Journal: New Strategy for Afghanistan? Or Just a New Naked Emperor and a 2012 Bow Wave?

08 Wild Cards
Chuck Spinney Recommends

The  report of Damian McElroy in the Telegraph [UK] describes General Petraeus new strategy for Afghanistan.  It will be have a broad emphasis on counterinsurgency, like McChrystal’s strategy, but McElroy highlighted the following (presumed) differences or distinguishing features:

Recognition that Taliban defections are crucial to achieving goal of ending war in 4 yrs (2014). … Observation: no talk about the drawdown starting in summer 2011, 2014 is now a “given.” So one benefit of substituting Petraeus for McChrystal is that politicians and generals can save face and keep defense budgets high while “bow-waving” the end of the war to 2014, well beyond the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and at which time, new excuses to continuing the wars of empire will materialize. “Bow waving” problems into the future is business as usual in the hall of mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac.

Petraeus’ new strategy will induce more defections by paying Taliban defectors. Observation: this implies a rent-a-Pashtun strategy like Petraeus’ rent-a-Sunni strategy in Iraq, even though recent events in Iraq show that renting Sunnis did not end sectarian violence in Iraq; nor did it provide conditions for a lasting peace.  It did provide enough of a reduction in violence to let us declare victory and begin something of a drawdown (50,000 troops will remain in permanent bases).  Renting Pastuns, by the way, is not a new way to exit Afghanistan.  Alexander the Great, for example, had to bribe local tribes to “remove” the hostile tribes who were blocking his exit route by controlling the Khyber Pass.  My guess that the tribes split the profits and something similar will happen to our rental payments.

Petraeus’ new strategy will place less emphasis on targeted assassinations. Observation: we’ll see about that; if progress is not quick and obvious, violence will escalate as US military and political leaders try to redeem failure.  Besides, soldiers already want their rules of engagement loosened so they can bring air/arty firepower to bear more easily when they are ambushed, which is happening with increasing frequency.

No destruction of poppy crops, presumably as part of effort to win hearts and minds. Observation: this implies increased reliance on good will of drug lords, unless US tries to short circuit their drug trade by buying enough of the poppy harvest to get it off the market.

Marines will stay in Marjah, where they are bogged down, because there are too few Afghan police to provide security [and Taliban have returned to the area]. Observation: this implies McChrystal’s “festering” sore will continue indefinitely and is probably the real reason why Petraeus is calling off the Kandahar offensive and “changing” strategy.

Bottom line:There is nothing new here, assuming McElroy’s information is accurate. The wars of American Empire will continue unabated under President Obama, even if he serves two terms.  General Petraeus’s changes are more cosmetic than real, and they reflect the same dominant political attitude of denial that was so evident in the recent Nato ministerial meeting in Kabul (see Matthias Gebauer, “NATO Diplomats Tune Out the Bad News in Afghanistan,” der Spiegel on 21 July).

Chuck Spinney
Trapani, Sicily

Gen Petraeus scraps McChrystal’s plan to take Kandahar

by Damien McElroy, Telegraph, 23 Jul 2010

He has decided a full-scale military encirclement and invasion – as American troops had done in Iraq’s Fallujah – was not an appropriate model to tackle the Taliban in the southern capital.


Phi Beta Iota:  This would be a good time for the next Secretary of Defense to start reading in.   Our book reviews might help, starting with Chuck Spinney’s own Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch.

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