Posts Tagged ‘Karl Eikenberry’

I sat through a painful House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday to listen for anything new from General Stanley McChrystal, who continued the administration’s backpedaling from the July 2011 date for the start of a drawdown in Afghanistan:

“I don’t believe July 2011 is a major factor in my military strategy.”

This quote is the latest in a long line of softening statements that continue to break the hearts of people given a glimmer of hope by the president’s ambiguous nod toward an exit in Afghanistan (thanks to Rory O’Connor for compiling these):

“To be determined down the road”

“The beginning, not the end, of Afghan withdrawal”

“Troops there … are not leaving in July of 2011.”

“Some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.”

“Don’t consider this an exit strategy.”

“2011 is not a cliff, it’s a ramp.”

“We’re going to be in the region for a long time.”

“We’re not going to be walking away from Afghanistan again.”

“We’re not talking about an abrupt withdrawal, we’re talking about that something that will take place over a period of time.”

“There could be tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan for several years.”

This dynamic astounds me. Public opinion polling has been consistent for months that the public does not want more troops sent to Afghanistan, and the concern about the cost of the war is off the charts. Yet, the administration is apparently frightened by the conniptions of Beltway bobbleheads who think they hold a monopoly on “serious” thinking–thinking that happens to fly in the face of the vast majority of people who will actually have a say in whether incumbents keep their seats. Now is obviously not the time to let up on your activism to end the war in Afghanistan.

As annoyed as I was by McChrystal’s continuation of this this trend, most of the animosity I felt was directed at the HASC Chairman, Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). Skelton was, in a word, ridiculous.

First of all, his questions were useless:

“General McChrystal, tell us what your mission is.”

“Do you agree with the president’s decision to strategize and to increase the number of troops?”

“Will you be successful in your mission?”

“What do you need from us?”

Wow, that’s some heavy duty oversight, there, Mr. Chairman.

“How good are the troops under your command?”

“How good are the National Guard troops?”

After this ridiculous set of “aw shucks we love the troops” pap, Skelton wheeled on Ambassador Eikenberry, demanding explanations for his leaked cables that warned against sending more troops to assist the corrupt Kabul cartel. Apparently it was fine for McChrystal and his allies to leak their memos all over town, but God forbid the opponents of escalation should play by the same rules. But Eikenberry was singing the White House’s tune.

“At no point during this review process was I ever opposed to additional troops being sent to Afghanistan.”

The ranks are closing around the president, and the cracks that appeared during the review process seem to be sealing. Too bad. Paired with the health care reform debacle shaping up, the president’s full-speed-to-the-swamp policy spells electoral disaster for Democrats next year. Unless the president shapes up on ending this war, I’m staying home next year, and you should, too.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

If Matthew Hoh could tell you one thing to help you understand the U.S.’s predicament in Afghanistan, he’d tell you:

The presence of our ground combat troops is not doing anything to defeat al-Qaida.

Think about that for a moment. We are paying roughly $1 million per troop, per year in Afghanistan. That’s roughly twice the per-troop cost in Iraq. We’ve suffered well more than 800 deaths in Afghanistan. And yet here is the former top civilian official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, a former Marine who served in Anbar province in Iraq, telling us that the presence of our ground forces does nothing to defeat the organization that’s supposedly the target of our operations in that country.

So, if we’re not going about the business of defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan, what are we doing?

We’re involved in a civil war in Afghanistan. We’re only taking one side in that civil war. And, our presence there is only encouraging the civil war to go on.

Hmm. This is all sounding very familiar.

I spoke to Matthew on Friday afternoon by phone from the front seat of my car. My first call to him went straight to voicemail, where I learned that apparently he’d had so many press calls about his resignation letter that his voicemail message directed inquiries on that topic to his email address. If you recall, the State Department took his letter seriously enough that it prompted job offers from Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke to get him to stay. Since then, Hoh has been the focus of a great deal of media attention, and for good reasons:

  • With all the rhetoric about the “success” of the so-called “surge” in Iraq and its supposed lessons for Afghanistan, the opinion of a person with experience with both has a lot of heft.
  • The fact that his feelings about the situation were strong enough to provoke a resignation and a subsequent rejection of a position in Washington gave him moral authority.
  • And, Hoh was the beneficiary of good timing: his resignation came at a time when the media and policymakers had been cajoled into a willingness to entertain views outside the Washington, D.C. conventional wisdom that failure to send more troops immediately would lead to disaster.

