Mar 17, 2009
Afghan War Hits Peak Of Disfavor
In poll, more call action 'a mistake'
March 17, 2009
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today
WASHINGTON — American support for the war in Afghanistan has ebbed to a new low, as attacks on U.S. troops and their allies have hit record levels and commanders are pleading for reinforcements, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.
In the poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made "a mistake" in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. That's the highest mark since the poll first asked the question in November 2001 when the U..S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks.
In January 2002, 6% of respondents called the war "a mistake."
Those who said the war is going well dropped to 38% in the latest poll, the lowest percentage since that question was asked in September 2006.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, concerned about deteriorating security there, has asked for 30,000 additional U.S. troops. President Obama is sending 17,000 troops, but he has ordered a thorough review of the strategy before deciding to send any more. There are about 38,000 U.S. troops there now.
Attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) killed 32 coalition troops in the first two months of 2009, triple the number for the same period in 2008. Last year, there were 3,276 IED attacks, a 45% increase over 2007, and a record for the war. Insurgents killed four U.S. troops Sunday in Afghanistan with a roadside bomb.
John Nagl, a retired Army officer and president of the Center for a New American Security, said pessimism about Afghanistan stems from seven years of fighting and security trends continuing to point downward. Nagl said he agrees with McKiernan's strategy of using additional U.S. troops to improve security for the Afghan people, support their government and build their economy. Stabilizing neighboring Pakistan is also essential, he said.
"This is going to be really hard," Nagl said. "That said, the stakes are enormously high."
Success in Afghanistan will depend on Obama's ability to make the case for more sacrifices there, said Thomas Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
Public support for the war "is critical," Donnelly said, "because it's almost certainly going to be very long and very difficult."
The poll found more optimism about the war in Iraq, where security gains have dramatically reduced U.S. casualties. In 2008, 314 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq compared with 904 in 2007.
A majority, 51%, said the war is going well there, about the same as in September. Those saying it is going badly declined to 43% from 47% in September and a peak of 71% in January 2007.
USA Today/Gallup Poll
Did the United States make a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan?
Nov. 2001 -- Yes: 9%, No: 89%, No opinion: 2%
Now -- Yes: 42%, No: 52%, No opinion: 6%
Source: Poll of 997 adults nationwide Saturday and Sunday. Margin of error: +/-3 percentage points.
Mar 13, 2009
At last -a strategy that encompasses all parts of the problem...
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is close to announcing a redrawn strategy for a war in Afghanistan that the president says the United States is not winning, focusing on enlisting Pakistan in the fight against extremism and trimming U.S. expectations for military victory, administration, defense and intelligence officials said.
The White House expects to announce new objectives for the flagging war as soon as next week that place an onus on next-door Pakistan to contain extremism, defense and administration officials said Thursday.
President Barack Obama was expected to explain the redrawn U.S. objectives to NATO allies when he attends a NATO summit in Europe next month.
The in-house review coordinated by the White House National Security Council lays out objectives over three years to five years, although that doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. military could leave in that time, defense officials said.
The White House objectives were expected to roughly parallel 15 goals contained in a 20-page classified report to the White House from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among them were getting rid of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and adopting a regional approach to reducing the threat of terrorism and extremism in both countries.
The U.S. goal in Afghanistan must be to protect Kabul's fragile government from collapsing under pressure from the Taliban - a goal that can only be achieved by securing Pakistan's cooperation, increasing substantially the size of Afghanistan's national security forces and boosting economic aid in the region, according to senior military and intelligence officials.
"We're just about done," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview with PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show" on Thursday.
The review addresses "the safe haven in Pakistan, making sure that Afghanistan doesn't provide a capability in the long run or an environment in which al-Qaida could return or the Taliban could return," Mullen said, as well as the need for stability, economic development and better governance in Afghanistan, and the development of the Afghan armed forces.
An administration official said that although the review was not complete, one thrust was that Pakistan needed to recognize that combating extremism was in its own interest as well as that of U.S. and NATO fighting forces across the border in Afghanistan. The official, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because the review was not complete.
