A New Strategy?

A New Strategy?
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, September 5, 2009

This week we have the opportunity to rethink what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan.

General Stanley McChrystal has presented his first assessment of the U.S. operations in Afghanistan. For weeks this report has been hyped as one that will admit the problems we face but offer a new strategy for victory.

After sending his report, which remains secret, to the Pentagon and NATO on Monday, McChrystal said, “The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve and increased unity of effort.”

The outlines of the new strategy have already begun to emerge. After taking command the General ordered that U.S. forces be more aware of civilian casualties, especially those caused by the dropping of bombs by drones. He also shifted the focus away from the eradication of poppy crops that feed the drug trade, to attacking drug dealers. Drawing on his Iraqi experience, the General is attempting to increase the Afghan military and police forces, with U.S. and NATO troops supporting rather than in the lead.

Last week, in guidelines sent to U.S. soldiers, McChrystal said, “The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy.” He said, “A military force, culturally programmed to respond conventionally (and predictably) to insurgent attacks, is akin to the bull that repeatedly charges a matador’s cape—only to tire and eventually be defeated by a much weaker opponent. This is predictable—the bull does what comes naturally. While a conventional approach is instinctive, that behavior is self-defeating.”

The problem with this “new approach” is that it is not new and it has never worked anywhere. The General gives a strong, clear assessment of what has gone wrong in Afghanistan, but he ducked the main question: What would success look like?

Surely it doesn’t look like the elections that were just held. These have made a mockery of McChrystal’s own aims. While McChrystal talks of appeasing farmers by no longer destroying their fields and going after drug dealers instead, Hamid Karzai has secured one of the most notorious drug dealers as his vice president, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim. Marshal Fahim is just one the many characters surrounding the current and probably future president of Afghanistan. In his effort to win the election Karzai has surrounded himself with men suspected of war crimes, corruption and drug trafficking.

Earlier this summer President Obama called for an investigation into the activities of General Abdul Rashid Dostum who was accused of killing thousands of Taliban prisoners. Karzai not only refused to investigate, but reinstated General Dostum to his former position in the government.

Many of the men around Karzai, made rich by dealings with the CIA, used their power to help corrupt the election. Reports of stuffed ballot boxes and intimidation at the polls rob this election of legitimacy. Voter turnout fell some 70% since the last election and is likely to be only about 30% of those eligible, with some areas of the country reporting less than 10% of the people voting.

For both Afghans and U.S. and NATO troops this has been the bloodiest summer since the invasion of Afghanistan. After eight years of war, more than 5,000 soldiers killed, at a cost of more than $900 billion, we have achieved little more than the installation of a corrupt government that rigs elections.

We have created untold and uncalculated death and despair in Afghanistan. We have strengthened the Taliban and unleashed a whirlwind in Pakistan.

President Obama promised us a “stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy.” It is time for him to announce that the smartest thing we can do, and also the right thing to do, is to withdraw now.



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