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Rasmussen's 7,000

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is promising that there will be 7,000 additional troops from 25 countries to support Obama's extended surge. Interestingly, one of the reasons he gave was the multilateralism of the US:
If we are to make Afghanistan more stable, and ourselves more secure, we must all do more. The US has pursued a multilateral approach to this operation. We must now demonstrate that multilateralism delivers concrete results.
Several commentators have recently hinted that Obama should act more unilaterally, as George W. Bush did (in his first term and a half). Calling for abandoning the multilateral approach is premature. The way multilateralism is described by its fans and opponents alike is also too romantic. The fact is that the US is still getting things done by excercising pressure on individual countries -- but it's doing so behind the scenes rather than through grandstanding. If Rasmussen is able to deliver his 7,000, it should show that the Obama administration's approach to diplomacy has worked.

Whether it really is as multilateral as it is said to be or not...

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John in Michigan, US on :

Assuming Rasmussen isn't over-ruled by someone higher, this is a significant victory for Atlanticism and for the Obama administration. First, the symbolism of this support will send a message that will be noticed around the world. The effect will be intangible, but quite real. Second, one presumes that along with the 7,000 will come a diplomatic surge from European capitols. This deployment of soft power will be both tangible, and welcome. As to hard power -- the troops themselves -- will they make a difference on the ground? Too soon to say. If they are given rules of engagement that permit them to conduct real counter-insurgency, then they will be a help. But if a defense minister has to resign every time a civilian is killed, these troops will end up confined to barracks. Meanwhile, the troops consume resources, their morale suffers, which in turn lowers morale elsewhere in ISAF. The troops could end up actually making a negative contribution to the hard power equation. One is tempted to argue that even under restrictive rules of engagement, these troops could be helpful in a training role for Afghan forces. But no amount of training will be helpful, unless the NATO and Afghan forces actually fight together in the field. Also, real counter-insurgency makes minimal use of air strikes, but minimal is not the same as no air strikes.

Pat Patterson on :

I think, using the new Armenian contingent of troops as an example, then nothing really has changed. The Armenians have promised a company sized unit that will not be involved in anything other than guarding an airport. This will simply mean that the ISAF and the US will have more soldiers, mainly American, British, Canadian and French available to do the heavy lifting. Plus most worrisome is that NATO pointedly did not mention any increase in air assets or armored vehicles. Both of which are expensive to use and even more expensive to replace and sending either to Afghanistan is likely to produce both results. And in all liklihood without these assets then the US will be called on more and more to make up the slack. But until the actual units are mentioned their effectiveness can only be judged by their history. And for many of these countries it is very dismal.

Nanne Zwagerman on :

On the killed civilians, the issue was that the defense minister lied to the German Parliament shortly before the elections. You're not supposed to get caught lying to Parliament in Germany. I've looked at the details of the Kunduz air strike and I fail to understand it. The trucks were stuck in a dry river bed 6 kilometres from the German base camp and there were more than 5 hours between the first sighting and eventual bombing. Granted, this was at nighttime. But the Germans might have sent at least one or two of the Marders IFVs they have stationed in Kunduz to 'observe'. They're perfectly good vehicles, can take 30mm machine gun fire, drive 65 kmh, have thermal vision, and so on. Even if the entire thinking from the get-go was just to take the opportunity to wipe out as many Taliban as possible, civilians be damned, a dispatch might have attracted some small arms fire and there would have been the plausible deniability of a 'threat' which was needed for the airstrike. And I do think that it was largely calculation given that the F-15 pilots say that they wanted to do 5 flyovers first and that they were asked to drop even more bombs than they did. Of course they could be in CYA mode too (pesky rules of engagement!), but given the lies of the German commander so far I tend to favour them. So regardless of how I look at it -- whether the attack was ordered primarily out of cowardice or out of cold-blooded military calculation -- the commander seems incompetent. But maybe I'm missing something. Would the Taliban have scuttled at the sight of a single IFV? ... Perhaps we'll see more troops pledged in January and February. Germany is holding off for now. In the mean while: even if half of the new troops do little but free up US and other forces, that should still help?

