US Def Secy Gates seeking allies help in Afghanistan

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  1. Gates seeking allies' help on Afghanistan war

    The Associated Press
    Sunday, October 18, 2009; 1:14 PM

    WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's chief is undertaking the tricky task of trying to persuade allies to remain committed to the war in Afghanistan even as the Obama administration debates whether to send more troops to fight.

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates is undecided - at least publicly - on whether to order more forces to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, as his top commander there has requested, or to focus more narrowly on al-Qaida terrorists believed to be hiding in Pakistan.

    Gates departed Sunday on a weeklong mission to Japan, Korea and Slovakia - in part to ask NATO partners and Asian allies for continued contributions to a war now in its ninth year.

    Perhaps mindful of asking others for help amid the U.S. indecision, Gates isn't only seeking military aid.

    "A lot of the very valuable contributions in Afghanistan are on the development and the training, with the police and other aspects of civil life," a senior defense official at the Pentagon said last week on condition of anonymity to discuss Gates' travels more candidly.

    Allies, however, are showing signs of pulling back. Japan is withdrawing two naval ships out of the Indian Ocean that have been used as refueling stops for allies en route to Afghanistan. And Great Britain said this week it will deploy a small but symbolic force of 500 additional troops - but only if NATO and the Afghanistan government do more to fight the Taliban.

    The U.S. defense official said it's likely that Gates will discuss the January pullout of the refueling mission with Japanese ministers when he is in Tokyo on Tuesday. But he doesn't expect to change the mind of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who took office last month and wants Japan to take other steps to restore peace in Afghanistan.

    The visit will mark the first Obama administration Cabinet official to travel to Japan since Hatoyama's election.

    "We understand that they are looking for other ways to make a contribution," said the defense official, who nonetheless described the refueling operation as "of great value to the coalition."

    Gates will not be asking the Japanese for any specific aid, the defense official said. Japan is already helping to train Afghan police forces.

    It's not clear whether Gates will ask South Korea for more help beyond medical and job-training assistance that nation is already supplying in Afghanistan. "We would hope that Korea would continue to see it in their interest to provide aid of whatever form is appropriate," the defense official said.

    Gates will be in Seoul on Wednesday. From there, he goes to Bratislava, Slovakia, on Thursday to meet NATO defense ministers for what Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said would be a discussion focusing mostly on Afghanistan.

    President Barack Obama is not expected to decide on a U.S. strategy for Afghanistan or Pakistan until after Gates returns. Obama administration officials have said the president's decision will come before he leaves on his own Asia trip in mid-November.

    Until then, Gates "is really in a difficult position," said Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and retired Navy commander who was stationed in at the military air field in Bagram, Afghanistan until April.

    "His line is going to have to be, 'Bear with us until we figure out what we're going to do,'" Nelson said Friday, forecasting Gates' upcoming meetings overseas. "Really, what he's asking them is not to leave and to be patient. He can't ask them for more or to go above and beyond what they're already done."
  2. Allow me to pick up just one, not so minor, point:

    "And Great Britain said this week it will deploy a small but symbolic force of 500 additional troops (...)" (My bold)

    Knowing Ms. Britannia, I'm pretty sure she didn't actually say that (openly) about her extra effort.

    I trust the additional group of soldiers, while preparing to leave their loved ones behind, will take great relief and comfort knowing they're only symbolic. :thumbdown:
  3. "Symbolic" gives me the same unease I have with the notion of "presence" that was perverted by Reagan's State Department into a strategic and tactical "mission" for US Marines in Lebanon in the early 80's that led to the deaths of over 200 Marines and Sailors in the suicide bombing of their barracks.
  4. Here's a great piece by Cohen in the NYT October 20, 2009 (yes, tomorrow's paper edition)

    He introduces "Obamivocation" to describe what waiting to reach a decision on tropp levels will mean to NATO - and to Pakistan, but also explains that this is not so much about numbers as it is about endurance. I would call it commitment for the long haul.

    GlobalistEndurance Test By ROGER COHEN
    NEW YORK — When it comes to Afghanistan, hawks back Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 or more troops while doves try to parse the distinctions between the Taliban and Al Qaeda to justify rejecting his view and eventually heading for the exit. Right?

