Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 27, 2009 in War | 8 comments

Obama: New Afghanistan Troop Strategy to Stop Taliban And Al Qaeda In Afghanistan And Pakistan

President Barack Obama announced a new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that is less a totally new approach than a reaffirmation of the original goals many Americans had in the the days immediately following 911: secure Afghanistan so that it’s not controlled by the Taliban and essentially run by Al Qaeda and shut off terrorists’ bordering havens — notably Pakistan.

There are several prongs to this strategy:

1. 4,000 more troops for Afghanistan as trainers and advisers to the Afghanistan military. The war is not going to be wound down since it is not going well.

2. More money for both countries to bolster them in the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Officials have contended in recent weeks that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are increasingly working together in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

3. Pointed omission of the goal of spreading democracy — an oft-state goal of the Bush administration and much-criticized “neocons.” The emphasis here is on bolstering the Afghanistan government and containing and eliminating Al Qaeda. Obama contends Al Qaeda is still using its locations in exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan to plot new attacks against the U.s. and its interests.

Here’s a Reuters “fact box” on what the news service calls the Afghanistan “insurgents.”

President Obama this morning announced a new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that will require significantly higher levels of U.S. funding for both countries, with U.S. military expenses in Afghanistan alone increasing about 60 percent from the current toll of about $2 billion a month.

“The situation is increasingly perilous,” Obama said in a speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and nongovernmental aid groups. He said he would pour money into economic development in both countries, in addition to bearing down militarily on insurgent groups, in order to defeat anti-U.S. extremists.

Along with the 17,000 additional combat troops authorized last month Obama said he will send at least 4,000 more this fall to serve as trainers and advisers to an Afghan army expected to double in size over the next two years.

As has been done before, the administration is not hesistant about noting that its policy is different from the Bush administration’s:

In outlining his plan after a two-month review that began the week of his inauguration, Obama described a sharp break with what officials called a directionless and under-resourced conflict inherited from the Bush administration.

“It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Obama said. “Many people in the United States — and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much — have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there?”

Obama said Al-Qaeda’s core leadership continues to plot against the United Staes from its base in Pakistan, and will do so in Afghanistan as well if the U.S.-backed government there falls to Taliban forces. “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” Obama said. “That is the goal that must be achieved.”

Obama called on Congress to approve $1.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan each year for the next five years. White House officials said yesterday that initial funding requests for hundreds of additional U.S. civilian officials to be sent to Afghanistan, as well as increased economic and development assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, will come in a 2009 supplemental appropriation that the administration has not yet outlined.

The full text of Obama’s statement is HERE.

Some other media reaction:
The Politico’s Mike Allen:

President Barack Obama plans to commit to sending 4,200 more troops and hundreds more civilians to Afghanistan in a speech at the White House on Friday morning, and also to embrace a new system of benchmarks to measure progress.

“He’s gone all in,” said an official briefed on the plan. “This is Obama’s war. He’s pushed all the chips to the center of the table.”

The 4,200 troops will be trainers to help expand the Afghan army. “We’ll see if we ultimately need to go beyond that,” the official said.

The plan is at the heavier end of the spectrum of possibilities the White House considered, according to several top officials briefed on the plan.

A minimalist approach would have focused on counterterrorism and providing security past national elections later this year. An even more robust approach would have included a broader counterinsurgency campaign and an even longer and more idealistic commitment to the central government.

Slate gives some perspective over the internal White House debate over policy:

According to close observers, the key debate in the White House is whether the United States and NATO should wage a counterinsurgency campaign—securing the Afghan population, helping to provide basic services, and thus strengthening support for the government—or whether we should devote most of our resources to going after al-Qaida terrorists directly. Obviously, any plan will wind up doing at least a bit of both; the debate is over priorities and emphasis.

The advocates for a more purely counterterrorist (or CT) approach—led forcefully by Vice President Joe Biden—point out that, after all, we’re in Afghanistan only because of al-Qaida and therefore we should focus on that threat and leave the rest to the Afghans. Yes, we should offer them aid and assistance, but neither their economic development nor the survival of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s regime should be what our troops are fighting and dying for.

The counterinsurgency (or COIN) advocates argue that only through their approach can al-Qaida and the Taliban be defeated. Hunting and killing terrorists has its place, but in the long run it only gives the enemy the initiative, lets them melt away into the landscape, and does little to stop new recruits from taking their place. The best way to keep al-Qaida at bay is to dry up its support by earning the trust of the civilian population, building roads, creating jobs, and striking power-sharing deals with tribal elders.

And the ending of this piece gives a clue as to timing of today’s announcement:

Obama has to choose one approach or the other this week, if he hasn’t done so already. Afghanistan will fill the agenda at next week’s NATO conference. He has said that he’ll ask the allies to step up their involvement. But he can’t expect them to accede unless he requests specific measures and explains how they fit into a clear strategic context, and he can’t do that unless he decides what the strategy is.

