Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shuffling Priorities

In August, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Barack Obama laid out several of his foreign policy priorities in a speech titled “The War We Need to Win.” In that speech, he spoke of the increasing violence in Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Taliban, and the lawless sanctuaries in Pakistan that have devolved into safe-havens for al-Qaeda and into launching points from which militants attack U.S. forces.

"Let me make this clear: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains, that murdered 3,000 Americans. If we have actionable intelligence about high-valued terrorist targets and if President Musharraf will not act, we will."
Obama was quickly ridiculed and criticized for his 'naïve recklessness'. Hillary Clinton: “I don’t think it was a particularly wise position to take” because “he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan.” John McCain, who told crowds at every campaign stop that he would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell, asked "Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan?"

In the end, was Barack Obama really so naïve? As reported today:

President George W. Bush secretly approved U.S. military raids inside Pakistan against alleged terrorist targets, according to a former intelligence official with recent access to the Bush administration's debate about how to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban inside the lawless tribal border area.
The Times:

President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials. The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission. “The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable,” said a senior American official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. “We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued.”

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.
In the words of Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Afghanistan and Pakistan "are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them. Until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."
To highlight the direness of the situation, he issued an even more blunt statement: “I’m not convinced we’re winning in Afghanistan. [But] I am convinced we can.” To that end, he has ordered a comprehensive military strategy to better address the growing threat from the border region. The Post elaborates:

On the day after President Bush announced he will cut troops in Iraq and bolster them in Afghanistan between now and early 2009, Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also signaled that they would give increasing priority to the Afghan war and the expanding insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. "The war on terror started in this region. It must end there," Gates told the committee.

Violence has mounted for more than two years in Afghanistan from an increasingly sophisticated and brazen insurgency, one fueled by havens in Pakistan. As a result, the war is exacting a worsening toll on coalition forces, with the number of U.S. troop deaths projected to surpass last year's high of 117. So far this year, 109 troops have died. U.S. and NATO troops remain hampered by manpower shortages, a lack of helicopters and a disjointed chain of command.

"Frankly, we are running out of time," Mullen said, adding that not sending U.S. reinforcements to Afghanistan is "too great a risk to ignore."

He said the new influx of U.S. forces into Afghanistan that Bush announced Tuesday -- an Army brigade and Marine battalion with a total of about 4,500 troops -- does not meet the demands of commanders there, but is "a good start." Already, total U.S. forces in Afghanistan have grown from 21,000 troops in 2006 to nearly 31,000 today.

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