Pat Patterson on :

I'm not to sure sending one two Marders as over watch was even considered for three reasons. The 20mm on the Marder is ineffective, the hull is not designed to withstand IEDs and since the temperature in September can still be in the 100 degrees F sitting in an non-air conditioned IFV with or without tropps is a non-starter. The happy truth is the number of civilian casualties in wars the West fights have been declining for over 60 years. And considering that the Soviets would have simply called in Hind gunships to strafe the entire area, while not excusing civilian deaths, does tend to show that NATO and the US are not just irresponsibly shooting at civilians.

John in Michigan, US on :

"the issue was that the defense minister lied to the German Parliament shortly before the elections" Well, if he had told the truth, that some civilians were killed, are you saying that he would have avoided scandal? If the answer is, no, there would have been a scandal anyways, then it seems to me that there has be no de facto reduction in national caveats, and that my statement "a defense minister has to resign every time a civilian is killed" contains only a tiny bit of hyperbole. As I recall, even after national caveats were reduced, it was still the case that someone from the defense ministry had to approve every offensive operation...and offensive operation was left undefined...meaning that any approval can be endlessly second-guessed after the fact. Speaking of definitions, I wonder how much of the lie was due to actual intent to deceive, vs. how much of the lie was due to disagreement as to the definition of civilian in this complicated context.

Pat Patterson on :

Is the implication that if he had been treated like Adlai Stevenson during the Bay of Pigs that would have lessened the hoorah? Doubtful, often times the opposition will search out any mistake and then use any comment to delegitamize the whole endeavor.

Pamela on :

I'll believe it when I see it. And I ain't seein' it. McChrystal - Obama's new toy boy - is getting our troops killed. http://www.floppingaces.net/2009/09/09/obamas-rules-of-engagement-in-afghanistan-costing-our-troops-lives/ I'd advise you guys to stay home.

John in Michigan, US on :

The US and NATO have just made [i]very, very difficult decisions[/i] to attempt what should have been attempted much earlier. As frustrating as this is, I feel strong that it is too soon to start second-guessing. It sounds like hell for those Marines and their Afghan brothers in arms. But, simply loosening the rules re air strikes or arty is NOT the answer. In an ambush that is so well prepared, the enemy almost certainly had a plan to deal with air strikes or arty barrages. Probably, they would have attempted the infamous "self-cleaning battlefield". This is an utterly insidious tactic in which the basic, decent, Muslim practice of burying the dead ASAP is perverted into a powerful weapon in the information war. The bodies of all fighters are removed within minutes or hours, but [i]the bodies of other Muslims[/i], who are civilians or who can be sanitized to look like civilians, [i]are left behind to rot[/i]...in some cases, the enemy performs additional desecration on the corpses. All this is done for the cameras which the enemy has ensured will have access (the typical close-up photos of bodies is yet another desecration, and also a war crime); the video is distributed world-wide according to plan. The text is "the West has committed another 100% civilian war crime for no reason other than blind, impotent hatred of Muslims"; the sub-text is "ha ha we've snookered you again, look how we turn defeat into victory" and so on. Imagine if we had fallen for the full, multi-layered ambush, instead of simply falling for the initial ambush. That could have caused the NATO deal to collapse, perhaps even caused Obama to loose control of his domestic coalition. The surge might have been defeated right there. Once the ambush was sprung, I think the commanders were 100% correct to suspect a trap within a trap. Their failure, for which heads should roll, was in not having a plan vs this trap within a trap, or having that plan, but failing to execute. It seems to me that, once our guys had pulled back (and lured some of the enemy out of the village), there should have been enough flexibility to cover their retreat with carefully coordinated strikes. That would give the enemy cameras some explosions to film, but it would also force the enemy to stage the atrocity out in the field, instead of in someone's hut in the village. Next, perhaps we could have had our own cameras there documenting the self-cleaning battlefield and exposing it for the obscenity it is. Also, showing how we saved the village, etc. But that is all guesswork and hindsight. Perhaps the initial ambush was just too good, and such an organized retreat was not possible. Sometimes we get the bear, sometimes the bear gets us. We weep, and we return to the fight. If counter-insurgency is done right, in the future we will have warning that the village has been infiltrated, or perhaps, was never interested in talking with us in the first place. Thus we will avoid the encounter, or better still, be able to turn it to our advantage.

