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Not to Forget the War in Afghanistan July 4, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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Since President Obama’s escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan in March, much discussion has ensued around the world and around this blog, especially in this post: Underestimating Our Afghan Summer

And many developments in Afghanistan have ensued. Here is what I do know:

– Since his inauguration, President Obama has authorized 21,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

– The president correctly believes that the troops deserve a straightforward answer to the question: “What is our purpose in Afghanistan?” And his response was this:

“So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

– In relation to the increased troop levels, the number of “security incidents” has also increased sharply, rising over 1,000 for the first time in May, 2009. This is a 43% increase over the same period in 2008. The bottom line: it has been the most intense fighting season so far experienced, according to the UN Security Council. This has been an expected development.

– “The first major operation launched with the additional troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama is devised to clear Taliban havens across a strategic southern province — and then, in a marked departure from past practice, to leave clusters of Marines in small bases close to the villagers they were sent to guard and aid, according to senior military officers.” From this article.

Today, the NYT reported that Russia has agreed to let American troops and weapons bound for Afghanistan fly over Russian territory. Though the New York Times considers this an “achievement,” it’s hard to know whether this development is good or bad; it may be good for US – Russian relations, but bad for US – Afghani relations, and certainly bad for the Afghans and Americans dying by our prolonged and heightened involvement there.

– On a similar note, Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament ratified an agreement recently to allow the US to maintain operations at an airport that has become a key support base and transit hub for the troops in Afghanistan. (Hard to tell if this is good or bad?)

– The Department of Defense has identified 707 American service members who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the death of the following American on Tuesday: Terry J. Lynch, 22, Sgt., Army; Shepherd, Mont.; 10th Mountain Division. (FYI, 4,308 have died in Iraq.)

Probably more than 20,000 Afghan civilians have died as a result of the war between the US and the Afghan insurgents. A good NYT article on this note…

– Afghanistan has an upcoming election on August 20th. Current president Hamid Karzai is likely to be reelected.

So that’s what I know. There is way more that I don’t know. And I have one question: At what point do US casualties like Terry Lynch, and increasingly frequent Afghan casualties, convince policy-makers that fighting a guerrilla-style war in Afghanistan’s Helmand province is not keeping the US and the world safer, but rather is resulting in greater insecurity?

Annnd, If you only follow one link in this blog post, it should be this one: http://www.cfr.org/publication/19738/security_council_meeting_on_complex_situation_in_afghanistan_june_2009.html

Underestimating Our Afghan Summer? April 30, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Politics, World Affairs.
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Hey guys,

Most of you are aware that in what will probably go down as the most important foreign policy decision of his first term, President Obama ordered the doubling of our troop presence in Afghanistan. As one who is generally skeptical of an interventionist foreign policy, I’ll admit that I find the rationale behind this “doubling down” far more compelling than many of our other military misadventures (Iraq?). A couple major arguments for increased involvement in Afghanistan:

1. The guys who attacked us on 9/11, while not born and raised in Afghanistan, relied heavily on the safe haven the Taliban provided for fundraising, training, planning, and organizing.

2. The Taliban is, by any humane standards, a brutally repressive regime; especially so with regards to women. The other day a video leaked out of a young Pakistani woman being publicly whipped for the crime of having a man to her home who was not part of her family. Those who prosecuted her under Sharia law said that she could have been executed and claimed that, if anything, they were being lenient. Here’s a link to the video: Taliban Video Shows Teen Girl Beaten for ‘Adultery’

3. The Taliban is back on the rise in Afghanistan and the Karzai government is widely seen as ineffectual outside of Kabul.

4. The number of troops we have there now is universally seen as insufficient. Our military’s movements in most key areas are limited to the extent that soldiers rarely go far from their bases.

5. The terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan has overflown into large swaths of Pakistan’s tribal region, destabilizing it greatly and ruining the tourism driven economy the SWAT valley used to enjoy. Worst of all, Pakistan’s own military has proven either unwilling or unable to staunch the bleeding. Everyday the Taliban’s influence creeps closer to Islamabad.

6. Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.

Comparing such imperative threats to the thread of bad intelligence our government used to link 9/11 to Iraq and launch a massive invasion, makes it clear that, for once, we may have a war of necessity on our hands. Maybe war is never justified, but some wars are certainly more justified than others.

Such has been my thinking on the prospect of a renewed campaign in Afghanistan: It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be expensive, and there’s no guarantee of success. But at least we have some solid reasons to be there. At least an honest debate on the merits of more or less involvement seems warranted.

Well, a couple days ago I read an excellent article which contained firsthand account of a firefight in the region as well as some eye-opening specifics on what we can expect from Afghanistan as the fighting ramps up this summer. While it does an excellent job of highlighting the huge strides that could be made if the massive poppy industry (which bankrolls the Taliban) can be shutdown, it is also a sobering reminder of the worst-case scenario: a protracted and bloody, conflict with heavy U.S. and civilian casualties.

Please read the article here: Poppy Fields of Afghanistan