News / USA

    Divisions, Harsh Realities Plague Obama's Afghan Surge

    US Army soldiers patrol in the Afghan village of Chariagen in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province on June 22 , 2011.
    US Army soldiers patrol in the Afghan village of Chariagen in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province on June 22 , 2011.
    Catherine Maddux

    When President Obama took office six years ago, among the many burdens he inherited were two costly and complex wars: Iraq and Afghanistan.

    He campaigned hard against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, calling it the “wrong war” and promised to bring home American combat troops, which took place in 2011.

    The other war — Afghanistan — has posed a different set of dilemmas for the president. 

    ​Just this week, Obama was reminded of the grim realities of 13 years of military engagement when a man dressed as an Afghan soldier killed a two-star American general, the highest ranking officer killed in combat since 1970, according to the Pentagon.

    The insider attack, claimed by the Taliban, has raised concerns about the hazards of the president’s exit plan — and the fragility of his Afghan policies.

    Afghan workers build a combat resupply area while a Chinook CH-47F transport helicopter prepares to land at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan on December 2, 2009.
    Afghan workers build a combat resupply area while a Chinook CH-47F transport helicopter prepares to land at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan on December 2, 2009.

     

    Graeme Smith, a Kabul-based senior analyst with The International Crisis Group and a former journalist, said there is a clear trend that insurgents are making gains in remote parts of Afghanistan.

    Case in point: Marjah, a district in southern Helmand province, long a Taliban stronghold, that was cleared in 2010 by NATO and Afghan troops. 

    “Insurgents are now operating within about eight kilometers from that district center [Marjah],”said Graeme, adding that violence is on the rise four years later.  

    “You can look at national level data and see quite clearly that more women and children are getting killed and injured this summer than at any period of time since 2001,” he said. 

    The situation on the ground has not deterred Obama from pursuing his endgame. In May, he said all American combat troops will leave at the end of this year. Nearly 10,000 others will stay on — but only until 2016.

    Bush and 9/11

    President George W. Bush, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (L), speaks in front of the west side of the Pentagon on September 12, 2001.President George W. Bush, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (L), speaks in front of the west side of the Pentagon on September 12, 2001.
    x
    President George W. Bush, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (L), speaks in front of the west side of the Pentagon on September 12, 2001.
    President George W. Bush, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (L), speaks in front of the west side of the Pentagon on September 12, 2001.

    It was the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington September 11, 2001 that got the United States in Afghanistan to start with.

    Former president George W. Bush ordered an invasion to top topple the Taliban government and al-Qaida terrorists who were being given sanctuary – in particular, al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.

    The Taliban regime was toppled in about two months time, but bin Laden escaped capture, to be found and killed by American special operation forces under Obama’s command a decade later.

    Bush continued his policy of counterterrorism military operations in Afghanistan, but soon turned his attention towards Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as the number one national security threat against the United States. 

    Critics say that switch in focus was a key misstep — one that would inform the narrative of Obama’s policy when he took office in 2009.

    “While we weren’t looking, al-Qaida has strengthened itself, it’s strengthened the Taliban, it’s strengthened all these local militant outfits,” said South Asia expert Shamila Chaudhary, who advised former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke on Afghanistan and Pakistan during Obama’s first term.

    The groupthink among Obama’s advisors was that Afghanistan had been left to fester and turn into a full-blown insurgency, said Chaudhary, now a Senior Advisor to the Dean at the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University.

    “Afghanistan at that time was the forgotten war,” she said. “And so we need to pump in more money, resources, people. There needs to be a military surge, but also a civilian surge.” 

    A new strategy was needed. It was announced just two months after Obama took office in 2009. 

    ‘Af-Pak’ strategy 

    The overhaul of the Afghan war was dubbed Af-Pak.

    The Pak referred to Pakistan, reflecting the idea that success in Afghanistan could not be achieved without a stable Pakistan. And that, went the thinking, would require a far deeper American engagement in Pakistan.   

    To implement the new strategy, Holbrooke was named the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) , but the status of his portfolio was somewhat ambiguous.

    Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, listens to a question during a news conference in Islamabad June 19, 2010.Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, listens to a question during a news conference in Islamabad June 19, 2010.
    x
    Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, listens to a question during a news conference in Islamabad June 19, 2010.
    Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, listens to a question during a news conference in Islamabad June 19, 2010.

    While it was given an office in the State Department, SRAP was never part of any actual chain of command within the administration, a situation that experts would say undermined Holbrooke’s effectiveness.
      
    Nonetheless, the legendary diplomat and his team of experts began their work with a sense of mission and of history making.

    “One of things we recognized then…was that this is a ultimately a political issue within Afghanistan, right?” said Vikram Singh, a counterterrorism expert who was recruited to work for Holbrooke’s team. 

    Singh, currently the Vice President for National Security and International Policy at Center for American Progress, said that idea was the bottom line for their work. 

    “So, while we went in because of terrorism hitting us, Afghanistan’s future depends on some kind of durable political framework that can run that country and resolve disputes peacefully,” he said.

    In addition to SRAP, Obama turned to senior military officials to get a clear picture of the situation on the ground.  He asked then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to assess U.S. military needs and recommend how many more troops should be deployed.

    President Barack Obama speaks as then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) listens during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 22, 2010.
    President Barack Obama speaks as then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) listens during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 22, 2010.

