A General's Assessment

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
A General’s Assessment
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, September 27, 2009

This week much of the top-secret report prepared by General Stanley McChrystal assessing the U.S. position in Afghanistan was declassified and made public. The 66-page document is worth reading. The media has focused on the General’s predictable recommendations. He wants more troops. Immediately.

But there is much more to consider in this report. After years of glossy, distorted information about U.S. military actions, this starkly written document is a revealing account of the failures of the eight year effort to stabilize Afghanistan. If we take the General’s assessment seriously, his call for additional troops in the short run is nothing less than an unending commitment to a military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan far into the next decade. Without immediate commitment of troops, McChrystal says,

“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.”

These troops are not intended to do more of what they have been doing. In McChrystal’s words, one of the great failures of the military in Afghanistan is that it has learned little in the eight years of warfare it has already conducted. Yet McChrystal now expects to learn lessons to create a strong “counter insurgency strategy” that acknowledges the “situation is serious” but “success is still achievable.”

For many people, this effort at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans has an all too familiar ring. McChrystal himself describes the primary reason why this is impossible, no matter how many troops we send in. In the report McChrystal accurately describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and incompetence. The most recent election is but another example of men out to protect their own power and to line their own pockets. From drug trafficking to political repression, the Karzai government will never be able to win the hearts and minds of anyone it can’t buy.

McChrystal writes, “The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of powerbrokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials…have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

Meanwhile, whatever else anyone thinks of the Taliban, they have been able to create forms of stable, incorruptible government. McChrystal writes that the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) headed by Mullah Omar, who fled Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and operates from the Pakistani city of Quetta, has been working “to control Kandahar” and “there are indications that their influence over the city and neighboring districts is significant and growing.”

Mullah Omar’s insurgency has established an elaborate alternative government known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is capitalizing on the Afghan government’s weaknesses. “They appoint shadow governors for most provinces, review their performance, and replace them periodically. They established a body to receive complaints against their own ‘officials’ and to act on them. They install ‘shari’a’ [Islamic law] courts to deliver swift and enforced justice in contested and controlled areas. They levy taxes and conscript fighters and laborers. They claim to provide security against a corrupt government, ISAF forces, criminality, and local power brokers. They also claim to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment.”

It is the contrast between the government we support and the one we fight that led former President Carter to say it’s time to find another way. Carter said, “Every time we launch one of our unmanned drones from Kansas and kill 100 people, we make 100,000 new enemies.” His advice is “negotiate.”

Most Americans have already concluded that this war is a fool’s errand. President Obama needs to listen more closely to those who put him in office.

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