The review overseen by former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel drew on several generally bleak internal government assessments of the war done over the past six months. People familiar with those accounts sum up the conclusions much as Obama himself described the Afghanistan war in a New York Times interview last week: The United States is not winning.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met privately on Thursday with more than a dozen senators. Although the session was confidential, it was part of the administration's effort to recruit support for a trimmed-down U.S. mission in the war begun by former President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It is not clear whether Obama will approve additional forces for Afghanistan this year beyond 17,000 he has already dispatched. His ground commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has requested up to 30,000 troops.
The White House review was expected to frame U.S. objectives in two major categories: strategic regional goals for stability in impoverished Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan and smaller-scale warfighting goals for the growing U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan.
Broadly speaking, the Obama administration was expected to endorse a doctrine of counterinsurgency that has military and civilian components and that scales back U.S. expectations for Afghan democracy and self-sufficiency. A main theme is the premise that the military alone cannot win the war, officials said.
The review was expected to focus on containing the Taliban and the proliferation of lesser-known militant groups, providing a greater sense of security and stability for Afghan civilians and increasing the size and proficiency of the Afghan armed forces.
"I would say that, at a minimum, the mission is to prevent the Taliban from retaking power against a democratically elected government in Afghanistan and thus turning Afghanistan, potentially, again, into a haven for al-Qaida and other extremist groups," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview with National Public Radio this week.
Part of the strategy would be purely military, as the 17,000 additional troops Obama has approved for Afghanistan this year attest. Their role is to face off against extremists in the busy spring and summer fighting season and buy time for less tangible counterinsurgency tactics to take hold.
Administration and military leaders have given a glimpse into one such tactic, describing ways that Afghan and U.S. leaders might co-opt or pay off mid- and lower-level Taliban and other insurgents in rough imitation of a successful strategy to blunt the insurgency in Iraq.
© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Mar 7, 2009
A Tragedy Of Errors, And An Accounting
After a crash, the Marines set an example.
Wall Street Journal
March 7, 2009
By Peggy Noonan
It is late in the morning one day last December.
A plane is in distress, it's lost one engine and now two and it's going down, and people on the ground hear the sound, look up, say, "That's going awful low," and whip out their cellphones. You could see the pictures they took later on the news.
It sounds like Chesley Sullenburger and US Airways Flight 1549, but that was five weeks later. This was the military jet that went down in San Diego; this was the story that ended badly.
Then this week it took a turn. And looked at a certain way, the San Diego story is every bit as big, and elements of it just as deserving of emulation, as Sully saving all souls when he put down in the Hudson.
It's Dec. 8, 2008, 11:11 a.m., and a young Marine pilot takes off from an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, on a routine training flight. The carrier is maybe 90 miles southwest of San Diego. Lt. Dan Neubauer is flying an F/A-18 Hornet. Minutes into the flight, he notices low oil pressure in one of the two engines. He shuts it down. Then the light shows low fuel for the other engine. He's talking to air traffic control and given options and suggestions on where to make an emergency landing. He can go to the naval air station at North Island, the route to which takes him over San Diego Bay, or he can go to the Marine air station at Miramar, with which he is more familiar, but which takes him over heavily populated land. He goes for Miramar. The second engine flames out. About three miles from the runway, the electrical system dies. Lt. Neubauer tries to aim the jet toward a canyon, and ejects at what all seem to agree is the last possible moment.
The jet crashed nose down in the University City neighborhood of San Diego, hitting two homes and damaging three. Four people, all members of a Korean immigrant family, were killed—36-year-old Youngmi Lee; her daughters, Grace, 15 months, and Rachel, 2 months, and her 60-year-old mother, Seokim Kim.
Lee's husband, a grocer named Dong Yun Yoon, was at work. The day after he'd lost his family, he humbled and awed San Diego by publicly forgiving the pilot—"I know he did everything he could"—and speaking of his faith—"I know God is taking care of my family."
His grace and generosity were staggering, but there was growing local anger at the military. Why was the disabled plane over land? The Marines launched an investigation—of themselves. This Wednesday the results were announced.
