Saturday, January 2, 2010

America's Afghanistan Mission(s)

As I did with repect to Iraq, I agree with Jon Soltz on Afghanistan.

Soltz is the Co-Founder and Chair of, and a leader of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans community. From May to September 2003, Soltz served as a Captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying logistics convoys with the 1st Armored Division. During 2005, Soltz was mobilized for 365 days at Fort Dix New Jersey, training soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served his country with distinction in the Kosovo Campaign as a Tank Platoon Leader between June and December 2000. Soltz is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College with a dual degree in Political Science and History. He has completed graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Soltz is asking, After Detroit Near-Attack, Is Afghan Strategy the Right One?

..... one of the most pressing questions is why we're sending nearly every Marine and Soldier we have to Afghanistan, when Abdulmutallab and a Somali man arrested for plotting a similar attack last month apparently had no real connection to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Indeed, as now has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab received materials and training in Yemen, a largely lawless, poor country just south of Saudi Arabia. The Somali man, picked up in Mogadishu, seems to have been wearing a similar device as Abdulmutallab, suggesting he received his materials and training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well.

Yes, the United States has done some right things to address the threat from this region - sending over $40 million in aid to Yemen last year to fight the squalid conditions in which many Yemenis live, and contributes to an atmosphere that breeds terror, and nearly $70 million in counter-terror funds, to help the government directly combat al-Qaeda. Those funds are expected to increase this year, as well they should.

Clearly, however, money is not enough. It's not enough to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen, or anywhere else throughout Africa, or any region in the future where al-Qaeda takes foot. The United States and its allies have the right to work in conjunction with governments to strike al-Qaeda camps and leaders, or do it ourselves if the in-country government is unable to.

That leads me back to Afghanistan/Pakistan. Yes, the region is still a major center of al-Qaeda activity, and yes, our military must be involved in the region to strike at the terror network. But, given the ability of al-Qaeda to spread and pop up in areas around the globe where we are not present, it simply doesn't make sense anymore to engage in a long-term counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which focuses on beating back insurgents rather than al Qaeda, and securing the country at large. That strategy relies on nearly every troop we have, and could have many of them stuck there far past President Obama's 2011 deadline, given Richard Engel's recent report on NBC that Afghan security forces are nowhere near ready, and may never be.
Assuming we could win in AfPak, whatever that would look like, could we even afford victory?
Now, yes, if it works, a counter-insurgency strategy could largely quiet al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, the same as a narrower counter-terror strategy would, but at what cost? What about the other branches of al-Qaeda around the world? It's clear they'll simply pick up the slack, in terms of striking the U.S. Without enough forces to stay flexible ourselves, and without indigenous governments capable of crushing al-Qaeda in their nation, we're simply letting al-Qaeda breed elsewhere, largely unfettered.

So, as President Obama examines the holes in security, he would be wise to also reexamine his decision to commit almost every troop we have to Afghanistan. Sun Tsu said to know thy enemy and thyself. We know al-Qaeda isn't going to stay put to fight where we want to fight. We know that we simply don't have the numbers to secure all of Afghanistan as part of a long-term counter-insurgency and fight al-Qaeda elsewhere. Combined, those facts suggest the far wiser course for the U.S. is to not rely on a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan for the long-term, but free up troops to take part in counter-terror operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, or wherever al-Qaeda may try to set up base next.
In other words, there is a difference between objectives being talked about.

Counter-insurgency is what occupational forces wage against indigenous forces. Counter-terrorism is what is waged to attack those who strike at civilian populations in other lands. So, just as we were doing during the Bush-Cheney years, we are fighting two wars (when we can only afford one): Counter-al Qaeda which we are mandated to do, and counter-Taliban which Obama-McChrystal have elected for us to do.

President Obama is seeing America's mission in double-vision. He needs a corrective prescription for his spectacles.


  1. I also have a lot of respect for Mr. Soltz.
    We have a counter-insurgency plan in effect, because we are seen as occupiers, not liberators.
    We have a counter terrorism plan, that is an arm of the MIC, instead of intelligence, and enforcement on the ground. It is impossible to enforce a counter terrorism tactic in a country where the populace sides with the terrorists.
    The Afghans hate A/Q. The Taliban are Afghans, and the Afghans are siding with the tribal Taliban. Occupiers are too busy occupying, instead of looking for an exit plan.
    [[[The enemy of my enemy is my enemy]]]].

