Tonight, Pres. Barack Obama will announce a scheduled drawdown of nearly a third of U.S. troops fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan. The President’s announcement comes weeks after a covert U.S. team successfully killed Osama bin Laden, and at a time when the strategic and tactical changes implemented by Gen. David Petraeus have begun to achieve significant progress.
When considering the ramifications of the President’s plan for force reduction, I could not help but recall an article I wrote almost two years ago about the conflict. (See article pasted below.) In the wake of a successful U.S. mission to kill a high-level enemy target—then it was the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud—I argued that drone strikes, while accomplishing tactical objectives, do not move the U.S. closer to its ultimate objective of building confidence within the Afghani population that resisting the brutal hand of the Taliban is a cause the U.S. would help them win.
To instill that confidence requires that something real be standing between an Afghani villager and an expected reprisal from Taliban thugs that follows when aid is given to Americans; it requires boots to be on the ground, protecting villages, towns, and trade paths. The President will telegraph a message to the Afghan people tonight: We will not be there.
Yet, our own security still depends on neutralizing the rat’s nest of anti-American terrorism that exists in the region, a fact that will cause the President to suggest that the so-called success of drone strikes can do the job. It cannot, anymore than carpet-bombing during the Vietnam War secured victory in that ill-fated conflict.
Obama continues misguided drone war in Afghanistan
by Bryan Myrick
Originally published August 11, 2009 at UnequalTime.com
As officials continue to sift through remains at the site of last week’s suspected U.S. drone attack in southern Pakistan – the target of which was Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – a senior U.S. official felt confident enough Monday afternoon to declare firm belief that Mehsud was killed in the nighttime attack. The official’s certainty closed the confirmation gap that remained after Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday that he placed the probability of mission success in the “90 percent category.”
What was the critical element that gave ordinarily hyperskeptical intelligence officials the green light to conclude that Mehsud had been eliminated? Mehsud was known by CIA analysts to suffer from leg pain as a result of diabetes. A man fitting his description entered the home of Mehsud’s father-in-law, then adjourned to the roof to avoid the searing heat and began to have his legs massaged. The strike – preauthorized by President Obama, according to the senior U.S. official – was initiated based on this intelligence.
A tear should not be shed in sorrow for the death of a man who is believed to have been instrumental in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, coordinated attacks against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, and gave aid and refuge to all manner of evildoers seeking to harm U.S. interests around the world. Mehsud’s death was rightly celebrated as a tactical victory in the current struggle to stabilize the central Asian region and the broader war on terror, and champagne corks were most assuredly hitting the ceiling from Kandahar to Langley. But, as military historians will hasten to note, chalking up scores of tactical successes is no substitute for a broader strategy to win the war and the peace when fighting against an enemy that refuses to surrender. When the calm night sky around Mehsud erupted in a rush of sound and fire, and the person tending to his aching limbs suffered the Taliban warlord’s fate alongside him, the American cause to win the peace in the war against radical Islamists took one more step opposite the direction of overall victory.
The earliest reports of the strike to kill Mehsud also cited sources claiming that women and children also perished in the strike, stories that have too frequently become a routine feature of wires from the drone war. Stories have continued to flow from Afghanistan and Pakistan about the high rates of civilian casualties in attacks from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – also known as drones.
Modern warfare invariably places civilian populations in the arena of combat—this is a grim reality that only the nihilistic Left have not learned to stomach in order to act in preservation of our security in the face of very real threats. And yet, the increasing numbers of poppies growing over the corporeal remains of what our cleansed consciousness refers to as ‘collateral damage’ have the potential to inspire a new wave of anti-U.S. hatred. The high rate of casualties arising from drone attacks and the potential Vietnamization of the Afghanistan war that could result from their use is something I wrote about recently.
But perhaps there is something about waging war-by-wire that verges on cowardice, a lack of honor to take lives only when risking one’s own that compounds the suffering of innocent villagers who, polling suggests, more likely than not support coalition efforts to rid their lands of chaotic elements. America’s strength, its great contribution to the world, has been the willingness on the part of its citizens to sacrifice all in order to give those who desire freedom a fighting chance to experience it. This has been our gift to the world; it is the thing that the purveyors of hate—the Islamists—fear the most.
