Monday, January 12, 2009

A "major question"... presented by Nancy A. Youssef for McClatchy...
Just how quickly the U.S. military can shift its weapons, tactics and mindset to Afghanistan after nearly seven years of training almost exclusively for Iraq is a major question as President-elect Barack Obama takes office promising to transfer combat units out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.
…brings to mind some other ones.

Like, for instance, how is it that we've been in Afghanistan longer than we've been in Iraq, with an ongoing commitment to the pursuit of Al Queda and the suppression of the Taliban being fundamental to an international "war on terror" promised on multiple fronts, and yet our military has been trained "almost exclusively" for Iraq. Kind of like the new baby getting all the attention at the expense of an older sibling, I guess.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering if the clock simply hasn't run out on any further productive pursuit of those twin missions of pursuit and suppression. In the former case, top leadership elements of Al Queda have proven quite elusive since we first closed in in the early days of the case. If we can locate them, which seems increasingly unlikely, it must be the case that we simply can't capture them, for a variety of reasons including questions of Pakistani sovereignty. The idea that the Bush administration had definitively located bin Laden & Co. and simply wouldn't act strains my credulity past the breaking point.

As to the latter element, our initial move against the Taliban was successful in removing them from national power, but before we could secure the ground we'd captured, the Iraqi diversion occurred. With nothing like the force needed to secure a national occupation, we have retreated to defending the capitol and some surrounding territory while the Taliban is resurgent in entire provinces, competing with drug lords and tribal factions, but hardly with American or NATO forces.

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea behind the plan Obama put forward during the campaign - to correct the error we made in taking our eye off the targets in Afghanistan who had legitimized themselves by launching and defending an attack on the United States. Once again shifting our attention back to those targets while bringing the diversionary activity in Iraq to an end seems reasonable enough on the surface. The ground, though, has shifted in the intervening years. One of our targets has become more obscure and elusive. The other has become, if anything, more formidable.

Meanwhile, we have an exhausted military, trained and equipped for the wrong tactics and the wrong terrain.

If a major new initiative on the Afghanistan front is one of the campaign promises Obama feels compelled to compromise, I'd be happy to overlook the oversight.

I suspect I'm not alone.

Did I say "alone"? Heck, looks like a crowd is forming...

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