President Obama: 'A Comprehensive and New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan' (2)

Hoewel Obama’s doelstellingen in Afghanistan meer bescheiden zijn dan die van Bush waren, zijn zij veel ambtieuzer t.a.v. Pakistan: Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken – one way or another – when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.
Dit houdt zijn bereidheid in om binnen Pakistan militair in te grijpen anders dan alleen met bewapende onbemande vliegtuigen, zoals tot nog toe. En dit terwijl Al Qaida en de Taliban meer zuidelijk uitwijken, naar de dichter bevolkte Baluchistan provincie.

Ik vrees dat deze niet-zo-‘nieuwe’ strategie zal leiden tot grote politieke spanningen in het nucleair bewapende islamitische Pakistan, met desasteuze gevolgen voor de stabilitait in de regio en de wereld.
Obama concentreert zich op de zijns inziens grootste dreiging voor de veiligheid van de VS, te weten Al Qaida en zijn extremistische bondgenoten in Pakistan en Afghanistan, maar dat gebeurt waarschijnlijk ten koste van verdere radicalisering van militante moslims in de wijdere wereld.

Hieronder de link naar de eerdere blog over dit onderwerp, met daaronder meer beschouwingen uit andere publicaties.

President Obama: ‘A Comprehensive and New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan’ (1)

A surge won’t work in Afghanistan (Robert Fox in The Guardian)

Barack Obama has promised more troops and aid for ‘AfPak’ – a policy that could have disastrous consequences.

President Obama has tried to inject a deliberate note of realism into his new strategy for Afghanistan – at least what we know of it so far. On the eve of departure for the G20 and Nato summits in Europe, he has announced he will send 4,000 extra US troops to the country, a total US reinforcement of 21,000 this summer, and bring in a range of expensive aid and reconstruction programmes for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the "AfPak" region in the new American strategic jargon.

This concept could turn out to be a bit of a two-headed monster for the allies, particularly the UK. The main thrust of the Obama strategy is that the fight against al-Qaida and the senior command of the Taliban has to be taken into northern Pakistan from Baluchistan to the playground of the militants in Kashmir.

They will expand the war by proxies, air strikes and drones into the territory of a friendly country, Pakistan, albeit one that is in a state of almost chronic fracture. Increased military activity by America and its allies could make things even more unstable – and throughout the country..

Obama may find difficulty in the coming days in convincing his Euopean allies that his AfPak plan can work. The American military has made it clear they don’t want much more help from European forces, because they’re not up to the job. American forces are now so technically superior in terms of airpower, surveillance, targeting and communication that it is almost impossible to work with even the best European forces, such as the British and French, because they are so inferior and deficient in equipment such as numbers of aircraft and drones and communications..

..the jury is still out on the success or failure of the surge in Iraq. The surge brought a drop in violence, sure. But several of the militias decided to declare a ceasefire until the Americans went away. There has been very little of the political and social reconciliation that was supposed to accompany the military operation. Iraq, in many areas, such as Mosul and Kirkuk, is still bitterly divided, and some resident diplomats and analysts fear that a further bout of civil war could be on the way.

So Obama may well have to rethink his strategy on Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, well before his first term is up.

A surge won’t work in Afghanistan (Robert Fox in The Guardian)

There’s nothing new in Barack Obama’s foreign policy – but the way it is knitted together offers hope (Julian Borger in The Guardian)

Far from everything in Barack Obama’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy is new. In fact, the quickest way to get a Nato official hopping mad these days is to enquire about "the new strategy".

"It’s not new," one such official insisted through gritted teeth recently. "It’s the same strategy but with more resources."

There is some truth in this. The generals have been trying to meld military operations with civilian construction since the war began. It has long been conventional wisdom that Afghanistan cannot be won if the Taliban, al-Qaida and their allies can find safe haven on Pakistan’s soil. Peace talks, reconciliation programmes with non-ideological Taliban, and the training of an Afghan army are already well under way.

