1. Think tanks on Afghanistan

    Published: December 17th, 2010

    National Security Network wrote up a nice post on the consensus among think tanks on Afghanistan.


  2. Afghanistan Review – A Show Without any Substance

    Published: December 10th, 2010
    Author: Matthew Hoh

    A few thoughts on the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Strategy Review that is currently under way and expected to be publicly released within the month:

    As already noted in the press, the strategy review will conclude that progress is being made, but more tough months of fighting lay ahead.  Unfortunately, I doubt we will see any quantitative data or proof of such success.  Mainly, it will be anecdotal stories or general assertions, temporary in nature and easily disproved, similar to what we have heard for many years now.  We will probably also hear the very popular and oft-issued warning that “things might get worse before they get better”.  Of course the problem being:  it has never gotten better.

    Will an understanding of the nature and motivation of much of the insurgency, such as the one below from Major General John Campbell, be incorporated into the review?

    “General Campbell said his troops were making progress, but “a lot of the reason we get attacked is because we’re up here.” The goal of United States forces is to disrupt insurgent activity in the border area, but the general said he wanted to get to the point where he could withdraw troops from the remote mountains and reposition them in small towns to try to win over the local people.

    “People don’t want us up there, but they don’t want the Taliban either,” he said. “They want to be left alone.”

    He added that the region was vast and that his forces could not be everywhere. “We can’t be in every single valley; I mean there’s thousands of them out there, we just can’t do it,” he said.”

    The Administration announced last month at the NATO conference in Lisbon that the current policy would not be changed and that US is committed to having troops in combat in Afghanistan until at least 2014.  So what is the purpose of this review?  The policy has already been decided.  It’s hard to imagine this review is anything other than a show.

    All this reminds me very much of the early to mid-way point of the Iraq war; and that’s a terrible thought.

    Matthew Hoh
    Director of Afghanistan Study Group


  3. What is The Obama Administration afraid of? Send Petraeus to testify on Afghanistan

    Published: November 19th, 2010

    It’s been a year since President Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan (on top of the 21,000 he had sent in the spring). This week, it was announced that troops will probably be in Afghanistan until at LEAST 2014, far later than the July 2011 timetable during which Obama had initially indicated a meaningful drawdown would begin.

    Meanwhile this is a natural point to review and reflect on our strategy—the National Security Council is set to release its review of the strategy in December– and not surprisingly, the Administration is not keen on making General David Petraeus available to testify before Congress.

    From Politico:

    The pushback on bringing Petraeus back to Washington is part of an administration effort to down play the December review, sources told POLITICO. While officials point to initial signs of progress, the “surge” of forces just arrived there and officials believe next summer will be a far more logical inflection point to assess the strategy.

    “There’s no success reportable from Afghanistan of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this review,” said one administration source.

    So, what are David Petraeus (and the Administration) afraid of?  What are we getting for nearly doubling our troops in a year? A quick summary:

    • Thousands more killed and wounded US servicemembers,
    • Over $100 billion spent
    • Double digit percentage increases (in a bad way) in nearly all key areas of metrics and indicators
    • An Afghan election more crooked than the last stolen election
    • An increase in support for the Taliban
    • A dramatic increase in the instability of previously stable north of the country
    • A failure to deliver “government in a box to Marjah” or clear Kandahar City
    • The revelation that key Karzai aides are on the Iranian payroll
    • The near collapse of the Kabul bank and the disclosure of US intelligence verification of Pakistani support for the Taliban, etc

    Robert Naiman of Foreign Policy magazine argues persuasively why it’s important to have Petraeus sit before Congress, even if the reason Republicans want to bring him back is to embarrass the President:

    Recall that the reason that there will be a December review is not because of some obscure, antiquated, rote bureaucratic procedure. The reason that there will be a December review is that the Administration promised one last year when it decided, against much internal and external opposition, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It was the administration that chose December. Presumably, at the time, they believed that by December they would be able to assess the strategy. The fact that they now say that there is nothing to report is in itself an admission that the strategy has failed.

    Recent press reports have indicated that the administration intends to “publicly walk away from ” its promise to withdraw troops in July 2011, a promise that Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi understood as a “serious drawdown” involving “a whole lot of people“. The White House insists there is no change. Which is it?  Rep. McKeon wants to know, and so do I. The administration is like a guy who with two girlfriends to whom he has made contradictory promises. It’s time for the two girlfriends to confront the administration together. You can urge Obama to keep his promise to withdraw troops in 2011 here.

    As Naiman himself noted, there were a lot of complaints that we neglected to talk about the war at all in this election that just passed. And in fact, as a country, we are not talking about it at all, except for the rare times that a report is released or somebody testifies before Congress. Which gets us back to why Petraeus needs to testify.

    If we’re going to continue appropriating money to Afghanistan that is nearly seven times the annual Gross Domestic Product of the country ($100 billion spent over a $14 billion economy), shouldn’t we at least be having a conversation about what we’re getting for our money and lives?

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