One year after West Point, still no military solution in Afghanistan
One year after President Obama’s December 1, 2009 address to a captive West Point audience, US policy in Afghanistan is not producing regional stability or a way to end the war.
In December, the President declared it was in the “vital national interest” of the United States to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan–bringing total US troop presence to around 100,000. In what history will almost certainly view as a pivotal moment in his early presidency, the President issued a military mandate: “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” The strategy select: Counterinsurgency (COIN).
The war has been plagued by scandal and delusion in the last 12 months. The tumultuous occupation has seen a dramatic change in leadership, a model operation in Marjah become a “bleeding ulcer”, and a Taliban that is now active in 33 of 34 provinces—up from just four provinces four years ago. By almost every metric, COIN has failed in Afghanistan.
Since July, the tempo of the war has expanded exponentially. In October alone, over 1,000 bombs and missiles were dropped on Afghanistan—bringing the July-October total to over 3,000. The pace of the war is blistering, outpacing Iraq at its peak, with over 4,000 operations per month. The most alarming escalation is underway; the US Marines are now deploying a company of M1 Abrams tanks to Afghanistan. The move is unprecedented and signals utter frustration with the inability to gain the upper hand militarily.
Instability is also bleeding across the border into Afghanistan’s nuclear neighbor, Pakistan. It is no secret that the Pakistanis—particularly the Pakistani Inner Service Intelligence (ISI)—have been an obstacle to peace in the region. The February detaining of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was participating in covert talks with the Karzai government, provides a clear example of Pakistan’s desire to either be at the negotiating table or undermine peace talks. US policy in Pakistan is sure to expand the conflict; over 120 drone strikes have taken place in northern Pakistan in 2010, compared to just 58 in 2009.
The statistics indicate a strategic shift from the failed COIN to Counter Terror (CT) strategy, as pundits have recently noted, shifting the debate to which strategy to use in Afghanistan. This is an overwhelmingly narrow minded debate. The fact is neither COIN nor CT will bring stability to Afghanistan, eradicate extremism or make the US safer.
July 2011, the date which President Obama said the US would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, may be vanishing as a meaningful drawdown date. The NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal last week set the transfer of full authority date to December 2014—a date which President Obama says the US presence could surpass if conditions do not permit an orderly exit.
If US leaves in July of next year or December 2014 the end result will be the exact same if the strategy does not chance course. The US military cannot solve the problems of Afghanistan by occupying it. The escalation of the war in Afghanistan has not brought stability to the region. Instability in the region is certainly not good for the world, but bears less of a threat to US national security than the massive cost and debt the US will incur fighting this war—trillions of dollars.
One year after the announcement of the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the US is no closer to bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan or ending the war. It is absolutely critical that we do not let the military get a pass on July 2011 or push the occupation of Afghanistan to 2014. Dennis Kucinich (OH) plans to offer a privileged resolution to end the war as soon as the new Congress is sworn in. This will force new members to take a position on the war. Commanders have said all along there is no military solution for the conflict in Afghanistan. Let’s make sure the 112th Congress hears that message loud and clear.