But there are fresh ideas here nevertheless and even if most of the bullet points in the Obama strategy have been seen before, the coherence with which they have been knitted together and placed under more consolidated leadership at least offers the hope of better results.

However, even with the most carefully honed strategy and plentiful resources, some goals may be beyond the reach of America and Nato together – such as Islamabad’s capacity to control Pakistan’s military intelligence services, and Kabul’s ability to withstand the lure of bribes and drug money.

But there is clearly a new mood in Washington. What matters now is how that new mood is turned into action.

There’s nothing new in Barack Obama’s foreign policy – but the way it is knitted together offers hope (Julian Borger in The Guardian)

The Iraq war was launched six years ago, with an intensive aerial assault on key installations of Saddam Hussein’s regime on 19-20 March 2003. Almost from the start – amid many expectations of a quick and decisive victory – there were signs that the war would be prolonged and bitter..

This was the second time in eighteen months that a war had not gone according to plan. The termination of the Taliban regime in November 2001 appeared overwhelming; but by March 2002, the United States’s efforts were going badly wrong. Its Operation Anaconda faced the determined opposition of Taliban and other paramilitaries near Gardez, forcing the military to call up reinforcements in a conflict in which eight US soldiers were killed and thirty wounded ..

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, then, the belief that a short and intense military operation using overwhelming force would be enough to terminate the regime and ensure a clear victory foundered. Instead, in each case the initial phase of spectacular advance turned into a protracted war – now entering its seventh year in Iraq, and approaching its ninth year in Afghanistan. This longer perspective on the two wars might caution against over-confidence in recommending new variants of earlier military solutions (see "Afghanistan: a misread war", 26 February 2009). Yet it is striking that some commentators in the United States persist in the view that Iraq has – after all – turned into a success-story, largely because of the George W Bush administration’s military "surge" policy in 2007-08; and that a modified version of this policy could bring victory in Afghanistan ..

This assessment – an extension of the Republican "narrative of victory" promoted during the presidential-election campaign, which entails an excessively positive slant on trends in Iraq – ignores or underplays both the continuing violence and some of the many harsh effects of the entire war…

A wilful forgetting of this enormous violence is part of the armoury of commentators intent on declaring the Iraq war a triumph and arguing that its instruments need to be applied in Afghanistan. Indeed, behind the neo-conservative drumbeat is a raw political calculation: that if Barack Obama does not approve a major escalation in Afghanistan (exceeding even the planned increase of 17,000 troops) he can be damned as the leader of a weak and incompetent administration, responsible for throwing away success in Iraq and the prospect of victory in Afghanistan…

The political shadow-war that seeks to extend Iraq lessons to Afghanistan has less to offer on Pakistan, where the United States military predicament is becoming both graver and more focused as "AfPak" comes to be seen as a single theatre of war (see "The AfPak war: Washington’s three options", 23 February 2009).

The US is intent on extending the war more fully to Pakistan, even as that country is in the midst of a number of interlocking political and security crises (see "Pakistan: the new frontline", 18 September 2008). The prime means of its escalating intervention is the use of armed drones such as the Predator and the more heavily armed Reaper. The deployment of these drones has risen by a factor of twenty since 2001. The US air-force now has 195 Predators and twenty-eight Reapers, which are typically "flown" by technicians operating consoles at air-bases in Arizona and Nevada; the pressure of the workload in recent months is such that the air-force is trying to persuade retired personnel to return (see Christopher Drew, "Drones: the weapon of choice in fighting Al Qaeda", International Herald Tribune, 18 March 2009).

