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This article, by Syed Saleem Shahzad, was published by the Asia Times Online, October 15, 2009
ANGORADA, South Waziristan, at the crossroads with Afghanistan - A high-level meeting on October 9 at the presidential palace between Pakistan's civil and military leaders endorsed a military operation against the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda in the South Waziristan tribal area - termed by analysts as the mother of all regional conflicts.
At the same time, al-Qaeda is implementing its game plan in the South Asian war theater as a part of its broader campaign against American global hegemony that began with the attacks in the United States of September 11, 2001.
Al-Qaeda's target remains the United States and its allies, such as Europe, Israel and India, and it does not envisage diluting this strategy by embracing Muslim resistances on narrow parameters. In this context, militant activity in Pakistan is seen as a complexity rather than as a part of al-Qaeda's strategy.
Militants have been particularly active over the past few days. Last Thursday, a car loaded with explosives rammed into the compound wall of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, killing at least 17 people. Then on Saturday, militants staged an audacious attack on the the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, the twin city of the capital, Islamabad. On Monday, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in market town in the Swat Valley region, killing 41 people and injuring 45 others.
Pakistan is at critical juncture, with the armed forces gathered in their largest-ever numbers (almost a corps, as many as 60,000 troops) around South Waziristan to flush out the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban (PTT), al-Qaeda and their allies from the Pakistani tribal areas.
In these tense times, Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda leader who, according to American intelligence is al-Qaeda's head of military operations and whose death they wrongly confirmed in a recent US Predator drone attack in North Waziristan, spoke to Asia Times Online.
He invited this correspondent to a secret hideout in the South Waziristan-Afghanistan border area, where drones regularly fly overhead.
This is Ilyas' first-ever media interaction since he joined al-Qaeda in 2005. He is a veteran commander from the struggle with India over divided Kashmir.
In the past few months, the militants have appeared to be on the back foot. A number of leading figures have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan, including Osama al-Kini, a Kenyan national and al-Qaeda's external operations chief; Khalid Habib, the commander of the Lashkar al-Zil or the Shadow Army, al-Qaeda's fighting force; Tahir Yuldashev, leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; PTT leader Baitullah Mehsud, and several others.
The Pakistani Taliban have also been given a bloody nose by the military in tribal and urban areas. Negotiations were also underway to strike peace deals with some Taliban commanders in various Afghan provinces.
Then last week at least nine US troops along with several dozen Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel were killed in a raid on an outpost in Nuristan province, besides the abduction of over 30 ANA officers and soldiers by the Taliban.
This attack was complemented by a series of other attacks on North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases across the southeastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, forcing top US General Stanley McChrystal to pull out all troops from isolated posts in remote areas in these provinces to relocate them in population centers.
This created immense space for the Taliban to operate freely, meaning that if Pakistan conducted operations in South Waziristan, the militants could easily move across the border to find sanctuary.
The attacks over the past few days have also shown that the militants are still capable of striking important targets almost at will. They also mean a redesign of the war theater in which Pakistan will have to relocate its troops from the eastern front (India) to the western front (Afghanistan), as the Taliban are now the number one enemy.
Washington plans to send at least another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan while India will complement these efforts with its intelligence and military expertise against the common enemy - Muslim militant groups. The upcoming battle
Ilyas Kashmiri gave his views on what the upcoming battle will look like, what its targets will be, and how it will impact the West in relation to the destabilization of a Muslim state such as Pakistan.
The contact with Asia Times Online began with a call from the militants on October 6, inviting this correspondent to the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. No reason was given. The next day, I traveled to Mir Ali, a town that has been heavily attacked by drones over the past year. After over seven hours of continuous traveling, I was received by a group of armed men who transferred me to a house belonging to a local tribesman.
"The commander [Ilyas Kashmiri] is alive. You know that the commander has never spoken to the media before, but since everybody is sure of his death as a result of a drone attack [in September], al-Qaeda's shura [council] decided to make a denial of this news through an interview by him to an independent newspaper, and therefore the shura agreed on you," a person whom I knew as the key person in Ilyas' famous 313 Brigade told me as soon as I reached the safe house. The brigade, a collection of jihadi groups, fought for many years against India in India-administered Kashmir.
"You will have to stay in this room until we inform you of the next plan. You can hear the voices of drones above your head, therefore you will not leave the room. The area is full of Taliban, but also of informers whose information on the presence of strangers in a house could lead to a drone attack," the man said.
The next day, I was transferred to another house at an unknown location, about three hours away. During this time I was accompanied at all times by an armed escort. I was not allowed to speak to them, and they could not communicate with me. This is al-Qaeda's internal world. Finally, in the early morning of October 9, a few armed men arrived in a white car.
"Please leave all your electronic gadgets here. No cell phone, no camera, nothing. We will provide you pen and paper to write the interview," I was instructed. After several hours of a very uncomfortable journey, passing down muddy tracks and through mountain passes, we reached a room where Ilyas was supposed to meet us.
After a couple of hours, suddenly the sound of a powerful vehicle broke the silence. My escort and the men already present in the room rapidly took up positions. They all wore bullet pouches and carried AK-47s.
Ilyas made his entrance. He cut a striking figure, about six feet tall (1.83 meters), wearing a cream-colored turban and white qameez shalwar (traditional shirt and pants), carrying an AK-47 on his shoulder and a wooden stick in one hand, and flanked by commandos of his famous diehard 313 Brigade.
Ilyas now sports a long white beard dyed with reddish henna. At the age of 45 he remains strongly built, although he carries the scars of war - he has lost an eye and an index figure. When we shook hands, his grip was powerful.
The host immediately served lunch, and we sat on the floor to eat.
"So, you have survived a third drone strike ... why is the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] sniffing around you so much? I asked.
The question was somewhat rhetorical. He is one of the most high-profile al-Qaeda commanders, with a Pakistani bounty of 50 million rupees (US$600,000) on his head. His position is defined differently by various intelligence and media organizations. Some say he is commander-in-chief of al-Qaeda's global operations, while others say he is chief of al-Qaeda's military wing.
If today al-Qaeda is divided into three spheres, Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly the symbol of the movement and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri defines al-Qaeda's ideology and broader strategic vision. Ilyas, with his unmatched guerrilla expertise, turns the strategic vision into reality, provides the resources and gets targets achieved, but he chooses to remain in the background and very low key.
His bases and activities have always remained shrouded in secrecy. However, the arrest of five of his men in Pakistan earlier this year and their subsequent grilling helped lift the veil. Their information resulted in CIA drone strikes against him, the first in May and then again on September 7, when he was pronounced dead by Pakistani intelligence, and finally on September 14, after which the CIA said he was dead and called it a great success in the "war on terror".