They could not have been tougher, or more damning. The crash, said Maj. Gen. Randolph Alles, the assistant wing commander for the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, was "clearly avoidable," the result of "a chain of wrong decisions." Mechanics had known since July of a glitch in the jet's fuel-transfer system; the Hornet should have been removed from service and fixed, and was not. The young pilot failed to read the safety checklist. He relied on guidance from Marines at Miramar who did not have complete knowledge or understanding of his situation. He should have been ordered to land at North Island. He took an unusual approach to Miramar, taking a long left loop instead of a shorter turn to the right, which ate up time and fuel.
Twelve Marines were disciplined; four senior officers, including the squadron commander, were removed from duty. Their military careers are, essentially, over. The pilot is grounded while a board reviews his future.
Residents told the San Diego Union-Tribune that they were taken aback by the report. Bob Johnson, who lived behind the Yoons and barely escaped the crash, said, "The Marines aren't trying to hide from it or duck it. They took it on the chin." A retired Navy pilot who lives less than a block from the crash and had formed, with neighbors, a group to push the Marines for an investigation, and for limiting flights over University City, said after the briefing, "I think we're out of business." In a later story the paper quoted a retired general, Bob Butcher, chairman of a society of former Marine aviators, calling the report "as open and frank a discussion of an accident as I've seen." "It was a lot more candid than many people expected."
This wasn't damage control, it was taking honest responsibility. And as such, in any modern American institution, it was stunning.
The day after the report I heard from a young Naval aviator in predeployment training north of San Diego. He flies a Super Hornet, sister ship to the plane that went down. He said the Marine investigation "kept me up last night" because of how it contrasted with "the buck-passing we see" in the government and on Wall Street. He and his squadron were in range of San Diego television stations when they carried the report's conclusions live. He'd never seen "our entire wardroom crowded around a television" before. They watched "with bated breath." At the end they were impressed with the public nature of the criticism, and its candor: "There are still elements within the government that take personal responsibility seriously." He found himself wondering if the Marines had been "too hard on themselves." "But they are, after all, Marines."
By contrast, he says, when the economy came crashing down, "nowhere did we see a board come out and say: 'This is what happened, these are the decisions these particular people made, and this was the result. They are no longer a part of our organization.' There was no timeline of events or laymen's explanation of how a credit derivative was actually derived. We did not see congressmen get on television with charts and eviscerate their organization and say, 'These were the men who in 2003 allowed Freddie and Fannie unlimited rein over mortgage securities.' Instead we saw . . . everybody against everybody else with no one stepping forth and saying, 'We screwed up.'" There is no one in national leadership who could convincingly "assign blame," and no one "who could or would accept it."
This of course is true, but somehow more stinging when said by a serviceman.
The White House this week was consumed by extreme interest in a celebrated radio critic, reportedly coordinating an attack line with antic Clinton-era political operatives who don't know what time it is. For them it's always the bouncy '90s and anything goes, it's all just a game. President Obama himself contributes to an atmosphere of fear grown to panic as he takes a historic crisis and turns it into what he imagines is a grand opportunity for sweeping change. What we need is stabilization—an undergirding, a restrengthening so things can settle and then rise. What we're given is multiple schemes, and the beginning of a reordering of financial realities between the individual and the state.
The Obama people think they are playing big ball, not small ball, and they no doubt like the feeling of it: "We're making history." But that, ironically, was precisely the preoccupation of the last administration—doing it big, being "consequential," showing history. Watch: Within six months, the Obama administration will be starting to breathe the word "legacy."
What they're up to will win and hold support, at least for a while, until the reaction.
But is it responsible? Or is it only vain?
Anyway, all honor this week to the Marines, who were very much the former, not the latter.
Mar 2, 2009
Irregular Warfare – How to Fight an Irregular Foe
Call it what you like: 4th Generation warfare, asymmetrical warfare, or fighting against cowardly terrorists and ‘dead-enders’. But the hard fact is that warfare these days is no longer the mano –y –mano fights of Tarawa, Chosin, or Fallujah, and instead pits our regulars against their irregulars. Shades of Francis Marion – the Swamp Fox of the Revolution – except we’re on the wrong side of the sand berm.
But as the news from Afghanistan worsens as American use of airpower continues to kill too many civilians, the Taliban’s stories of Western disregard for Afghan lives seems to ring true – it’s difficult to win a ‘hearts & minds” battle when even President Karzai protests the bombing deaths of women and children.
