Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's Afghan strategy hit by deaths and dissent.

Call me a cynic, but I never really believed in Obama's Afghanistan campaign claims. I know that al Qaeda operate out of Afghanistan and Waziristan but, nevertheless, I thought Obama made his claims about Afghanistan as a way of highlighting what was wrong with the war in Iraq, whilst refusing to give the Republicans a stick to beat him with by claiming that he was soft on national defence.

I never believed for a second that Obama was foolish enough to think that this war was in any way winnable.

And the recent news from Afghanistan only highlights the danger of the US's continued presence in that field.

Taliban militants killed six UN foreign staff in an assault on an international guest-house in Kabul today, raising questions about security for a presidential election run-off due in less than two weeks.

Rockets were also fired at a foreign-owned hotel in the Afghan capital, forcing 100 guests into a bunker.

An increasingly resurgent Taliban have vowed to stage attacks ahead of the run-off on 7 November and as US President Barack Obama weighs sending more soldiers to Afghanistan to fight an insurgency that has reached its fiercest level since 2001.

"The number right now is six dead, all of them UN staff," said Adrian Edwards, Afghanistan United Nations mission spokesman, adding at least nine others were wounded in the attack on the guest-house.

Obama meets on Friday with military chiefs to decide whether to increase troop levels in that place, with Republicans like Dick Cheney, John McCain and Sarah Palin all demanding that he send more troops without hesitation.

But the feeling on the ground appears to be far from convinced that this war has any purpose.
For Matthew Hoh, the sacrifice has simply become so pointless that he felt no alternative other than to become the first US diplomat known to have resigned over the war, citing reasons that reflect not just his own doubts over the conflict, but those of an increasingly disillusioned American public.

"I have lost understanding of, and confidence in, the strategic purposes of the United States presence in Afghanistan," says the resignation letter of the former Marine captain and Iraq veteran, who joined the State Department to work as the top American official in Zabul province in eastern Afghanistan, close to the border with Pakistan.

The US involvement was simply fuelling the insurgency, Mr Hoh wrote, and was causing American servicemen to die "in what is essentially a far-off civil war", or more accurately a number of small local wars in which the sides are united only in their resentment of a foreign intruder. His problem was not how Washington was pursuing the war – the issue Mr Obama is grappling with in round after round of consultations with his top national security and military advisers – "but why and to what end" his country was fighting it in the first place.

It is said that the Obama administration went to great lengths to try to persuade Hoh not to resign, and certainly not to do so whilst stating this as his reasoning.

But the facts on the ground remain resolutely harsh:
On Friday the President is to hold a further meeting with his military chiefs. He will be doing so at the end of the bloodiest single month in the conflict. The latest deaths bring to 55 the number of troops already killed in October, more than the previous high of 51 in August. They came the day after 14 US personnel died in separate helicopter accidents. In all more than 900 US soldiers have so far lost their lives in an eight-year war whose end is not in sight.
I'd love to know what people think could be achieved by a continuance of this war that could not have been achieved already during the past eight years.

The truth is that Cheney, McCain, Palin and - yes - even Obama, are playing politics with this war. It's all about positioning. Can they make the other look weak, hesitant? If Obama backs away can the Republicans hand him their failure?

Like Hoh, I admit that I have lost all understanding of the purpose of this war. I have certainly lost all sight of where the US could ever plant a flag and claim victory.

It seems to me that, facing an enemy as loathed as al Qaeda, the US is simply unwilling and unable to ever admit that the time has come to leave: that Cheney, McCain, Palin and others are only making the noises they are making so that they can blame Obama for any future attack on US soil should he ever do the sensible thing and pull out.

I understand the political difficulty Obama faces, and will understand if he feels compelled to send more troops so that he is seen to be "doing something". But hopes of military success seem beyond wishful thinking to me.

Hoh's resignation letter: 'This reminds me horribly of Vietnam'

"In the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan... I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States' presence in Afghanistan.

"My resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing the war, but why and to what end... I fail to see the value or worth in continued US casualties... in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.

"Like the Soviets we continue to bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.

"If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that... has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional.

"The Pashtun insurgency... is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The US and Nato presence and operations... provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified.

"The bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but... against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes.

"[This] reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam... against an insurgency we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology."

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