"They are right in their pursuit. They know their enemy well. They know what I am really up to," Ilyas proudly replied.
Born in Bimbur (old Mirpur) in the Samhani Valley of Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 10, 1964, Ilyas passed the first year of a mass communication degree at Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. He did not continue due to his heavy involvement in jihadi activities.
The Kashmir Freedom Movement was his first exposure in the field of militancy, then the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI) and ultimately his legendary 313 Brigade. This grew into the most powerful group in South Asia and its network is strongly knitted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. According to some CIA dispatches, the footprints of 313 Brigade are now in Europe and capable of the type of attack that saw a handful of militants terrorize the Indian city of Mumbai last November.
Little is documented of Ilyas' life, and what has been reported is often contradictory. However, he is invariably described, certainly by world intelligence agencies, as the most effective, dangerous and successful guerrilla leader in the world.
He left the Kashmir region in 2005 after his second release from detention by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and headed for North Waziristan. He had previously been arrested by Indian forces, but he broke out of jail and escaped. He was then detained by the ISI as the suspected mastermind of an attack on then-president Pervez Musharraf, in 2003, but was cleared and released. The ISI then picked Ilyas up again in 2005 after he refused to close down his operations in Kashmir.
His relocation to the troubled border areas sent a chill down spines in Washington as they realized that with his vast experience, he could turn unsophisticated battle patterns in Afghanistan into audacious modern guerrilla warfare.
Ilyas' track record spoke for itself. In 1994, he launched the al-Hadid operation in the Indian capital, New Delhi, to get some of his jihadi comrades released. His group of 25 people included Sheikh Omar Saeed (the abductor of US reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002) as his deputy. The group abducted several foreigners, including American, Israeli and British tourists and took them to Ghaziabad near Delhi. They then demanded that the Indian authorities release their colleagues, but instead they attacked the hideout. Sheikh Omar was injured and arrested. (He was later released in a swap for the passengers of a hijacked Indian aircraft). Ilyas escaped unhurt.
On February 25, 2000, the Indian army killed 14 civilians in Lonjot village in Pakistan-administered Kashmir after commandos had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two Kashmirs. They returned to the Indian side with abducted Pakistani girls, and threw the severed heads of three of them at Pakistani soldiers.
The very next day, Ilyas conducted a guerilla operation against the Indian army in Nakyal sector after crossing the LoC with 25 fighters of 313 Brigade. They kidnapped an Indian army officer who was later beheaded - his head was paraded in the bazaars of Kotli back in Pakistani territory.
However, the most significant operation of Ilyas was in Aknor cantonment in Indian-administered Kashmir against the Indian armed forces following the massacre of Muslims in the Indian city of Gujarat in 2002. In cleverly planned attacks involving 313 Brigade divided into two groups, Indian generals, brigadiers and other senior officials were lured to the scene of the first attack. Two generals were injured (the Pakistan army could not injure a single Indian general in three wars) and several brigadiers and colonels were killed. This was one of the most telling setbacks for India in the long-running Kashmiri insurgency.
Despite what some reports claim, Ilyas was never a part of Pakistan's special forces, nor even of the army. Nearly 30 years ago when he joined the Afghan jihad against the Soviets from the platform of the HUJI, he developed expertise in guerrilla warfare and explosives.
Within just months of arriving in the Afghan war theater in 2005, Kashmiri redefined the Taliban-led insurgency based on legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap's three-pronged guerrilla warfare strategy. For the Taliban, the main emphasis was to be placed on cutting NATO's supply lines from all four sides of Afghanistan, and carrying out special operations similar to the Mumbai attack in Afghanistan.
Over the years, Ilyas has deliberately adopted a low key presence in the militants' hierarchy. His attacks are just the opposite, although he never issues statements or claims responsibility for any operation.
His 313 Brigade is believed to be the main catalyst of high-profile operations such as the one in Mumbai and others in Afghanistan, as well as al-Qaeda's operations in Somalia and to some extent in Iraq.
"Do you believe that the upcoming South Waziristan operation will be the 'mother of all operations' in the region, as some analysts say," I asked after we had finished lunch and I was alone with Ilyas and his trusted confidant.
"I don't know how to play with words during an interview," Ilyas responded. "I have always been a field commander and I know the language of battlefields. I will try to answer your questions in the language I am familiar with. (Ilyas spoke mostly in Urdu, mixed with some Punjabi.)
"Saleem! I will draw your attention to the basics of the present war theater and use that to explain the whole strategy of the upcoming battles. Those who planned this battle actually aimed to bring the world's biggest Satan [US] and its allies into this trap and swamp [Afghanistan]. Afghanistan is a unique place in the world where the hunter has all sorts of traps to choose from.
"It might be deserts, rivers, mountains and the urban centers as well. This was the thinking of the planners of this war who were sick and tired of the great Satan's global intrigues and they aim for its demise to make this world a place of peace and justice. However, the great Satan was full of arrogance of its superiority and thought of Afghans as helpless statues who would be hit from all four sides by its war machines, and they would not have the power and capacity to retaliate.
"This was the illusion on which a great alliance of world powers came to Afghanistan, but due to their misplaced conceptions they gradually became trapped in Afghanistan. Today, NATO does not have any significance or relevance. They have lost the war in Afghanistan. Now, when they realized their defeat, they developed an emphasis that this entire battle is being fought from outside of Afghanistan, that is, the two Waziristans. To me, this military thesis is a mirage which has created a complex situation in the region and created reactions and counter-reactions. I would not like to go into the details, to me that was nothing but deviation. As a military commander, the reality is that the trap of Afghanistan is successful and the basic military targets on the ground have been achieved," Ilyas said.
I responded that the relocation of 313 Brigade from Kashmir was itself proof that foreign hands were involved in Afghanistan.
"The entire basis of your argument is wrong, that this war is being fought from outside of Afghanistan. This is just an out-of-context understanding of the whole situation. If you discuss myself and 313 Brigade, I decided to join the Afghan resistance as an individual and I had quite a reason for that. Everybody knows that only a decade ago I was fighting a war of liberation for my homeland Kashmir.
"However, I realized that decades of armed and political struggles could not help to inch forward a resolution of this issue. Nevertheless, East Timor's issue was resolved without losing much time. Why? Because the entire game was in the hands of the great Satan, the USA. Organs like the UN and countries like India and Israel were simply the extension of its resources and that's why there was a failure to resolve the Palestinian issue, the Kashmir issue and the plight of Afghanistan.
"So I and many people all across the world realized that analyzing the situation in any narrow regional political perspective was an incorrect approach. This is a different ball game altogether for which a unified strategy is compulsory. The defeat of American global hegemony is a must if I want the liberation of my homeland Kashmir, and therefore it provided the reasoning for my presence in this war theater.
