Obama Announces New U.S. Afghan StrategyDecember 7th, 2009
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, speaking at West Point, laid out his new strategy for “concluding” the Afghan war. The short version is as follows: 30,000 additional U.S. troops will begin deployment at the fastest possible rate beginning in early 2010; the force’s primary goal will be to enable Afghan forces to carry on the war themselves; U.S. troops will begin withdrawing by July 2011 and complete their withdrawal by the end of the president’s current term.
Obama outlined a series of goals for U.S. forces, the four most critical of which STRATFOR will reproduce here. The first is to deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. The second is to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government, largely by securing key population centers. The third is to strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s Security Forces and government so that more Afghans can get into the fight. The fourth is to create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
“In many ways the new strategy seems less like an active military strategy than one of a series of mild gambles.”
Let us first look at the somewhat obvious points from STRATFOR’s point of view:
There isn’t a lot that you can do in 18 months, even with that many troops. You certainly cannot eradicate the Taliban. Even reversing the Taliban’s momentum as Obama hopes to do is a very tall order. And you might find it fairly difficult to root out the apex leadership of al Qaeda, especially if it is in Pakistan instead of Afghanistan. Simply pursuing that goal would require the regular insertion of forces into Pakistan, enraging the country upon which NATO military supply chains depend. Even more so, having full withdrawal by the end of Obama’s current term puts a large logistical strain on the force, giving it less manpower to achieve its goals — particularly once the drawdown begins in July 2011. For most of the period in question, the United States will have far fewer than the roughly 100,000 troops at the ready that the Obama policy envisions.
In many ways the new strategy seems less like an active military strategy than one of a series of mild gambles: that the force will be sufficient to (temporarily) turn the tide against the Taliban, that this shift will be sufficient to allow the Afghan army to step forward, and that this shift will be sufficient to allow U.S. forces to withdraw without major incident. That’s tricky at best.
Now for the less-than-obvious points:
Ramrodding 30,000 troops into Afghanistan immediately will severely tax the military. Bear in mind that the drawdown in Iraq has only recently begun, and forces pulled from Iraq will need substantial time to rest and retool before they can do something else, which in many cases means being shipped off to Afghanistan. The ability of U.S. ground forces to react to any problem anywhere in the world in 2010 just decreased from marginal to nonexistent. Many of America’s rivals are sure to take note.
However, by committing to a clear three-year timeframe, Obama is aiming for something that Bush did not. He is bringing the U.S. military back into the global system as opposed to its current sequestering in the Islamic world. The key factor that has enabled many states to challenge U.S. power in recent years — Russia’s August 2008 war with Georgia perhaps being the best example — is that the United States has lacked the military bandwidth to deploy troops outside of its two ongoing wars. If Obama is able to carry out his planned Iraqi and Afghan withdrawals on schedule, the United States will shift rapidly from massive overextension to full deployment capability.
And so states that have been taking advantage of the window of opportunity caused by American preoccupation now have something new to incorporate into their plans: the date the window closes.
7th December 09