With much of America’s military still tied up in Iraq, CENTCOM has developed a strategy that addresses both the shortage of troops and equipment that continues to hamstring our fight in Afghanistan, as well as the issue of engaging the local citizenry a’la the successful Marine – Sunni alliance in Ramadi and Anbar that defeated AQI.
The concept needed to win this type of war, where the citizens don’t trust a failing government that has ceded power to foreign militaries and NGO’s, is called the “Whole Nation” approach by CENTCOM.
Elegant in its approach to fighting an enemy and also engaging the local population, Centcom’s recent Deputy Director of Operations, Brig Gen Robert Holmes explains how “it’s using the resources of our entire country; the military, the departments like State, Treasury, and Justice, as well as the private sector.” The war in Afghanistan is more than just an issue of killing lots of Taliban; Gen David McKiernan has been calling for more troops since he came on-station in May 2008, yet he’ll be the first to tell you that the 17,000 Marines and soldiers President Obama is sending is just a drop in the bucket - it is simply not possible to seal the Afghan-Pak border and halt the influx of foreign fighters.
The theory is that viable local and provincial governments will buy time for the Karzai regime to sort out its own crippling issues. Massive police corruption, an increasing volume of opium exports, corruption in the central government; the West is trying to build a country while simultaneously trying to halt an invasion by neighboring religious zealots and warlords which is being orchestrated, or at least supported, by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).
The issues today are far more than just Iraq and Afghanistan, Brig Gen Holmes explained; there are threats from Shia extremists from Saudi Arabia, Pashtuns in Wazieristan building contacts in Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia, an African-Arab problem that’s causing the mass slaughter in Darfur and Somalia; these are inter-regional threats that when added to the Kurd-Turkey issue, Sunni-Shia in Iraq, and the Arab-Israeli-Hezbollah-Lebanon matrix.
There are similarities within all these crisis areas, as Holmes told me…”we need to build a local infrastructure that makes the police a respected part of their society…one includes judges and fair trials…essential services like schooling and sanitation, as well as provides jobs that give the local citizenry the ability to have a better life.”
The American military and NATO forces cannot continue to build the infrastructure necessary; Marine officers are highly trained to lead Marines; their best us is not sit with sheiks or mullahs developing a local jobs plan or re-opening schools.
While “Clear-Hold-Build” is the proper strategy for this type of warfare, officers and senior enlisted are not necessarily the most qualified Americans to provide the “Build” end of the strategy, and this is why CENTCOM hosted the workshop.
The Interagency Task Force (ITF) is designed to provide counter-strategies as well as out-maneuver the threats posed by these regional and local actors. By acting as the coordinator at CENTCOM to the other agencies, the ITF can work with Department of State, USAID, the Dept of Justice, the Small Business Association, or whatever other federal agency who has expertise needed to make this strategy work effectively.
Ignoring the Democratic vs. Republican political sniping that makes the nightly news, this is nation-building in Central Asia. As in Iraq, CENTCOM has recognized that a stable country is one that provides border security, rule of law, governance, and economic development to its citizens – and also that the local people will uniformly support whichever government can provide these services to them, usually regardless of religious affiliation.
If one is going to codify a body of laws, then lawyers from the Dept of Justice are needed to help write the laws. Since providing jobs is an alternative to being paid to plant IED’s, then economic experts from the SBA are necessary. Agricultural experts from USAID and the Dept of Agriculture are needed to help provide alternative crops to growing poppies…imagine if the SBA and USAID teamed up to help build a jobs program in Helmand Province, now the single largest supplier of opium in the world. But the agencies have to work for the benefit of the United States, as opposed to protecting turf, carving out their own fiefdoms, or in the case of the State Department; having their employees and diplomats refuse to even accept stations in Central Asia.
Will this concept work? It worked successfully in Ramadi and Anbar Province, where the Marines and Sunni’s came to a common agreement on the dangers Al-Qada-in-Iraq posed to them. It can work in Afghanistan, and some of the other impending flash points when the locals become convinced that the real power of America lies in the stability and ideas offered by its people, and not just in numbers of Marines, howitzers, and soldiers on the ground.