The use of these armed drones is militarily attractive, both because they do not involve any risk to aircrew and because they are relatively cheap (a Predator costs $4.5 million, against what can be $140 million for a strike-aircraft). At the same time they are notorious for inflicting large numbers of civilian casualties, which has provoked outrage in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pakistani choice

This is where matters could come to a head in April-June 2009. Until now, Predator and special-forces operations in Pakistan have been very largely restricted to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the country’s northwest; but Barack Obama and his team are coming under pressure to extend these operations further south, to the unsettled province of Balochistan (Baluchistan). This region borders several Afghan provinces, including Helmand and Kandahar, where Taliban and other militia activity has markedly expanded since 2006 (see David Sanger & Eric Schmitt, "U.S. may widen strikes in Pakistan", International Herald Tribune, 18 March 2009).

Indeed the use by the Taliban, al-Qaida and other paramilitary groups of these Balochistan frontier areas as "safe havens" is in part a response to the increase of US drone activity in the FATA. A strictly military calculation would see an extension of US operations into Balochistan as an essential part of any strategy aiming at victory in its war (or anything approximating to this). But there are three great risks for Washington…

A three-front war: Iraq, AfPak…Washington (Paul Rogers in openDemocracy)

An Unsatisfactory Way to Run a War (William Pfaff)

Thanks to a pro Israeli neo-conservative plan put forward in New York, designed to destroy Pakistan as the only Moslem nation with nuclear weapons, important circles in Pakistan now seem convinced that the United States intends to divide Pakistan into three new states, the largest one being a new Baluchistan in the southwest, where there have always been separatist tendencies.

The second large part would be handed over to Afghanistan, gratifying long-standing territorial ambitions, and the new state, incorporating all of the troublesome North West Territories dominated by the Pathan tribes, would in gratitude crush the Taliban. The third state would be a truncated territory along the Indian frontier, obviously under the military domination of New Delhi, Washington’s new best friend in South Asia.

One can see why this might play well with the American command in Afghanistan, infuriated by present-day Pakistan’s unsatisfactory cooperation with American plans, and it might also evoke interest in the Obama White House, whose ambition to undertake grand Asian geopolitical remakes, with all their political and military implications, remains untested.

In Pakistan, such a plan would generate the same hostility, but perhaps not the same incredulity, as the plan to divide a declining United States that was recently published by a Moscow think-tank…

Forgetting the hypothetical partition of Pakistan (which is a scheme, like other neo-conservative schemes, which nonetheless should be taken seriously), NATO today, approaching its 90th birthday, faces the prospect of sending home all of its units not willing to fight under the American rather than the NATO flag.

They will go home to “defend” Europe. From what or from whom? A Russia which no longer has European ambitions, has no ideology, has yet to solve the deep questions of its national political future, and at this moment wishes only to be left alone to sell oil? From threats to Europe’s Middle Eastern energy sources? In that case NATO’s long-term interests suggest making better friends of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states.

What the major NATO countries don’t need is an expanded NATO or American war in Central and South Asia. If or when General David Petraeus comes around to NATO headquarters in Kabul, and says, “Look, guys. The time has come for the bunch of you to shape up or ship out,” they might do well to reply, “Sir, our bags are packed. It’s been grand working with you, but take our parting advice. There’s no future for any European soldier in this country.”

Columns : An Unsatisfactory Way to Run a War (William Pfaff)

Counterinsurgenterrorism – Obama’s new policy for Afghanistan tries to steer a middle course (Fred Kaplan in Slate)

If you’re confused about President Barack Obama’s "comprehensive strategy" for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he laid out this morning, don’t feel dense. I’m confused, too, and so are several military experts I’ve been talking with.

The president seems to have taken a middle course in the debate among his advisers, forging bits and pieces of both sides’ proposals into a consensus policy that has something to please almost everybody. Presidents who do this usually stumble into disaster. But in this case Obama may have hit the right balance.
And yet there are puzzles and contradictions. There’s clearly still much for Obama and the NATO allies—and everyone else concerned with the region—to work out. The debate is not over. The strategy is still a work in progress, as is the war.

