Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama's war indeed

The title of this post answers the question posed at this one. The president certainly seems resolute and convinced that Al Qaeda and the Taliban must be defeated. It was the kind of speech I wish Prime Minister Harper would make just once:

Embedded video from CNN Video

Here's the text, along with the...
White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group's Report on U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan
The president put the US's goals forcefully:
For the Afghan people, a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people -- especially women and girls. The return in force of al Qaeda terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence...

So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you [i.e. win ]...

There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated [emphasis added]. But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that's why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans -- including women and girls...

...The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act -- not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends on it. And what’s at stake at this time is not just our own security -- it's the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security. That was the founding cause of NATO six decades ago, and that must be our common purpose today...

So understand, the road ahead will be long and there will be difficult days ahead. But we will seek lasting partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan that promise a new day for their people. And we will use all elements of our national power to defeat al Qaeda, and to defend America, our allies, and all who seek a better future...
Note the use of the word "defeat" with respect to both al Qaeda and the Taliban. The stronger emphasis on al Qaeda was clearly aimed at Americans' memory and fears in order to win their continuing support for the mission (as an aside, al Qaeda is not much of a factor in the south, more so in the east--a US region under ISAF--across the border from sanctuaries in the Pakistani frontier). The stress on al Qaeda was also obviously aimed at trying to regenerate Western public support generally for the effort.

Here's a comprehensive story from the Washington Post to look at.

In terms of the substance of the strategy, I thought the speech said little--other than the strong pressure on Pakistan and the proposed aid to that country--beyond what US officials have been saying over the last several weeks. The president essentially tied all the threads together.

It was very striking that there was no "exit strategy" (I await the reaction of Obama Jack and of the increasingly Doubting Thomases in our media).

On a point of detail, the 4,000 trainers for Afstan announced by the president are indeed in addition to the two National Guard brigades already committed; that's a hell of lot of trainers, esp. as the US manoeuvre units also do some mentoring:
4,000 4th BCT, 82nd Airborne paratroopers going to Afghanistan to train security forces

President Barack Obama announced Friday [March 27] that 4,000 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division will head to Afghanistan this fall to train Afghan security forces.

“For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan Army and Police,” Obama said.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, which is currently slated to deploy to Iraq, will likely be sent to Afghanistan instead to fulfill the training mission, Defense officials said Friday [March 27].

The deployment will fill the request by Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, for a brigade of trainers, the official said.

The need for trainers goes back to March 2007, when commanders first requested 3,400 trainers, mostly for the Afghan police.

Initially, Afghan police were trained by private contractors, but the efforts floundered and the Afghan police lagged far behind the Afghan army.

The need for trainers went largely unfilled throughout 2007 because most of the U.S. military’s trainers were in Iraq.

Since early 2008, a growing number of Marines have been used to train Afghan security forces.

The senior administration official said Thursday that the training mission in Afghanistan had been under-resourced for the past few years, and that the president wants to fix that.

Ultimately, the goal is to train an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000, he said.

McKiernan had requested a total of four additional brigade combat teams’ worth of troops and an additional combat aviation brigade.

So far, the Defense Department has announced the following units will be sent to Afghanistan to meet his request: The 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division [near Kabul now]; 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade [with a total of 10,000 Marines, most to Helmand]; 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team [most to Kandahar province, some to help the Romanian battalion in neighbouring Zabul province], 2nd Infantry Division; and 82nd Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade [largely to KAF]...
General McKiernan has got just about everything he asked for last summer, first from President Bush and now from President Obama.

Other new steps by the president--one trusts Canada will be part of the rather large "Contact Group" for AfPak the president proposes. And then there's this more, er, unilateral (and certainly more important) move:
...we will launch a standing, trilateral dialogue among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our nations will meet regularly, with Secretaries Clinton and Secretary Gates leading our effort...
A further example of what Pakistan is up against:
Suicide bomb in Pakistan mosque kills up to 50
What the Taliban may be up to in Afstan:
After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year...
And this is as expected:
EU to send Afghanistan more cash, police trainers, but no combat troops
Update: The views of the recent Canadian commander of Joint Task Force Afghanstan:
Afghan population needs to feel secure, former forces commander says

When Canadian troops started their first major offensive against the Taliban in 2006 in Kandahar province, they drove the insurgents out with their military superiority.

So the Taliban changed strategies, using improvised explosive devices to kill soldiers and terrorizing the locals by beheading religious leaders and throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls.

They, too, have been largely successful. Surveys show that residents’ sense of security in Kandahar fell from around 55 on a scale of 100 in 2007 to 30 today [more here].

Fear is an especially efficient weapon, said Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, who was commander of Canadian and NATO forces in Kandahar province up until last month. International and local forces depend on residents for intelligence – approximately 80 per cent of hidden explosive devices are uncovered through tips from locals in heavily policed Kandahar City. In the less secure countryside, the number is closer to 60 per cent.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson was commander of Canadian and NATO forces in Kandahar province up until last month.

The key to overcoming fear, winning the war and withdrawing our troops, Thompson said, is to train local police forces and soldiers who are more efficient at sniffing out insurgents.

“For the populace to stand up, they need to feel confident and secure,” said Thompson, who is touring the country speaking about the military’s role in Afghanistan.

Residents who feel protected will no longer be cowed into giving the Taliban food or sanctuary. Local forces can secure the territory, which will allow the rebuilding of roads, schools and hospitals, and eventually the withdrawal of foreign troops.

International military teams are training professional police forces in two-month camps. Canadian troops are especially popular as teachers, Thompson said, because they treat trainees as equals.

Kandahar has about 1,000 professionally trained police who are guaranteed a paycheque, but needs 4,000 to be able to ensure security, Thompson said. The Afghan military needs 132,000 trained soldiers, but has only half that so far.

The lack of training that has prolonged the war is caused by too few resources, Thompson said, a casualty of U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 doctrine of sending in light forces to elicit regime change.

“That was clearly erroneous,” he said, as evidenced by how the influx of troops into Iraq helped turn the tide in that war. Thompson is heartened by the fact the U.S. has pledged an extra 17,000 troops to bolster the 58,000 international troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, half of them American soldiers.

“(The war) has been underresourced and now the penny has dropped and people are starting to put their backs into it,” Thompson said.

Canadians, Thompson said, have every right to question our country’s involvement in the war effort in a volatile region of the country, and its death toll – 116 Canadian soldiers have died there, 25 of them under Thompson’s nine-month watch.

But Canada is a democratic nation whose government chose to send in the troops, “and we had a good idea it wouldn’t be a cakewalk,” Thompson said...


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