Ilyas continued, "When I came here I found my step justified; how the world regional powers operate under the umbrella of the great Satan and how they are supportive of its great plans. This can be seen here in Afghanistan." He added that al-Qaeda's regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.
"The RAW [India's Research and Analysis Wing] has detachment command centers in the Afghan provinces of Kunar, Jalalabad, Khost, Argun, Helmand and Kandahar. The cover operations are road construction companies. For instance, the road construction contract from Khost city to the Tanai tribe area is handled by a contractor who is actually a current Indian army colonel. In Gardez, telecommunication companies are the cover for Indian intelligence operations. Mostly, their men operate with Muslim names, but actually the employees are Hindus."
"So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?" I asked.
"That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future," Ilyas replied.
"Even against Israel and the USA?" I asked.
"Saleem, I am not a traditional jihadi cleric who is involved in sloganeering. As a military commander, I would say every target has a specific time and reasons, and the responses will be forthcoming accordingly," Ilyas said.
As I noted Kashmiri's answers, I thought of how several years back he was the darling of the Pakistani armed forces, their pride. The highest military officers were proud to meet him at his base in Kashmir, they spent time with him and listened to the legends of his war games. Today, I had a different person in front of me - a man condemned as a terrorist by the Pakistani military establishment and their biggest wish is his death.
"What impressed you to join al-Qaeda?" I asked.
"We were both victims of the same tyrant. Today, the entire Muslim world is sick of Americans and that's why they are agreeing with Sheikh Osama. If all of the Muslim world is asked to elect their leader, their choice would be either [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar or Sheikh Osama," Ilyas said.
"If it is so, why are a section of militants bent on war on Muslim states like Pakistan? Do you think this is correct?"
"Our battle cannot be against Muslims and believers. As I have mentioned earlier, what is happening at the moment in the Muslim world is a complexity due to American power games which have resulted into reactions and counter-reactions. This is a totally different debate and might deviate me from the real topic. The real game is the fight against the great Satan and its adherents," Ilyas said.
"What turned you from the most-beloved friend to the most-hated foe in the eyes of the Pakistani military establishment?" I asked.
"Pakistan is my beloved country and the people who live there are our brothers, sisters and relatives. I cannot even think of going against its interests. It was never the Pakistan army that was against me, but certain elements who branded me as an enemy to cover up their weaknesses and to appease their masters," Ilyas said.
"What is 313 Brigade?" I asked.
"I cannot tell you, except war is all tactics and this is all 313 Brigade is about; reading the enemy's mind and reacting accordingly. The world thought that Prophet Mohammad only left women behind. They forgot there were real men also who did not know what defeat was all about. The world is only familiar with those so-called Muslims who only follow the direction of the air and who don't have their own will. They do not have their own minds or dimensions of their own. The world has yet to see real Muslims. They have so far only seen Osama and Mullah Omar, while there are thousands of others. Wolves only respect a lion's iron slap; lions do not impress with the logic of a sheep," Ilyas said.
As the shadows of darkness emerged, the conversation ended. The next day, a curfew was to be imposed in North Waziristan in preparation for the grand operation in the region, and I had to leave the area. Ilyas also needed to move to a new destination, as he does on a regular basis to hide from the eyes of Predator drones.
This article, by Pascal Zachary, was posted to In These Times, October 9. 2009.
For all the talk of polarization and partisanship in U.S. politics, what’s remarkable is the extent to which President Obama has continued policies and practices of his predecessor, George Bush, in domestic economics and military affairs.
Economically, Obama has continued the bailout of Wall Street, maintained Bush-era tax cuts, pursued “stimulus” through large deficit spending and re-appointed Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman who was a Bush favorite.
In defense, Obama has broken with Bush on a few critical matters, notably by canceling expensive weapons systems and dropping (in September) an aggressive plan to impose a “missile shield” in Eastern Europe that Russia intensely opposed. Yet Obama has carried over Bush’s secretary of defense, Robert Gates; essentially stuck with Bush timetables on Iraq; and maintained historically record levels of Pentagon spending. The president has continued the war in Afghanistan, raising the number of American combat troops. In a speech on August 17, Obama even tried to construct a moral basis for the war, described it as “not a war of choice,” but “a war of necessity.” And as a necessary war, “a war worth fighting,” Obama has declared that only through the democratization of Afghanistan can the terrorist threat to the United States—in the form of al Qaeda—be eliminated from the country.
Further escalation of the war in Afghanistan is no sure thing, however. Having voiced support for increasing combat troops earlier in his presidency, in September Obama seemed torn between three possibilities: escalation, muddling through with the current military footprint or shifting to a greatly “limited” combat mission that would concentrate on countering terrorists targeting the United States, rather than fighting the insurgent Taliban.
Obama’s decision is complicated by his earlier decision to ask his top Afghan military commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to make the case for escalation. McChrystal is reportedly prepared to ask for an additional 40,000 U.S. troops—beyond the 68,000 American soldiers already approved to fight in Afghanistan.
While the question of whether or not the United States sends more troops to Afghanistan defines the current debate over the war, respected Democratic voices, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Vice President Joseph Biden, are quietly stumping for a third way: limited war in Afghan, which would concentrate on countering terrorists and depend on a relatively small number of conventional combat troops. The “limited” advocates, who Obama seemingly ignored until recently, are offering the president a stark choice between escalating—and creating a new Vietnam-style quagmire—and a sharp reduction of ground troops, which would likely reduce both American deaths and the cost of the war. Supporters of this approach include conservative columnist George Will, who in a September column nicely summarized the “limited” war approach. “Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy,” Will wrote. “America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
A third way
That escalation in Afghanistan is no longer viewed as inevitable is welcome. Yet missing from the debate is any serious consideration of complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. No single voice in the foreign policy establishment supports the speedy exit of combat forces, though even McChrystal concedes that the United States might soon experience involuntary withdrawal—in total defeat. “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months)—while Afghan security capacity matures—risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” he wrote in his confidential assessment of the war, leaked to the Washington Post.
To be sure, the United States has already lost the war in meaningful ways. The month of October marks eight years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan. More than 800 American soldiers have died—and alarmingly more than one quarter of that total died in the past three months alone. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent since the war began. The Afghan government this summer presided over a fraudulent national election. Illegal opium production has exploded since 2001; for 2008, the United Nations valued Afghan drug exports at $3 billion. Polls show less than 40 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, the lowest level of support since the start of the war.
Calling for complete withdrawal, phased or immediate, remains a lonely position, endorsed by such independent foreign policy experts as Andrew J. Bacevich, of Boston University, and Robert Naiman, coordinator of Just Foreign Policy, an activist group. Democratic Party leaders, while fretting over parallels between an Afghan quagmire and the Vietnam War that doomed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in the ’60s, are objecting to escalation. Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) opposition to sending more troops, while trying to put limits on U.S. costs in the war, still holds fast to the notion that Afghan institutions, including the army, can be sufficiently strengthened to hold off the Taliban. Even many progressive advocacy groups, such as MoveOn, haven’t made rapid withdrawal form Afghanistan a high priority, perhaps fearing that by breaking with the president on war, they will weaken his ability to push through progressive domestic legislation like healthcare reform. But Code Pink, an influential peace group, has been calling on the president to “focus on negotiations and bringing our troops home.”
Getting the mission right
Yet the case for withdrawing from Afghanistan makes tactical, strategic and moral sense, chiefly because legitimate U.S. security needs can be achieved more effectively through other means. As Bacevich has written, “In Afghanistan today, the United States and its allies are using the wrong means to vigorously pursue the wrong mission.”
If there is a “right” mission in Afghanistan, it can only be to deny al-Qaeda and its friends the opportunity to attack Americans at home and abroad. After eight years in Afghanistan, U.S. troops (aided by much smaller forces from Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy and other “allied” countries) haven’t accomplished this. Yet targeted attacks by U.S. and allied forces are killing terrorists, highlighting an alternative to ground troops and an Afghan quagmire.
In September, U.S. military forces in Somalia killed Saleh Nabhan, the man believed to be responsible for attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. Predator drones, “robot” aircraft controlled from a distance by U.S. technicians, have killed al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
The use of assassination squads and remote-controlled killer planes present their own practical and moral problems. The wrong people can be killed, for instance. And such attacks require detailed knowledge of the movements of the targets. Some of the declared “enemies,” meanwhile, such as Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban government shattered by U.S. air strikes beginning on Oct. 7, 2001, might be worth negotiating with instead of killing. Omar remains head of the insurgency, a popular hero and important to any negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Withdrawal of U.S. troops would be linked to progress in peace negotiation—and an acceptance that the Taliban, in some form, will play some role, if not a decisive role, in a new Afghan government.
An end to war in Afghanistan—and increased stability as a consequence of peaceful co-existence with the Taliban—would benefit Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants are believed to be living in a remote city. Secular political forces in Pakistan, which possesses nuclear weapons, are battling to keep the country out of the hands of religious fundamentalists who already exert profound influence. Anti-American feeling is extraordinarily high in Pakistan; even secular elites blame Americans for inflaming and exaggerating their domestic problems. The U.S. government, which is currently debating how much to increase financial assistance to Pakistan, would provide more effective help without troops in Afghanistan.
A comprehensive strategy
Defenders of escalation say that Afghanistan needs to be reformed and that the aim of U.S. intervention is to create a democratic society, where Afghanis are safe and free. The premise of a democratic Afghanistan informs McChrystal’s view of war aims; the commander’s edifice of escalation depends, he writes (weirdly echoing Hegel), on identifying “the objective will of the [Afghan] people.” In March, Obama gave powerful expression to this position when he announced his “comprehensive” strategy for Afghanistan. While his highest goal was to stop the use of the country as a terrorist staging ground, his next two were classic nation-building goals: to promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan and a national army that can ultimately take over “counter-insurgency” efforts from Americans.
In the arena of democratization, the American effort was marred by last month’s flawed elections, which saw President Hamid Karzai steal enough votes to claim victory (there’s a recount now underway). The election fiasco pushed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), an influential Democrat, to predict Afghanistan “will remain [a] tribal entity.” Such a place would require a strong U.S. military presence to hold together and (perhaps) the emergence of a homegrown dictator ruling the country with a “strong hand.”
Yet the very presence of American troops inflames ethnic differences.
Afghans view Americans as invaders and occupiers, and their very presence galvanizes opponents, creating more resistance. As Afghan army spokesman Zahir Azimi has said, “Where [American] forces are fighting, people think it is incumbent on them to resist the occupiers and infidels.” The self-perpetuating nature of the conflict explains the profound pessimism expressed by some with deep experience in the region. British Gen. David Richards, who served in Afghanistan, said in August that stabilizing the country could take 40 years. While such predictions are dismissed as hysterical, they are simply the logical extension of Levin’s insistence that the United States “increase and accelerate our efforts to support the Afghan security forces in their efforts to become self-sufficient in delivering security to their nation.” These efforts at self-reliance inevitably involve a significant American presence on the ground, which in turn fuels the very cycle that Levin insists he wants to avoid: a costly quagmire.
The alternative to a McChrystal escalation or a Levin quagmire requires no leap into the unknown but rather recognition of limits of American power and the legacy of Afghan history. The script for withdrawal is essentially already written—in Iraq, of all places. For the sake of temporary peace, Iraq has essentially been partitioned into three “sub-countries,” two of which are essentially ethnic enclaves. The same could be done in Afghanistan—though the number of sub-divisions could be larger, and acceptance of Taliban rule over some of them would be required. In this scenario, a phased pullout of U.S. forces could accompany the negotiated “government of national unity,” which—like in Iraq—would preserve the “notional” nation of Afghanistan while effectively deconstructing the territory into more manageable pieces.
The United States once blithely dealt with the Taliban (Dick Cheney, after all, famously met with the Taliban prior to bin Laden’s attacks). While retaining the right to attack al Qaeda on Afghan soil, the Obama administration could tolerate Taliban rule if the result of a stable Afghanistan was to free more resources and attention to Pakistan’s urgent security issues. The embrace of realism could well co-evolve with the re-emergence of a moral center to American foreign policy.
Under this scenario, withdrawal of American troops would not mean the end of military actions on Afghan soil. As advocates of “limited” war argue, attacks could still be made from Predator drones based elsewhere. But air strikes and attacks by U.S. “special forces” on Afghan soil risk undermining any government of national unity and the pretense that the United States has halted its war on the Taliban.
For President Obama, the stakes are high. His young presidency is on the line. Perhaps because his secretary of defense, Gates, is a Republican, Obama has personalized the decision on Afghan strategy to a dangerous degree. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. By deciding to reduce, if not altogether remove, U.S. combat troops from the country, the president will take a step towards the moral high ground that he so often desperately seeks to inhabit.
Morality must return to the center of America’s relations with the world. Afghanistan could become, as Obama likes to say, “a teaching moment,” for this president and his wider constituency, the citizens of the planet. The Bush presidency damaged both the image of the United States as a role model for promoters of democratization around the world, and further entrenched a darker counter-view of America as a reactionary force in world affairs. The Obama presidency creates an opening to restore the brighter side. In continuing the war in Afghanistan, Obama risks destroying his chances to redeem the United States in the eyes of the world. By ending the Afghan war, quickly and decisively, the president will match his rhetoric of hope with reality. He will also save U.S. lives and create new openings for negotiation, diplomacy and regional solutions to problems in distant lands.