    According to experts involved in the new plan — one that turned Bush’s counterterrorism strategy into a counterinsurgency effort — Obama was primarily driven by his goal to end U.S. involvement there.  And that singular focus, critics say, set up the entire process to fail. 

    The disillusionment eventually became public when Vali Nasr, a former senior advisor to Holbrooke and now the dean of SAIS at Johns Hopkins University, published his book The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat.

    It was a blunt and scathing account of Nasr’s experience working for the Obama administration, in which he accused the president of forsaking American influence for political expediency.

    It also accused White House staffers of undermining Holbrooke, and severely weakening American diplomacy. 

    For Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science at George Washington and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the president erred when he signed off on the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan – and set a firm date for their withdrawal. 

    “There’s a certain arithmetic to  counterinsurgency,” Biddle said, who was recruited to help American General Stanley McChrystal, then Commander of ISAF troops in Afghanistan,  decide how many more U.S. soldiers would be needed to reverse what was widely seen then as a war America was losing. 

    “You can either conclude the war faster by sending more troops. Or send fewer troops, but let the war run longer,” Biddle said. “What you can’t do is conclude the war fast and not send very many troops and that’s what they decided they wanted to do.”  

    Obama chose to split the difference of what his military commanders pitched.

    It was a painful process, according to Gates, who describes a deeply divided administration in his book Duty: A Memoir of a Secretary at War, published earlier this year.

    Furthermore, a political settlement — believed by Holbrooke to be the key to securing America’s interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan — was nowhere in sight. And Holbrooke’s sudden death at the age of 69 in late 2010 brought the work to a screeching halt. 

    Legacy 

    Obama’s hesitance to engage in a longer, some would say more thorough, effort in Afghanistan is not atypical of how most modern presidents view foreign engagement, said Daniel Serwer, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and scholar at the Middle East Institute. 

    “I think it is fair to say that all American presidents since the end of the Cold War have tried to avoid commitments abroad. Obama is not out of the ordinary in this respect,” Serwer said.

    But what is unusual about this president is his discipline, he said.  

    “Obama really tries to stick to his schedule. He is unusually disciplined in not doing these things,” he said, adding that the president appears to have no qualms about pulling out and leaving places to “their fates.” 

    President Barack Obama arrives for a commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014.
    President Barack Obama arrives for a commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014.

    But there is wide concern that time is running out for U.S. moves in Afghanistan.  

    Biddle said the situation is made worse by the fact the war we now have in Afghanistan is a stalemate militarily.  

    And to simply maintain the status quo as U.S. troops drawdown, the Afghan National Security Forces will need continuous financial backing, the kind of which only the U.S. Congress can provide.

    And that, said Biddle, will not continue indefinitely.

    “If this is the state of affairs, then the war becomes a contest of stamina between the Taliban and the U.S. Congress,” he said. “And the Congress is not going to win that race.”

    Further, not having a political deal in place as the clock winds down worries observers. Afghanistan is mired a protracted political fight over who will be its next president — a fight being mediated personally by Secretary of State John Kerry who is in Kabul yet again.

    “Somehow or another you have to have a plan…for how you’re going to bring about negotiated settlement before the Congress defunds the war, the Afghan military collapses and we simply lose,” Biddle said. “And I think the administration has done a poor job of putting together a strategy for bringing about that settlement.”

    Singh, who was front and center in the Af-Pak effort, frets about the future of Afghanistan.

    “I feel good on one hand. And I feel very worried on the other hand,” he said.

    The recent Afghan presidential elections are cause for hope he said, pointing out that the first round went far better than expected. The second round has been compromised by allegations of fraud and a yet to be resolved dispute between the top two candidates. 

    “What we have achieved offers a lot of potential,” Singh said. “But it’s extremely fraught, and it’s very fragile.”

    ​For his part, the president seems intent on staying the course.

    “We’re finishing the job we started” more than 12 years ago, Obama said in May, when he announced his latest timetable for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan.

     

     

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, the history of take-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: meanbill from: USA
    August 07, 2014 8:04 PM
    IN REBUTTAL.... (Obama did not end the Iraq war)... US President George W. Bush signed "The US Status of Forces Agreement" with Iraq in 2008, agreeing with Iraq to withdraw all US troops from Iraq cities by June 30, 2009, and withdraw all US forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011.... (Please set the record straight).

    US President George W. Bush (did not start the Iraq war).... On October 16, 2002 the US Congress passed "The War Resolution Act" a joint resolution, public law number 107-243, authorizing military action against Iraq.... (and Bush responded).

    US President Obama in 2009, changed the US war Strategy in Afghanistan, to a "Hide and Seek Afghan War Strategy" where US troops hid behind (30) foot high blast-proof walls, and used attack helicopters with special forces, and US killer drones for quick strikes, and missiles and bombs to kill Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.... his strategy?

    NEVER in the history of the world, has any country ever won a war by hiding behind (30) foot high blast-proof walls, (or any walls), and sneak attacking the enemy with missile and bombs, while avoiding combat with the enemy.... This was and is, the Obama "hide and seek" Afghan war strategy plan, (doomed for defeat from the start), and opposed by Karzai...... TRUTHFULLY, the (only) ground the US controls in Afghanistan, is the ground behind those (30) foot high blast-proof walls, (and even then), the US troops have to be protected by US troop Guardian Angels?)..... pitiful isn't it?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora