Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Strategy

Obama's announcement of his escalation of US forces and the strategy he wants us to pursue contained few surprises and followed very much the necessary outline: reference 9/11, enlist our allies, warn the Afghan government, emphasize the importance of Pakistan. The speech was very well crafted and delivered and explained our objectives very clearly. I have written on the subject before, more than once, and I support him, and his strategy. For me, it's that simple.

CNN's coverage of the speech was outstanding: they brought in all their top guns, including Christiane Amanpour, Nic Robertson, Michael Ware, and Peter Bergin, not to mention Fareed Zakaria (fresh from a lunch with the President). And, of course, all the political advisers for both parties. They covered the speech and interpreted the implications of the policy very well. One thing I noted from their "magic map" is that the Turkish forces are, indeed, in Afghanistan: I hope we can get more of them!

I found the criticism of the planned withdrawal beginning July 2011, coming from some Republicans, as being improperly driven by political motivations, to be hypocritical: don't tell me the Iraq war timing wasn't all centered around having a big anti-terrorist military victory for the 2004 re-election campaign (even if it didn't turn out that way). I give Obama credit for understanding the criticality of having the Afghan (and Iraq) troop commitments winding down for November, 2012--it's smart. He's just more honest about what he's doing.

I have one strong recommendation for our military: we should plan on a major military offensive in the fall of 2011. If the take from the Obama strategy is, just wait until July '011, when the US forces will be pulling out, the Taliban may well plan to attack just after that. They would then like that to be their equivalent of the Tet Offensive, a shocking blow to regain strategic maneuver and embarrass and demoralize us. If we think ahead and maximize our readiness for that time, we will still have plenty of forces to combat and defeat them if they rise up. And, if they don't, it will be one last chance to hunt down remaining fighters in "our" zones.

TAZ: Yes, Uruzcan

I owed it to all my many readers to follow up my previously-expressed idea for a possible zone (which I call the Taliban Autonomous Zone) that could be largely given over to Taliban who want to live their way but are willing to give up their war with the Afghan government. After some study, my suggestion would be the province of Uruzcan (spelling varies).

It fulfills the basic requirements I outlined: a valley, non-strategic, well-removed from the key Kandahar-Kabul highway (about 150 km north of Kandahar), surrounded by impassable areas. There's basically one major road through it. It's mostly Pashtun, and not particularly loyal to the Karzai government and its policies. Reports I read indicated that it's run by a warlord who's a former Taliban. It may be--the facts are in dispute--the boyhood home of none other than Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar Mohammed.

Uruzcan is close to the Dutch forces' headquarters, and their nonviolent ways have kept things relatively quiet (as compared to nearby Kandahar and Helmand). The Dutch have announced they are leaving next year, though, and I don't see Tarin Koit as being one of the population centers we're planning to defend. The province is about the size of Connecticut and has only about 300,000 people. In my research, I read an article in The Economist that lauds it as a place of success for NATO counterinsurgency efforts, but that's really OK: better to have the retiring Taliban go somewhere that isn't a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. Let them show that they are, as they claim, willing to educate their children of both sexes if the security is present. And, if they try to bust out, they can be systematically repelled from both directions.

The TAZ in Uruzcan is probably better as a plan for a little further down the road, once the Marines and additional Army brigades have gained the upper hand in Kandahar and Helmand. The approach right now seems to be to buy retiring Taliban off with jobs wherever they are, which makes sense for those who are close to their family clans. There will be those who need to be resettled, though, or reunited with their families away from the combat zone, and for this purpose we will need a TAZ.

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