This article, by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, was published in The New York Times, October 7, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.
As Mr. Obama met with advisers for three hours to discuss Pakistan, the White House said he had not decided whether to approve a proposed troop buildup in Afghanistan. But the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.
It remains unclear whether everyone in Mr. Obama’s war cabinet fully accepts this view. While Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has argued for months against increasing troops in Afghanistan because Pakistan was the greater priority, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have both warned that the Taliban remain linked to Al Qaeda and would give their fighters havens again if the Taliban regained control of all or large parts of Afghanistan, making it a mistake to think of them as separate problems.
Moreover, Mr. Obama’s commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has argued that success demands a substantial expansion of the American presence, up to 40,000 more troops. Any decision that provides less will expose the president to criticism, especially from Republicans, that his policy is a prescription for failure.
The White House appears to be trying to prepare the ground to counter that by focusing attention on recent successes against Qaeda cells in Pakistan. The approach described by administration officials on Wednesday amounted to an alternative to the analysis presented by General McChrystal. If, as the White House has asserted in recent weeks, it has improved the ability of the United States to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda, then the war in Afghanistan is less central to American security.
In reviewing General McChrystal’s request, the White House is rethinking what was, just six months ago, a strategy that viewed Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single integrated problem. Now the discussions in the White House Situation Room, according to several administration officials and outsiders who have spoken with them, are focusing on related but separate strategies for fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda,” one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. “We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability.”
The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. “When the two are aligned, it’s mainly on the tactical front,” the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.Another official, who also was authorized to speak but not to be identified, said the different views of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were driving the president’s review. “To the extent that Al Qaeda has been degraded, and it has, and to the extent you believe you need to focus on destroying it going forward, what is required going forward?” the official asked. “And to prevent it from having a safe haven?”
The officials argued that while Al Qaeda was a foreign body, the Taliban could not be wholly removed from Afghanistan because they were too ingrained in the country. Moreover, the forces often described as Taliban are actually an amalgamation of militants that includes local warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network or others driven by local grievances rather than jihadist ideology.
Mr. Obama has defined his mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan as trying “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world.” But he made it clear during a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center on Tuesday that the larger goal behind the mission was to protect the United States. “That’s the principal threat to the American people,” he said.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that Mr. Obama’s “primary focus is on groups and their allies that can strike our homeland, strike our allies, or groups who would provide safe haven for those that wish to do that.”
The discussion about whether the Taliban pose a threat to the United States has been at the heart of the administration’s debate about what to do in Afghanistan. Some in the Biden camp say that the Taliban can be contained with current troop levels and eventually by Afghan forces trained by the United States.
Moreover, they suggest that the Taliban have no interest in letting Al Qaeda back into Afghanistan because that was what cost them power when they were toppled by American-backed Afghan rebels in 2001.
“The policy people and the intelligence people inside are having a big argument over this,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Mr. Biden. “Is the Taliban a loose collection of people we can split up? Can we split the Taliban from Al Qaeda? If the Taliban comes back to power in parts of Afghanistan, are they going to bring Al Qaeda back with them?”
Some analysts say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have actually grown closer since the first American bombs fell on the Shomali Plain north of Kabul eight years ago Tuesday.
“The kind of separation that existed between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 really doesn’t exist anymore,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised General McChrystal. “You have much more ideological elements in the Taliban. In the east, they’re really mixed in with Al Qaeda.”
Frances Fragos Townsend, who was President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said the two groups remained linked.
“It’s a dangerous argument to assume that the Taliban won’t revert to where they were pre-9/11 and provide Al Qaeda sanctuary,” she said. Referring to General McChrystal, she added, “If you don’t give him the troops he asked for and continue with the Predator strikes, you can kill them one at a time, but you’re not going to drain the swamp.”
Officials said Wednesday that General McChrystal’s official request for additional forces was forwarded to Mr. Obama last week. Mr. Gates’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Mr. Gates had given Mr. Obama “an informal copy” at the president’s request.
The meeting on Wednesday was Mr. Obama’s third with his full national security team. Another is scheduled for Friday to talk about Afghanistan and then a fifth is planned, possibly for next week. Mr. Gibbs said the president was still several weeks away from a decision.
This documentary was released in six parts, between February and August 2009, by Robert Greenwald. As the President considers his options, following a blatantly fraudulent Presidential election and an ever increasing US/NATO/Afghan death toll, the same group of chicken hawks (the Project for a New American Century and their Coterie of neo-conservative war-mongering fools and high ranking brass who were responsible for the Iraq war are now calling for a massive increase in US troops beyond the 17,000 mentioned in the film, the questions and issues raised in this film are brought into sharp focus.
Part One: Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe
President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.
Part Two: Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country"
The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings.
Part Three: "Cost of War"
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn't made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Part Four: "Civilian Casualties"
When foreign policy is well-reasoned, we see attention given to humanitarian issues like housing, jobs, health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, we see death, destruction, and suffering. Director Robert Greenwald witnessed the latter during his recent trip to Afghanistan--the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy.
We must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to helping women and children, human rights issues, and social justice. Then, become a Peacemaker. Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war, and take immediate action by calling Congress.
Part Five: "Women of Afghanistan"
Eight years have passed since Laura Bush declared that "because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes" in Afghanistan. For eight years, that claim has been a lie.
The truth is that American military escalation will not liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead, the hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families. There are 1,000 displaced families in a Kabul refugee camp, and they're suffering for lack of food and blankets. A few weeks ago, you generously gave $6,000 to help and $9,000 more is needed to take care of all 1,000 families. Thats a donation of $15 per family to provide the relief necessary for their survival.
Here's what your money will buy:
Part Six: "How much security did $1 trillion buy?"
The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack.
Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why.
There is no "victory" to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today.
This article, by Rick Rozoff, was posted to his blog rickrozoff.wordpress.com, September 24, 2009
Over the past week U.S. newspapers and television networks have been abuzz with reports that Washington and its NATO allies are planning an unprecedented increase of troops for the war in Afghanistan, even in addition to the 17,000 new American and several thousand NATO forces that have been committed to the war so far this year.
The number, based on as yet unsubstantiated reports of what U.S. and NATO commander Stanley McChrystal and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen have demanded of the White House, range from 10,000 to 45,000.
Fox News has cited figures as high as 45,000 more American soldiers and ABC News as many as 40,000. On September 15 the Christian Science Monitor wrote of “perhaps as many as 45,000.”
