Unpacking the Un-Surge in Afghanistan

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Robert Haddick, managing editor of Small Wars Journal, discussed the Obama administration's shift on Afghanistan policy.

Less is more

On Wednesday night, President Obama announced that 33,000 American troops would come home from Afghanistan by next summer, effectively recalling the surge that he prescribed in 2009. Obama set 2014 as the deadline for near-total withdrawal, at which point operations would pivot from combat to providing support for Afghan security forces.

Robert Haddick said that the draw down is all about leverage. There's evidence that a large U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan emphasizes conflict over development—both of Afghani infrastructure and armed forces—and actually hinders anti-terror operations in other increasingly important nations.

The large US military presence in Afghanistan has to be supplied. Military forces are voracious consumers of all kinds of expendables—food, fuel, parts and so forth to keep them effective—and most of these supplies have to come through Pakistan, which gives the Pakistani government leverage over US military operations in the region. The larger the US force, the more leverage Pakistan has.

Who will pay for Afghanistan's security?

The U.S. has all kinds of money tied up in Afghanistan, from the real cost of troops and equipment to the enlistment of local private contractors and training programs for domestic security forces. As much as withdrawal is about the military, it's also about cash. Haddick said there was serious concern among military planners and policymakers that whatever national security beast we help build for Afghanistan will be too big for us to feed.

The real exit strategy is to establish competent and effective Afghan security forces, and there's a great deal of debate about how large they should be...There's the aspect of what's going to be the continuing cost of a large Afghan army and national police, and is the U.S. going to have to pay for that in perpetuity?

America, the weary

Two callers expressed grave reservations about our ultimate success in Afghanistan, with or without troops. One stressed that we were fighting an impossible war against terror—an idea, a concept, but not an enemy that can be vanquished. Another wondered why we ever believed we could win the hearts and minds of a country so divided along primordial loyalties and among warlords.

Haddick conceded that these callers reflect the growing consensus in America: that these wars cost too much for too little. He predicted we wouldn't have the stomach for similar affairs in the future.

It's shown the limits of patience for the doctrine and approach used thus far. This is going to be a challenge for US military planners to devise a new doctrine for stabilization missions that will not require the heavy manpower-intensive US military footprint. The U.S. will probably get drawn into another campaign like this, but there'll be political calls for taking a different approach than what was taken in past decade.


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Comments [26]

Emily from Brooklyn

I'm glad I never had to sit on the Security Council making a decision as to what to do. I wonder how many of those who rant about what we should have done could have made a more intelligent decision, given all the variables which the ranters never seem to comprehend.

Jun. 24 2011 05:57 PM

some times things worth fighting for are not easy. it's just about getting modernity a chance to make it. there are afghan men and women working hard to make it happen

Jun. 23 2011 12:16 PM

We're killing and spending to force a 20th century construct on a group that still defines itself by "tribes".

Seems a little uphill to me!

Jun. 23 2011 11:59 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ sophia

My god, was their a jailbreak @ the loonie bin today? Yes, Sophia there is a Santa Claus. And a man on the moon, and an Easter Bunny, and Afghanistan is/was a state along the Westphalian lines as opposed to a territory surrounded by other states and given a name. Sweet dreams.

Jun. 23 2011 11:57 AM

My heart BREAKS for the women and children that we will leave behind to the Taliban's "infinite wisdom".

Can't we move them all out before we leave?

Jun. 23 2011 11:51 AM

When a country harbors terrorists that attack and kill us and do not actively cooperate in the capture and extradition of these terrorists, those countries should only expect the US to respond militarily. We have no obligation or ability to leave Afghanistan in a better economic condition than before we invaded. We only have the ability and obligation to leave them with a clear understanding that if they harbor terrorists again, they will suffer the consequences.

Jun. 23 2011 11:43 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ BrettG

FYI, you don't know anything at all, please stop posting.

Jun. 23 2011 11:42 AM

Simple lessons still unlearned from Vietnam (French & US versions) -

We don't live there, we don't speak their language, we know little about their culture & history. Some of the Taliban are native Afghans, some of Karzai's other opposition groups are also native Afghans.

The regional players are already in Afghanistan in one or more military, political & economic areas (PRC, Pakistan, India).

We do not gain credibility in the area by staying or guarantee the stability of either Afghanistan or the rest of the region.

When the local villages don't want us anymore, all they have to do is shut down our supply lines coming into Afghanistan & conversely make it extremely difficult to withdraw via overland & water routes.

We keep "forgetting" that Afghanistan is land-locked. If the Soviets couldn't re-supply by air with their proximity, do we really think we can from our much greater distance??

Endgame - Will Afghanistan turn out to be another Alamo/Dien Bien Phu/Masada?

Jun. 23 2011 11:37 AM

Sadly, the boys who come home will raise the unemployment rate. It's all about the 2012 election. Let's stop being so naive.

Jun. 23 2011 11:35 AM
Geo from Astoria

Osama Bin Laden...