Pamela on :

Oh, and it gets better. --------------- From The Sunday Times December 6, 2009 Gordon Brown was snubbed by badly injured Afghan veterans when they closed curtains round their beds during a hospital visit and refused to speak to him. More than half the soldiers being treated at the Selly Oak hospital ward in Birmingham either asked for the curtains to be closed or deliberately avoided the prime minister, according to several of those present. The soldiers, who have sustained some of the worst injuries seen in Afghanistan, described his visit as “opportunistic” and a “waste of time”. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6945976.ece

Marie Claude on :

wht's worth of if Obama already planned to leave the ground to Pakistan ? Now, what about a second involvement of Russia, it appears that the last terrorism act was "driven" by Pakistan, or was it forecasted in order to prepear us to wellcome Russia among Nato

Zyme on :

Even if Nato one day leaves and hell breaks lose in Afghanistan, it was not for nothing. Instead by then the last of the Western governments will have learned that cruisades for democracy don't pay off. So it is likely to remain the sole case of this department. The best thing to do with more troops would be to secure a new dictator with favourable stance towards the West. A tough man who has an aura of respect, in contrast to Karzai. Of course this choice could have been made as early as 2001. But then our beloved leaders would not have learned the above.

Marie Claude on :

"“Nothing is more to be esteemed than aptness in discerning the true from the false. Other qualities of mind are of limited use, but precision of thought is essential to every aspect and walk of life. To distinguish truth from error is difficult not only in the sciences but also in the everyday affairs men engage in and discuss. Men are everywhere confronted with alternative routes–some true and others false–and reason must choose between them. Who chooses well has a sound mind, who chooses ill a defective one. Capacity for discerning the truth is the most important measure of minds.”" –Antoine Arnauld The Art of Thinking http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/arnauld.html I guess that the nowadays people forgot all about this, and that times are repeated ad infinitum, people never learn, see the novel of Camus "la peste", soon after the disease was over populations reversed to their former ways of living

Marie Claude on :

Gorbachev was facing the same dilemn, adding more troops would serve to nothing http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bennett-ramberg-phd/the-soviet-occupation-of_b_369105.html 82% of the French are opposed to sending more troops there http://www.sudouest.com/accueil/actualite/international/article/797831/mil.html

Pat Patterson on :

It appears that it is American ROEs in Afghanistan that should be worried about. The NYT has an article detailing a failed raid to capture a Taliban leader that took eleven different ok's and was eventually cancelled when he finished his tea. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/opinion/08vaccaro.html?_r=4&scp=1&sq=The%20Next%20Surge:%20Counterbureaucracy&st=cse

John in Michigan, US on :

Compelling read. There were problems like this in the Iraq counter-insurgency fight. Some of them were never resolved; but enough of them were resolved that we prevailed. So as I've warned, Afghanistan has a much less unified command structure than Iraq. Ambiguous, inflexible, or ever-changing ROE's compound the problem. Plus, there are other reasons why counter-insurgency is less likely to succeed in Afghanistan. But it is still worth a try. The alternative is a Afghanistan bloodbath that makes the current bloodbath look tame, and also a major risk of similar carnage in Pakistan, with Islamists finally getting control of the Pakistan nukes. Oh, and a re-energized global Islamist movement, and...the list goes on. The Bush Counter-insurgency Doctrine (although few dare call it that) is now the bi-partisan, international consensus. How far we've come.

Pat Patterson on :

I agree but unfortunately we appear to have an administration that has so little awareness of military doctrines that they will probably end up agreeing with more complicated ROEs. Something like the scene in Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House where the lead character is asked if he wants the joists left in because someone forgot to put them in the blue prints. He says no, no extra expenses, then changes his mind after the short two by fours used to strengthen the frame start crashing to the floor.

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