The similarity of the estimates indicate that a number has been agreed upon and America’s obedient media is preparing domestic audiences for the possibility of the largest escalation of foreign armed forces in Afghanistan’s history. Only seven years ago the United States had 5,000 troops in the country, but was scheduled to have 68,000 by December even before the reports of new deployments surfaced.
An additional 45,000 troops would bring the U.S. total to 113,000. There are also 35,000 troops from some 50 other nations serving under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in the nation, which would raise combined troop strength under McChrystal’s command to 148,000 if the larger number of rumored increases materializes.
As the former Soviet Union withdrew its soldiers from Afghanistan twenty years ago the New York Times reported “At the height of the Soviet commitment, according to Western intelligence estimates, there were 115,000 troops deployed.” 
Nearly 150,000 U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan would represent the largest foreign military presence ever in the land.
Rather than addressing this historic watershed, the American media is full of innuendos and “privileged” speculation on who has leaked the information and why, as to commercial news operations the tawdry world of Byzantine intrigues among and between American politicians, generals and the Fourth Estate is of more importance that the lengthiest and largest war in the world.
One that has been estimated by the chief of the British armed forces and other leading Western officials to last decades and that has already been extended into Pakistan, a nation with a population almost six times that of Afghanistan and in possession of nuclear weapons.
Two weeks ago the Dutch media reported that during a visit to the Netherlands “General Stanley McChrystal [said] he is considering the possibility of merging…Operation Enduring Freedom with NATO’s ISAF force.”  That is, not only would he continue to command all U.S. and NATO troops, but the two commands would be melded into one.
The call for up to 45,000 more American troops was first adumbrated in mid-September by U.S. armed forces chief Michael Mullen, with the Associated Press stating “The top U.S. military officer says that winning in Afghanistan will probably mean sending more troops.” 
Four days later, September 19, Reuters reported that “The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has drawn up a long-awaited and detailed request for additional troops but has not yet sent it to Washington, a spokesman said on Saturday.
“He said General Stanley McChrystal completed the document this week, setting out exactly how many U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan security force members and civilians he thinks he needs.” 
The Pentagon spokesman mentioned above, Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, said, “We’re working with Washington as well as the other NATO participants about how it’s best to submit this,” refusing to divulge any details. 
Two days later the Washington Post published a 66-page “redacted” version of General McChrystal’s Commander’s Initial Assessment which began with this background information:
“On 26 June, 2009, the United States Secretary of Defense directed Commander, United States Central Command (CDRUSCENTCOM), to provide a multidisciplinary assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. On 02 July, 2009, Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF) / U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), received direction from CDRUSCENTCOM to complete the overall review.
“On 01 July, 2009, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and NATO Secretary General also issued a similar directive.
“COMISAF [Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force] subsequently issued an order to the ISAF staff and component commands to conduct a comprehensive review to assess the overall situation, review plans and ongoing efforts, and identify revisions to operational, tactical and strategic guidance.”
The main focus of the report, not surprising given McChrystal’s previous role as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the Pentagon’s preeminent special operations unit, in Iraq, is concentrated and intensified counterinsurgency war.
It includes the demand that “NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) requires a new strategy….This new strategy must also be properly resourced and executed through an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign….This is a different kind of fight. We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations in an environment that is uniquely complex….Success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign.”
McChrystal’s evaluation also indicates that the war will not only escalate within Afghanistan but will also be stepped up inside Pakistan and may even target Iran.
“Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].
“Iranian Qods Force [part of the nation's army] is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents. Iran’s current policies and actions do not pose a short-term threat to the mission, but Iran has the capability to threaten the mission in the future.”
That the ISI has had links to armed extremists is no revelation. The Pentagon and the CIA worked hand-in-glove with it from 1979 onward to subvert successive governments in Afghanistan. That Iran is “training fighters for certain Taliban groups” is a provocational fabrication.
As to who is responsible for the thirty-year disaster that is Afghanistan, McChrystal’s assessment contains a sentence that may get past most readers. It is this:
“The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are: the Quetta Shura Taliban (05T), the Haqqani Network (HQN), and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG).”
The last-named is the guerrilla force of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the largest recipient of hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of U.S. dollars provided by the CIA to the Peshawar Seven Mujahideen bloc fighting the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan from 1978-1992.
While hosting Hekmatyar and his allies at the White House in 1985 then President Ronald Reagan referred to his guests as “the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.”
Throughout the 1980s the CIA official in large part tasked to assist the Mujahideen with funds, arms and training was Robert Gates, now U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Last December BBC News reported:
“In his book, From the Shadows, published in 1996, Mr Gates defended the role of the CIA in undertaking covert action which, he argued, helped to win the Cold War.
“In a speech in 1999, Mr Gates said that its most important role was in Afghanistan.
“‘CIA had important successes in covert action. Perhaps the most consequential of all was Afghanistan where CIA, with its management, funnelled billions of dollars in supplies and weapons to the mujahideen, and the resistance was thus able to fight the vaunted Soviet army to a standoff and eventually force a political decision to withdraw,’ he said.” 
Now according to McChrystal the same Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was cultivated and sponsored by McChrystal’s current boss, Gates, is in charge of one of the three groups the Pentagon and NATO are waging ever-escalating counterinsurgency operations in South Asia against.
To make matters even more intriguing, former British foreign secretary Robin Cook – as loyal a pro-American Atlanticist as exists – conceded in the Guardian on July 8, 2005 that “Bin Laden was…a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally ‘the database’, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.”
Russian analyst and vice president of the Center for Political Technologies Sergey Mikheev was quoted in early September as contending that “Afghanistan is a stage in the division of the world after the bipolar system failed. They [U.S. and NATO] wanted to consolidate their grip on Eurasia…and deployed a lot of troops there. The Taliban card was played, although nobody had been interested in the Taliban before.” 
Pentagon chief Gates’ 27 years in the CIA, including his tenure as director of the agency from 1991-1993, is being brought to bear on the Afghan war according to the Los Angeles Times of September 19, 2009, which revealed that “The CIA is deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence ’surge’ that will make its station there among the largest in the agency’s history, U.S. officials say.
“When complete, the CIA’s presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. Precise numbers are classified, but one U.S. official said the agency already has nearly 700 employees in Afghanistan.
“The intelligence expansion goes beyond the CIA to involve every major spy service, officials said, including the National Security Agency, which intercepts calls and e-mails, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency, which tracks military threats.”
U.S. and NATO Commander McChrystal will put the CIA to immediate use in his plans for an all-out counterinsurgency campaign. The Los Angeles Times article added:
“McChrystal is expected to expand the use of teams that combine CIA operatives with special operations soldiers. In Iraq, where he oversaw the special operations forces from 2003 to 2008, McChrystal used such teams to speed up the cycle of gathering intelligence and carrying out raids aimed at killing or capturing insurgents.