Over the course of the past year, groups opposed to deepening U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan (such as Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project, the Get Afghanistan Right coalition and many other groups and individuals) worked relentlessly to keep a critical perspective on the war in Afghanistan in the public debate. These escalation opponents relentlessly hammered the proponents of a counterinsurgency (COIN) effort for their inconsistencies and self-contradictions, especially with regard to the COIN doctrine’s need for a legitimate host-nation partner. By the time the Afghan presidential elections exploded into a showcase of abject corruption and illegitimacy, these activists had laid the groundwork that helped the American people interpret the events of late August 2009 as a serious blow to the assumptions underlying the rationale for a deep military involvement. At the same time, President Obama refused to be rushed into a second troop increase in Afghanistan by an increasingly abrasive Pentagon whisper campaign, allowing the nation to take a collective breath and widen the debate about options. These factors, combined with cratering public support for the war effort, pushed policymakers and the media into a willingness to entertain views dissenting from those presented by General Stanley McChrystal. Enter Matthew Hoh.

Matthew’s letter is a four-page punch in the gut to the rhetoric of pro-counterinsurgency factions. It wrecks the idea that the U.S. will ever have a legitimate partner (referred to by the COIN field manual as a “north star”) in Afghanistan or that our strategy will lead to the destruction of al-Qaida. He ends the letter with regret that assurances can no longer be given that those who died in Afghanistan gave their lives in a mission worth the cost in “futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept.”

Hoh sees our presence driving the conflict in at least two ways. On one hand, our military support for the corrupt Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan assures the Kabul cartel that we will not allow them to be overrun by insurgents. Because of that perception, the GoIRA is not willing to work out a political settlement with their opponents to form a true national government. The support we have given thus far (which is very close to the maximum possible support we can give), however, is not enough to allow the GoIRA to crush the insurgency totally. Thus, within the constraints on U.S. and Afghan national power, the only possible solution to the conflict other than strategic failure is a political solution negotiated between GoIRA and it’s opponents–and that’s precisely what the GoIRA won’t seek as long as they can be assured of our continued military support.

[T]he only way to end this civil war is through political reconciliation, through some kind of political negotiation reaching to some kind of settlement. …The Afghan officials who are on our side have no interest in doing that. …They have no interest in giving up the position they have right now. And our presence there keeps them in power that way. I don’t really see them having any interest in taking Afghanistan into, you know, a modern age or a progressive country, all of the things we believed we were doing there for the past 8 years.

On the other hand, the U.S. presence fuels the ever-expanding insurgency, pulling people who resent our support for a corrupt, predatory government and who intensely resent outside interference in their lives into conflict with coalition troops.

In both the east and the south, where our troops were heavily engaged in combat…on a daily basis, those are areas populated by rural Pashtuns…The bulk of those people were fighting us just because we’re occupying them–not out of any ideology, not out of any real ties to the Taliban, not out of any hatred for the West. It was just because they did not want foreign troops, or, for that matter, the Afghan national army or Afghan national police, which do not represent them, in their valleys and villages.

…If you take the Korengal Valley, for example, which is well-known to the American people as “The Valley of Death,” …it’s 15-20 miles long, it only has about 10,000 residents, they speak Korengali…these are people who are not interested in things outside their valley. They prefer to be left alone. Of course, putting more troops in their valley is something they’re going to rebel against, especially troops from the central government, which does not represent them. …It’s really a question of these people wanting to determine their own existence and …govern themselves. For every Korengal we’re in, there’s a hundred that we’re not in, and if we were in [them], it would be the same issue of us having to fight them only because we’re occupying them.

