Obama’s new Afghan policy: more war, less development and reconstruction

By  | 


A U.S. combat outpost in the endless mountains of Afghanistan

President Obama said in his campaign that he would shift U.S. attention to the war in Afghanistan and rethink American strategy there.  It’s clear he intends to do just that.  But according to a New York Times story sourced to “senior administration officials,” in a somewhat surprising move, Obama plans to take a “tougher line” toward Afghan President Hamid Karzai and “put more emphasis on waging war than on development.”

Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in Afghanistan, the officials said, because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.

All that development and “nation building” stuff will be left to NATO, most of which shows little interest in contributing more troops or engaging in combat:

They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served under Mr. Bush and is staying on under Mr. Obama, told Congress on Tuesday. He said there was not enough “time, patience or money” to pursue overly ambitious goals in Afghanistan, and he called the war there as “our greatest military challenge.”

The U.S. is shifting its strategic focus away from lofty goals for Afghanistan’s future and protection for — who has been called the “Mayor of Kabul” because he doesn’t wield authority beyond the capital — so the planned doubling of U.S troop levels by this summer can be used to battle the Taliban in the countryside and ratchet up the military pressure on Qaeda in hiding across the Pakistani border.

As the “senior official” (I get the feeling it’s Gates) put it:

“What we’re trying to do is to focus on the Al Qaeda problem. That has to be our first priority.”

A report by Stratfor, the private intelligence service, sees U.S. policy evolving quickly along lines similar to those suggested by the Times’ source.

Stratfor for believes that the counter-insurgency war to defeat the Taliban and defend the Afghan central government is essentially not winnable, even with a half million U.S. troops, and that the U.S. interest in Afghanistan is the suppression of al Qaeda, not the governance of that sprawling, divided and inhospitable “nation.”

Accordingly, Stratfor believes that U.S. strategy will wind up looking something like this:

“[T]he search for al Qaeda and other Islamist groups is an intelligence matter best left to the covert capabilities of U.S. intelligence and Special Operations Command. Defeating al Qaeda does not require tens of thousands of troops — it requires excellent intelligence and a special operations capability. That is true whether al Qaeda is in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Intelligence, covert forces and air strikes are what is needed in this fight, and of the three, intelligence is the key.

Sounds like a plan.  Tell us what you think in the comments.

(Visit me at The Purple Center)