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Why Are We Still in Afghanistan? July 6, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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CIA director Leon Panetta said last week that al-Qaeda has only a few militants left in Afghanistan:

“I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan,” he said. Panetta added that “winning” in Afghanistan means “having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for al-Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaida.”

The original reason we sent troops to Afghanistan was to eliminate al-Qaeda—a task that has been largely accomplished according to Panetta.  But we lose about 100 troops per month and spend $100 Billion per year trying to eliminate the Taliban, who unlike al-Qaeda are indigenous to Afghanistan. In this task we get very little cooperation from the locals or the Afghan government. Our chances of succeeding under those circumstances are not good.

So why are we still there if our original goal is accomplished?

Now the administration is claiming the reason we stay is to prevent al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold in Pakistan and returning to Afghanistan if and when we leave.

But on Tuesday, Obama’s Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter claimed there are only about 300 hundred al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan.  Here is Leiter in an interview with Newsweek’s Michal Isakoff

Leiter: I think [CIA director] Leon Panetta said on Sunday, and I agree with him, that in Afghanistan, you have a certain number, a relatively small number, 50 to 100. I think we have in Pakistan a larger number.

Q:  How many?

Leiter:  Upwards –more than 300, I would say.

As Glenn Greewald complained:

So between Afghanistan and Pakistan combined, there are a few hundred Al Qaeda members total.  All of this ongoing war and those hundreds of billions of dollars spent and those deaths and the decade of occupation, and those bombings and shootings and drone attacks and lawless prisons and habeas-stripping court precedents:  it’s all (ostensibly) for a few hundred extremists total hiding in remote tribal areas.  A few hundred.

This is a senseless policy and Obama needs to end it soon.

book-section-book-cover2Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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Afghanistan Commitment December 2, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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So Obama has committed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan but with a timeline for pulling out and a (somewhat) clearer vision of what we are trying to accomplish.

Apparently, he has listened to the generals who seem to have arrived at a consensus about what to do and are fully on board. I sure hope they know their business. But the goals seem limited and modest—the possibility of an endless quagmire seems remote.

It is a reasonable approach, but I remain skeptical for reasons that are best articulated by Middle East expert Juan Cole:

President Barack Obama’s commitment to “finish the job” in Afghanistan by sending 55,000 US troops to that country (counting the 21,000 he dispatched last winter shortly after being inaugurated) depends heavily on a hope of building up an Afghan government and army over to which the US can eventually turn control. But one of the questions we seldom hear any detail about concerns the country’s governmental capacity. Does the government function? Can it deliver services?

As might be expected, governmental capacity is low, but here are some specifics. Months after the controversial presidential election that many Afghans consider stolen, there is no cabinet, and parliament is threatening to go on recess before confirming a new one because the president is unconstitutionally late in presenting the names. There are grave suspicions that some past and present cabinet members have engaged in the embezzlement of substantial sums of money. There is little parliamentary oversight. Almost no one bothers to attend the parliamentary sessions. The cabinet ministries are unable to spend the money allocated to them on things like education and rural development, and actually spent less in absolute terms last year than they did in the previous two years. Only half of the development projects for which money was allotted were even begun last year, and none was completed. […]

By law, Karzai was supposed to have presented his cabinet to parliament within two weeks of being sworn in (which was two weeks ago). Since he has been insisting he was the winner since early September, he should have had time to put together a cabinet. But he presumably had to make some substitutions once he admitted that three of his current cabinet members were under investigation for corruption. (12 other former cabinet members, having fled the country, were also being looked at for criminal prosecution.
That is the government that the US has been propping up for the last 8 years. 15 cabinet members that Interpol is looking into?

I just don’t know that we have a reliable partner that can function once we leave; and if they can’t it means more wasted blood and treasure.

As to the politics of this decision, Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do during the campaign. Here is the Op-ed piece Obama wrote in the summer of 2008:

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

So no one should be surprised. And those who are disappointed ought not invest in fantasies. Withdrawal was never on the table and muddling through as the Bush Administration did has obviously failed.

X-posted at Reviving the Left

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com