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Crossroads

Three stories underline an unsettled issue discussed in an earlier post (The Real Thing): what is the administration up to in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports that General Stanley McChrystal rejected, in a speech before the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the notion of scaling down the war before achieving the desired goals. You can hear his speech here. The NYT reported:

The top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, rejected calls for scaling down military objectives there on Thursday and said Washington did not have unlimited time to settle on a new strategy to pursue the eight-year-old war. In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a private policy group here, General McChrystal said that the situation in Afghanistan was serious and that “neither success nor failure can be taken for granted.” ...

General McChrystal was asked by a member of an audience that included retired military commanders and security specialists whether he would support an idea put forward by Mr. Biden to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of Al Qaeda, in place of the current broader effort now under way to defeat the Taliban. “The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The sense that things are waiting on events was conveyed in Michael Yon's latest post, Securing Helmand. Yon wrote, "The war is intensifying month by month while support for this mission plummets. Your help is crucial to my staying in the war. 2010 will almost certainly prove to be the bloodiest even as coverage dries up. More troops are coming in. The fighting for those who are here is already as tough as any seen in Iraq. Do you trust the Government to tell the truth?"

As a previous post, The Real Thing, argued, "One reason why President Obama may be reluctant to give General McChrystal more troops is that it would force the differences with Pakistan into the open. Islamabad has been trying, for some time, to run America’s war for its own benefit. An article by David Ignatius implies that the ISI wants to manage the Taliban, not destroy it. From the Pakistani point of view the danger in giving McChrystal surge forces is that the US military might get ideas." Indeed, the line which separates certain elements of the Pakistani government, which is an American 'ally,' from terrorist groups is a thin one indeed. Earlier, Roggio described how Pakistan opposed US strikes against the Quetta Shura, from which attacks on Afghanistan were planned.

General Ashfaq Kiyani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, has weighed in on the debate over the potential for the US air campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda to expand into Baluchistan province, according to the Daily Times. During a meeting of the Tripartite Commission, Kiyani reportedly warned the US against conducting strikes in the province.

Last week, US military and intelligence officials told me that an expansion of the US air campaign into Baluchistan would likely lead to an internal revolt in the Pakistani military. General Kiyani knows the impact a wide-reaching US air campaign would have on his military.

Kiyani’s statements come as Anne Patterson, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, said that the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban command led by Mullah Omar, has risen to the top of the US target list. But Pakistan has refused to operate against the Quetta Shura as it is hedging its bets that the Taliban will return to power in Afghanistan. Patterson’s charges are explosive; previously most of the criticism on the Taliban operations in Quetta have come from the US military. She even questions if Pakistan is in control of its own territory.

Today he quotes an NYT story indicating that the links between the Mumbai attackers and the ISI are closer than one might think. "While Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency refuses to admit it backs the radical, al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba, US intelligence officials and even Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives beg to differ. ... Former ISI officials, such as retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, the intelligence service's former director, openly support groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban, and al Qaeda, yet they are untouchable in Pakistan. For more on the ISI's links to terror groups, see 'Pakistan's Jihad,' written by Tom Joscelyn and me in December last year."

International relations are problems which are beyond McChrystal's remit. What he has been charged with is winning in Afghanistan. If the administration has changed its mind or has defined victory differently, then it ought to make that clear. But right now the requirement is to win and the man on the ground says, 'if you want me to do that, give me the tools'.

Whether the issues at stake are going to be fully aired is still anyone's guess. The AP is reporting that the Senate voted to delay General McChrystal's  scheduled testimony before it until President Obama had made up his mind.  Senator Reid believed it was "inappropriate" for McChrystal to make the case that more resources were required before the President had considered them.  Since the General's views on resources are common knowledge by now it raises the possibility that the delay may simply be intended to avoid subjecting McChrystal to a question and answer session about process.  Questions like, 'did the President ever read your report, did he ever speak to you' etc are potential dynamite.  It's far better to wait until McChrystal is handed a songsheet from which he must dutifully sing, prior to letting him face the Senate. This may serve the political interests; it may even spare McChrystal the ordeal of having to answer awkward questions.  But it will leave questions unanswered; and maybe that's the point.


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