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U.S. Generals Indicate No Quick Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Recent statements from top U.S. generals are dashing hopes in the US and among European Allies that the war in Afghanistan will wind down in the next year, despite President Obama's stated intentions to begin troop reductions in July 2011.

Consider comments from the top U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, General James Conway, reported by Daily Times:
In recent months, US officials have played down expectations of any large withdrawal of troops in July 2011. Conway echoed those sentiments, saying he believed Marines would remain in the south for years. He said that Afghan forces would not be ready to take over security from US troops in key southern provinces for at least a few years.

“I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us,” he said, referring to Marines deployed in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Conway said some Afghan units somewhere might be able to assume the lead for security in 2011 but not in the south.
Further statements by General David Petraeus regarding the Afghanistan drawdown make it clear that the July 2011 date does not signal a hard end of the war, writes
Petraeus also repeated his view that the drawdown in U.S. and NATO forces, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will not result in a swift withdrawal.

"July the date when a process begins. It is not the date when the U.S. forces begin an exodus and look for the exit and a light to turn out," Petraeus said.
General Petraeus discusses the July 2011 drawdown in a video interview with the BBC, found here.

In the article "Why Europe Fears
Petraeus's Urge to Surge", Financial Times argues that European leaders not only desire a more expedient withdrawal from Afghanistan, but also want to pursue a different strategy for ending the conflict based on negotiations with the Taliban:
In discussions with European generals, diplomats and officials – each involved in their government’s Afghan policy – a common fear emerges. That US president Barack Obama will not be able to refuse demands from Gen Petraeus to extend the surge well beyond July 2011; that the general will continue to push for a continuation of military strategy; and that he will decline any suggestion of opening negotiations with the Taliban – something that many Europeans are very keen on.
European officials are coming to the consensus that they would like the Nato summit and Mr Obama’s Afghan policy review – both at the end of the year – to reach a position where negotiating with the Taliban is the political strategy around which military strategy is determined.

Troop withdrawals, which Mr Obama says will start next July, would then take place according to the pace of talks between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government; not on the basis of hard-to-gauge battlefield success. Europe also wants the US to press Afghanistan’s neighbours not to interfere in its affairs.

Gen Petraeus wants to convince Washington, Nato and Europe to do just the opposite, determining withdrawals on the basis of the military, not the political, situation.

DOD Releases Afghanistan Report

The US Defense Department delivered a report to Congress this week providing an update on progress in Afghanistan from the period October 2009 to the end of March 2010.  Titled "Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan", the congressionally mandated report is extensive at 152 pages and covers everything from troop numbers in country to the details of ISAF counter-narcotics policy.

I have not read the entire report yet, but here are some highlights from the Executive Summary:


Violence is up but Afghanis feel more secure

“Polls consistently illustrate that Afghans see security as improved from a year ago. At the same time violence is sharply above the seasonal average for the previous year – an 87% increase from February 2009 to March 2010.”  The report says that while violence has increased, this is largely due to increased ISAF activity.
US, partner-country, and Afghani force levels are increasing

US presence:
 “On March 31, 2010 there were approximately 87,000 U.S. forces and approximately 46,500 international forces in Afghanistan… force levels expected to approach 98,000 by August 2010.”

"The President’s strategy is dependent not only on the application of military capability, but also on increased civilian capacity. Since January 2009, the Department of State (DoS) has more than tripled the number of civilians on the ground in Afghanistan to 992. The increase in civilian personnel is a reflection of the President’s strategy to increase civil military cooperation at all levels of operations."

Continue reading "DOD Releases Afghanistan Report"

The Emerging Afghanistan Strategy

In a long piece for the NYT, Dexter Filkins writes that the US is done propping up the mayor of Kabul:

The world has changed for Mr. Karzai, and for Afghanistan, too. A White House favorite — a celebrity in flowing cape and dark gray fez — in each of the seven years that he has led this country since the fall of the Taliban, Mr. Karzai now finds himself not so favored at all. Not by Washington, and not by his own.

In the White House, President Obama said he regarded Mr. Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he presided over a “narco-state.” The Americans making Afghan policy, worried that the war is being lost, are vowing to bypass Mr. Karzai and deal directly with the governors in the countryside.

