Belmont Club

All Things to All Men

Libyan government forces continued attempts to advance against Brega and Misrata while NATO was reorganizing and re-thinking its effort. NATO leadership attempted to reduce the number of “cooks in the kitchen” while attempting to adapt to the Duck’s new “human shield” strategems. By deploying their heavy weapons in civilian areas and advancing in light vehicles similar to those used by the rebels, the Khadaffi forces had created new tactical problems for NATO air forces, which managed 14 strikes on Monday.

A retired US Army Lt. General argued it would ultimately take some ground troops to finish Khadaffi.  James Dubik, writing in Foreign Policy,  said the mismatch between the political goals and the military means left planners the difficult task of trying to protect elements on the ground solely from the air.

The way the United States and its allies have intervened in Libya has placed them on a dangerously slippery slope. Air power alone has not protected Libyan civilians, the declared objective in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the military intervention. Nor have the rebels proved capable of making significant advances against Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces. To effectively enforce the Security Council resolution, the coalition would need to put combat air controllers, advisors, and trainers on the ground — steps it appears unwilling to take.

There are unofficial reports that US and Egyptian trainers are already on the ground despite categorical assurances by the President that ground forces were categorically off the table. But Dubik notes that post-Khadaffi stabilization efforts will require them anyway, unless the US is willing to concede the long-term political control of Libya to whoever is willing to show up. Winning the peace may prove much harder than winning the war.

There is little appetite for yet another large-scale ground commitment, but wartime realities have a way of forcing themselves on those involved. And by intervening in the first place, however noble the motivation, the coalition is already involved in shaping Libya’s political fate. Once again, no one hopes that a post-Qaddafi Libya will be reduced to anarchy. But if that’s what happens, the coalition has the same moral responsibility — perhaps even more than before the intervention — to not let Libyans succumb to chaos. And from a purely security perspective, nor could the West stand by if the pro-democracy rebel force it helped were eclipsed by the Islamic fundamentalist inclinations of some of its members.

Just how difficult this may be is illustrated in Afghanistan, where the WSJ reports al-Qaeda returning to areas from which US troops have withdrawn. The reconstitution of al-Qaeda’s cells have forced the US to make repeated returns to abandoned areas in a process known as “mowing the grass”.

Over the past six to eight months, al Qaeda has begun setting up training camps, hideouts and operations bases in the remote mountains along Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan, some U.S., Afghan and Taliban officials say. The stepped-up infiltration followed a U.S. pullback from large swatches of the region starting 18 months ago. The areas were deemed strategically irrelevant and left to Afghanistan’s uneven security forces, and in some parts, abandoned entirely.

American commanders have argued that the U.S. military presence in the remote valleys was the main reason why locals joined the Taliban. Once American soldiers left, they predicted, the Taliban would go, too. Instead, the Taliban have stayed put, a senior U.S. military officer said, and “al Qaeda is coming back.”…

To counter the return, the coalition is making quick incursions by regular forces into infiltrated valleys—”mowing the grass,” according to one U.S. general. It is also running clandestine raids by Special Operations Forces, who helped scout out the location of the Korengal strike, U.S. officials said. The twin actions offer a preview of the tactics the coalition is likely to pursue in some parts of the country as its forces hand off chunks of contested territory to Afghanistan’s security forces. The process is already under way and is due to accelerate in July.

They also give a preview into the workings of the Obama military doctrine: withdrawing only to return; limiting only to escalate; commanding only to hand off command; staying in the air only to become drawn in on the ground. Perhaps nowhere was this more dramatically illustrated than the administration’s “decision that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow 9/11 conspirators would now be tried before military commissions in Guantanamo — just as they were going to be tried before his administration took over.” The ship of state had turned in a circle after burning huge quantities of time and money only to reach a point they vowed to depart.

The incoherence in the administration’s policies may be rooted in the absence of any real strategy except a media battle plan. The administrations seems unwilling to strike at the roots of the problem because that would be too triumphalistic while reserving for itself the right to meddle indecisively at many points in order to avoid being accused of insensitivity to humanitarian needs.  It manages perceptions and palliates disease even at the cost of making things worse.  And by doing so it accounts itself sophisticated.

The administration’s approach to terrorism is a case in point. It began by defining the term out of existence. Another problem solved. Then it set about managing perceptions and invoking legitimacy. Though the roots of al-Qaeda lie in Pakistan and the Middle East the President studiously avoids mentioning the extremist ideology or money funding it, and goes after the talking points, so the infection spreads and spreads and spreads.

The Taliban insurgency has gained strength in Pakistan’s border regions with Afghanistan in recent months despite a sustained government offensive against it, the Obama administration said in a stark new assessment of the war effort. …

But the report also evaluates U.S. efforts over the first three months of this year, and it underlines alarming trends in that period beyond the “deteriorating” security conditions in Pakistan’s tribal agencies.

It notes that in recent weeks, the Taliban has carried out more suicide bombing missions in Afghanistan against soft targets, such as army recruiting centers, government buildings and market places, leading to a “spike in civilian casualties.”

The return of al-Qaeda to the border regions is precisely the opposite of what President Obama hoped to prevent in the theater. In his Afghan strategy speech of 2009, President Obama emphasized the international legitimacy of Afghanistan in distinction to Iraq: “Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy – and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden – we sent our troops into Afghanistan … For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 – the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. ”

It was all very legal, internationally at least. The stated goal of his strategy was simple: to keep al-Qaeda from reconstituting. But insufficiently noted in his speech was one key expansion of mission: the inclusion of Pakistan in the theater.

Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future … we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.

We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border. …

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development.

But though the grass was being mown, the roots remained untouched. That he did not achieve his goal to prevent al-Qaeda from returning may probably be less important than the way he set about failing. While vowing there would be no more Vietnams, Obama implicitly expanded the theater of operations to include Pakistan while refusing to explain what victory meant on these terms. It was classic Obama. He created an implicit second front in Southwest Asia while promising not to expand the war. Ironically he cast the problem in terms of a “false choice” whose consequences he would escape by not being pinned down to anything. In this way he created for himself the freedom to engage everywhere while finishing nowhere.

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. … To abandon this area now – and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance – would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies …

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, our or interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I do not have the luxury of committing to just one.

And so he commits to many as a way of avoiding being trapped in the one.

That process is now in full swing in the Middle East. A rebel Libyan General quoted in the LA Times lamented “I would like to say to you people that NATO did not provide to us what we need,” Abdul Fatah Younis said at a news conference in the rebel capital, Benghazi. If it is any consolation to the General, who himself was once a hated stalwart of the Khadaffi regime, the Obama administration has rarely provided what is promised to anyone. While the process is generally referred to as “Hope and Change”, it is sometimes known by the equivalent expression “Bait and Switch”.

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