On the topic of that corrupt, unrepresentative government, Hoh offered a couple of anecdotal examples of the corruption that permeates every level of government in Afghanistan:

I know a USAID official who got into a plane…with the governor of his province, and the governor had about $300,000 in a duffel bag with him. …The governor that I worked with had been removed from another province as the governor because he had been caught red-handed in a fairly extreme corruption case. Now this governor, Governor Sari, has been a friend of President Karzai for 35 years. So, after the U.S. embassy exposed this and complained about it, all Karzai did was move this governor…from one province to another province….To believe that the vast majority of Afghan officials that you’re working with have any allegiance to what we’re trying to do other than to enrich themselves or to make out in some manner is wrong.

I asked Hoh about the recent report on the quadrupling of the insurgency since 2006. According to at least one estimate, 10 percent of the estimated 25,000-man-strong insurgency were hardcore religious extremists, while the rest accepted training and funds from the “Taliban,” but lacked ties to their ideology or broader agenda beyond throwing out the invaders.

I completely agree. The number I’ve seen is that there are 25,000 “Taliban” (which I believe is an incorrect term to apply to the people who are fighting us because it makes a reference to the Taliban regime of pre-September 11, 2001, and I think that misleads people and causes confusion, particularly among the American public about who we are actually fighting there.). But if you go with that 25,000 number…only a few thousand of those are actual hardcore “Taliban” with a capital “T.” The majority of the rest of those groups are local fighters who are pretty independent of one another, just primarily concerned with their local areas, their valleys, their village, and who are tied to the Taliban with a capital “T” only through monetary or funding allegiances, and through a desire not to be occupied by a foreign power or by the other side in a civil war.

…But, if there are 25,000 troops now, Derrick…if we put more troops into the south, if we put 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 troops into the south, next year there will be 30,000, 35,000 or 40,000 enemies fighting us. As we move into more valleys and more villages…people are going to rebel against us.

So, the continued presence of massive numbers of U.S. troops removes the incentives for the GoIRA to negotiate a political settlement while providing the fuel for the growth of the insurgency. Hoh’s advice to policymakers? End combat operations and sharply reduce U.S. troop levels. Doing so would pull U.S. troops out of areas where locals fight us just because we are there and would compel the GoIRA to negotiate with their opponents. Otherwise the U.S. presence will continue to fuel an unsustainable dynamic whereby the GoIRA has a near-term upper hand but cannot decisively defeat their opponents while the opponents use our presence as a recruiting tool for the resistance movement.

You’re either characterized as all in our all out, and that’s wrong. I don’t think anyone is calling for us to completely wash our hands of Afghanistan and just walk away. When I call for withdrawal I call for stopping combat operations because it just doesn’t make any sense; all it does it just prolong the conflict. I call for some kind of political reconciliation to end the fighting there. So a withdrawal would have to be somewhat gradual while negotiations were going on.

But wait, one might ask: what about al-Qaida? Hoh’s policy prescription deals mainly with settling the civil war between the “Taliban” and the GoIRA. How does al-Qaida fit into this? Aren’t they the reason we’re in Afghanistan in the first place? Wouldn’t our withdraw allow them to reestablish “safe havens” and allow them to keep the ones they have in Pakistan?

I don’t believe al-Qaida needs or wants safe havens [like they had in 2001]. They just don’t operate that way. they recruit worldwide. They are really an ideological force that exists on the Internet. They influence individuals or their operations are carried out by these small, independent, autonomous cells that really don’t require much to operate other than a couple of rooms and a satellite phone or an internet connection. and if you look at the vast majority of attacks that have happened over the last decade regarding al-Qaida, they’ve been carried out by people not from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, but residents of North Africa, residents of the gulf states or citizens of Europe or citizens and residents of the United States who do their preparation and their training in countries where the attacks occur. So this idea of a safe haven and their requirement for it is not borne out by any evidence of the way al-Qaida has operated for at least the last decade. After 2001, they evolved. They don’t need a safe haven. It would be great for the United States if they did have safe havens because then we could bomb them. So we have to attack al-Qaida as the organization as it exists and not as we want it to exist.

The concern that our presence their encourages people to respond to their ideology is a valid one. We’re currently occupying two Muslim countries, and we have to understand that lends credence to al-Qaida’s argument that it is defending the Muslim world from Western invasion.

