The Death Star Strategy in Afghanistan

Posted: November 10, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Death Star II

"After this we'll clone some troops to fill the gap for an escalation in Afghanistan."

The last few hours have been a flurry of news reports on the President’s supposed decision on troop levels for Afghanistan. First, CBS News reported that the president planned to send roughly 40,000 troops to Afghanistan for about four years.  Then, CNN reported that the White House angrily denied CBS News’ assertions, with two unnamed “senior administration officials” accusing Pentagon sources of leaking the story to set expectations and box the president into executing what’s essentially McChrystal’s preferred plan. Now, ABC News reports that, while the president has apparently not made a final decision, all five of the options now on the table would send more troops to Afghanistan.

There are a few explanations for the mixed signals. The first could be that some staff flunkie at the Pentagon wanted to impress a reporter and phoned in a tip before they knew what they were talking about, prompting an angry response from a White House still settling on options, all of which involve more troops. The second is slightly more sinister: elements in the Pentagon could be attempting to force the president’s hand, which would be a very subversive move and an assault on civilian control of the military. The third explanation is even darker: that the administration is more unified than it appears, and that it’s using leaks about high-end troop level estimates to desensitize the public and position the president’s inevitable, smaller troop increase as the more reasonable option. None of these explanations provide much comfort.

The simple truth is that even if one grants all the administration’s other assumptions about war and international politics (which I certainly do not), the troops are just not available for anything remotely approaching McChrystal’s preferred way forward, and certainly not within the critical period mentioned by his strategy paper. Spencer Ackerman:

The thing is, can we actually get 34,000 new troops into Afghanistan before summer of 2010? Remember that in the McChrystal strategy review, completed in late August, the commanding general talks about a window of about 12-18 month wherein he’ll know if he can arrest Taliban momentum. (That’s different, notice, than rolling back Taliban gains.)

Ackerman points to Politics Daily, which notes:

Maintaining one brigade combat team in the field requires two others on standby. So, for every unit in combat, planners keep a second one in training and a third one in “reset” after a long combat deployment – time when the Army can send its soldiers off for advanced schooling, absorb new replacements, receive new gear. Thus, a total of three BCTs are tied up.

Just to maintain the 16 current brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan is, let’s see, three times 16 is 48 and – oops! We’re already out of BCTs! And here’s the White House blithely batting around numbers like 40,000 more troops. That’s roughly eight BCTs, which do not exist.

Storm Troopers on Tatooine

"So this guy pulls me straight out of the cloning vats and says, 'Congratulations, we're sending you to Afghanistan!' Guess what my first word was!"

One of the only ways available to provide the levels of troops needed for anything remotely approaching a McChrystal plan would be to shorten dwell time at home for troops. That would be, in short, a mental health disaster. As PD notes,

Tragically, and despite an all-out prevention effort, the Army is experiencing another record-setting year for suicides. From January through September this year there were 117 reported suicides among active duty soldiers, up from 108 reported during the same period in 2008.

This is why, as Robert Naiman notes, the Joint Chiefs are begging the president not to do anything to shorten dwell times at home. Shorter dwell times means more mental health problems, period. The fact that troops “volunteered” (which is a rather flexible term in many situations) does not give the government the right to use them up until they break their brains. See how long your beloved “all-volunteer force” lasts when future recruits see that you’re shoving them into overseas hell holes over and over with shorter recovery periods between nightmares. At some point basic human dignity demands we end this farce.

I have to admit a certain level of exhaustion as a member of the anti-war movement focused on Afghanistan, especially when the debate moves into a place where our opponents start sputtering, “Well what’s your alternative?!” as if the options they push are reasonable and moored to the real resources available. The simple fact is that a person pushing for anything resembling a McChrystal strategy either a) has no clue as to the manpower restraints on the U.S. military or b) doesn’t give a damn about the mental health of the people they want to throw into combat. In fact, they don’t even understand fully McChrystal’s reasoning because key sections of his report were redacted for public consumption. A person asking me what my alternative is to troop increases in Afghanistan might as well be asking what my alternative is to firing the Death Star at Kandahar.

