October 7, 2009

COIN 101

Octopus Mountain wonders what UN ambassador Susan Rice was doing at an Afghanistan board meeting. Probably receiving her daily talking points.

Count Saif Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to America, among those expecting more US troops. Jawad told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, "We are very grateful for what the United States has done for Afghanistan; we respect the decision of the president. But from my interaction with our own generals and the generals in the Pentagon, we know that we need these additional troops."

Jawad challenged the strategy of boosting US trainers and Afghan forces in lieu of more US troops.

"If those troops do not arrive, the challenges will be even bigger and we might not have adequate numbers of trainers in time, to train our own security forces to take the responsibility of the fight ourselves," he said. "If they come to Afghanistan, it will make it easier for Afghans to take the responsibilities for themselves. We are hopeful that the president will accommodate the request that General McChrystal has put forward."

Not that any more evidence is needed that General McChrystal will ultimately get his troops; the political sideshow over Afghanistan is only that. Defense spokesman Geoff Morrell said President Obama has received McChrystal's troop request, but the decision has likely been made already. White House and Pentagon officials are probably quibbling over the exact number, not for the right amount but the most political viable figure.

15,000 and 25,000 seems like the window. Less would be pointless and more are obviously needed, but pushing 30,000 is probably too much with Obama involved with so many domestic issues, all of them costly. Then again, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told reporters by phone, "If the Americans want to increase their troops, we will increase our fighters as well."

Separately, the Taliban commemorated the 8th anniversary of the US invasion with a statement affirming an internal, not external agenda.

"We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor we have such agenda today," the statement said. "Still, if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war."

But the American propaganda machine allows no time to rest. Apparently the latest debate in the White House is whether the Taliban poses a direct threat to America. According to the NYT, "President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States."


President Obama has spent every second on Afghanistan publicly targeting al-Qaeda, only throwing in Mullah Omar and hardcore Taliban for good measure. Those labeling the Taliban as a threat, such as State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are members of his national security team. Therefore, Obama is reframing the debate because of his own officials. Coincidence?

Octopus Mountain holds out the theory that Clinton, Gates, and their ilk were ordered to hype the Taliban threat so the White House could minimize it afterward and "reframe" on al-Qaeda to repackage a narrow goal. The Taliban is the enemy in the White House's eyes, but in typical Washington fashion, a formidable, strengthening, homegrown movement like the Taliban is politically nonviable and a bad selling point.

Regardless, US troops will primarily engage the Taliban when Obama initiates his surge. National Security Adviser James Jones' claim that al-Qaeda has weakened inside Afghanistan, possibly to 100 fighters, leaves no other choice. Whether Jones, one of the Taliban's skeptics, realized this is unknown - who else is there to fight in Afghanistan?

No, America's main war is still with the Taliban even if the new troops are specifically deployed on the Pakistan border to hunt al-Qaeda and the TTP.

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