    No, wrong. I’m a hawk on Afghanistan but for that reason I’m skeptical of a major troop surge because it might bolster the view that there’s a quick fix for a country that’s the fifth poorest in the world, enjoys life expectancy of 44, and has been lacerated by three decades of war. In Afghanistan, 30 years of fighting now demand 30 years of partnership from the United States.

    The troop numbers game, in which President Obama looks wobbly, is in fact a distraction. Numbers matter less than endurance, details less than overall design. A word that needs to pass Obama’s lips soon is just that: “endurance.” Afghanistan, as he has said and must not unsay, is the “necessary war.”

    A U.S. official now serving in southern Helmand Province told me: “A big bang will weaken our endurance ability. People will say, O.K., with 40,000 more troops things should change overnight. We need to sustain at the lowest level that gets the partnering done.”

    Before explaining what should comprise this partnership, it’s important to dispel some myths. Much is being made of how the Afghan war will soon be the longest in American history. But the United States took a major detour called Iraq. It still has almost twice as many troops in Iraq as Afghanistan.

    In the south of the country — the critical nexus of the Kandahar-born Taliban, narco-trafficking and corrupt governance — America’s war is only months old, having begun with the Marines’ summer arrival in Helmand.

    It took years in Iraq’s Anbar Province for the U.S. to work out which sheikhs were amenable — or could become so with blandishments — and so engineer the Sunni awakening. The work on a Pashtun awakening has just begun.

    A second important clarification is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have not become distinct because that would be politically welcome to the blossoming just-pick-off-the-terrorists school in Washington.

    Mullah Muhammad Omar has not suddenly awoken to Osama bin Laden’s perfidy. There are plenty of bad Taliban; changing hats in Waziristan was never a big deal.

    The truth is that the “Af-Pak” theater is comprised not of two countries but three: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pashtunistan. In the latter, which straddles the non-Af-Pak border that is the 1,610-mile Durand line (British colonialists were ever adept at drawing conflict-perpetuating lines on maps), Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives mingle.

    This does not mean that there are no “small T” Taliban-for-hire who can be co-opted, but does mean that “capital T” Taliban remain a major strategic threat to the United States.

    A third clarification is that you can’t just take to the air, lighten the allied “footprint” and pick off terrorists. Afghan bases are needed for drones to operate. The human intelligence gathered at or near the border is critical to identifying targets of value. The fight for Pashtunistan has to be won on the ground: That’s where counter-insurgency happens.

    If the United States steps back — or is seen to be stepping back (a perception fostered by each day of Obamivocation) — NATO will fold. So will Pakistan. That would be a disaster for Western security. America walked away from Afghanistan at the fall of the Soviet Empire with disastrous results: After the expenditure of so much blood and treasure the retreat-and-return cycle has to end.

    But, as the lucid McChrystal has said, the situation has been “deteriorating” and failure is possible. So what to do?

    Yes, the United States needs a credible partner in the Afghan government and has not had one. President Hamid Karzai — assuming he remains in office — must be presented with certain non-negotiable demands: better governors; officials not beholden to Narcoshire; a transparent outreach program to “small T” Taliban; strong cooperation in fast-forwarding the Afghan Army and police.

    “We have to tell Karzai, here’s a contract and either your signature is on it or your brains will be,” a British general told me. I’d say that’s about the right tone.

    But as McChrystal has been urging, U.S. strategy also has to be rethought independent of Afghan government actions. The essence must be economy of force for maximized effect. It’s impossible — and foolish — to try to control the whole country or chase Taliban into caves. Rather, focus on model districts in contested areas of Pashtunistan. Give mud-hut Afghans something to believe in — not least efficient courts, motivated police and easy credit.

    President Obama is playing a wait-for-Karzai-to-shape-up game. I don’t buy it because it hangs McChrystal out to dry. As the general has said, “Time does matter” for “a favorable outcome.” Waiting is bad.

    Most Afghans still support the American presence. A swift commitment to endurance, with the minimum additional troops needed to convey that message, is needed from Obama.

    More than a specific number of troops, what McChrystal has pleaded for is “patience, discipline, resolve and time.” Do you hear him, Mr. President?