How many recruits do they [al-Qaida] get per year? A hundred? Two hundred? The Muslim population is over a billion. You’re talking about such a small fraction. It’s really associated with such a fringe movement that we have to attack using human intelligence and using law enforcement techniques. Army brigade combat teams do not affect al-Qaida. Having 60,00 troops in Afghanistan is not affecting al-Qaida. …[T]he destruction of al-Qaida should be our priority…but we need to go after that organization as it exists and not with ground combat troops in Afghanistan.

Matthew said he’s pleased with the state of debate following his resignation and return to the United States.

I can tell you that one of the things that pushed me to resign was this feeling that I had, and I think most people had, or a lot of people had, particularly guys I was serving with in Afghanistan, that an escalation of troops and an open-ended commitment to supporting the Karzai regime seemed almost like a done deal all throughout the summer…There was no discussion of any other type of strategy…it seemed almost like a guarantee…I got home in September and that’s when I first heard there were debates on this within the administration…I’m very pleased the way the debates have been going. I’m not sure what’s going that’s going to happen with [the troop ]increase–I’m sure we’re going to get one. The best thing though …is that we’re going to get some kind of withdrawal date, which is what we need.  If we can get a withdrawal date within a year or two I’ll be very happy, because that’s so much better, so infinitely better, than some type of open-ended commitment or some type of 4- or 5-year plan. My thoughts are hopefully we can get some type of commitment to withdraw and stop combat operations within the next year or two.

I guess that’s being a realist. I’d like to see it stop tomorrow.

Brave New Conversations
recently filmed a conversation between Hoh and Daniel Ellsberg. Here’s a clip:

You can find the full episode on the Brave New Conversations website.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

The Progressive Caucus just sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting to discuss “a comprehensive rethinking of our military mission, a complete redesign of our reconstruction and stabilization strategy and a courageous reconciliation strategy for Afghanistan.”

Signed by Congresswomen Lee and Woosley and Congressmen Grijalva, Honda and McGovern, the letter lists several concerns about the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, including:

  • the prospect of additional troop commitments without a clear mission and without criteria with which to evaluate success;
  • the failure of foreign aid to rebuild Afghan “institutions, infrastructure, and individual capacity”;
  • the lack of legitimacy of the Afghan government, demonstrated and worsened by the stolen election, corruption in aid distribution and “foreign intelligence and security alliances.”

The letter comes as the president prepares to announce his decision regarding the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. This is the latest of several high-profile attempts by current and former U.S. officials to push back against calls for another troop increase in Afghanistan:

There’s political space for the president to refuse to increase troops, and growing public support for bringing them home. If the president put his considerable public charisma behind a policy of de-escalation, he could relieve his presidency of a burden that threatens to sink it.


Posted: November 12, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

Two very hopeful stories (well, actually one story in two different forms) broke this evening that show that the non-escalation factions in the Obama Administration can play the leaking game, too.

First, we have this Washington Post piece that describes Ambassador Eikenberry’s strong warnings to the president about adding more troops in Afghanistan before Karzai cleans up his act (ha ha ha ho ho hee hee hee hum):

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai’s government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban’s rise, senior U.S. officials said.

…Eikenberry has expressed deep reservations about Karzai’s erratic behavior and corruption within his government, said U.S. officials familiar with the cables. Since Karzai was officially declared reelected last week, U.S. diplomats have seen little sign that the Afghan president plans to address the problems they have raised repeatedly with him.

U.S. officials were particularly irritated by a interview this week in which a defiant Karzai said that the West has little interest in Afghanistan and that its troops are there only for self-serving reasons.

…Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan, a country wrecked by three decades of war. …The ambassador also has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops would increase the Afghan government’s dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting.

BBC’s reports that Eikenberry said more troops was “not a good idea.”

Eikenberry’s no peacenik. He was a lieutenant-general in charge of training the Afghan army before Obama tapped him to be the U.S. ambassador. Technically a U.S. ambassador is the head honcho for the United States in a given country. If the ex-military ambassador says we should think twice about sending more troops into his country of responsibility, you better take it seriously.

Next, we have this hopeful AP article that asserts that the president is choosing, “none of the above,” as his option in the multiple choices presented to him by the Pentagon:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

I wonder if this strange feeling in my gut is this “hope” thing I keep hearing so much about.