“The CIA is also carrying out an escalating campaign of unmanned Predator missile strikes on Al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Pakistan. The number of strikes so far this year, 37, already exceeds the 2008 total, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal website, which tracks Predator strikes in Pakistan.”
Indeed, on September 13 it was reported that “Two NATO fighter jets reportedly flew inside Pakistan’s airspace for nearly two hours on Saturday.
“The airspace violation took place in different parts of the Khyber Agency bordering the Afghan border.” 
Two days later “NATO fighter jets in Afghanistan…violated Pakistani airspace and dropped bombs on the country’s northwest region.
“NATO warplanes bombed the South Waziristan tribal region….Moreover, CIA operated spy drone planes continued low-altitude flights in several towns of the Waziristan region.” 
The dramatic upsurge in CIA deployments in South Asia won’t be limited to Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan will be further overrun by U.S. intelligence operatives also.
On September 12 a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan contesting the announced expansion of the U.S. embassy in the nation’s capital.
“Pakistani media have been reporting that the United States plans to deploy a large number of marines with the plan to expand its embassy in Islamabad.” 
The challenge was organized by Barrister Zafarullah Khan, who “said that Saudi Arabia was also trying to get 700,000 acres (283,400 hectares) of land in the country.”
He was quoted on the day of the presentation of the petition as warning “Giving away Pakistani land to U.S. and Arab countries in this fashion is a threat for the stability and sovereignty of the country” and “further added that the purpose of giving the land to U.S. embassy was to establish an American military base…there.
“He maintained that such a big land was enough even to construct a military airport.” 
Intelligence personnel and special forces are being matched by military equipment in the intensification of the West’s war in South Asia.
On September 10 Reuters revealed in an article titled “U.S. eyes military equipment in Iraq for Pakistan” that “The Pentagon has proposed transferring U.S. military equipment from Iraq to Pakistani security forces to help Islamabad step up its offensive against the Taliban….”
A U.S. armed forces publication a few days afterward wrote that “U.S. hardware is moving out of Iraq by the ton, much of it going straight to the overstretched forces in increasingly volatile Afghanistan” and “The U.S. military has already started moving an estimated 1.5 million pieces of equipment – everything from batteries to tanks – by ground, rail and air either to Afghanistan for immediate use….” 
In the middle of this month “U.S. military leaders infused Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ideas of how to win the war in Afghanistan” by conducting a large-scale counterinsurgency exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
“Dozens of Pashtun speakers joined more than 6,500 U.S. troops and civilians in an exercise for the Afghanistan-bound 173rd Airborne Brigade and Iraq-bound 12th Combat Aviation Brigade. It was the largest such exercise ever held by the U.S. military outside of the United States….” 
The Pentagon and NATO have their work cut out for them.
“A security map by the London-based International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) showed a deepening security crisis with substantial Taliban activity in at least 97 percent of the war-ravaged country.
“The Council added that the militants now have a permanent presence in 80 percent of the country.” 
The United States is not alone in sinking deeper into the Afghan morass.
On September 14 U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, in celebrating the “resilience and deep-seated support from our allies for what is happening in Afghanistan,” was equally enthusiastic in proclaiming “Over 40 percent of the body bags that leave Afghanistan do not go to the U.S. They go to other countries….” 
Daalder also gave the lie to earlier claims that NATO troop increases leading up to last month’s presidential election were temporary in nature by acknowledging that “Many of the extra troops that NATO countries sent to Afghanistan for the August presidential elections would stay on.” 
Leading up to the Washington Post’s publication of the McChrystal assessment, NATO’s Military Committee held a two-day conference in Lisbon, Portugal which was attended by McChrystal and NATO’s two Strategic Commanders, Admiral Stavridis (Supreme Allied Commander, Operations) and General Abrial (Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation) which “focused mainly on the operation in Afghanistan and on the New Strategic Concept.” 
The 28 NATO defense chiefs present laid a wreath to the Alliance’s first war dead, those killed in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month the Washington Post reported that “The U.S. military and NATO are launching a major overhaul of the way they recruit, train and equip Afghanistan’s security forces,” an announcement that came “in advance of expected recommendations by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.” 
The article quoted Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“We’re going to need many more trainers, hopefully including a much larger number of NATO trainers. We’re going to need a surge of equipment that is coming out of Iraq and, instead of coming home, a great deal of it should be going to Afghanistan instead.” 
According to the same report, this month NATO will “will establish a new command led by a three-star military officer to oversee recruiting and generating Afghan forces.
“The goal is to ‘bring more coherence’ to uncoordinated efforts by NATO contingents in Afghanistan while underscoring that the mission ‘is not just America’s challenge’…” 
Contributing to its quota of body bags, NATO has experienced losses in Afghanistan that have reached record levels. “According to the icasualties website, 363 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 294 for all of 2008.” 
In September Britain has lost its 216th soldier in the nearly eight-year war. Canada lost its 131st. Denmark its 25th. Italy its 20th. Poland, where a recent poll showed 81 percent support for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, its 12th.
Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, who had been in the nation in the 1980s, was cited by Associated Press on September 12 as saying that in 2002 the U.S. had 5,000 troops in the nation and “Taliban controlled just a small corner of the country’s southeast.”
“Now we have Taliban fighting in the peaceful Kunduz and Baghlan (provinces) with your (NATO’s) 100,000 troops. And if this trend is the rule, if you bring 200,000 soldiers here, all of Afghanistan will be under the Taliban.”
Associated Press also cited Kabulov’s concern that “the U.S. and its allies are competing with Russia for influence in the energy-rich region….Afghanistan remains a strategic prize because of its location near the gas and oil fields of Iran, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.”
He also said “Russia has questions about NATO’s intentions in Afghanistan, which…lies outside of the alliance’s ‘political domain’” and “Moscow is concerned that NATO is building permanent bases in the region.”
The concerns are legitimate in light of this month’s latest quadrennial report by the Pentagon on security threats which “put emerging superpower China and former Cold War foe Russia alongside Iran and North Korea on a list of the four main nations challenging American interests.” 
At the same time a U.S. military newspaper reported on statements by Pentagon chief Robert Gates:
“Gates said the roughly $6.5 billion he has proposed to upgrade the [Air Force] fleet assures U.S. domination of the skies for decades.
“By the time China produces its first – 5th generation – fighter, he said, the U.S. will have more than 1,000 F-22s and F-35s. And while the U.S. conducted 35,000 refueling missions last year, Russia performed about 30.
