Three Reasons Why a US Victory is No Longer on the Cards
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation of strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
This was the bottom line of the much-awaited report from US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, on the state of the US-led war.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources say that by now this comment is academic for three reasons:
1. The Presidential election was a tactical and political flop:
The fact that a poll took place at all despite some 400 Taliban attacks and a low turnout was to the credit of the American military. Politically, it exposed a reality which sends shivers down spines in the White House in Washington and the military command in Kabul.
Most of the powerful Pashtun and Tajik chieftains do not want Hamid Karzai as president and will loudly greet a victory with allegations of massive fraud. Even Washington is not too enthusiastic about its man in Kabul but support him as the only player offering a semblance of a democracy, although everyone knows that its machinery is corrupt and barely ticking over.
Furthermore, with close to two-thirds of the ballots counted, Karzai is still short of the 51-percent mark that would obviate an October or early November second round.
A runoff would give the Taliban ample time to correct the mistakes in its tactics for disrupting the first vote, keep more people away from the polls by terror and fine-tune a broader strategy for expanding its control of key areas around Kabul and in the north and east. A second round of voting would thus enhance the Taliban's grip on the country rather than Karzai's.
But even that is the lesser evil.
Karzai is beholden to Uzbek warlord
Karzai owed his victory in round one most of all to his pact with the ethnic Uzbek warlord Qassim Fahim, former Minister of Defense, who has acquired the rank of Marshal. To carry Round Two, the president will depend more than ever on Fahim, who is the key to the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara warlords, which is to say the vast majority of the North Afghan electorate.
So however brilliant his win, Karzai will have little choice but to acknowledge Fahim as the strongman of Afghanistan. Washington will not only have to live with a serial abuser of human rights and drug trafficker – and sell him to the American public and Congress – but give up hope of defeating the Taliban. This is because, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources, American undercover agencies have gathered conclusive evidence over years that Fahim is in bed not only with the Taliban but al Qaeda too.
As its most effective instrument for turning the tide of the war, Washington is clinging to its plans for creating, training and equipping a 350,000-strong Afghan military and security force. Those plans were seriously dented by the assassination Wednesday, Sept 2, of a Karzai partisan, the deputy head of Afghanistan's National Directorate for Security, Abdullah Laghmani with 22 others in a Taliban bombing attack in Mehterlam.
In this attack, Taliban deftly exploited ethnic tensions: Their victim was a Pashtun, while the director of security is a Tajik.
As strongman, the Uzbek warlord can be expected to attempt to seize power in a military coup within a couple of years and deliver several hundred thousands of US trained and armed fighters to Taliban and al Qaeda.
No one in the Obama administration is talking out loud about the possibility of the massive US investment in Afghanistan since 2001 being lost because no one knows how to stop it happening.
2. Pakistani leaders and army chiefs continue to aid the Taliban enemy:
It may be hard to believe but US-Pakistan cooperation in the war on Taliban is not the honeymoon it appears to be.
Relations between the Obama administration and the administration of Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari are certainly in full bloom, as are the ties between American and Pakistan military chiefs, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
And presidential Af/Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke used his close friendship with Zardari to smooth the wheels of cooperation in the war against the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda to a degree unknown in the days of George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf. Admiral Mullen and Gen. Kayani have developed strong mutual trust, as a result of which, DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report, from early August, hundreds and some say more than a thousand US special operations troops have been deployed to Islamabad, Karachi and the northern regions of Baluchistan, where the main Taliban headquarters are located.
Never before have so many American troops been allowed to operate inside Pakistan.
The results have been the Pakistani offensive in the Swat valley, now in its fourth month, Pakistani preparations for an assault on Taliban and al-Qaeda concentrations in Waziristan, and US-Pakistan intelligence teamwork for polishing off Taliban and al-Qaeda high-profile operatives. Their crowning achievement was the US missile attack of August 5 which killed the Taliban's Pakistan leader, Baitullah Mehsud, during his stay with his second wife at his father-in-law's house in Waziristan.
But that is only one side of the picture.
The other side, no less real, bespeaks Pakistani duplicity.
Pakistan will side with the winner in Afghanistan
Unison with Washington is important but, calculating on the long term, the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies in Islamabad are maintaining their underlying ties with Taliban ties as a key strategic option.
This is partly motivated by Pakistan never losing sight of India as its primary foe. Taliban and al Qaeda are Islamabad's most important tools for undermining and weakening its neighbor by such deeds as the November 2008 terrorist massacre in Mumbai at the hands of an al Qaeda local offshoot, Lashkar e-Taibe.
But Pakistani strategists' overriding motive for keeping in with the jihadis is their fatalistic conviction that the US is doomed to ultimately lose the Afghanistan war and withdraw from the country. It will then revert to Taliban rule.
The Pakistanis want to be on the winning side of the conflict.
Therefore, while pragmatically nurturing harmonious ties with the Obama administration's top political and military echelons, they are maintaining an intimacy with Taliban's political and military leaders, including Mullah Omar, which entails covertly shielding them from US attacks and keeping them supplied with weapons and intelligence for terror operations.
Bruce Riedel, President Barack Obama's most trusted adviser on Af/Pak issues, put this succinctly in an article he wrote this week entitled “Afghanistan – Election results may show which side is winning the war:”
Next door, Pakistanis will be watching to see whether NATO or the Taliban look like winners (in the Afghan's elections) and calculate their own policies as a result. Islamabad’s calculation of the outcome is as important as anyone’s. It will impact the Pakistani Army’s assessment of NATO’s staying power which is currently very low. Pakistanis have seen America abandon Afghanistan twice before and expect it to happen again.
3. Opposition in Washington to a troop surge:
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military and Washington sources report that the unity of effort called for by US commander Gen. McChrystal among 80,000-strong America, British and Canadian forces and some 30,000 non-combat NATO troops is not reflected in Washington where support for the war and expansion of troop numbers has sunk to an all-time low.
A highly influential circle led by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prefer that the war against the Taliban not be conducted either from CENTCOM under Gen. David Petraeus or from the US HQ/embassy in Kabul under ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Gen. McChrystal.
They fear that waging the war from Kabul will make a troop surge inevitable. It will mean shipping to Afghanistan several US divisions consisting of another 20,000-40,000 more troops and broadening the conflict and its objectives. They believe that “Obama's war” will deteriorate irretrievably into Obama's quagmire and Barack Obama will end his first term as president in 2012 in the same sorry quandary as the one which drove the Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan after conceding defeat.
This dread eventuality, they believe, can be avoided by micro-managing the war from Washington.
In practical terms, it would amount to handcuffing Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, and Ambassador Eikenberry. They would no longer make immediate calls on the ground to ensure the war was being conducting properly and the construction of the Afghan military and infrastructure proceeding smoothly according to plan.
However, most Afghan experts urge an immediate build-up of the forces fighting in Afghanistan, more money to boost the war effort and more leeway for commanders on the spot to tackle problems as they arise. They call for steady administration resolve for the long haul in Afghanistan and more investment in development and nation-building, even though ethnic animosities and violence are never far below the surface.
But what neither camp is saying outright is that a US-led victory in Afghanistan is no longer a feasible option and it is time to start fashioning an honorable exit formula and timeline.
Some are more extreme and say that the Afghans should be left to their own fate and if al Qaeda again raises its head to attack the United States from bases in their country, America is fully capable of in-and-out strikes to demolish them.