|U.S. tested 2 Afghan scenarios in war game
|Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung
The Pentagon's top military officer oversaw a secret war game this month to evaluate the two primary military options that have been put forward by the Pentagon and are being weighed by the Obama administration as part of a broad-based review of the faltering Afghanistan war, senior military officials said.
The exercise, led by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, examined the likely outcome of inserting 44,000 more troops into the country to conduct a full-scale counterinsurgency effort aimed at building a stable Afghan government that can control most of the country. It also examined adding 10,000 to 15,000 more soldiers and Marines as part of an approach that the military has dubbed "counterterrorism plus."
Both options were drawn from a detailed analysis prepared by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan, and were forwarded to President Obama in recent weeks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
The Pentagon war game did not formally endorse either course; rather, it tried to gauge how Taliban fighters, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and NATO allies might react to either of the scenarios. Mullen, a key player in the game, has discussed its conclusions with senior White House officials involved in the discussions over the new strategy.
One of the exercise's key assumptions is that an increase of 10,000 to 15,000 troops would not in the near future give U.S. commanders the forces they need to take back havens from the Taliban commanders in southern and western Afghanistan, where shadow insurgent governors collect taxes and run court systems based on Islamic sharia law.
"We were running out the options and trying to understand the implications from many different perspectives, including the enemy and the Afghan people," said a senior military official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the classified game.
The Obama administration initiated a major review of its war strategy in late September after questions emerged about the legitimacy of the Aug. 20 Afghan elections, which were marred by allegations of widespread fraud, and a troubling update on the progress of the war by McChrystal. He warned that unless the United States moved quickly to wrest momentum from the Taliban, defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan might no longer be possible.
What was intended to be two or three weeks of intensive White House meetings has stretched on for almost a month. Obama and his national security advisers have sorted through the military and civilian aspects of the war, building toward a decision that many on the outside have urged be made sooner rather than later.
Last week, the president concluded the five planned review sessions, roughly 15 hours in all, with top advisers in the Situation Room.
McChrystal's analysis suggests that 44,000 troops would be needed to drive Taliban forces from populated areas and to hold them until Afghan troops and government officials can take the place of U.S. and NATO forces. The extra troops would allow U.S. commanders to essentially triple the size of the American forces in the southern part of the country, where the Taliban movement originated and where the insurgents have their strongest base of support.
McChrystal would also use the additional troops to bolster the effort in eastern Afghanistan, which has long been a focus of the U.S. military, and push additional troops into western Afghanistan, where the military has maintained a tiny presence and where the Taliban has made inroads, U.S. officials said. A surge of 44,000 soldiers and Marines would also allow McChrystal to designate a brigade of about 5,000 soldiers to train and advise the Afghan army and police forces, accelerating their growth.
The increase of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers would give McChrystal one U.S. advisory brigade of about 5,000 troops to speed the development of Afghan forces and a large number of support forces to include engineers, route-clearance teams and helicopters. McChrystal's analysis also suggested the option of increasing the number of troops by 80,000, but that isn't drawing serious consideration.
In television interviews Sunday, lawmakers outlined broad partisan differences over how many troops are needed in Afghanistan. Republicans have voiced strong support for granting McChrystal's request for more troops, and urged that it be done quickly.
"I'm afraid that with every passing day, we risk the future success of the mission," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) disagreed, calling the decision-making process "very proper and smart." The administration's lengthy deliberations are "what we need, because we're going to end up living with the results for a good period of time," Webb said on CNN's "State of the Union."
The administration's internal deliberations have emphasized that unless the Afghan government dramatically improves its performance, the Taliban will continue to find support. Administration officials said Obama's decision will consider a much broader range of options than the number of troops. At nearly every meeting in the White House Situation Room, McChrystal has been joined on the video screens at the end of the table by Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, and Anne W. Patterson, his counterpart in Pakistan.
One question being debated is whether more U.S. troops would improve the performance of the Afghan government by providing an important check on corruption and the drug trade, or would they stunt the growth of the Afghan government as U.S. troops and civilians take on more tasks that Afghans might better perform themselves. Another factor is cost. The Pentagon has budgeted about $65 billion to maintain a force of about 68,000 troops, meaning that each additional 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan would cost about $1 billion a year.
Administration officials say Obama might settle on a plan but delay announcing it until after a runoff in the Afghan national elections, scheduled for Nov. 7. The president is to begin a 10-day trip to Asia on Nov. 11.
Early this month, McChrystal was told to delay a planned Washington trip until Obama had finished gathering facts on the way ahead. "When you see McChrystal in town," along with Eikenberry and Patterson, a senior administration official said, "you'll know that [Obama] is close to a decision."
|We won't find al-Qaida in Afghanistan
The US wants to defeat al-Qaida in Afghanistan. But politicians don't realise we're fighting the wrong war, in the wrong country
Whisper it quietly. Contrary to popular opinion, the west has won the war in Afghanistan.
