OpEd in NY Times: "Britain Resolves, U.S. Wavers"

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  1. Britain Resolves, U.S. Wavers

    Published: October 26, 2009

    LONDON — In Afghanistan there’s the United States, Britain and then the rest. Britain has lost 85 soldiers this year, more than all other European NATO allies combined. For both countries the annual death toll has been rising steadily since 2006, and with it the drumbeat of public opposition to the war. In all, more than 1,100 U.S. and British troops have died.

    Special relationships are forged in blood; the U.S.-British bond is no exception. So, as President Obama hesitates, his decision on American troop levels ever “weeks away” as the weeks pass, the British view of the war offers as good an indication as any of what Obama will do. An hour-long conversation with David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, suggests reinforcements are on the way.

    When I asked if the mission needed substantially more troops, Miliband said, “What I think that you can see from the prime minister’s strategy is that we believe in serious counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is a counterterrorist strategy.”

    He continued: “The Taliban has shown what it means to provide safe space for Al Qaeda.” Describing the fights against the Taliban and Al Qaeda as “distinctive but related missions,” Miliband said “the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan are the incubator of choice for international terrorism,” adding that, “Ceding ground happened in the ’90s and then we all know what happened.”

    That’s a clear rebuttal of the ever-larger school, most often identified with Vice President Joe Biden, advancing the view that Al Qaeda is the real threat, the Taliban much less of one; and so the United States should not commit more military resources to a nation-building struggle in Afghanistan that’s an expensive diversion from core U.S. strategic interests.

    Wrong. Counterinsurgency in the “Af-Pak” theater is indeed a counterterrorist strategy. I see no workable distinction.

    As Prime Minister Gordon Brown has noted, three-quarters of all terrorist plots uncovered in Britain in recent years had links to Islamic extremists in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The defense of the West begins in the Hindu Kush and Helmand. Would-be bombers must be kept off-balance. To believe otherwise is wishful thinking.

    But of course the campaign has to be smart. Miliband identified several things that have to change, among them governance, outreach and military strategy.

    Whatever Afghan government emerges has to be “credible,” where Hamid Karzai’s administration has not been, and provide a new “offer to the Afghan people of security and economic development.”

    Miliband also called for “serious outreach to the insurgency to divide it,” estimating that “70 to 80 percent of the foot soldiers are recruitable.” The choice they are being given now is “fight or flight” where it should be “fight, flight or flip” because “an enduring settlement must be a political settlement in which conservative Pashtun nationalism has a place.”

    That’s critical. The Taliban are a Pashtun movement. Pashtunistan straddles the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. Afghanistan has always been ungovernable without a Pashtun buy-in. Pakistan’s strategic interest in that buy-in is non-negotiable. These are basic — but long ignored — building blocks of successful strategy.

    Finally, Miliband argued for a different focus to military operations. “Occupying land for the sake of occupying land is not what counts,” he said. “It’s population. You need to make sure the major cities are secured and Kandahar is vital.”

    These were the convictions behind Brown’s decision earlier this month to send 500 more British troops to Afghanistan, bringing the contingent to 9,500 — a decision the prime minister expected to be “consistent with what the Americans will decide.”

    The reinforcement was about one quarter of what British generals had requested. In the U.S. case, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has asked for about 40,000 more troops. Doing the math on a “consistent” basis suggests a substantial American reinforcement short of McChrystal’s request will eventually be announced by the White House.

    I asked Miliband if Obama’s protracted ponder worried the Brits. Miliband pondered in turn before saying, “No, I think it’s a measure of the seriousness with which he takes the decision.”

    O.K., but I still worry. If counterinsurgency is counterterrorism, if this theater is the “incubator of choice,” if McChrystal is the most lucid product of America’s crash post-9/11 course in counterinsurgency, then Obama should step up.

    Beyond Kabul I got these two nuggets from Miliband. Asked how worried he was about an Israeli military strike on Iran, he said: “I don’t provide a running commentary on other countries’ concerns or policies, but we are one hundred percent committed to a diplomatic resolution.”

    Asked about a Mideast peace, he said, “It’s very stalled and that’s very dangerous.” He said Israeli settlements must stop, calling them “illegal” and “an obstacle to peace.” He said: “I profoundly believe that Israel’s security depends on a two-state solution and I think that a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders plus or minus agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and a fair settlement of the refugee issue is the right basis for Israel’s future as well as the Palestinians’ future.”