The internal debate leading up to today’s announcement pitted officials who advocated a broad counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy against those calling for a more direct, less ambitious counterterrorism (CT) campaign.
The COIN-dinistas, as some call them, argue that the best way to defeat insurgents is to protect the population and provide basic services, thus drying up the insurgents’ base of support and strengthening loyalty to the government. Going after the terrorists directly must be part of any approach, they agree. But if that’s the central element, it only gives the bad guys the initiative, lets them melt into the landscape, and kills too many civilians caught in the crossfire, thus alienating the people we’re trying to help.

Those more strictly CT advocates, led I’m told by Vice President Joe Biden, concede that the COIN camp has a point. But they say that following that course would require too many troops, too much money, and way too much time—more of all three than the United States and NATO could muster—and that the insurgents might still win anyway. Better to focus U.S. efforts more narrowly on simply fighting the insurgents themselves, especially in the border areas with Pakistan.

In the end, Obama went for an option that might be called "CT-plus." Over the next several months, the U.S. military will basically follow Biden’s advice. The "plus"—the extra things soldiers might be ordered to do in the months and years that follow—will be determined, in large part, by how well or how badly things are going…

Counterinsurgenterrorism – Obama’s new policy for Afghanistan tries to steer a middle course (Fred Kaplan in Slate)

Surging toward Failure in Afghanistan (by Malou Innocent / Cato Institute)

President Barack Obama is soon expected to make a fina decision on whether to approve a civilian "surge" of hundreds o additional US officials for the war in Afghanistan. This new strategy, which would narrowly focus on development, rule-of-la issues and combating the narcotics trade, comes less than a week after Said Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States accused western forces of "total negligence" in building the Afghan police force and judicial system and of providing "meagre resources" in helping his government deliver basic services to its people.

The United States and its Nato allies do not have the responsibility, the qualifications or the capital to be Afghanistan’s caretaker. But what the coalition does need, yet unfortunately still lacks, is a clearly stated objective of what they hope to achieve in Afghanistan.

Bringing stability is an obvious goal in the short term. But the long-term prospect of defeating the Taliban and rebuilding the country is an issue that needs to be addressed, yet is seldom raised…

..Yet the complex nature of the region and its people — many of whom have a stronger allegiance to proximate tribes and warlords than to far-away leaders in Kabul — make assisting this destitute and war-ravaged country next to impossible. Indeed, rather than re-building, the United States and Nato would be building much of the country, such as erecting infrastructure, tailoring a judicial system to make it compatible with local customs and undertaking such a monumental enterprise in a country awash with weapons, notoriously suspicious of outsiders, and largely absent of central authority. These were conditions not fully considered under the previous administration.

Afghanistan under the tutelage of the Taliban was the clearest case of a foreign threat emanating from a categorical failed state. Its leaders provided shelter to the al-Qaida organisation directly responsible for the 9/11 attack. What is less clear is why waging a war against today’s Taliban advances US national security and whether pouring in billions of taxpayer dollars for years to come, given the global financial crisis, is what’s best for the citizens of the US and Nato countries. There’s a reason why Afghanistan has been described as the "graveyard of empires".

Throughout its long and turbulent history, the country has looked more like a tribal confederacy than a cohesive nation-state. Nine-tenths of Afghanistan’s population lives outside of cities and towns. The situation is exacerbated by low literacy levels and poor-to-nonexistent infrastructure…

In the weeks leading up to this April’s Nato summit meeting, the Obama administration must make some tough choices in potential direct talks with the Taliban. Is Nato ready to let them share power if they agree not to shelter al-Qaida? What if some elements want to keep their fringe beliefs and draconian practices?

Bringing stability to Afghanistan, especially on the local and provincial levels, is an obvious goal in the short term. But from a wider strategic and economic perspective, no tangible gains will outweigh the risky and costly strategy of a prolonged military presence in this dangerous part of the world. The US and Nato cannot afford to view Afghanistan within a vacuum. Its leaders must do their best to improve conflicting regional alliances. Most importantly, the coalition should accept that eliminating threats to its interests should not be conflated with fixing state failure.

