Thursday, March 26, 2009

America's war--and Pakistan's; but is it really Obama's?

I've been pointing this out for some time--now a Washington Post wrap-up:
In Afghan War, U.S. Dominance Increasing
With More American Troops and Civilians On the Way, NATO Is Likely to Lose Clout

After years of often testy cooperation with NATO and resentment over unequal burden-sharing, the United States is taking unabashed ownership of the Afghan war.

President Obama's decision to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan this year will bring the number of foreign troops there to nearly 90,000, more than two-thirds of them Americans. Although many will technically report to NATO commanders, the U.S. force will increasingly be in charge.

Even as the U.S. military expands its control over the battlefield, the number of American civilian officials will also grow by at least 50 percent -- to more than 900 -- under the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama will announce as early as tomorrow, according to administration officials. American diplomats and development experts plan to spread into relatively peaceful western and northern regions of Afghanistan that until now were left to other NATO governments. New U.S. resources and leadership also will be brought to bear over critical issues such as counter-narcotics efforts and strengthening local government institutions.

U.S. policy in Pakistan, a major component of the new strategy, is largely unilateral. The European Union has an aid and trade relationship with the country, but few European governments outside of Britain have strong involvement there.

In Afghanistan, the administration "will continue to characterize the effort as multinational. There will continue to be thousands of troops and people" from NATO and elsewhere, said a former senior Defense Department official with a lot of experience there. "But the center of gravity is going to shift toward the Americans."

Obama's national security team has taken pains to consult with allies as it has put the new strategy together. The Washington announcement, and the presentation Obama will make at an April 3-4 NATO summit in Europe, will emphasize shared threats and common purpose, officials said.

But the increasing U.S. dominance is both by default and by design. The United States has far more troops, equipment and money -- and more willingness to use them -- than the rest of NATO. Even before Obama took office, his holdover defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, had largely given up pressing the allies for more combat forces, with fewer restrictions on their activities.

Although European governments have been asked to send up to four additional battalions of 800 to 1,000 troops each to boost security for Afghan elections in August, they will be temporary additions. Britain, whose 8,000 combat troops make it the second-largest NATO contributor, is considering whether it can send more after its withdrawal from Iraq this year. Germany, the third largest, has authorized 4,500, although they are restricted from certain combat areas and duties; France fields nearly 3,000 unrestricted troops [emphasis added].

The Netherlands plans to end its 1,700-troop combat mission in Afghanistan next year; Canada will bring its 2,800 troops home in 2011. With the arrival of new forces this year, U.S. troops will number more than 55,000...

Rather than expecting more combat forces, the U.S. administration has asked the allies to tell it what more they can contribute in terms of financing, training for Afghan forces, and civilian experts in every sector, from agriculture to governance [emphasis added]-- "essentially whatever you can give us to free up an American to do something else," the former official said.

The results of those entreaties remain to be seen. A NATO trust fund established last year to pay for equipment and transportation for Afghan security forces set a goal of about $1.5 billion; contributions to date total less than $25 million, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Bantz J. Craddock told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. Plans to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 by 2011 will require an additional 29 NATO training teams. "The U.S. provides them when NATO doesn't," Craddock said. American trainers outnumber their NATO counterparts three to one.

Because some NATO members restrict their troops to certain areas of the country, trainers often cannot move with redeployed Afghan forces, leaving U.S. forces to "pick up the responsibility" to transport the Afghans and their equipment from one region to another, Craddock said.

The Americanization of the war is visible in the turbulent south, where the regional NATO command, led by a Dutch general, with Dutch, British, Danish and U.S. troops, faces the primary Taliban threat. Most of the additional U.S. troops will deploy there, and dozens of C-130 transport aircraft land at the Kandahar air field every day with pallets of supplies. In a dusty parking lot not far from the main runway, more than 200 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, await the supplementary U.S. troops. When they arrive, there will be more American personnel at the Kandahar base than at the current largest U.S. facility -- at Bagram, north of Kabul, the capital.

A British general will take over the southern command this fall, but U.S. and NATO military officials said they expect the No. 2 commander, U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, to be the real decision-maker [emphasis added--more here, here and here].

"This will become an American headquarters," one non-U.S. military officer in southern Afghanistan said of Kandahar [I've heard from someone knowledgable that the US will set up a divisional HQ - MC]. "They're going to have almost three times as many troops as any other NATO member here. And that's going to mean they'll be in charge."
As for the Pakistanis:
Afghan Strikes by Taliban Get Pakistan Help, U.S. Aides Say

The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, despite Pakistani government promises to sever ties to militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, according to American government officials.