  2. I think we can believe our own eyes. We are willing to pay other nations to fight terrorism while we secure Afghanistan. Why? Oil? Nuclear strategies? I want to know why, and I want our nation to keep asking our govt.

  3. "We have a counter-insurgency plan in effect, because we are seen as occupiers, not liberators."

    BINGO! RZ sums up the situation perfectly.

    Happy New Year, Vigil.

  4. Paul Bremer was our [Viceroy in Iraq]. He purged all the Bathists, he dismantled the military. BAM! ! Instant insurgency. No insurgency, no reason for our troops to stay. Was this move a mistake, or was it by design?

  5. Vigilante, Happy New Year to you! I'm glad to see you have once again renamed your blog "The Vigil."

    I think you'll find this article from yesterday's New York Times quite interesting and exactly on target for this discussion.

    Michael Wines points out that while we are spending billions as occupiers, China is also spending billions in Afghanistan in economic development.

    Wines writes "China is securing raw material for its voracious economy. [While] the world’s superpower [USA] is focused on security, its fastest rising competitor [China] concentrates on commerce."

    Wines correctly points out that if the USA had embarqued on such an aggressive raw materials development program "critics inevitably would have accused the United States of waging war to seize the country’s mineral wealth."

    In this case the USA is spending billions and the Chinese will reap the benefits of our efforts to secure the country.

  6. "China reaping the benefits"
    This is from

  7. Vigil you should link to the Right. Your clear and apparent dislike and contempt for the president works right in with the Republican plan. I just love all these guys who know more than all of the government advisers, who, by your writings, are complete idiots. What is that old saying: "opinions are like ass-----. Everybody has one......For every one of these nutters you drag out I can find two who are on the opposite side of the fence....

  8. The new year is promising to offer us "interesting times" for us to "live in". Wizard starts off demonstrating that he has conscientiously and carefully read my recent posts and has posted a comment with which I am in total, (make that 100%) agreement. Over the holidays Mad Mike, OTOH, has joined the Republican branch of the Democratic party. Very interesting times we live in', indeed.

  9. LOL! No Vigil. You ARE the Republican Branch. You are the best buddy of Dick Cheney. Happy to criticize the president on everything he does....Everything. No foundation. Just because he is the president.

  10. Mike is ever the mad one. He doesn't see that Barack Obama is the head of the Republican wing of the Democratic party.

  11. "the Republican wing of the Democratic party."
    These are the Neolibs, the International Realists. The Neocons handed them the baton. The agenda is the same. Endless wars with no borders.
    Yet their calling card says " support the troops, support the mission" These type of slogans are typical Neocon propaganda. Their code speak motto is [controlled chaos].

  12. How Republican is Barack Obama? Here's Peter Baker in the New York Times Magazine this week:

    A half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism told me before the Christmas Day incident that for the most part, they were comfortable with Obama’s policies, although they were reluctant to say so on the record. Some worried they would draw the ire of Cheney’s circle if they did, while others calculated that calling attention to the similarities to Bush would only make it harder for Obama to stay the course. And they generally resent Obama’s anti-Bush rhetoric and are unwilling to give him political cover by defending him.

    Michael Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under Bush, was willing to say publicly what others would not. “There is a continuum from the Bush administration, particularly as it changed in the second administration as circumstances changed, and the Obama administration,” Hayden told me. James Jay Carafano, a homeland-security expert at the Heritage Foundation, was blunter. “I don’t think it’s even fair to call it Bush Lite,” he said. “It’s Bush. It’s really, really hard to find a difference that’s meaningful and not atmospheric. You see a lot of straining on things trying to make things look repackaged, but they’re really not that different.”

    Somewhere on the continuum between Bush and Bush-Lite.

  13. Boris, R-Zone and Soros P. You guys are totally reality-based!

  14. These guys are totally "reality based?" ROFLMAO! Now THAT speaks volumes Vigil. When is the tea party?? LOL LOL

  15. I have to say that although Obama is the Republican/capitalist hawk we might have predicted from his campaign tough guy war rhetoric, he is still appointing judges and has a progressive agenda in
    many other ways. We forget that at our peril in the next elections.