From Washington Post piece on the continued discussion around the McChyrstal’s strategic troop increase request:
But White House officials are resisting McChrystal’s call for urgency, which he underscored Thursday during a speech in London, and questioning important elements of his assessment, which calls for a vast expansion of an increasingly unpopular war. One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting, said, “A lot of assumptions — and I don’t want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions — were exposed to the light of day.”
Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal’s contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.
The use of the parenthetical thought makes me guess that was Biden who is directly quoted there. As a sidenote saying “I don’t want to say myths” says myths.
Anyway, this question of what exactly the relationship would be/is between the (Afghan) Taliban and al-Qaeda is the central one strategically. And I have to say I don’t know. There’s evidence suggestive of both directions. For the record between the fork in the road that is the counterinsurgency strategy of Gen. McChyrstal (with Gen. Petraeus and Adm. Mullen supporting) and the Biden plan (with Gen. Jones? and maybe Jim Webb supporting?) which is a counterterrorism only focus, I would lean towards option #3, the John Robb approach (i.e. open-source counterinsurgency). But that will likely not happen, so we are left the with the population-centric, really Afghan city-centric, counterinsurgency strategy and the counterterrorism one.
At this point I’m agnostic on this one.
If you follow the Afghan city-centric link, you will read an extremely perceptive post by Steve Coll on how a counterinsurgency strategy might resemble the later changed strategy of the Soviets. The Soviets initially went in and did their classic scorched earth bloodletting counterinsurgency which of course failed. They tried then to train a national army, put in a more solid leader, and control cities, leaving the countryside to the insurgents.
The Afghans don’t have that leader currently in charge. And even if the McChyrstal plan is undertaken, the US will not be able to control the countryside yet again. Nor of course the countryside that leaks over into Pakistan.
But more importantly in this networked age, the distinction between countryside and city is not entirely clear to me. When the drugs and weapons are flowing into and out of both how do you create an economic ink-spot as opposed to just a military one that prevents the kinds of economic deals that fund various insurgent groups in Afghanistan?
There’s an argument that the Afghan Taliban would not be stupid enough to allow al-Qaeda back in since it cost them their power last time. There were certainly Afghan Taliban who were willing to sell Osama up river in order to maintain power. Mullah Omar of course was not one of them. Has his mind really changed? Somehow I doubt it, though again I doubt you can really build a nation-state in Afghanistan either.
The Afghan Taliban isn’t a totally unanimous crew as it once was, so maybe deals are possible with some but not others?
On the other hand, increasing troops inevitably will increase the insurgency–if only in numbers and not necessarily in the beginning as in force. The insurgents could simply continue to do what insurgents do in contemporary warfare, namely wait out the occupiers and control the territory they are going to control.
But no one it seems to me can really predict what will happen if the US/NATO does not increase troop size (which really means begins the drawdown). If you don’t raise in poker, you are about to show your cards. There’s guesses, but neither Condi Rice saying that if you abandon Afghanistan will there automatically be another 9/11 nor Biden saying that there is no chance the Afghan Taliban would take al-Qaeda back. I just don’t think anyone knows.
Here’s I think what we do know and what the President is caught between:
1. If you draw down, very likely a radicalized Taliban-like ideology spreads (is spreading already) into the “istan” countries of Central Asia.
2. If you increase, there’s no guarantee of anything except billions more dollars spent, lives lost and maimed, and probably no successful outcome. But if may, MAY, get you a managed chaos and a chance to save some face and leave later.
3. al-Qaeda continues to be and will continue to be a threat. Whether in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and/or Somalia.
For more dissenting opinions from well informed people on this subject, read Spencer Ackerman here.
Last thought: Completely random. When is some rapper going to insert a reference to Mc-Chyrstal (and probably a double entendre on “popping”) into a song. I’ll give the 5 bones that Dan Drezner owes to me to said initiator.