Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

I still want an answer to the basic question of what our objective in Afghanistan is:

I'd like to offer my opinion on whether we can win in Afghanistan but I can't. I don't know what we fight for. The document the administration put out early on is just too vague for me to know what it means for our military strategy even if it generally sounds pretty reasonable--as long as speaking of supporting "Afghanistan" doesn't mean trying to build a strong central government but just "Afghanistan" collectively as a loose confederaton of provincial tribal-based governments and a weak central government able to resist jihadi influence.

I know that as long as we're willing to pay the blood and treasure to fight, our troops will continue to beat our enemies on the battlefield. But that's not war. That's just organized violence. And I know that the far Left will bail fast on that path. And with the casualties we'll likely endure with the escalation, more Americans will follow.

Adding troops to Afghanistan--even at the risk of fighting at the end of a shaky supply line--can be a help as long as it is for an achievable goal that in part buys time for the Afghans to be built up to take over the fight by atomizing the enemy inside Afghanistan and reducing the flow of men and supplies into Afghanistan. And that doesn't include bringing Afghanistan into the 21st century--the 18th century will do just fine.

I'm not alone, it seems:

The heart of the problem, soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and some officials in Washington told McClatchy , is that neither Barack Obama's White House nor the Pentagon has clearly defined America's mission in Afghanistan . As a result, some soldiers in the field said, they aren't sure what their objectives are.

That's quite the problem. I'm willing to support Pentagon requests for more troops despite my misgivings about our supply lines--but I assume that we will have an appropriate objective for those troops.

And as I've long warned, whatever we determine our objective to be, we will have difficulty squelching violence as long as jihadis feel at home in Pakistan:

Even the limited goal of eradicating al Qaida requires substantially more cooperation from Pakistan than the country has provided so far — or than U.S. military and intelligence officials and diplomats privately say they expect amid mounting anti-Americanism there.

U.S. officials say the electronic components for improvised explosives are being assembled and smuggled in from Pakistan , and cross-border infiltration continues unchecked, including now into northern Afghanistan . Mullah Mohammed Omar and other Taliban leaders based in Quetta, Pakistan , and allied with al Qaida remain free to direct the insurgency, and other insurgents continue to shuttle young Islamist recruits from radical mosques and schools in Pakistan to training camps near the Afghan border and then into Afghanistan.

Witness the continuing violence in Iraq despite our victory over the terrorists because Syria and Iran continue to support the remnants of once-powerful groups, if you want to see a glimmer of what we'd face. But Iraq is stronger than Afghanistan will ever be and the sanctuary in Pakistan is stronger than Iran or Syria are willing to provide.

And the Pakistanis are only willing to do as much as we pay them to do (from my Jane's email updates):

Pakistan has urged the United States to expedite the payment of outstanding military aid that it said is valued at USD1.6 billion. In meetings with visiting senior officials from US Senate's Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees on 1 September, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said the payment of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) was necessary to continue military operations against militants, state media reported[.]

That's comforting, isn't it?

And it gets worse. The persistence of the jihadi presence in Pakistan isn't just a threat to keeping Afghanistan from reverting to a terrorist haven that threatens us. Pakistan is a terrorist haven that is now a threat to us:

A plot to blow up at least seven transatlantic aircraft using liquid bombs was masterminded from Pakistan, intelligence services said as more details emerged Tuesday of the complex planned attacks.

Yet there are hints that we are at least leaving the option open of strengthening actors within the borders of Westphalian Afghanistan so they may resist the jihadis independent of the central government (also from my Jane's email updates):

As discussion continues over the need to increase the numbers within Afghanistan's army and police, a new form of ground-level security force is being trialled in Wardak province, neighbouring Kabul. Despite initial negative expectations, the small force has succeeded in gaining a foothold[.]

Just to keep Afghanistan from being a haven for jihadis in Pakistan, we need to win in Afghanistan. But what does victory mean for our military operations?

This is the basic question we need to answer before we can even address the questions of troop strength, strategy, and whether we are winning. But all we are debating is how many troops to send to (or pull from) Afghanistan.

Given the questions we need to answer first, the question of troop strength doesn't even make sense to me.