By Kenneth J. Theisen
On Monday, September 21st the Washington Post carried a front-page story by Bob Woodward based on the leaked report of General Stanley McChrystal that was sure to grab headlines. While media pundits debate who leaked it, it really doesn’t matter.
It was likely leaked by someone high-ranking within the Pentagon and possibly even by the White House, but the intent of the report, and the leak, is clearly to build a political and military case for a further escalation of Obama’s war in Afghanistan.
McChrystal’s report was based on his review of Afghan operations by U.S. and Nato forces. The report makes clear that without an increase in U.S. and other allied troops, the U.S. could lose the war in Afghanistan.
Since Obama has repeatedly referred to the Afghan war at the number one U.S. military priority this is meant to force Obama’s hand to back further escalation. In McChrystal’s words, "Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it." This same message was delivered by Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen last week in testimony before the U.S. Senate.
Obama is now faced with either escalating the war even more than he has already done, or bucking the military and trying to achieve U.S. goals with fewer resources. McChyrstal and others are telling him the U.S. can’t achieve its objectives without a substantial escalation in U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and in fact that not escalating will likely bring about a U.S. defeat.
I don’t have a crystal ball. But I am predicting Obama will go along with the Pentagon leadership and other hawks, and further escalate the war. Obama installed McChrystal as the commander of U.S. and NATO troops on June 15th this year. A “new” counter-intelligence (COIN) strategy was then begun by the new commander. COIN warfare by its very nature is troop-intensive and for it to be “successful” in Afghanistan for the U.S. requires an increase in troops far beyond what is presently planned with just U.S., NATO, and Afghan puppet forces. This case is made by McChrystal’s report which was given to Obama three weeks ago. Without further escalation, the U.S. troop presence will be 68,000 by November, with an additional 38,000 NATO troops on the ground there. Afghan puppet forces currently include about 134,000 police and 82,000 soldiers.
On various September 20th Sunday talk shows, Obama claimed he is reassessing the U.S. role regarding the Afghan war and that he does not intend to be forced into a rushed decision about further escalation of troops beyond the 21,000 he has already approved. But this doesn’t mean Obama is considering a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Obama was likely referring to reassessing U.S. strategy on how best to wage the war. In his report McChrystal argues for the "urgent need" to revise the present Afghan strategy. He states, "We run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."
With its emphasis on overwhelming firepower, air strikes, and other mass casualty methods the U.S. has alienated the Afghan population with various civilian massacres. The latest involved an airstrike by U.S. jets that killed scores of Afghan villagers. At other times U.S. forces have attacked wedding parties and funerals. Every day Afghans become “collateral damage” in this U.S. imperialist war.
In further arguing for an escalation in his report, McChystal stated,"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."
McChrystal also wrote "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.” McChrystal also admits, "The insurgents control or contest a significant portion of the country, although it is difficult to assess precisely how much…”
Senate Leaders Also Push for Troop Increase
In addition to the Pentagon pushing for escalation of the war, some Senate leaders are also urging a troop increase. In a September 13th op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Senators Lindsey Graham, Joseph Lieberman, and John McCain asked Obama to consider deploying a "significant increase in U.S. forces" to the war-torn nation. They said if he fails to do so, it would be a "guarantee of failure." They wrote, “We are confident that not only is it winnable, but that we have no choice. We must prevail in Afghanistan.” They further asserted, "We have reached a seminal moment in our struggle against violent Islamist extremism, and we must commit the ‘decisive force’ that Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal tells us carries the least risk of failure…The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse. The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again."
Senator James Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated: “After eight years of war, we have reached a critical juncture in Afghanistan where we must show our commitment to achieving victory by fully resourcing the war in Afghanistan with an adequate number of troops and a fresh strategy to prosecute the war.”
Senator Mitch McConnell said "any failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal’s request could serve to undermine the other good decisions the President has made. He further stated that if McChrystal says more forces are needed, “We should listen to that advice.”
Republican House Minority Leader John A. Boehner wrote in a press release that he was "deeply troubled . . . by reports that the White House is delaying action on the General’s request for more troops" and was questioning the "integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency" Obama himself set in motion. "It’s time for the President to clarify where he stands on the strategy he has articulated," Boehner wrote, "because the longer we wait the more we put our troops at risk."
But surely we can count on the Democrats to save us from all the above warmongers, right? Do not count on it.
While some Democrats, including Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, claim they are reluctant to send more combat troops to Afghanistan, they still favor escalation of the war. They advocate other means of doing so. Levin explained he agrees with McChrystal that “additional resources will be required” in Afghanistan, but he wants to focus on enabling the Afghan army and police to do the fighting – as if getting killed by Afghan puppet troops will be better for the Afghan people. Levin argues that “supplying more trainers” from the U.S. military and NATO “is the best recipe for success” in the war. Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer also wants U.S. troops already deployed to Afghanistan to train more puppet troops to do the actual fighting.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry praised Obama in taking time to make a decision about troop increases. He stated, "You’ve got to figure out . . . what is the counterinsurgency mission. The president has all the right in the world to properly vet that mission and define it. It may well be we’ll all decide [McChrystal] is absolutely correct, and the mission he’s defined is correct." Notice that Kerry is not critical of possible escalation of the war. Levin, Kerry and other top leaders of the Democrats support the war and only have possible disagreements on how best to achieve U.S. imperialist goals there.
This is why Democrats have not defunded the war or done anything to force a withdrawal of U.S. forces despite majorities in both the House and Senate. They repeatedly vote to fund the imperialist wars. Some Democrats attached an amendment to the Department of Defense’s reauthorization bill this year that would have required Obama to provide an “exit strategy” for the war, but it was defeated by a 2-1 margin when it came up for a vote despite the Democrats holding a significant majority in the House.
On one Sunday talk show, Obama did not say he was not going to increase troop strength. He merely said, “…I don’t want to put the resource question before the strategy question." In an interview on “Face the Nation Obama used the fear card as he has in the past. He said, “Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it.”
On CNN he stated, “Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy? When we have clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?” Obama also recently stated that he will not decide whether to send more troops until he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."
But McChrystal makes clear that his call for more forces is predicated on a new strategy and also being clear on that strategy. In the report he wrote "…inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced." The commander-in-chief and his commander on the ground are in agreement. In the short term it is likely that Obama will let the voices calling for escalation go unchallenged to the point where he can comfortably order the escalation without too much political flak.
What level of escalation can we expect? Military officials familiar with the Afghan policy have been telling reporters that McChrsyal has discussed various scenarios that will increase U.S. forces by 10,000 to 45,000 troops. McChrystal would also like to increase the size of NATO forces and dramatically increase the number of Afghan puppet troops working with the U.S. military. McChrystal wishes to increase the Afghan army to 240,000 and the Afghan police to 160,000. This is nearly a doubling of the present puppet forces of 216,000.
We do not as yet know when McChrystal will submit his troop request to the White House, but various leakers have said it will be sooner rather than later. We also can not be certain that Obama will order any troop request and if so how many? (I would bet that he will order an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 troops.) But we are certain that the U.S. war against Afghanistan will continue, unless a mass movement is built here and elsewhere to force a U.S. withdrawal. The U.S. ruling class may be divided over which particular strategies to pursue in the Afghan war, but no significant faction is now arguing for ending the war. We must organize to end the war in Afghanistan, as well as the other wars in the overall U.S. war of terror. If we fail to do so, these wars will continue and the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations will continue to die and suffer.