The escalation authorized by President Obama in the tactical use of drone strikes threatens to exacerbate deteriorating battlefield conditions in a war that is vital to America’s future security. With victory a hair’s breadth away from falling into the abyss of history, the waning support of Afghans for the coalition presence will be the deciding factor should American fortunes fade. In the long view, it may be Obama’s preference to remove American troops from harm’s way – a political decision, not one that seems advised by a rational strategy for winning the peace – that costs America most dearly.
After the file is closed on Mehsud, and a flock of drones has been tasked to acquire and destroy his replacement, a question will haunt policy analysts: Can tactical UAV air raids that eliminate enemy leadership but inflict casualties on the civilian population ever complement a strategy for preserving America’s long-term security? If American troops, bolstered by fresh boots on the ground this fall and winter, succeed in regaining territory lost to insurgents, will the drone attacks simply quell support for occupation or fuel greater resistance to their presence?
If the ultimate victory in Afghanistan is to be won in the hearts and minds of the Afghans themselves, to borrow a phrase from the Vietnam lexicon, establishing goodwill among the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan toward the United States is paramount, as is cementing and understanding that we will be a partner in stabilizing the present and future central Asian region, so long as they also refuse to support the forces that would seek to harm the United States or its interests. To achieve that objective they must be made to see our enemy as theirs as well, an outcome unlikely when coalition forces are blamed – sometimes fairly, sometimes not – for bringing destruction and death to their homelands.
Unfortunately, the rational conclusion from observing the course of the Afghanistan War since Obama has taken office is chilling. The escalation of the drone war at Obama’s order, and the resulting civilian casualties, indicate not only that the Obama administration may have cast aside all interest in redefining the Afghanistan mission in terms of broadly and narrowly defined American national security interests.
The war in Afghanistan is one worth winning, but the objectives have become muddy since US-led coalition forces invaded more than a half decade ago. The drone war is just one symbol of mission creep that threatens to eliminate all chances to stabilize the region and make gains in the war against Islamofascism. In this new way of war, the sheer might of American military superiority, if carelessly used, could produce stunning tactical victories, followed by crushing strategic defeat.What is needed is the vision among our leaders to define our mission beyond what is taking place on the field of battle, beyond decimating or eradicating the opiate economy of the region, beyond crushing the Taliban.
Just as an oncological surgeon measures their success in the operating room based on two criteria – the complete removal of the cancerous growth and the lack of damage to the healthy surrounding tissue – the same can be said of our strategy in central Asia. If the US-led coalition fails to remove the malignancies represented by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other radical jihadists, no amount of money poured into hospitals, schools, and paved roadways will stop a future 9/11 from being conceived in that part of the world. In fact, it was the scant infrastructure and bureaucracy left established by Soviet occupiers that made Afghanistan into something of a turnkey operation when the Taliban swept into power. Third World nation – just add autocratic religious extremist leadership.
Extending the cancer metaphor further, if the tactics used to remove our enemies damage and destroy the portions of the civilian population in the process it will be impossible to convince the Afghans and Pakistanis that they share a common aim of peace with us, thus enhancing the likelihood that anti-democratic Islamist movements can leverage fear of US attacks from the air into popular support.
Obama is doing an excellent job of protecting his approval numbers by avoiding the negative publicity that casualties resulting from a hypothetical manned, eyes-on-target, raid would have caused. Afghanistan is now President Obama’s war, just as Vietnam will always be President Lyndon Johnson’s war in the opinion of many. As Johnson expanded the conflict handed him by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, Obama inherits Afghanistan from President George W. Bush with plans to restore a path to victory by landing more boots on the ground.
Will Obama avoid Johnson’s mistake in Vietnam, his confusion of the ability to achieve tactical victories through superior force with the more subtle requirements of accomplishing the broader and more subtle objectives on the way to the ultimate goal—American security? For the sake of those who seek freedom in Afghanistan, for the men and women standing on the first front in the war against those who seek our ultimate destruction, and for the prospect that we might never again mourn victims of acts of terror on our soil, I hope so. With all of my will, I sincerely hope so.
[photo credit: By The U.S. Army (Combat Medics in Afghanistan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]