Saudi Arabia?...


Jun. 23 2011 11:34 AM
Soldier's Father from Pelham, NY

"Small Wars" are like "minor surgery" -- it's only small or minor when it involves someone else. 95% of Americans don't have any personal involvement in our longest war, not even ponying up higher taxes to pay for it. We should either commit the entire country, or get out.

Jun. 23 2011 11:34 AM
Eugene from Yonkers from Yonkers,NY

What are the chances that U.S. military bases in Afghanistan will remain along with significant troop presence, because of the need to securitize oil pipelines that would be considered crucial to U.S. energy interest?

Jun. 23 2011 11:33 AM
gEO from Astoria

Through out history, starting with Alexander the Great, Empires have tried to conqueor Afghanistan. They have all failed and the result has been the collapse of their Empire.

Is America next in this historical line?

Jun. 23 2011 11:33 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

Oh this is so tiresome, the future (global thermonuclear war notwithstanding) has already been decided. The ISI (Paki Intel) runs the Afghani Taliban groups HQ's in North Waziristan - but it's gotten hot lately in Pakistan proper (as opposed to the FATA) thanks to Paki taliban turning on the military so the Pakistani's will deal with us in return for continued foreign aid (almost a billion next year) and keep Karzai in Kabul for awhile to save face. There is no Taliban without the ISI so why not let Karzai run the hellhole of a country forever if he wants - everybody wins, the ISI keeps the US $ flowing, the "Taliban" are vanquished and Pakistan keeps it strategic chip vis a vi India + WE WIN! Go USA!

Jun. 23 2011 11:33 AM
tony from b-town

Why are we there? It was largely reported by all the press outside of the united states that PAKISTANI intelligence wired money to the 911 high-jackers. Why are we in Afghanistan, the military industrial complex...

Jun. 23 2011 11:31 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

What you’re guest doesn’t talk about or is not informed is that Pakistan also has a very close relationship with China.
Is the US now prepared to have a war with China?

Jun. 23 2011 11:29 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Please, please, please don't you *also* "forget" the 10s of thousands of military contractors that are in Afghanistan in addition to the official US troops (this does not included contracted services such as laundry). The president did--the press should not be.

Jun. 23 2011 11:28 AM

we left Afghanistan once. we'll keep coming back until we get the job right.

Jun. 23 2011 11:26 AM
Yosif from Manhattan

9/10 Afghan men do not know what 9-11 is. That means they have no idea why we are there!!!!

Jun. 23 2011 11:25 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

What’s the point here? The US is to have a large military commitment in Central Asia for the next 100 years? Where in God's name is the money coming from?
This tactical discussion is complete nonsense. What’s is the long-term goal. The British attempts in the 19thc century, the Soviets in the 20th failed.Now it is assumed that an American lead NATO expeditionary force can do better?
Crazy, really crazy!!!!

Jun. 23 2011 11:25 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

Why all this dithering? It is so simple:

Afghanistan cannot be seen to fall apart until Obama has his second term. Duh

Jun. 23 2011 11:24 AM

It makes me sick... SICK how many innocent people have been slaughtered, the horrors we have asked our soldiers to commit and the horrors they have been subjected to in the effort to propagate these USELESS debacles.

Not to mention the innocents in this country that suffer because of the WASTED treasure. School children, for one...

Really... what was the purpose, what was accomplished???


Jun. 23 2011 11:20 AM
gary from queens

I would have respected obama had he chose not to send the 30k troops, arguing that it's not a war worth fighting. Many conservatives make that argument.

But CANDIDATE Obama wanted to appear as tough as any "right winger" as he refers to conservatives. So he argued that Afghanistan was the right war. Why? So he could continue arguing that Iraq was Bush's mistake.

Well, by handcuffing our troops with insane rules of engagement, Obama's "legitimate war" has been lost. While Bush can claim victory for "his mistake".

Jun. 23 2011 11:18 AM

Osama bin Laden...

... Iraq??? Nope.

... Afghanistan??? Nope.

Pakistan??? Yup!


Jun. 23 2011 11:16 AM
David from West Hempstead

It seems like the President is once again failing to consider the end-game. Afghanistan is going to become a mess whenever we leave, so I don't see why we need to commit several hundred more billion dollars before we get out.

Jun. 23 2011 11:11 AM
val lyubarsky from Brooklyn NY

Here's the essence as I see it. We went to Afghanistan after 9/11. We were very successful and even close to capturing bin Laden at Tora Borah and thus cripling Al Quaeda. But Bush & Co refused to send enough troops - the rest is history. A very bad one. The ensuing 10 years we weren't accomplishing anything for the security of the US. What we're doing - extricating ourselves from our mistakes.
So the announced withdrawal is just one more step on this road. Exactly as it was in Vietnam - wasting American lives for years in order to escape "with honor" from the original mistake.

Jun. 23 2011 09:22 AM

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