Groan - Afghanistan Again

Blue Ribbon Commission Comes Back with Recommendation

Surprise - it's "stay the course." Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review.

I always expected to fight President Obama on the Afghan War. My first Afghanistan post was "Less Bad War Still Bad." (That short post holds up well, I think, and the comments had a very good discussion. Ryan, where are you? Anyone feel free to still comment on that thread. I'll be notified and will approve everything.) And post-2008 FISA re-authorization, I knew that there would be some areas of national security policy that I would oppose as well. There was strain throughout the health insurance reform "debate" and from the realization that Obama wasn't Bush43-lite on the war on terror, but Bush43-plus. Nevertheless, it was still friendly fire until Obama pulled some straight BS by freezing non-defense discretionary spending.

From there it's been all downhill to the current backstabbing of the House Democrats (still the majority, btw) on the tax cut deal. So I really don't have the energy to rail against our Afghanistan policy anymore. So just for posterity's sake, after the jump I'll include a bunch of links and maybe come back to some of them eventually.

UPDATE: Had to put this above the fold. Few Afghans know reason for war, new study shows, Reuters, November 19, 2010.
Afghans in two crucial southern provinces are almost completely unaware of the September 11 attacks on the United States and don't know they precipitated the foreign intervention now in its 10th year, a new report showed on Friday.
The report by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) policy think-tank showed 92 percent of 1,000 Afghan men surveyed in Helmand and Kandahar know nothing of the hijacked airliner attacks on U.S. targets in 2001.
I've only skimmed a couple of these. I just looked for sources on Google News and have been adding items from my RSS feeds. It took a segment on MPR to provoke even the desire to do just that much.

Pessimism over the war in Afghanistan, Guests Peter Monsoor and Caroline Wadhams, Midmorning, December 16, 2010.

An Open Letter to President Obama, Various authors, undated.
We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organizations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.

Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army.
Afghan attacks
Vietnam syndrome, Arnaud de Borchgrave, The Washington Times, December 14, 2010.
While Gen. Petraeus' officers in the field and his military and civilian chiefs in Washington understand that it is Afghanistan's war to be fought by Afghan soldiers, the sad truth is that their army is still years away from being able to conduct its own operations. The head of the Afghan army says the army will require U.S. and NATO budgetary and supply support for another "nine to 10" years before they can hack it on their own. The Afghan army is slated to grow from 93,000 to 134,000 by 2011. The next troop target is 325,000, which would entail a budget of almost $1 billion. [Current total Afghan government revenues are $1 billion. Current GDP is $27 billion. Source: CIA Factbook.]

The Afghan war effort as a whole is running at $150 billion a year. Cost estimates through 2014 range up to half a trillion dollars. How long will Congress be willing to sustain an increasingly unpopular war?
For Red Cross, Aid Conditions Hit New Low in Afghanistan, Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, December 15, 2010.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually seeks to avoid the public eye, held a rare news conference here on Wednesday to express deep concern that Afghanistan security had deteriorated to its worst point since the overthrow of the Taliban nine years ago and was preventing aid groups from reaching victims of conflict.

“The sheer fact the I.C.R.C. has organized a press conference is an expression of us being extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever growing number of people in by now almost the entire country,” said Reto Stocker, the head of the Afghanistan office.

By every measure that the Red Cross tracks, the situation has worsened throughout the country for civilian casualties, internal displacement and health care access and all of it is “against the background of a proliferation of armed actors,” Mr. Stocker said.

The Red Cross began working 30 years ago in Afghanistan when Afghans started to fight the Soviet occupation. Unlike many other groups, it maintains dialogue with all sides in conflicts so that it can treat victims of violence regardless of their allegiances. The Red Cross admission that it is unable to reach people it has a mandate to help is a measure of the gravity of the situation here.
Afghan War Review: U.S. Policy Needs an Indigenous Overhaul, Khalil Nouri, The Huffington Post, December 15, 2010.

U.S.intelligence reports cast doubt on war progess in Afghanistan, Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2010.

What should be done in Afghanistan, Pervez Musharraf, The Express Tribune, December 15, 2010.

Role-Playing and Afghanistan, Paul Pillar, The National Interest, December 15, 2010.

Winning in Afghanistan, Peter Mansoor and Max Boot, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2010.

Bogus Afghan "Review" Shows Need for Journalism on Classified Information, Robert Naiman, The Huffington Post, December 16, 2010.

Afghan Review: "Lookin' Good," Says Obama, Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, December 16, 2010.

Three questions, Marwan Bishara, al Jazeera, December 16, 2010.

White House finds 'fragile' gains in Afghan war; appears cautious on July troop withdrawal, Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, December 16, 2010.

US expects more Pak help against terrorists: White House, Daily Times (Pakistan), December 16, 2010.

Army may have to intervene again in politics: Musharraf, Daily Times (Pakistan), December 16, 2010.

Obama: Never Mind Afghanistan, It’s All About The Drones, Spencer Ackerman, Wired, December 16, 2010.

US reports 'progress' in Afghan war, al Jazeera, December 16, 2010.

Factbox: Reactions to U.S. review of Afghanistan war, Reuters, December 16, 2010.