When the people of an occupied country want foreign troops out while the people of the occupying country want their troops to come home, and the troops remain, something is wrong. Both the American people and the Afghan people want a troop decrease in Afghanistan. Yet this weekend, the President is reviewing a strategic assessment prepared by General Stanley McChrystal widely portrayed as a prelude to a request for an escalation. Should the president approve such a request, he’d be saying, in effect, that to protect democracy in America and to build it in Afghanistan, we must trample it.

Source: Afghan public opinion poll, ABC News/BBC/ARD 1/09; U.S. public opinion poll, CBS News, 8/09

Source: Afghan public opinion poll, ABC News/BBC/ARD 1/09; U.S. public opinion poll, CBS News, 8/09

On September 4,  I went on al-Jazeera English to debate the future of U.S. foreign policy versus Abe Greenwald. When I insisted that we don’t have indications that the Pashtuns are flipping their support to the Afghan national government, Abe asserted that polling shows that American forces and the Afghan national government get higher marks than the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Based on the most recent polling I can find on Afghanistan public opinion, he is roughly correct. His assertion is also irrelevant.

I am assuming that Greenwald refers to a 1/12/09 ABC News/BBC/ARD poll, versus the more-recent IRI polling (If he wasn’t, then he should have, as it asks more relevant questions about Afghan desires on U.S. troop levels.). According to that poll, the Taliban presence is supported by only 8 percent of those surveyed. The Afghan government gets 49 percent job approval. The United States gets a 47 percent favorable rating. So yes, according to this poll, attitudes among all Afghans toward the United States compare favorably with the Afghan government and the Taliban. Again, this warm feeling is irrelevant.

The problem for Abe’s argument is that the 47 percent approval rating for the U.S. is accompanied by a 52 percent disapproval rating among Afghans, That unfavorable rating has spiked 20 points since the end of 2007. The pace with which the unfavorable rating grows is accelerating. The number of Afghans who say attacks on the U.S. and allies can be justified doubled since 2006. Only 32 percent say the U.S. has performed well in Afghanistan. Only 37 percent say that the local population supports Western forces. And–here’s the most important question regarding the decision before President Obama–when asked about coalition troop levels, only 18 percent of Afghans wanted troop levels increased. Twenty-nine percent wanted the same number of troops, and 44 percent wanted troops decreased.

This situation is even more dire when you consider Anthony Cordesman’s (an escalation supporter, mind you) statement that “all insurgency is local.” In the Kandahar region, 84 percent of Afghans surveyed held an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. and 55 percent of those surveyed said attacks against U.S./NATO forces were justified. In Nangarhar, 90 percent held an unfavorable view, and 63 percent justified attacks against U.S./NATO troops. This is the Pashtun “sea” for the Taliban-led insurgency; the dismal 5-10 percent turnout for the August election in the Pashtun areas and the numbers above show that U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has totally failed.

Keep in mind, this poll was taken in January 2009. The intervening eight months have been a public-relations disaster for the United States. A May 4, 2009 airstrike killed as many as 86 civilians, an outrage compounded by NATO’s inability to admit the error for more than a month. This past week, on September 4, at least 40 civilians died when a U.S. pilot dropped ordinance on two fuel tankers surrounded by non-combatants. In the first six months of this year, coalition forces caused more civilian deaths than the same period last year (310 vs 276, respectively), and they did so during an escalation initiated over the objections of Afghan public opinion. That last point is worth emphasizing, especially considering that the presence of foreign forces fighting a war in Afghanistan is the prime driver of the resurgence of the Taliban. Needless to say, these factors likely did not arrest the precipitous loss of support for our policies in Afghanistan.

U.S. public opinion very closely mirrors that of the Afghan people. A CBS News poll taken 8/27-31/09 found that 25 percent of Americans favor a troop increase; 23 want to maintain troop levels; and 41 percent want to reduce troop levels. Opposition to troop increases and support for troop withdrawals are especially intense among the President’s base, as shown in this graphic from The Washington Post:

Source: ABC News/WAPO

Source: ABC News/WAPO

These results also come before the latest catastrophe for U.S. counterinsurgency policy: the catastrophically corrupted August elections.Again, we find ourselves looking at polling data taken before events that are likely to drive down support for an already-unpopular policy of ever-deepening military involvement.

