Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Plan

Our trophy president has recently announced that he has determined that it is of vital national importance that we increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, at least for now. And, after a little more than a year after getting situated, the troop levels will begin to come down, with a complete withdrawal on the horizon after three years.

This has drawn both guarded praise and heavy criticism from both sides. After all, what could 30,000 more troops possibly do that the roughly 55,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan currently cannot? Why is Obama escalating the war when he should be ending it? Why are we spending more on a war in the middle of an economic recession? Why are we increasing efforts in Afghanistan when Osama Bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan? Why are we announcing when our troops will withdraw, thus allowing Al Quaeda to have a date to look forward to? I think I know the answers to these questions, and I'll share them with you.

Key to my hypothesis is the President's statement that this troop increase is of "vital national importance." That seems like a strange statement to make, since our presence in Afghanistan has already been steadily increasing. And if our intention is to control the territory, it might be better to continue to expand our use of drones and robotic warfare rather than put our sons and daughters at risk. He also said that it is crucial to deny Al Quaida a "safehaven." Yet it's quite clear that the REAL safehaven is not Afghanistan anymore, where American troops occupy every major population center, but Pakistan -- a nation where Bin Laden has overwhelming popular support by a 2 to 1 margin, at least. Were the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, to dare to take action against Bin Laden and turn him over to the U.S., he would face grave repurcussions, and I don't just mean losing the next election. He would likely be killed by an angry mob -- both he and his entire family. This is why Bin Laden is so damned difficult to catch, and why he's so smug about it. So what's our President thinking, here?

One thing he's trying to do is create jobs in a way which bypasses congress. Good ideas to build jobs by rebuilding infrastructure in the U.S. will have to face major battles on Capital Hill first, and we simply don't have the time. 30,000 more troops means 30,000 more jobs, no waiting. At the same time, he's trying to put more money into the pockets of the working class from the wealthiest of our citizens -- something which is tricky to do at any time. But tell any rich Republican that there's a war on, and some of the fight goes out of them in terms of paying their fair share. After all, we need to support our national defense, right?

Well, that's one good way to kill two birds with one stone, but there's more at work, here. The logistic situation in Afghanistan is this: You just can't get from one area to the other very well. Short of helicopter, the best way to travel across Afghanistan is still donkey. Also, there are only a few key ways to get into the country, which is landlocked and bordered on all sides by nations which are not on the friendliest terms with the U.S. Iran and Pakistan are the primary neighbors, and they flank Afghanistan on either side, meeting each other south of the country. Any airlift into Afghan territory from the Arabian Sea would have to go over miles of hostile territory where surface-to-air missiles could easily disrupt things. But there is the borderland to the north of Afghanistan, where the former Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan and Kazakhstan reside. Tajikstan has been our primary alternative to the Pakistan to gain entry to Afghan territory so far. That nation has agreed to funnel U.S. troops and supplies into Afghanistan, and beef up its borders to stem the heroin trade, in exchange for some well-needed cash. The infamous Khyber Pass is too narrow and prone to ambush to use for any real military purposes, even if it didn't originate in Pakistani territory. So, in the border village of Nizhny Panj, where Afghanistan borders Tajikstan, American forces have built a brand new bridge over the Panj river. This is one of only a few key routes into the territory, and those must be carefully controlled. This is where 30,000 troops can really help out, and robot warfare just won't do the job.

Another thing 30,000 troops can do is build up and more easily defend the air bases south of Kabul. In so doing, it enables the U.S. to have two powerful bases of projected force should Iran or Pakistan decide to interfere with any airlifts; any missile strike would be met with a two-pronged retaliation. (Of course, Pakistan has to worry about India should it take any action against the U.S. There's a delicate balance, there.)

Finally, the additional troops added to those key controlled areas make the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan our theatre. That's important, because just a little more control of that territory makes the border with Pakistan a lot more porous. Greater porosity with Pakistan's northern border means that our clandestine and special forces can sniff out Bin Laden from within Pakistan itself with greater success. That means that Osama's "safehaven" suddenly becomes not so safe. Should he be found hiding in a mountain cave, one bomb ends it. Should he be found hiding in an urban center, his throat may be slit in the night. Should all that fail, and a smart bomb or cruise missile be needed, we will need to have adequate preparation for Pakistan's outrage. Loosely held bases in Afghanistan would be vulnerable. But solidly held bases in Afghanistan would give Pakistan pause. Furthermore, if Bin Laden were to be captured, we would need to extracate him through Afghanistan. That means solid bases there -- not weak ones.

In short, these additional 30,000 troops are the nail, which keeps the shoe, which keeps the horse, which keeps the rider, which keeps the battle, which wins the war. This is what Obama meant by "vital national importance."

If I'm right, this move solves several problems all at once, and our President is an absolute genius. But of course, all this may hinge on the success of our special forces being able to use our stronger hold on Afghanistan to take out Bin Laden inside Pakistani territory, and then withstand Pakistan's retaliation afterward. We have about two years, maybe slightly longer, to make that plan succeed. If it fails, if we're forced to withdraw with that rat bastard still alive, Al Quaida will have one hell of a feather to stick in its cap.

Let's hope this plan works!


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