Thursday, September 18, 2008

What's Our Objective?

While we have a problem with dealing with Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan crossing into Afghanistan to kill, I think it is ridiculous to claim we are losing the war there. Talk of adding troops to Afghanistan is skipping ahead, as far as I'm concerned, past the questions of what our objective is in Afghanistan and what we want our troops to do.

Secretary Gates said that we are looking at revising our Afghanistan strategy:

A senior defense official traveling with Gates said later that the administration was examining a range of strategic questions, including whether to reduce the combat role of NATO troops in Afghanistan in light of planned increases in U.S. combat troops. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said it amounted to a broad review that included more than just military aspects of U.S. strategy. ...

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that he had commissioned a study of Afghan strategy to incorporate the complexities presented by rising unrest and insurgent activity in Pakistan. Mullen also publicly questioned whether the United States is winning in Afghanistan.

Gen. David McKiernan, the senior U.S. general in Afghanistan, told reporters on Tuesday at his Kabul headquarters that he believed the current strategy was adequate but that he needed more U.S. ground forces and other resources to properly execute it. He said he needs more than 10,000 extra American ground troops in 2009, in addition to the reinforcements already announced by the Pentagon.

I'm not opposed to adding troops to Afghanistan. No more than I was opposed to adding troops to Iraq when the idea was brought up in late 2006. Mostly I wanted to know what we would do with those troops. I became satisfied that the planned use of those troops was wise. Yet I worried that the real good those troops could accomplish could be nullified by a loss of support back home if it took too long for those troops to achieve successes.

The same applies to Afghanistan. What is our mission? I don't think we need to make a constitutional democracy in Afghanistan to win. This is a peripheral state in Islam. We need a stable Afghanistan with economic progress and a reasonable semblance of democracy and rule of law that balances the various tribes and regions.

Our main concern is keeping Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for terrorists. This objective extends to the Pakistan tribal areas across the border. So even if we can surge troops to keep jihadis from using Afghanistan as a base, we can't use the same strategy in Pakistan.

It is fair to say that controlling Afghansitan is step one and then we deal with the Pakistan tribal areas, but be clear that winning in Afghanistan does not end the war. And given that I know our Left won't support an expanded war in Afghansitan and Pakistan, we have to be ready for the anti-war side to shift their focus and turn the "good" war into the "bad" war.

Further, the risk of putting too many US troops into landlocked Afghanistan where their supply lines are at risk if Pakistan either collapses or chooses to stop our convoys is a serious problem that argues against putting too many troops in the region.

So before too many troops go to Afghanistan, what are they going to do on the battlefield? And what do we hope this battlefield result will achieve as our objective?

First things first.