I don’t have to know how to construct a working safety belt to demand the recall of a car with a defective safety belt. I don’t have to know how to fashion a health reform bill to know that the health care system is broken and to demand that my elected representatives do something other than endorse the status quo. And I sure don’t have to be able to plot out the detailed exit strategy for our forces in Afghanistan to be able to say with integrity that we shouldn’t have our military tramping around someone else’s country killing people.

What I do know is this: every single person I’ve heard the president cite as a moral and philosophical guiding light, from Jesus of Nazareth, to Gandhi, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Cesar Chavez, to Reinhold Niebuhr, would reject the idea that the U.S. should be dropping bombs on people in Afghanistan in the pursuit of U.S. national security. Every single one. The president probably knows this too, and only the most cynical politician would continue to drop these names at campaign stops and press conferences while ordering more and more troops to fight and die and kill in Asia.

That’s enough now, Mr. President. Stop this war.

  1. Sporkmaster says:

    You know my feelings on this issue well enough. I just wanted to point put that the reason that the question is ask “Well what’s your alternative?!” is becuase this is something that is not going to go away.

    What is to say that we will have to send troops in to resolve something there that we did not finish now? Only this time it could be our children or grandchildren that go into harms way. It is what happened to the Vets of the Gulf War. Also we are dealing with unresolved issues left over from the 80s and 90s. So I would rather have to deal with the risk myself now then my kid later down the road.

    But it seems that people seem to disregard the future problems as something that they will not have to deal with. Out of sight and out of mind.

    • dcrowe says:

      Hey sporkmaster:

      I understand your feelings about it. My feeling, though, is that I get exhausted by constant attacks on the anti-war position from folks who try to position themselves as the ones with a viable option. When you get down to it, the troops are not available, and that’s just a fact. You don’t even have to get to an anti-war position before you run up against the basic numbers problem. So unless we’re willing to grind the force into the ground, troop increases above the 10K range just aren’t an option in the so-called “critical window” defined by McChrystal.

      I know what you mean about the need to deal with Afghanistan now and to stay engaged. I agree. What I reject, though, is the idea that military force should play any significant role in that effort. I don’t want my safety purchased at the expense of an Afghan’s safety. It’s immoral, flatly, to say American lives are worth more than Afghan lives, but that’s exactly what we mean when we say “Fight them there so we don’t fight them here.” We’re essentially choosing to make sure the collateral damage of that fight falls on Afghan civilians vs. American civilians.

  2. DC,

    I am not a big proponent of the “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” argument either. We aren’t discussing a large scale deployment of troops to combat Al Shabab extremists in the horn of Africa right now, and they are likely to pose a significant threat to American interests in years to come. And it is increasingly likely that the next international terrorist action here may be perpetrated by radicalized American citizens (who knows, it may have happened in Texas last week).

    But to disengage militarily from Afghanistan would, in my opinion, mean essentially mean abandoning the Afghan people, many of whom are resisting the Taliban due to our assurances and the security we are providing. Do you think the human toll paid by the Afghan populace due to our current tactics would be lessened by an American exit? I don’t. I think our exit would create a humanitarian disaster, and result in thousands of deaths, and leave the Afghan people in the 14th Century.

    And for all the talk of “rule of the rapists” et al, the Taliban shadow governments (and I use the term loosely) rely as much on intimidation and violence to enforce their rule/mindset as they do ombudsman and so-called justice. Last month the Taliban assassinated a man in Nawa who had the audacity to try to help his community organize development projects, and intimidated others with night letters to cow the town’s populace into submission. Lovely.

    There may be an unstated alternative in Afghanistan that could achieve some viable American national security objective, but from a humanitarian standpoint, I do not see what good would come to Afghanistan from military disengagement at this time.

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