Posted By Uncle Jimbo • [October 08, 2009]
There is a very detailed article in the Wash Po that tells just how things have progressed regarding Afghanistan since Obama took office. Prior to announcing his March strategy of reinforced, pop-centric counterinsurgency, he had a former CIA officer study the theater and options to get a quick answer.
In early March, after weeks of debate across a conference table in the
Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the participants in President
Obama's strategic review of the war in Afghanistan figured that the
most contentious part of their discussions was behind them. Everyone,
save Vice President Biden's national security adviser, agreed that the
United States needed to mount a comprehensive counterinsurgency mission
to defeat the Taliban.
That conclusion, which was later endorsed by the president and members
of his national security team, would become the first in a set of
recommendations contained in an administration white paper
outlining what Obama called "a comprehensive, new strategy for
Afghanistan and Pakistan." Preventing al-Qaeda's return to Afghanistan,
the document stated, would require "executing and resourcing an
integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy."
To senior military commanders, the sentence was unambiguous: U.S.
and NATO forces would have to change the way they operated in
Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on hunting and killing insurgents, the
troops would have to concentrate on protecting the good Afghans from
the bad ones.
And to carry out such a counterinsurgency effort the way its
doctrine prescribes, the military would almost certainly need more
boots on the ground.
This led to the additional 21,000 troops that were authorized and sent there to begin implementing this strategy. Down the road Sec Def Gates and ADM Mullen lost faith in McKiernan as the right General to implement this effort and he was replaced with Gen. McChrystal. Part of the reason for his dismissal was his failure to request the additional troops, beyond the 21k, that Gates and Mullen believed were necessary to successfully prosecute a COIN mission.
By mid-April, Mullen and Gates had decided to replace McKiernan with
McChrystal. Although McChrystal has a Special Forces counterterrorism
background, he impressed Mullen and Gates with his thinking about
counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Before he left for Kabul,
Gates asked him to assess the mission and report back within 60 days.
To McChrystal and his senior advisers, the white paper was the strategy, and his job was to figure out how to implement it.
At the first meeting of a team of outside experts he convened to
help him with the assessment, he told them, according to two attendees,
that he wanted "a COIN campaign focused on the people."
After only a few weeks on the ground, it was evident to McChrystal
that the situation was worse than he had expected and that there were
far too few Afghan and NATO forces to protect the population. The
hoped-for U.S. civilians were arriving too slowly. Although it was
clear that asking for more troops would be controversial, it also
seemed clear that the White House wanted a real counterinsurgency
mission. And that would require more troops.
President Obama faces a difficult decision. If he does not give his commander the troops he needs to prosecute a COIN mission, the blame will go on his shoulders. But getting a 40k troop increase through a hostile Congress will cost him political capital and he has little available for this. A defining moment for sure.