At the same time as Karzai finds himself out of favour, NATO is facing a difficult situation over its high commander, General Bantz John Craddock. The German weekly SPIEGEL has reported on an order of his to kill drug traffickers, which was refused by German general Egon Ramms, head of the Afghanistan command centre, and the American Afghanistan command general David McKiernan.

Continue reading "The Emerging Afghanistan Strategy"

Britain to leave Iraq (in shame?), increase troops to Afghanistan

In an anticipated move, Gordon Brown announced that the remaining 4,100 UK troops will leave Iraq by the end of July.  Mr. Brown is quoted by the BBC:
I feel that the task that we set out to do is being done and that's why we can take a decision to bring most of our forces home.
The Times Online is less cheery, characterizing Britain’s withdrawal as “a humiliating proposal that lumps the once-valued deployment with five smaller contingents, including those of Romania, El Salvador and Estonia.”

Continue reading "Britain to leave Iraq (in shame?), increase troops to Afghanistan"

The "Cabal" That Prevents a Counterdrug Program in Afghanistan

Why is Afghanistan a narco-state? Ambassador Thomas Schweich left the State Department in June and is now at liberty to identify the "cabal":

An odd cabal of timorous Europeans, myopic media outlets, corrupt Afghans, blinkered Pentagon officers, politically motivated Democrats and the Taliban were preventing the implementation of an effective counterdrug program. And the rest of us could not turn them around.

Wow, what a cabal! Only Sean Penn is missing in that list of usual suspects.

Thomas Schweich used to be the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and pressed hard for aerial eradication to wipe out the poppy production in Afghanistan. He considers eradication "an essential component of successful anti-poppy efforts in Guatemala, Southeast Asia and Pakistan."

His 5,500 words long essay in the New York Times Magazine describes in great detail his frustration with the widespread opposition to aerial eradication. The essay's title is "Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?" but deals mainly with the many disagreements within the US government (and with NATO allies).

Schweich blames mainly the Pentagon for lack of understanding and the British military for lack of loyalty:

Continue reading "The "Cabal" That Prevents a Counterdrug Program in Afghanistan"

NATO Television: New Website Offers Useful Information

NATO recently launched a new website through the Public Diplomacy Division called NATO TV.  The site has so far been producing front-line operational footage, interviews on NATO issues, press conference videos, an archive with footage going back to 1945, and more.

Undoubtedly much of the footage will be propaganda, though NATO is billing it as news and "the voice of 26 countries".  However, this propaganda may not be a bad thing, for at least two reasons:

•    First, there is a broad lack of understanding about NATO's role in the post-Cold War world, and reasonably so: today's threats are more complicated and nuanced than ever before, making NATO's role in responding to them more difficult to understand than when it had one main mission: deter a Soviet onslaught.  NATO TV increases transparency on NATO's activities and organization in an easily digestible format.

•    Second, while NATO has accomplished a lot historically, and continues to be a key Alliance for both Europe and the United States today, often the media (including yours truly) only highlight controversies or failures – “the only good news is bad news,” as they say. NATO TV will provide information on positive achievements.

As an example of a NATO TV product, the website is running a series that follows the daily life of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) located in Southern Helmand Province, part of the NATO International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).  I found the second episode (three of six parts have been released at the time of this post) to be the most interesting.  In it, Sergeant Ryan Messina provides the following quote on progress in Afghanistan from the perspective of a foot soldier:
When you see the way it was, and the effect you have on it, and the way it is now, it has a big impact on you as a person, you feel good about yourself, you feel like you have done something for these people.   
You can find the three videos released so far at the website.

EU Foreign Policy Chief in Favor of Talks with the Taliban

Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and a Spanish Fulbright Alumnus, said according to AFP that he backed the new Pakistani government's moves to hold talks with Taliban militants, but ruled out any negotiations with Al-Qaeda.

This puts Europe at odds with the United States, not just with the Bush administration, but also with all remaining presidential candidates. Even Barack Obama, who is willing to meet with Iran's President Ahmadinejad, seems to be against negotiations with Taliban. He wrote in Foreign Affairs last summer:

Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban and more effective development programs that target aid to areas where the Taliban are making inroads.

I agree with Niklas Keller, who argued in the Atlantic Community that "negotiations with the Taliban may be the West's most effective tool to successfully 'divide and conquer' the Afghani insurgency."