Surging toward Failure in Afghanistan (by Malou Innocent / Cato Institute)

White House Debate Led to Plan to Widen Afghan Effort (By HELENE COOPER and ERIC SCHMITT in New York Times)

President Obama’s plan to widen United States involvement in Afghanistan came after an internal debate in which Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned against getting into a political and military quagmire, while military advisers argued that the Afghanistan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops.

All of the president’s advisers agreed that the primary goal in the region should be narrow — taking aim at Al Qaeda, as opposed to the vast attempt at nation-building the Bush administration had sought in Iraq. The question was how to get there.

The commanders in the field wanted a firmer and long-term commitment of more combat troops beyond the 17,000 that Mr. Obama had already promised to send, and a pledge that billions of dollars would be found to significantly expand the number of Afghan security forces.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pressed for an additional 4,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan — but only to serve as trainers. They tempered the commanders’ request and agreed to put off any decision to order more combat troops to Afghanistan until the end of this year, when the strategy’s progress could be assessed.

During these discussions, Mr. Biden was the voice of caution, reminding the group members that they would have to sell their plans to a skeptical Congress…

The debate over the past few weeks offered a glimpse into how Mr. Obama makes decisions. In this case, he chose a compromise between his political and military advisers that some critics say includes some strategic holes, such as a reliance on the same sort of vague guidelines that proved difficult to carry out in Iraq. It also offers insight into the role of Mr. Biden and other members of a foreign policy team that includes many powerful figures vying for Mr. Obama’s attention.

In the end the plan is a compromise that reflected all of the strains of the discussion among his advisers, one that is markedly different, though perhaps no less difficult, from the goals his predecessor set for the region. In speaking of Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush spoke of lofty goals that included building nations that could stand as models of democracy in the Muslim world.

By contrast, at a White House news conference in which he invoked concerns of another possible terrorist attack on United States soil, Mr. Obama framed the issue as one that relies on one central tenet: protecting Americans from attacks like the one that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

To do so, he said he would increase aid to Pakistan and would, for the first time, set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in both countries. “The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama said Friday in announcing his decision. “Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives…

Mr. Obama is dispatching Admiral Mullen and Mr. Holbrooke to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India next week to explain his new strategy to leaders there.

Chief among the aims of the two men will be to try to get Pakistani and Indian officials, in particular, to turn down the volume in their never-ending conflict, in the hopes that the Pakistani military can turn its attention to the fight against insurgents in border regions, and away from fighting India.

White House Debate Led to Plan to Widen Afghan Effort (By HELENE COOPER and ERIC SCHMITT in New York Times)

A Philosophical Analysis of Obama’s New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (by: Camillo "Mac" Bica, t r u t h o u t | Perspective)

..So here we have it, the Obama administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A mission whose purpose and goals, upon analysis, are not as focused as he would have us believe. In reality, it is a truly bold and challenging mission, especially with an economy bordering on collapse and a military depleted and in disarray from fighting a multifront campaign for more than seven years…

In light of President Obama’s recognition and acceptance that "the road ahead will be long" and difficult, the following questions remain to be answered. Just how long will we endure failure, should we not be successful? With our economy in crisis, just how much treasure are we prepared to squander in pursuit of our goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Just how many lives are we prepared to sacrifice? Though I hope I am wrong, given the history of unrest and resistance in Afghanistan and the complexity of the problems, I fear that our efforts, like those of the Soviet Union and the British will ultimately prove unsuccessful and that President Obama, finding himself embroiled in an unwinnable war, with too much invested in treasure, lives and reputation to just pick up and walk away, will share the fate of another liberal Democratic president whose dreams for a "Great Society" had to be abandoned because of his decisions to become involved in quagmire.

A Philosophical Analysis of Obama’s New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (by: Camillo "Mac" Bica, t r u t h o u t | Perspective)

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