    I have not heard President Obama be quite as candid. It would help.


    Roger Cohen joined The New York Times in 1990. He was a foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming acting Foreign Editor on September 11, 2001, and Foreign Editor six months later.

    Since 2004 he has written a column for the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, first for the news pages and then, since 2007, for the Op-Ed page. In 2009 he was named a columnist of The New York Times.

    Mr. Cohen has written "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo" (Random House, 1998), an account of the wars of Yugoslavia's destruction, and "Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). He has also cowritten a biography of General Norman Schwarzkopf, "In the Eye of the Storm," (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1991).
  2. To paraphrase: "New Labour Minister talks a lot and does nothing."

    "Reinforcements are on the way" - technically, yes, but the increase is less than 10% of British strength in theatre and about 1% of US troops in theatre.

    On the Obama / Broon axis, the 2 Brigade increase in strength Obama authorised in Feb is only just less than double the total British presence in theatre.

    Okay, you have about 1.5 million serving (regular) as opposed to just over 200k, but ...

    What is Cohen smoking?
  3. My thoughts exactly. Milliband can talk a good game, but we don't have enough to pay for a seat at this particular table.
  4. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    In the US your political CoC supports your troops. In the UK we are treated with complete contempt by the government.

    Brown ignored repeated requests from the military to reinforce the mission until he thought it might buy him some photo opportunity time with BamBam.
  6. When compared to the US, no, but compared to any other NATO ally we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

    In a roundabout way, getting stung in Iraq could actually work in our favour in Afghanistan as far as our relationship with the US is concerned. The Americans have certainly learnt to be less 'gung-ho' during counter-insurgency operations and hopefully we have learnt a bit of humility.

    It's nice to see someone acknowleding that 'special relationships are forged in blood'. The loss of 402 troops during the twin campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan is far from being a negligible sacrifice for forces of our size and is far higher than any of the US's other allies - including those who snipe at both countries.
  7. Of course everything is relative so this statement speaks volumes about how bad things must be in the UK if the LEADER OF THE WORLD is the standard for judging "support" for the troops.
  8. msr

    msr LE

    Do try to keep up ;) http://www.arrse.co.uk/Forums/viewtopic/t=134994.html

  9. Neither do the Canadians or the Danes. Or a host of other allies. If I was from one of those nations I'd be somewhat miffed by the dismissive tone of my country's efforts by this article.
  10. I do try-I was making what I had intended to be an ironic statement that actually was directed to my own government that goes to great pains to have photo ops of the type orchestrated yesterday. There we saw a supposedly adoring throng of Navy personnel in uniform slavishly sopping up the rhetoric of the MASTER OF THE WORLD to the effect that his substantively inexplicable delay in deciding about reinforcing Afghanistan was out of concern for their safety etc. [​IMG]
    After a trip to the WC to retch, I posted my statement since IMHO HE could give a fig about the military in the way the BuggerAll assumed.
  11. to be fair that set up doesnt look particuarly different from any other president addressing troops I've seen?

  12. That depends upon how you define CofC. If it is the political reality, you are spot-on. Labour seem to want to ruin the military. If you look at who we swore allegiance too, you are very wrong. Does anyone doubt the affinity of HM the Queen and her immediate family to British forces? I don't.
  13. Don't expact anything positive on Afghanistan from the likes of the boy Miliband or his master,Cyclops.

    Hopefully fast forward to next June,and a more positive commitment from a new Consertive government,but somehow I doubt it.

    Still anything will be better than Brown running the show in Britain.
  14. It you look at videos of these 3 events you will see a demonstrably different response among the 3--remember the stills are all carefully posed usually. There is no question, however, even among those who hate the ever evil Bush, that the military generally was much more spontaneously positive to him than the other 2 you depict.
  15. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    With the emphasis on Political. We are lucky that we swear allegiance to HM but the reality is the authority is exercised by Brown and his cronies. Naturally I remain loyal to the Queen and to the country and will continue to obey lawful commands but loyalty is a 2 way street any loyalty I may have had to the government is gone. I would not p1ss on Brown if he was on fire.

    Edited to add: The Brown creature has shown a staggering disloyalty and disrespect to HMQ over the D-day debacle. Quite apart from his attempts to ruin Her/our country and its institutions. Unless the Czechs hold out we will be sold even further down the Festung Europa river. (Sold being the operative word)