How do I know this? Because Barack Obama says the aim of the war is to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Qaida in Afghanistan – a strategy endorsed by our very own Gordon Brown. If that's the case, then let me spell it out to the president and the prime minister: there are no Afghans in al-Qaida, and no al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
So why not declare victory and bring the troops home?
That's not just my humble view – that's the view of one of the world's leading counter-terrorism experts, Dr Marc Sageman, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia:
We've won. It was critical, after 9/11, that we went into Afghanistan to destroy the terrorist training camps that the plotters had attended … and we've done that: there are no camps left in Afghanistan, and all of the terror plots now come out of Pakistan.
Dr Sageman has impeccable credentials: a forensic psychiatrist, sociologist and scholar-in-residence with the New York police department, he served as a CIA case officer in Islamabad in the late 1980s, working closely with the Afghan mujahedin. His most recent book, based on an analysis of more than 500 terrorist biographies, convincingly argues that Bin Laden and his ilk have ceased to function as an organisational or operational entity and that the "present threat has evolved from a structured group of al-Qaida masterminds, controlling vast resources and issuing commands, to a multitude of informal local groups trying to emulate their predecessors by conceiving and executing operations from the bottom up. These 'homegrown' wannabes form a scattered global network, a leaderless jihad."
Earlier this month, in both oral and written testimony at a congressional hearing on the war, convened by Senator John Kerry's foreign relations committee and sadly ignored by much of the mainstream media, Dr Sageman demolished many of the myths and claims that have infused, confused and distorted the debate over Afghanistan.
First, the claim that fighting a war in Afghanistan protects the streets of New York and London from terrorist attack. The crux of Dr Sageman's argument, and empirical research, is that, since 2002, there has not been a single terrorist plot in the west that can be traced back to Afghanistan. "The few that have any link to a transnational neo-jihadi terrorist group are linked to Pakistan," he told me. These include the 7/7 attacks and the more recent liquid bomb plot – in fact, as Gordon Brown himself conceded in December 2008, three-quarters of the terrorist plots investigated by British authorities can be traced back to Pakistan – and not Afghanistan.
Second, the claim that a resurgent Taliban poses a threat to the west. Dr Sageman is adamant that the prospect of "deeply divided" Taliban forces retaking Kabul and returning to power in Afghanistan is "not a sure thing". Nor would a Taliban return to power "mean an automatic new sanctuary for al-Qaida." The relationship between the two organisations, he says, "has always been strained … indeed, al-Qaida has so far not returned to Taliban controlled areas in Afghanistan." It is a view shared, incidentally, by a senior member of the Obama administration, the national security adviser, General James Jones, who told CNN that "the al-Qaida presence [in Afghanistan] is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."
Third, the claim that Afghanistan will benefit from an Iraq-style "surge" of western troops. This was Sageman's testimony on Capitol Hill:
Let me answer that with an old Middle Eastern proverb. 'It's me and my brother against my cousin. But it's me and my cousin against a foreigner.' So if we send 40,000 Americans ... that will coalesce every local rivalry; they will put their local rivalry aside to actually shoot the foreigners and then they'll resume their own internecine fight ... Sending troops with weapons just will unify everybody against those troops, unfortunately.
Dr Sageman is keen for policymakers in the west, who promote falsehoods and myths about Afghanistan while sitting "several thousand miles from the war zone", to acknowledge the futility of escalation, instead of recognising the success in ridding Afghanistan of al-Qaida, as long ago as 2002, and now switching the focus to Pakistan. He has another useful ally in the White House, in the form of the vice-president Joe Biden, who has been pushing in recent weeks to divert resources from Afghanistan to Pakistan and reformulate the terrorism problem as "PakAf", not "AfPak". But our own prime minister's decision to send a further 500 troops to the killing fields of Helmand flies in the face of such thinking. Dr Sageman is perplexed. "The problem is in Pakistan," he tells me. "But that's not where we are sending troops to. We're sending them to the nation next door."
The question is: why? As the military and civilian deal tolls continue to rise inexorably, in a conflict that is about to eclipse Vietnam in its length, it is high time that our politicians, generals and spies wake up to the fact that we are fighting the wrong war, in the wrong country.
|Escalating Afghanistan: What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?
|Comm on Dreams
Thirty-four years ago this month the young James Fallows published (in the Washington Monthly) what still remains a definitive article about the class divide in times of war—“What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” I still have a yellowed original copy somewhere. Fallows was writing about the sickening reality that as a Harvard student he, like so many other Ivy Leaguers, could quite easily avoid fighting in Vietnam. They had the ways and means to avoid military service: exemptions, deferments, lawyers, connections.