The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements.

Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections.

Details of the ISI’s continuing ties to militant groups were described by a half-dozen American, Pakistani and other security officials during recent interviews in Washington and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. All requested anonymity because they were discussing classified and sensitive intelligence information.

The American officials said proof of the ties between the Taliban and Pakistani spies came from electronic surveillance and trusted informants. The Pakistani officials interviewed said that they had firsthand knowledge of the connections, though they denied that the ties were strengthening the insurgency...

Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders publicly deny any government ties to militant groups, and American officials say it is unlikely that top officials in Islamabad are directly coordinating the clandestine efforts. American officials have also said that midlevel ISI operatives occasionally cultivate relationships that are not approved by their bosses.

In a sign of just how resigned Western officials are to the ties, the British government has sent several dispatches to Islamabad in recent months asking that the ISI use its strategy meetings with the Taliban to persuade its commanders to scale back violence in Afghanistan before the August presidential election there, according to one official

But the inability, or unwillingness, of the embattled civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, to break the ties that bind the ISI to the militants illustrates the complexities of a region of shifting alliances. Obama administration officials admit that they are struggling to understand these allegiances as they try to forge a strategy to quell violence in Afghanistan, which has intensified because of a resurgent Taliban. Fighting this insurgency is difficult enough, officials said, without having to worry about an allied spy service’s supporting the enemy...
One wonders how much success the Brits had. What a tangled web the region is. Meanwhile, a leader in The Economist:
Say you're staying, Mr President
Barack Obama needs to act fast to dispel the idea that he is giving up on his “good war”
Update: As a very acute observer of events wrote me in an e-mail:
...we don’t really know his character and the stuff he’s made of. His position on Afghanistan during the primaries and campaign was purely political. We’ll soon see how tough he is.
Upperdate: More details of effect on CF of increased US forces at Kandahar province:
Canada's area of responsibility in the Taliban heartland will be cut by nearly half this summer as part of U.S. President Barack Obama's new Afghan strategy, to be unveiled today.

But Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan is to retain control of some of Kandahar's most violent areas: Kandahar City and the farming districts to the west of the provincial capital where three-quarters of Kandaharis live [emphasis added].

"Canada will be more focused on major population centres in and around Kandahar City, which is exactly where we want to have an impact with our priorities," David Mulroney, the Privy Council Office deputy minister who heads the government's Afghanistan Task Force [the official webpage, updated Dec. 1, 2008, hasn't noticed that the "additional battle group" wanted for Kandahar had actually been operational some three months earlier] , told an all-party committee of MPs on Thursday...

"The most important factor is increasing the Afghan military presence," said Mulroney, who added the growing strength of the Afghan National Army was proven last summer after the Taliban reclaimed parts of the Arghandab northwest of Kandahar City, because they led the mission that drove the insurgents out.

About one-third of the 17,000 additional U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan are to be based in Kandahar.

American marines are headed to the deserts west of there [see near end here], while a smaller number of U.S. army troops are to provide combat help to U.S. units already deployed south of Kandahar in areas near the Pakistan border [e.g. Spin Boldak]...

Mulroney deflected concerns by opposition members of the Commons foreign affairs committee that the increased U.S. presence would dwarf Canada's contributions in southern Afghanistan.

He said Canada welcomes the extra U.S. help. "They will be able to be present in some parts of Kandahar where we have not been present."

While these American troops will not be under Canadian command [emphasis added--but the US battalion already assigned to Task Force Kandahar will remain under its Canadian commander], their presence could greatly benefit Canada's 2,800 troops. Canadian officers have long believed that four out of every five insurgents their forces face have come from safe havens within Pakistan.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From "TOTUS" . . . he knows what the Big Guy is really made of :)

8:51 a.m., March 27, 2009  
Blogger Sikander Hayat said...

People who understand this region of Afghanistan Pakistan know very well how closely linked these two countries are. There is no practice border between to the two countries as same ethnic group lives on both sides of the border and does not recognise the international border. Also for ages, as Afghanistan is a land locked country, all its trade is conducted through Pakistan. Resolving Pakistan will resolve Afghanistan and vice versa so for the purposes of eliminating Al-Qaida, this region should be considered one continuous territory and Afpak is an apt name for it.

By Sikander Hayat

5:22 p.m., March 28, 2009  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Clearly Alexander the Great ("Sikander") had little success or influence in the region (cf. also "Kandahar").


8:02 p.m., March 28, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home