Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
President Barack Obama, in his first major military decision, has authorised the Pentagon to send an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, saying the increase is needed to stabilise a deteriorating situation there.
Obama’s Afghan strategy has been discussed at length, including on this blog (most recently about balancing the need for regional support with the demands of countries like Russia for concessions in return, the military challenges of devising an effective counterinsurgency strategy, the views of the Afghan people and Pakistan’s own struggles to contain a Taliban insurgency there.)
But here are a couple of recent articles that are worth reading.
In an article in the Washington Post, headlined “Not Even the Afghans Know How to Fix It”, writer Edward Joseph says that the Afghans cannot agree among themselves what is the best solution for their country. “And there’s the crux of the matter. Because if Afghans don’t know, then neither do we,” he says.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore asks in TomDispatch why there is so little public concern at home about the fate of U.S. troops – many drawn from poorer and immigrant communities in America — sent on repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Herschel Smith at the Captain’s Journal has picked up on a presentation about the increasing sophistication of Taliban fighting, which he thinks ”should be considered the most important thing to come out of Afghanistan in the past two years.” It’s very focused on the approach he says the U.S. military needs to adopt in response, but worth a read even by those not interested in army tactics.
The conclusion is striking:
“Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained. This is not the case in Afghanistan. The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results. Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.”
In a camouflaged trailer truck in the Nevada desert, a bank of computer screens shows live images of a mud-walled compound in Afghanistan, 8,000 miles away. Those pictures are coming from a Predator unmanned aircraft that you, hunched over the computer in the darkened room not far from Vegas, are flying remotely.
Soon two vehicles stop in front of the targeted mud-baked house. Half a dozen bearded men hurry into the house. Seconds later, you squeeze the trigger in Nevada and a 500-pound bomb flattens the building. Classic Hollywood stuff? Yes, except that this is happening in a real battlefield, and as P.W. Singer, a military expert at Brookings, writes in a new book Wired for War, The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, war by remote control is growing and leading a fundamental change.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has attacked the Afghan government over its failure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, saying that “the basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it’s too little good governance”.
In a strongly worded op-ed in the Washington Post, he says people in countries that have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan are wondering how long its operation must last, “and how many young men and women we will lose carrying it out”.
There’s been much talk about the need for a new U.S. strategic approach to Afghanistan, that would combine a regional diplomatic initiative covering Iran, Russia, China, India and Pakistan with plans to send in thousands more troops.
The most recent in this vein came in an article in the Washington Post this week. It says President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like “surge” of forces will significantly change the direction of the conflict.