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Questions that need to be asked about Afghanistan

ASK THIS | September 17, 2009

Congress and the press didn’t ask presidents, military leaders or secretaries of state hard questions that might have led them to avoid the quagmires in Vietnam and Iraq, writes George C. Wilson, and he poses some hard questions that need to be asked – and answered – about Afghanistan.

By George C. Wilson

Neither Congress nor the press asked the president, the secretary of Defense, the secretary of State and military leaders the kind of tough questions that might have kept our commander-in-chief from sending thousands of young American men and women to die in the quagmires of Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan.
But our lawmakers, who at bottom are the hired hands of the taxpayers, have a new chance to assert the war-making powers the Constitution gave them. They can worst-case the plans to wade deeper into the Afghan quagmire.
These are among the questions that need to be asked of the principals:
Defense Secretary Gates:
  • Would you agree that today’s rela­tively small Army would be stretched to the breaking point by sending thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan on top of the 68,000 due to be on the ground there by year’s end?
  • How many troopers within that 68,000 will be on their sec­ond and third tours to the region? How many of them are being held beyond the time they signed up for under stop-loss author­ity? How many of them are National Guardsmen and from what states? Where is a governor to go for backup if his state is hit by a terrorist attack, his police and firemen are overwhelmed and there is no Guard to call up because it is deployed overseas?
  • What is your personal opinion of how many U.S. troops should be deployed to Afghanistan? How long should they stay there? What is your definition of victory or success in Afghani­stan?
  • You have talked about the need to send more anti-bomb spe­cialists to reduce casualties from improvised explosive devices. It takes 11 months of intense training at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base to train a soldier, sailor, marine or airman in the intricacies of finding, disarming and destroying an IED. These explosive ordnance disposal specialists are already in short supply. Where are you going to get additional ones for Afghanistan? 
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
  • What is your personal opinion, not the administration’s party line, of how many U.S. troops would be required to pacify Af­ghanistan and protect civil affairs workers who would be in re­mote villages digging wells, building schools, providing health care? How many non-U.S. NATO protec­tors can you count on getting and where are they willing to serve in Afghanistan? How long would pacifying and protect­ing forces have to stay in Afghanistan? How would you meet emergencies else­where in the world with so many troop­ers tied down in Afghanistan? What is your definition of suc­cess in Afghanistan? 
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, new field commander in Afghani­stan.
  • What is your personal opinion on how many U.S. troops would be required to beat back the Taliban and al-Qaida and pacify Afghanistan? How long would the American force have to stay in Afghanistan? How many civil affairs workers would you need to improve life in Afghan villages? Where are they going to come from and in what number? How many armed Afghan sol­diers and police would you need to protect the villagers and the people digging wells, building schools and running health clin­ics? Do you trust the Afghan protectors or would you salt their units with U.S. soldiers and Marines to train the Afghans and keep them from getting out of line? Do you have the authority to pursue the Taliban and/or al-Qaida into Pakistan? Would the Pakistani government allow you to wipe out their base camps in Pakistan? If not, how can you hope to win? 
Secretary of State Clinton:
  • Do U.S. ground forces have the right to pursue the Taliban and al-Qaida into Pakistan? To wipe out their base camps? If the Taliban and/or al-Qaida moved their bases into Saudi Arabia, what could we do about it? Is that a possibility? Do you think Afghan villagers feel a loyalty to their central government or to warlords who can protect them? Many of your employees said “Hell no, we won’t go” when asked to go into the Iraqi countryside. What will you do if they refuse to go into Afghanistan? 
After trying to win hearts and minds in South Vietnamese villages, the Marines wrote this in one of their many learned reports: “One overriding fact continually presented itself about the success or failure of civic action in rural construction pro­grams: No success was possible without adequate security. The peasant in the rural areas, who must live with the VC (Vietcong) both night and day, is reluctant to overtly support any program that does not provide adequate security for himself and his fam­ily against VC terrorist tactics.” 
  • Madam Secretary, if you agree that Afghan villagers do not trust their central government or its forces, where is that kind of security going to come from? Do you agree that the follow­ing statement by one of your predecessors, Colin Powell, about the Vietnam of yesterday applies to the Afghanistan of today? “When we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support. … In Vietnam we had entered into a half-hearted, half-war with much of the nation opposed or indifferent while a small fraction carried the burden.”
 This article first appeared in National Journal’s congressdaily.com.

Let's ask the real hard questions
Posted by Don Greenwood
09/29/2009, 06:57 PM

None of the "hard" questions mentioned in the article actually challenge the basic assumptions for maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan.

Our national security is supposedly enhanced as a result of our involvement - if we "fold", the Taliban will extend their political and military influence further into the country, with the assumed foregone conclusion that Al Queda will re-establish training and logistics bases that can potentially encourage more 911 type attacks against the US.

The Quetta Shura Taliban is alive and well in Pakistan, thanks to a wink and a nod by the ISI. How does our involvement in Afghanistan, large or small, affect this current situation? How is any effort in Afghanistan useful without truly proactive pressure on the Pakistani government? Is positive proactive pressure even possible, since Pakistan has a history of playing to both sides, and is responsible for parenting the Taliban in the first place?

Intelligence reports have previously acknowledged that Al Queda related efforts are not reliant on the original organization, and are more likely to be locally plotted and organized. Location no longer matters. So why should we remain, much less increase, our presence in Afghanistan?

The combination of a corrupt Kabul government in combination with the aid of "infidel" Westerners is in direct conflict with the aims of counterinsurgency. How do numbers of troops, either NATO or native, have any relevance or affect on this dynamic? How can the country develop an infrastructure if there is no security? How can there be security if the populace does not trust the central government, or trust that NATO will be involved for the long term?

The Taliban, according to General McCrystal, already have parallel operational provincial governments. This is disturbingly reminiscent of the situation in South Vietnam. Given the impotence of the central government and the lack of unity among tribal entities, how this be overcome?

Until there is serious reflection on why we are there, with realistic assessment of those assumed goals, and whether those goals are achievable, the other questions don't matter very much.

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