Afghanistan: So Few Options, So Many Risks

Afghanistan

As the fighting in Afghanistan intensifies; as that war claims more and more casualties; and as critical decisions loom on national objectives, strategy and corresponding troop levels and deployments there, the debate also intensifies.

I have stated my views on the Afghanistan war here and here, and so have other TMV contributors.

I am probably oversimplifying things, but I see the major debate settling around four or five options: Withdraw immediately from Afghanistan; withdraw gradually from Afghanistan; maintain the status quo; continue the fight with additional troops “from onshore,” or with fewer troops and revised tactics from offshore.” Of course there may be several variations.

My opinions are not really that important, albeit it is nice to be able to participate in the debate.

There are, however, pundits, journalists, and sometimes even experts, whose views—whether right or wrong—do influence large numbers of people and do get national attention.

Often, such opinions clearly favor a certain viewpoint or strategy and rarely discuss the merits of contrasting viewpoints and strategies.

Not so, in my opinion, a news analysis in the New York Times this morning by Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane, neither a slouch when it comes to national security issues.

In their “Crux of Afghan Debate: Will More Troops Curb Terror?” these two gentlemen provide one of the more objective analyses I have seen on our involvement in Afghanistan.

While they probably will not answer their own question, “Does the United States need a large and growing ground force in Afghanistan to prevent another major terrorist attack on American soil?” to everyone’s satisfaction, they do present many viewpoints and factors.

Views and factors such as:

The decreasing political and popular support for “A war that started as a swift counterattack against those responsible for the murder of 3,000 Americans,” a war that “a growing number of critics say, is in danger of becoming a quagmire with a muddled mission.”

The belief by critics “on the right and left” that “there may be alternatives to a large ground force in Afghanistan,” such as the “offshore war” using “intensive intelligence, Predator drones, cruise missiles, raids by Special Operations commandos and even payments to warlords to deny haven to Al Qaeda.”

The belief by some experts that a large-scale counterinsurgency effort, which would last 5 to 10 years, would require hundreds of billions of dollars, sacrifice hundreds of American lives would have a “slim likelihood of success.”

The belief by “most specialists on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, inside and outside the government,” that terrorism cannot be confronted from a comfortable distance, from “offshore”; that, although it may take a large American-led NATO ground force years to clear Taliban-held territory and make Afghanistan a more stable, peaceful country, this—the “clear, hold, build” strategy—may be the only way to keep the United States safe in the long term.

The views that “disengagement from Afghanistan could destabilize Pakistan and ‘guarantee’ a future attack on the United States from the region,” and that “a withdrawal would reinforce Pakistan’s fears that the United States is not committed to security in the region, encouraging an old Pakistani strategy of maintaining ties to Islamic militants.”

But also the view that, “The more we escalate in Afghanistan, the more we depend on Pakistan for logistics…and the more Pakistan may feel it can resist our pressure to go after the militants.”

OK, perhaps at the very end of their news analysis, the authors do tip their hand a little bit, as they conclude:

As opposition to the war in Afghanistan builds, some of Mr. Obama’s strongest supporters say he must do a better job of explaining how deploying a large American ground force there safeguards Americans at home.

“He needs to reinforce that message more frequently and to the point,” said Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who just returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan. “He hasn’t made it enough.”

Nevertheless, I still found this to be very objective reporting on a vital and complex issue.

I hope you read the entire piece here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

3 Comments

  1. Why are we practically the only one doing this? Why are the Europeans contributing so little? Where is the REST of the world? Why is it that these Islamism terrorists want to kill us and not everybody else on the planet whom are just as disgusted by Islamic fundamentalism? Is Islamic terrorism not a threat to every nation on the planet? Why are there not hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the rest of the world fighting terrorism in Afghanistan? What…the world wants us to fail?

    We cannot afford to continue these wars. The bank is breaking and continued diversion of national resources from domestic to defense will certainly destroy our nation, which is the EXACT strategy of this insurgency and it is working AND WE KNOW IT!

    These countries are not backward for no reason. Their people are uneducated, tribal warloard, tenth century serfs that have not a clue as to what is happening on a geopolitical scale. They do not understand that you cannot highjack fuel trucks in twenty first century war zone and not be targeted as the enemy. They have been high jacking crap for God knows how many generations! It is their way of life.

    So actually we are fighting more than terrorists. We are fighting various warlords for various reasons. We are fighting international apathy. We are fighting national financial ruin. We are fighting illiteracy and ignorance. We are fighting a logistic nightmare. We are fighting world opinion. We are fighting corruption. We are fighting opium production. We are fighting Afghan poverty and unemployment. We are fighting for the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. We are fighting to prevent nuclear war between Pakistan and India. We are even fighting ourselves over what the heck to do!

    I cannot make a decision based on the information I have as to whether or not we should stay or leave Afghanistan. Except that we should leave because we are going to loose, which nobody seems to want to outright dispute. If somebody can provide a variable scenario for winning in Afghanistan, please present it, because our government has NOT done so.

    All we get from both parties is: “We must win.”

    So if we MUST win, I have no choice but to take it that our very lives depend on it. So if our very lives depend on it, then we MUST kill. If killing creates more enemies because we have to use technology rather than massive ground troops that we do not have AND the rest of the world will not help us by providing enough ground troops to call it a big enough “mass“, then we must also KILL the new enemies as they are produced and not worry so much about collateral deaths.

    Therefore again, if we cannot stomach the killing, and have no idea how to win, and, we are breaking the bank trying, then we need to leave.

  2. I appreciate you taking time to express your views.

    You have captured many of the reasons why this is such a complex dilemma for Obama and for Americans.

    If you have so many questions about our continued presence in a country from where we were dastardly attacked on 9/11, resullting in over 3,000 innocent Americans dying, perhaps you can understand my problem with the invasion and occupation of a certain other country under false pretenses..

  3. Father Time, the only option is get the hell out now. The only reason this travesty of a war is continuing is that the war profiteers are raking billions upon billions of dollars in and siphoning it off overseas like Cheney’s Halliburton is and all that it takes to buy a congressman is about 350,000 dollars, senator run about 550,000 dollars.

    Peanuts for the kind of profits they are making.

    I was probably the only american that supported fully the soviet union going into Afghanistan. They were the only people that had showed they could control the religious fanatics that they conquered in their eastern campaigns in Islamic areas in the 1800s.

    The British lost one complete army in Afghanistan in the 1800′s. Only a doctor made it out of an army of about 16,000 people counting the trail of women, merchants and mercenaries.

    The second war was a draw, but Afghanistan achieved a lot of rights that the British would not have conceded if they had believed that they had a hope in hell of winning.

    In the early 1900s, the British tried again and, although, they recovered some rights that had been given in the second war, they still were not able to conquer Afghanistan.

    The only intelligent thing that I have read about Afghanistan is a letter that, I believe was an english officer who went in totally undercover and made it out alive. He wrote his wife something like this, the afghanis kill their neighbors for sport, these people will never accept english (or whatever country he was from) social mores.

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