How is it possible that when the populations of both countries and the Commander-in-Chief’s political base agree on a policy direction we find ourselves moving in the opposite direction?

A partial answer might be that the president has surrounded himself with advisers who counsel escalation when they ought to know better. These advisers know full well all of the information described above. They’ve also engaged in severe intellectual dishonesty to avoid reckoning with the failure of strategies they helped construct.

Foremost among these advisers is Bruce Riedel, who chaired the last policy review that resulted in the prior escalation. Riedel co-wrote a recent article in which he claimed that the results of an Afghan public opinion poll conducted July 16-26, 2009, prior to the Afghan elections, indicated “a fresh burst of hopefulness among Afghans.” On that basis, Riedel claimed we had one last “fresh start” in Afghanistan, tied by the pollsters and by Riedel to the success of the vote.

Just a few days before the election, Riedel wrote an articled titled “Obama’s Afghan Test,” in which he said that “Thursday’s election in Afghanistan is a critical early test of America’s new strategy in the war,” and that “[t]he ‘metrics’ to measure Obama’s war—which many are calling for—will be in Thursday’s votes.”

The election was a disaster, marked by pervasive vote fraud, intimidation and violence. Thousands of fraud accusations surfaced, hundreds serious enough to flip the election results. Officials in the Shobarak district assert that some 23,900 votes were stuffed on President Hamid Karzai’s behalf. Up to 70,000 fraudulent votes may have been cast in a cluster of polling stations east of Kabul. Officials responsible for ensuring vote integrity sold voter cards for cash. Political alliances made to swing large voting blocs will likely increase the power of Afghanistan’s narcotics-fueled warlords. According to The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable, the elections left Afghans “confused, jittery and bracing for street violence — or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.”

So much for the fresh start.

Despite this failure of the test Riedel set up for the Afghanistan strategy and the obliteration of the hypothetical opening offered by a legitimate election, he continues to assert the existence of a new start. Five days after the election, when reports already indicated massive election fraud, he told a panel audience, “[T]his really is the last chance.”  Riedel now says we need another 12-18 months before we can assess the President’s new strategy. He has not acknowledged the failure of a strategy he helped to craft nor explained how the supposed “fresh start” persists after the collapse of the legitimacy of the election.

Sitting next to Riedel on that Brookings panel was Anthony Cordesman, who in April of this year gave a dire presentation in which he noted all of the above warning signs in Afghan public opinion. Yet Cordesman is among the most fire-breathing supporters for another escalation. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Cordesman very helpfully hinted at the need for anywhere between 6,900 and 40,000 additional troops to bring the U.S. “victory” in Afghanistan, ignoring the massive Afghan public opposition on which he reported just a few month earlier and the potential for a further inflamed Pashtun population.

Cordesman also neglected to define “victory,” and that’s not surprising, given that the administration can’t get it’s story straight on what victory would look like. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry says we’re nation-building [h/t Steve Hynd], Secretary Gates says we’re not, and Ambassador Holbrooke just gives up and says he’ll know victory when he sees it. Lacking any clear endpoint, a possible range of recommended troop increases 33,100-wide, and thus lacking any solid measures against which to measure the costs and benefits, Cordesman’s “advice” recedes into chest-thumping nonsense, completely useless other than as an exhortation to President Obama to not be a wuss. And don’t forget–he’s only able to offer this drivel because he’s ignored the will/rage of the Afghan people on which he reported a few months earlier.

After more than 800 U.S. military casualties, tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths and $228 billion allocated so far, we have zero indications that Pashtuns in Afghanistan are any closer to giving their support to the Kabul government, the essential criteria for “victory” according to U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. If that’s not enough to convince the president to abandon this bloody adventure, then let’s hope that, as the chief instrument of the people’s control over the executive branch, President Obama can be swayed by a basic respect for the strong desires of his people and the people whose land we’re occupying. The American and Afghan peoples want fewer, not more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. If, in the face of this pairing, the president decides to escalate again, he will confirm what many of us already fear: that this awful war has taken on a terrible independence from the will of the people.

(Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the awful human costs of the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Four): Civilian Casualties, or by visiting