For a leader who has come to own the Afghan war, U.S. President Barack Obama’s first trip to Kabul and the military headquarters in Bagram since he took office 15 months ago was remarkable for its secrecy and surprise.
He flew in late on Sunday night, the blinds lowered on Air Force One all the way from Washington, and left while it was still dark.
“The Hurt Locker”, the Oscar-winning story of a U.S. army bomb disposal squad defusing explosives in the combat zones of Baghdad, may well have been shot in the riverine valleys of southern Afghanistan.
For it is in the Afghan theatre that Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs as everyone calls them, have become the bigger threat to U.S.-led forces, just as they taper off in Iraq. U.S. army Lieutenant General Michael L Oates told the House Armed Services Committee in a testimony earlier this month that Afghanistan had experienced a near doubling of IED attacks in the last year with a corresponding significant rise in U.S. and coalition casualties.
(A protester outside the White House in Washington dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee. Photo by Kevin Lamarque)
The United States is considering a proposal to hold foreign terrorism suspects at the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported this week, a new Guantanamo Bay just as it is trying to close down the original facility in Cuba.
Early this month Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered what military experts are saying was the final nail in the coffin of the Powell doctrine, a set of principles that General Colin Powell during his tenure as chairman laid out for the use of military force. A key element was that the military plan should employ decisive and overwhelming force in order to achieve a rapid result. A clear exit strategy must be thought through right from the beginning and the use of force must only be a last resort, Powell said, the experience of Vietnam clearly weighing on him.
U.S. military involvement overseas has deviated far from those principles since then but Mullen finally finished it off, according to Robert Haddick in this piece for Foreign Policy. The United States is faced with low-level warfare and the public must accept it as a way of life. The question no longer is whether to use military force; America’s enemies whether in Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen have settled that issue, ensuring it remains engaged in conflict. The question is how should it use its vast power.
Gallup has a new poll out testing the mood inside Afghanistan and Pakistan and it remains downbeat. Roughly half of those surveyed in both countries said their governments were not doing enough to fight terrorism, despite the infusion of troops in Afghanistan and military offensives in Pakistan.
The dissatisfaction is even more pronounced the closer you are to the trouble spots. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in Pakistan’s northwest, which is really the ground zero of the war against militant groups, were unhappy with the government’s efforts. Afghans were even more impatient, with some 67 percent in the east which faces Pakistan’s troubled northwest, registering their disappointment.
For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war, two U.S. scholars in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban’s promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.
Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had by then relocated from Sudan. The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.