Though the West Pointers didn't seem overly thrilled with President Obama's Afghanistan strategy speech (as MSNBC windbag Chris Matthews said, Obama was in the "enemy camp,") I thought Obama's speech was pretty good, up to a point. He committed 30,000 more troops to a counterinsurgency strategy to remove the Taliban from the portion of the country they control, in order to stop Al Qaeda from returning and gaining the safe haven they had there prior to the 9/11 attacks. Good. Up to 40% of Afghanistan is either under Taliban control or highly vulnerable, mainly the southeast and Pakistan border region. Obama went on to say the Afghan government needed to beef up it's security forces and take responsibility, because the USA wasn't going to stay in Afghanistan forever. Good. General McChrystal heartily endorses the plan, which we can call The Obama Surge. Good. Obama's strategy is an attempt to reverse years of floundering about as the Taliban presence increased in Afghanistan. Good.
Political opposition to The Obama Surge is split mainly along the usual lines. Conservatives support the Surge, but are wondering why Obama announced an Afghanistan exit date of July 2011 (18 months from now), signaling to the enemy how long they'll have to wait us out in order to succeed. Liberals, on the other hand, are mad about the whole idea of a surge, wishing instead that the USA would just pull all the troops out now, the consequences be damned. Liberals are saying that July 2011 date better be a firm date.
As usual with American wars, conservatives want America to be successful, and liberals want America to fail. For years, we've witnessed Democrats try to undermine the Iraq War. Now, after years of correctly saying Bush took his eye off the ball by going into Iraq, liberals are more than happy to undermine Afghanistan, thereby proving they were never serious about Afghanistan in the first place. So President Obama gets lots of credit here for attempting to live up to his campaign promise of succeeding in Afghanistan, in what Obama termed the "necessary war," and for not merely pandering to his liberal anti-war base. Obama said the July 2011 deadline until troop withdrawal begins was to signal to the Afghans that they had to step up and take responsibility, but it also throws a bone to his base. I think it's Obama's version of split-the-baby. Plus, Obama cabinet members are all saying that our withdrawal is dependent upon conditions on the ground, leaving themselves an out.
In any case, the Obama Surge is not going to be easy to execute, and it's going to be even harder to hold. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is mountainous and treacherous terrain, and the border itself is little more than a line on a map. There's no border security. The Taliban and Al Qaeda cross back and forth as they wish, which has always been one of the big problems. We'll have the Pakistan army fighting the insurgents from the east, and the America-led NATO forces fighting the insurgents from the west. Both sides have to hold in order to be successful, and ultimately it will have to be the Afghanistan government forces that must hold from the west. They are not close to being able to do that now, with only 170,000 forces trying to manage a country of 30 million people in Afghanistan. A large number of those forces are corrupt, and the area of Afghanistan they'll have to hold is the biggest center of opium production in the world, giving a large incentive for criminal activity in an impoverished country.
Two weeks ago, the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said, "We are determined that by the next five years, the Afghan forces are capable of taking the lead in ensuring security and stability across the country."
Five years ??? You better step up the pace, Karzai. Obama says you have 18 months.
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