Monday, May 11, 2009

Now it's the General's fault in Afghanistan, so lookie at what we're going to do instead

Remember during the campaign that we had taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan?

All we needed to do was scale back operations in Iraq and concentrate in Afghanistan.

It's a sure sign of a deteriorating situation when the US military starts sacking senior commanders:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan on Monday and picked a former special forces commander to oversee President Barack Obama's strategy against a growing Taliban insurgency.

Gates asked for the resignation of Army General David McKiernan less than a year into a command that normally would last 18 to 24 months.

"This is the right time to make the change," Gates said at the Pentagon after returning from Afghanistan.

Violence in Afghanistan has surged to its highest levels since the 2001 U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban, which had harbored the al Qaeda network responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Gates recommended Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a former Green Beret, to take over the command of the 45,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 forces from other NATO countries now in Afghanistan.

McKiernan had pushed for an additional 10,000 troops in 2010, a proposal that appeared to run afoul of Gates, who has expressed a reluctance to boost the force level beyond 68,000.

"Policymakers for a while had been losing faith in General McKiernan's ability to really understand this conflict," military analyst Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. He described a shift from McKiernan's terrain- and enemy-focused strategy to a population-centered battle plan.

McChrystal, a close crony of Petraeus who commanded special forces during the Surge, brings some interesting baggage into the war--especially under a President who has said repeatedly he does not condone the use of torture:

This appointment will not be without controversy. McChrystal's command also provided the personnel for Task Force 6-26, an elite unit of 1,000 special-ops forces that engaged in harsh interrogation of detainees in Camp Nama as far back as 2003. The interrogations were so harsh that five Army officers were convicted on charges of abuse. (McChrystal himself was not implicated in the excesses, but the unit's slogan, which set the tone for its practices, was "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it.")

Here's a 2006 post (originally in Esquire) that details the interrogation tactics approved under McChrystal's command:

"Once, somebody brought it up with the colonel. 'Will [the Red Cross] ever be allowed in here?' And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in — they won't have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators." ...

During his first six or seven weeks at the camp, Jeff conducted or participated in about fifteen harsh interrogations, most involving the use of ice water to induce hypothermia ...

Within the unit, the interrogators got the feeling they were reporting to the highest levels. The colonel would tell an interrogator that his report "is on Rumsfeld's desk this morning" or that it was "read by SecDef." "That's a big morale booster after a fourteen-hour day," Jeff says with a tinge of irony. "Hey, we got to the White House."

So while those who believe that anything goes will probably be ecstatic of McChrystal's appointment, to me the idea that he's going to bring a population-centered battle plan into action is ... less than reassuring.

Here are two not-so-subtle distinctions that the pro-torture crowd doesn't seem to get:

1) If you go for extreme tactics, you have to win. Because if you win, at least your enemies will fear you--that's the idea. If you for extreme tactics and you don't win, it's worse than having lost any other way. Because now they hate you and don't fear you any more. That was part of the lesson of Mogadishu.

2) The United States is bartering away, piece by piece, a critical--you might even say essential--part of our warmaking capability: the image of the US soldier. We've always been the folks willing to fight like hell, but take care of kids and pass out MREs while we're helping the locals get back on their feet. There has always been a moral difference between US soldiers and not just the terrorists and the Taliban, but between US soldiers and the French, the Germans, the Israelis. We are--at least in our own minds--the Good Guys, the White Hats. When we tarnished that image in Vietnam it took more than a decade to rebuild the US military back into the most effective fighting force on the planet. The image of GI Joe is essential to our success, in ways that neither Dubya nor Barack seem to get.

Some day go read S. M. Stirling's Marching Through Georgia, and realize that there are worse things than failure in war: we could turn into the Draka.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

President Zandari stated on NBC that the Taliban was created by the CIA and the ISI. These uneducated, poorest of the poor, Sharia fundamentalist have one thing on their minds....get the invaders/occupiers out of their country. Obama is a fool to listen to the likes of Hayden, Gates and the other Bush war monger, Pentagon "war on terror" thugs.

We are still spending $1 billion a month in Iraq. How the hell can we afford to take on another war for the zionists. AIPAC and the zionists lobby who have the majority of Senators and Congress in their back pocket, want these wars of aggression to continue. This will be Obamas Vietnam...what happened to diplomacy and talking to our enemies....oh, I forgot thats before Clinton, Ross, Holbrooke, Zbig Brezenski got hold of Obama! Its disgusting, its outrageous and we as a country cant afford it. Remember the Russian empire imploded while they attempted to do war with those people. Leave them the hell alone. Bomb them with some hospitals, roads, schools, clinics...and they may understand we are not there to steal their resources, but to really offer humanitarian help.