RealClear World:“At the end of the day, the U.S. cannot be more invested in the future of Afghanistan than the Afghan themselves.”
The BBC:

Some of the broad outlines of a renewed strategy for the Afghan war are already clear:

* The war will continue. The US will intensify its military effort for some time to come, and it will encourage Nato allies to do the same. The aim: to provide security within which an enhanced civilian and reconstruction effort can take root
* There will be an overhaul of the Afghan effort – and a much greater emphasis on coordination and cooperation between countries and agencies
* The president will argue that what happens inside Pakistan is central to the Afghan theatre. His strategy will try to draw together Afghanistan policy and Pakistan policy into a coherent whole
* Afghan security forces will, one day, take over security operations and allow foreign forces to draw down
* Other, non-Nato countries like China and Russia will be asked to support the effort, or at least not oppose it.

But we might expect President Obama to tell us more than just how the US intends to proceed in Afghanistan. What, after seven years of operations, is the United States trying to achieve, and why?

CNN’s report:

President Obama — saying “the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan” — announced a new strategy Friday to confront the growing threat in Afghanistan and now Pakistan.

Obama said “situation is increasingly perilous” in the region and 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the Executive Office Building, Obama called the problem in the volatile region an “international security challenge of the highest order.”

“The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives,” said Obama, who has vowed to make Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror.

“The safety of people around the world is at stake,” Obama said.

“So let me be clear: al Qaeda and its allies — the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks – are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.” Video Watch Obama tell terrorists U.S. will defeat them »

He called on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, authorizing “$1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years — resources that will build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan’s democracy.”

Newsweek’s The Gaggle blog:

Your Gaggler noticed this key phrase from Obama’s speech today:

As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists.

In other words, Obama wants to keep Afghanistan and Pakistan from rolling back into a safe haven for terrorists, as it was before 9/11, and he’ll send in people to help get the Afghans into a position of governing themselves, but that’s it. Another significant policy shift, that Obama hinted at several weeks ago, is that the U.S. will try to make nice with moderate elements of the Taliban.

The Guardian:

President Barack Obama today set out a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan aimed at destroying the Taliban and al-Qaida elements there and in neighbouring Pakistan.

The president’s speech at the White House, at the end of a two-month policy review, marks a shift from the Bush administration’s concentration on Iraq to the deteriorating situation in Central Asia, which is set to become “Obama’s War.”

Andrew Sullivan:

I haven’t had time to absorb the president’s decision to double-down on Afghanistan this morning. I am, however, skeptical for two reasons. The first is that pacifying that entire region – the region that defeated the British and the Soviets – is a gargantuan task whose costs do not seem to me outweighed by the obvious security benefits. As long as we can prevent terrorist bases forming that could target the US mainland, I do not see a reason for this kind of human and institutional enmeshment. My fear is that it multiplies our enemies, drags us further into the Pakistan nightmare, and will never Westernize a place like Afghanistan without decades-long imperial engagement. Secondly, I do not believe that Iraq is as stable as some optimists do, and fear that we will not be able to get out as cleanly as the president currently envisages. To be trapped more deeply in both places in a year’s time seems Bush-like folly to me.

To be fair, I’m going to study it some more and look at the specifics.

AFP reports on U.S. lawmakers’ reactions:

US lawmakers on Friday warily welcomed President Barack Obama’s new Afghan war plan but openly worried about getting more NATO help and doing enough to get Pakistan to crack down on extremists.

“The proposed military escalation in Afghanistan, without an adequate strategy in Pakistan, could make the situation worse, not better,” Democratic Senator Russell Feingold warned in a statement.

Feingold, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “pleased” by Obama’s focus on crushing Al-Qaeda terrorists, fighting Afghan corruption, and boosting aid for economic development and the rule of law.

But he worried “the new strategy may still be overly Afghan-centric,” and stressed that “we need to fully address the inextricable links between the crisis in Afghanistan and the instability and terrorist threats in Pakistan.”

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Representative John McHugh, urged colleagues to back the strategy but called for deploying another 10,000 troops and urged Obama to win more NATO support.

“All eyes now turn to the upcoming NATO summit and the administration?s efforts to sell this strategy to our allies,” the lawmaker said in a statement.

Pakistan has welcomed it, too:

“I think the new Obama administration’s approach is a very positive approach. They are looking towards a regional approach to the situation,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters in Moscow.

“Pakistan is willing to play an active, constructive role in this because we feel our peace and security is linked to Afghanistan’s… there is spill-over,” he s

aid, shortly before Obama announced a new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CBS News puts it into perspective:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Lots of weblog reaction can be found HERE.