“The secretary also highlighted new efforts to support robust space and cyber commands, as well as the new Global Strike Command that oversees the nuclear arsenal.” 
To add to Russian and Chinese apprehensions about NATO’s role in South and Central Asia, ten days ago the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China, “offered to Kazakhstan to take part in the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.”
At the opening ceremony of the NATO Steppe Eagle-2009 military exercises in that nation Richard Hoagland said “Kazakhstan may again become part of the international NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.” 
Radio Free Europe reported on September 16 that NATO was to sign new agreements with Kyrgyzstan, which also borders China, for the use of the Manas Air Base that as many as 200,000 U.S. and NATO troops have passed through since the beginning of the Afghan war.
On the same day NATO’ plans for expanding transit routes through the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region were described. “[T]he air corridor through Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is the most feasible.
“This route will be best suited if ISAF transport planes fly directly to Baku from Turkey or any other NATO member….Moreover, it [Azerbaijan] is not a CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] member, which allows Azerbaijan more freedom for maneuver in the region when dealing with NATO.” 
Just as troops serving under NATO command in the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now include those from almost fifty countries on five continents, so the broadening scope of the war is absorbing vaster tracts of Eurasia and the Middle East.
America’s longest armed conflict since that in Indochina and NATO’s first ground war threatens to not only remain the world’s most dangerous conflagration but also one that plunges the 21st Century into a war without end.
New York Times, February 16, 1989
Radio Netherlands, September 12, 2009
Associated Press, September 15, 2009
Reuters, September 19, 2009
BBC News, December 1, 2008
Russia Today, September 7, 2009
Asian News International, September 13, 2009
Press TV, September 15, 2009
Xinhua News, September 12, 2009
Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
Stars and Stripes, September 13, 2009
Trend News Agency, September 11, 2009
Reuters, September 14, 2009
NATO, September 20, 2009
Washington Post, September 12, 2009
Agence France-Presse, September 22, 2009
Agence France-Presse, September 15, 2009
Stars and Stripes, September 16, 2009
Interfax, September 14, 2009
Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 16, 2009
This article, by Stephen Walt, was published in Foreign Policy, August 18, 2009
At an appearance before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Obama defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, calling it a "war of necessity." He claimed that "our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies," and he declared that “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
This is a significant statement. In effect, the president was acknowledging that the only strategic rationale for an increased commitment in Afghanistan is the fear that if the Taliban isn't defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself there, which would then enable it to mount increasingly threatening attacks on the United States.
This is the kind of assertion that often leads foreign policy insiders to nod their heads in agreement, but it shouldn't be accepted uncritically. Here are a few reasons why the "safe haven" argument ought to be viewed with some skepticism. First, this argument tends to lump the various groups we are contending with together, and it suggests that all of them are equally committed to attacking the United States. In fact, most of the people we are fighting in Afghanistan aren't dedicated jihadis seeking to overthrow Arab monarchies, establish a Muslim caliphate, or mount attacks on U.S. soil. Their agenda is focused on local affairs, such as what they regard as the political disempowerment of Pashtuns and illegitimate foreign interference in their country. Moreover, the Taliban itself is more of a loose coalition of different groups than a tightly unified and hierarchical organization, which is why some experts believe we ought to be doing more to divide the movement and "flip" the moderate elements to our side. Unfortunately, the "safe haven" argument wrongly suggests that the Taliban care as much about attacking America as bin Laden does. Second, while it is true that Mullah Omar gave Osama bin Laden a sanctuary both before and after 9/11, it is by no means clear that they would give him free rein to attack the United States again. Protecting al Qaeda back in 2001 brought no end of trouble to Mullah Omar and his associates, and if they were lucky enough to regain power, it is hard to believe they would give us a reason to come back in force. Third, it is hardly obvious that Afghan territory provides an ideal "safe haven" for mounting attacks on the United States. The 9/11 plot was organized out of Hamburg, not Kabul or Kandahar, but nobody is proposing that we send troops to Germany to make sure there aren't "safe havens" operating there. In fact, if al Qaeda has to hide out somewhere, I’d rather they were in a remote, impoverished, land-locked and isolated area from which it is hard to do almost anything. The "bases" or "training camps" they could organize in Pakistan or Afghanistan might be useful for organizing a Mumbai-style attack, but they would not be particularly valuable if you were trying to do a replay of 9/11 (not many flight schools there), or if you were trying to build a weapon of mass destruction. And in a post-9/11 environment, it wouldn’t be easy for a group of al Qaeda operatives bent on a Mumbia-style operation get all the way to the United States. One cannot rule this sort of thing out, of course, but does that unlikely danger justify an open-ended commitment that is going to cost us more than $60 billion next year? Fourth, in the unlikely event that a new Taliban government did give al Qaeda carte blanche to prepare attacks on the United States or its allies, the United States isn't going to sit around and allow them to go about their business undisturbed. The Clinton administration wasn't sure it was a good idea to go after al Qaeda's training camps back in the 1990s (though they eventually did, albeit somewhat half-heartedly), but that was before 9/11. We know more now and the U.S. government is hardly going to be bashful about attacking such camps in the future. (Remember: we are already doing that in Pakistan, with the tacit approval of the Pakistani government). Put differently, having a Taliban government in Kabul would hardly make Afghanistan a "safe haven" today or in the future, because the United States has lots of weapons it can use against al Qaeda that don’t require a large U.S. military presence on the ground. Fifth, as well-informed critics have already observed, the primary motivation for extremist organizations like the Taliban and Al Qaeda is their opposition to what they regard as unwarranted outside interference in their own societies. Increasing the U.S. military presence and engaging in various forms of social engineering is as likely to reinforce such motivations as it is to eliminate them. Obama is hoping that a different strategy will eventually undercut support for the Taliban and strengthen the central government, but it is still an open question whether more American involvement will have positive or negative effects. If we are in fact making things worse, then we may be encouraging precisely the outcome we are trying to avoid. Sixth, one might also take comfort from the Soviet experience. When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the mujaheddin didn't "follow them home." Were the United States to withdraw from Aghanistan and the Taliban to regain power (or end up sharing power, which is more likely), going after the United States won't even be on their "to do" list.
One can of course make a moral argument for an extended commitment in Afghanistan, but that's not the argument Obama made (and it probably wouldn't sell very well here at home). For a realist, the "safe haven" argument is the only possible rationale for a large military commitment in Afghanistan. But the case is actually quite dubious, and somebody in the administration really ought to take a hard look at it. I doubt anyone will, however, because Obama is now committed, and his administration is filled with "can-do" types who never saw an international problem they didn't think the United States could fix.I sure hope they're right and I'm wrong, but I also wish that I didn’t have that feeling quite as often as I seem to these days.