interview this morning on CBS) is looking to establish a long-term relationship with Pakistan to allay those fears. Thus the Administration likely realizes the futility of attempting to bully Pakistan into cracking down on its “colonies” in the tribal areas without long-term support and commitment from the US – support that extends beyond military assistance. Foreign aid was something the President mentioned in the interview and it appears to be part of a larger strategy of engagement with Pakistan.
Long-term engagement with Pakistan will also put the US in a position to credibly mediate the ongoing conflict with India and help prevent a disastrous war there. So it seems the President and his team are pursuing a policy that supports several key US interests, which seems to be a good thing.
In all, Col. Lang, I think I can see the bigger picture that you’ve been hinting at in this post and the last, or at least the outlines. Your positions seems at least as credible an explanation to me as the “double down” strategy most believe this strategy represents. I suspect we’ll probably know for sure by the end of the year whether you are right.
Finally, Col. Lang, in your last post you mentioned the problem of a divided command structure. You may already know this, but some changes were recently implemented. A new command structure was stood-up in January (CFSOCC-A) to coordinate the disparate SoF commands and, although it’s still not clear, there are indications that JSOC forces will come under McKiernan’s as well.
Added after recent comments:
What makes you think it’s the military conducting the Predator strikes in Pakistan or that the aircraft are crossing the border? Keep in mind that it was the CIA that originally armed the Predator (the Air Force stole the idea), Senator Feinsteins’s recent comments and also see this.
“If the effort in Afghanistan is as stated then AQ is the primary focus”
Sir, in practical terms, what does this mean? How is NATO to do a disruption mission without also doing stabilization missions? How is the west to focus on the AQ in the east while loosing the north and the middle gradually as it is today? How is NATO to build up a force for the nationstate Afghanistan if that nationstate is falling apart? When the Taleban have judicial legitimacy is several areas, how does the West intend to bolster their partners without adressing such points as good governing and tries to tackle corruption? I just dont see it.
I do not understand how this is to be achieved in practice.
“The most important one is that the administration does not want to be pulled into an open ended commitment to Afghanistan.” Any commitment in that place is open ended unless it is pointless.
A second opinion:
It is mind-expanding to read both of you each day.
Speaking of the Taliban …
Does anyone know the extent to which the Taliban are sympathetic to al-Qaeda?
Any hard data, a percent, etc?
Thanks to Andy and others for making me write this postscript to comments posted on this post.Juan Cole reporting less than 500 Arab AQ in AF-PK! Who knows. George Tenet in his post CIA head incarnation book gives his version of PREDATOR history. Really DARPA gets credit according to TENET and he imposed conceopt downward on CIA. But now, ops in Pakistan are rarely the size of the base ops spied upon by Google Earth and usually SOC! Some indication CIA has no direct funding for Predator ops where losses might be expected of those UAVs. But I could be wrong.
The most important one is that the administration does not want to be pulled into an open ended commitment to Afghanistan.
As I recall, the Bush administration did not want to be pulled into an open-ended commitment to Iraq; they figured they would be there only a few months. Indeed, that was what the “Mission Accomplished” ceremony was supposed to have celebrated.
Hopefully, the Pashtuns will be more cooperative than the Iraqis have been in allowing us to accomplish that which we want.
“Juan Cole reporting less than 500 Arab AQ in AF-PK!”
Wich is pure bshit, inless you count AQ as a strict cadre within the resistance.
Digression: I would advise people to study the structure that Hassan ibn Sabbah used with the ishmaili hashassins (or however the correct word is). He had two three-layered structures of cells: The first was made up of one rafiq, two loosables and two crazy people. The rafiq was supposed to always remain hidden. Then he had a second tier of traveling da´is, officers, who held workshops on fighting and religion, and who circulated among the cells through signsystems attached to stones in the woods where you meditate as a holy man for the evening.
This is possibly the closest historical analogy to AQ I have seen, there are some pretty good books on them (wich i dont have at hand here).