After Bucking Holbrooke's Advice On Afghanistan, Obama Invokes His Name, Daniel Froomkin, The Huffington Post, December 16, 2010.
In Obama's War, Bob Woodward writes that Holbrooke considered it a "central truth" that the war "would not end in a military victory," but rather when the warring parties were "brought together diplomatically."

Woodward also describes Holbrooke's conclusion that escalation wouldn't change the two weakest links in the U.S. plan -- namely, corruption and the sorry state of the Afghan police -- and just might make them worse. "Our presence is the corrupting force," Holbrooke is quoted as saying. As for the Afghan police, their enormous attrition rates make Obama's recruitment goals impossible. "It's like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it, " Holbrooke reportedly said.

At the time, Vice President Joe Biden was consistently if privately arguing against sending more troops to Afghanistan, saying the focus should shift to Pakistan. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, in his famously-leaked cables to the White House, warned that Afghan President Hamid Karzai "is not an adequate strategic partner" ...

According to Woodward, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president's Afghanistan advisor, told Obama of the troop increase the military was pushing for, "you don't have to do this."

Woodward wrote that Lute saw enormous, compounding dangers in the war. "Look at them as a set, and then you begin to move, in my mind, from a calculated risk to a gamble," Lute reportedly told Obama. "And if you add those risks up and ask me where I think we'll be in July 2011, sort of your big decision point, I'm telling you I think that we're not going to be a whole lot different than we are today."

John O. Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser, also opposed a large increase in troops, Woodward reported. But, Woodward wrote: "Perhaps the most pessimistic view came from Richard Holbrooke. 'It can't work,' he said."
The zombie war in Afghanistan, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, December 17, 2010.
And it is hard not to see echoes of Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia in 1970, in a failed attempt to eradicate Viet Cong bases there. The two situations are hardly identical, but both illustrate the tendency for wars to expand in both the scope and extent of violence, especially when they aren't going well. You send more troops, but that doesn't turn things around. So you send a few more, and you widen the war to new areas. But that doesn't work either, so you decide you have to alter the rules of engagement, use more missiles, bombs, or drones, or whatever. Maybe that will work, but it's looking more and more like the strategic equivalent of the Hail Mary pass. And so we have the bizarre situation where the president who won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office has now escalated the war twice, expanded the use of drones, and now intends to widen the war in Pakistan even more.
In Afghanistan, on track to nowhere, Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, December 17, 2010.
The good news is that President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan is "on track." The bad news is that the track runs in a circle.

There have been "notable operational gains" in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, according to a National Security Council-led assessment released Thursday, but this progress is "fragile and reversible." This sounds like a bureaucratic way of admitting that we take two steps forward, followed by two steps back. Indeed, the review acknowledges that after nine years of war, "Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to be the operational base for the group that attacked us on 9/11."

What's not reversible is the human toll of Obama's decision to escalate the war. This has been by far the deadliest year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with 489 killed. It has also been a brutal year for Afghan and Pakistani civilians caught in the middle of what increasingly looks like a classic war of attrition - except with missile-firing robot aircraft circling overhead.

Similarly irreversible is the enormous cost of the war - about $120 billion a year - at a time when the federal government is running a trillion-dollar deficit and municipalities are so broke that police officers, firefighters and teachers are being laid off.
Gauging the price tag for Afghanistan's security, Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, December 20, 2010.
As the United States begins to look closely at reducing future spending, it may be time to put a dollar figure on President Obama's commitment, restated last week, to the long-term security of Afghanistan.

Let's start with the cost of maintaining Afghan security forces after they reach their planned goal by October - 171,000 in the military and 134,000 police. John Ferrari, deputy commander for programs for the NATO training mission in Afghanistan told reporters last week that the estimate is that $6 billion per year would be needed to sustain that overall force.

According to the latest figures published by the CIA, the Afghan government takes in revenues of $1 billion a year and has expenditures of $3.3 billion. Today, that deficit is made up through contributions by other nations. But that figure does not include the costs of Afghanistan's military and police units. As Farrari put it, "We procure all of their equipment. We sustain them. We pay for a lot of their training."

This year, for example, the United States is spending $9.2 billion on Afghan security forces and the administration has requested another $11.6 billion for the coming year, funds now tied up in Congress. About a third of that is for equipment - "about 80,000 vehicles, 175,000 radios and technical equipment, about 400,000 weapons and 146 different aircraft," according to Farrari. All of that is expected to cost some $10 billion by the time the full force is outfitted, he added.

But the question remains, who will pay the $6 billion a year in the future? As of now, there is no Afghan security sustainment fund. "How the international community decides to help the government of Afghanistan to fund that needs to be determined in the future," Ferrari said.

Some say compared with today, $6 billion could be a bargain should the Afghans be able to take over their own security by 2014. As Ferrari noted, the United States is now spending about $8 billion a month to maintain 98,000 American troops in Afghanistan, while the rest of the 30,000 to 40,000 coalition forces cost several billion dollars a month. "So the $6 billion per year is a very good return...on your investment for 300,000 Afghan security forces," Farrari said.