I was reminded of Fallows’ awkward question a couple of weeks ago when I was in New Haven to receive Yale Divinity School’s William Sloane Coffin ‘56 Peace and Justice Award. Coffin famously commenced his 17-year chaplaincy at Yale by telling the members of the 1959 freshman class that “the Lord forbids our using our education merely to buy our way into middle class security.” Coffin and other antiwar religious activists of the time never could persuade a majority of upper-middle class students to take to the streets against the Vietnam madness, though they made a valiant effort—and they understood the ugly race and class dimension of American imperialism.
Thinking about Coffin’s legacy, I had to ask myself exactly what I have been doing during the current class war—a siege that is far more severe and ugly than the one that sent mainly working-class and rural kids to fight and die for nothing in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
Today, obviously, our privileged young people do not have to worry about a military draft: there is absolutely no chance that they will be compelled to serve. But what is far worse than Vietnam-era draft evasion by the young and well-connected is the complete insulation from the consequences of bad policy enjoyed by today’s jeunesse doree. Not only do they not have to go to the burning deserts of Iraq or to the chilly forbidding heights of Afghanistan: they don’t even have to know anything about the lives of those who are going. The idea that they might experience any Fallows-like guilt or have any second thoughts about their degree of insulation is simply not an issue today.
This extreme stratification and insulation of the privileged is what weighs on my mind—and what should weigh on all concerned religious leaders—on the cusp of President Obama’s decision whether or not to let Gen. MacArthur (oops, sorry—Gen. McChrystal) steamroll him into increasing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan by 40,000—or even 85,000.
Earlier this month the Pentagon crowed that it had just completed its best recruiting year in three and a half decades. The announcement made no secret of the fact that a devastatingly bad job market is just terrific news for military recruiters waving hefty signing bonuses. The question of conscience: How do we feel about taking advantage of the economic vulnerability of the majority of American youth in order to make them still more vulnerable: i.e., vulnerable to suicide bombers, IEDs, mortar rounds, and even “friendly fire”?
We might do well to recall that the ancient military state of Sparta used a class of people called helots to wage its many wars. The helots were not exactly private property in the manner of Athenian slaves; rather, they could best be described as serfs or slaves of the public: available and expected to do the public’s bloody business of conquest and pillage.
Let us say it clearly and see how it feels upon the tongue: today’s “all-volunteer” military represents a contemporary form of helotry. We give the great majority of our young very little hope for a foothold in our collapsed economy; then we send them off to fight and die (or, given the significant advancements in military field medicine, to return home horribly damaged) in order to “defend” the grossly unequal society that dealt them such a bad hand in the first place.
There is nothing new about this, you say, and you are right. But tell me when it has been quite this bad? Two-thirds of all income gains between 2002 and 2007 went to the top one percent of Americans. The ratio of CEO compensation to average worker compensation in 1965—when the catastrophic Vietnam “surge” began—was bad enough at around 25-to-1. Today that ratio is 300-to-1 and soaring, despite the fact that Wall Street’s best and brightest just pushed the economy over the brink.
People ask why there is so little outrage over the absurd idea that we can make ourselves more secure by putting down a huge military footprint in a little-known (by us) region of the world and by routinely assassinating that region’s indigenous leaders (bear in mind that Obama ordered more drone attacks in his first six months in office than Bush ordered in his last three-and-one-half years).
I will tell you why I think there is so little outrage: the people making these decisions remain as arrogant as ever while enjoying more insulation than ever from the consequences of their bad decisions, whereas the people being deployed to fight come from a population that has been rendered effectively voiceless. After all, economic desperation is about much more than just having no money; it’s about being anxious and stressed and having to hustle in two or three junk jobs just to survive.
Do the stressed-out strike you as people who are likely or able to articulate and express a strong antiwar view and then to vote accordingly? I don’t think so. And this is in part because these likely military recruits are not simply cannon fodder—they are also fodder for the well-heeled demagogues who tell them all the time that what holds them back is Big Government, or brown people sneaking across the border to steal their jobs, or Jews, or even a Black (possibly foreign? possibly Muslim?) president.
And even if economically desperate Americans do actually see the proposed Af-Pak surge as a looming catastrophe (as I believe many do), does it really matter to the policymakers what they think? The economically distressed and marginal count for less than ever in this hollowed-out and corrupt formal democracy. The Democratic Party’s dirty little secret for the past 30 years is that it has as little interest in mobilizing the poor and marginal as does the Republican Party. What was once the party of “the little guy” has unmistakably hitched its wagon to the party of wealth.
Religiously speaking, the right descriptor for a system that insulates some and exposes others to the horrors of imperial war—and that relies on the same growing inequality to stifle dissent—is demonic. These are demons that won’t be cast out until we first name them properly. For clergy, naming them is not just an option or something that only some bold and reckless colleagues might wish to undertake. Religious leaders are not allowed to sit out the class war. It’s our job to be combatants, ready or not.