Leaked Report: More Forces in Afpak War or ‘Mission Failure’

No matter how you slice this; this report does not look good at all.

Now before I quote this; let’s be really clear here. Bob Woodward is not known for telling the truth. Some of the tall tales told in his books, even made the harshest Bush critics wonder, if he was not making stuff up.

Anyhow, Quoting the Washington Post:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

McChrystal concludes the document’s five-page Commander’s Summary on a note of muted optimism: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.

However, there are some problems in that region and they are:

The assessment offers an unsparing critique of the failings of the Afghan government, contending that official corruption is as much of a threat as the insurgency to the mission of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, as the U.S.-led NATO coalition is widely known.

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government,” McChrystal says.

The result has been a “crisis of confidence among Afghans,” he writes. “Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”

McChrystal is equally critical of the command he has led since June 15. The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. “Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”

McChrystal continues: “Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.”

Coalition intelligence-gathering has focused on how to attack insurgents, hindering “ISAF’s comprehension of the critical aspects of Afghan society.”

In a four-page annex on detainee operations, McChrystal warns that the Afghan prison system has become “a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations” against the government and coalition forces. He cites as examples an apparent prison connection to the 2008 bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul and other attacks. “Unchecked, Taliban/Al Qaeda leaders patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military.”

The assessment says that Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents “represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in the increasingly overcrowded Afghan Corrections System,” in which “[h]ardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them.”


McChrystal identifies three main insurgent groups “in order of their threat to the mission” and provides significant details about their command structures and objectives.

The first is the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) headed by Mullah Omar, who fled Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and operates from the Pakistani city of Quetta.

“At the operational level, the Quetta Shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the coming year,” according to the assessment.

Mullah Omar’s insurgency has established an elaborate alternative government known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, McChrystal writes, which is capitalizing on the Afghan government’s weaknesses. “They appoint shadow governors for most provinces, review their performance, and replace them periodically. They established a body to receive complaints against their own ‘officials’ and to act on them. They install ‘shari’a’ [Islamic law] courts to deliver swift and enforced justice in contested and controlled areas. They levy taxes and conscript fighters and laborers. They claim to provide security against a corrupt government, ISAF forces, criminality, and local power brokers. They also claim to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment.”

“The QST has been working to control Kandahar and its approaches for several years and there are indications that their influence over the city and neighboring districts is significant and growing,” McChrystal writes.

The second main insurgency group is the Haqqani network (HQN), which is active in southeastern Afghanistan and draws money and manpower “principally from Pakistan, Gulf Arab networks, and from its close association with al Qaeda and other Pakistan-based insurgent groups.” At another point in the assessment, McChrystal says, “Al Qaeda’s links with HQN have grown, suggesting that expanded HQN control could create a favorable environment” for associated extremist movements “to re-establish safe-havens in Afghanistan.”

The third is the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin insurgency, which maintains bases in three Afghan provinces “as well as Pakistan,” the assessment says. This network, led by the former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, “aims to negotiate a major role in a future Taliban government. He does not currently have geographical objectives as is the case with the other groups,” though he “seeks control of mineral wealth and smuggling routes in the east.”

Overall, McChrystal provides this conclusion about the enemy: “The insurgents control or contest a significant portion of the country, although it is difficult to assess precisely how much due to a lack of ISAF presence. . . . “

The insurgents make money from the production and sale of opium and other narcotics, but the assessment says that “eliminating insurgent access to narco-profits — even if possible, and while disruptive — would not destroy their ability to operate so long as other funding sources remained intact.”

While the insurgency is predominantly Afghan, McChrystal writes that it “is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI,” which is its intelligence service. Al-Qaeda and other extremist movements “based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support.”

McCrystal’s Plan is:

The general says his command is “not adequately executing the basics” of counterinsurgency by putting the Afghan people first. “ISAF personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army,” he writes. “Key personnel in ISAF must receive training in local languages.”

He also says that coalition forces will change their operational culture, in part by spending “as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases.” Strengthening Afghans’ sense of security will require troops to take greater risks, but the coalition “cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people.”

McChrystal warns that in the short run, it “is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase.”

He proposes speeding the growth of Afghan security forces. The existing goal is to expand the army from 92,000 to 134,000 by December 2011. McChrystal seeks to move that deadline to October 2010.

Overall, McChrystal wants the Afghan army to grow to 240,000 and the police to 160,000 for a total security force of 400,000, but he does not specify when those numbers could be reached.

He also calls for “radically more integrated and partnered” work with Afghan units.

McChrystal says the military must play an active role in reconciliation, winning over less committed insurgent fighters. The coalition “requires a credible program to offer eligible insurgents reasonable incentives to stop fighting and return to normalcy, possibly including the provision of employment and protection,” he writes.

Coalition forces will have to learn that “there are now three outcomes instead of two” for enemy fighters: not only capture or death, but also “reintegration.”

Again and again, McChrystal makes the case that his command must be bolstered if failure is to be averted. “ISAF requires more forces,” he states, citing “previously validated, yet un-sourced, requirements” — an apparent reference to a request for 10,000 more troops originally made by McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan.

The most sobering part is this:

Toward the end of his report, McChrystal revisits his central theme: “Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.”

There is doubt about it; this war is not going to be a cakewalk, just like Iraq was not. The question on everyone’s mind is this, will President Obama have the political nerve to keep fighting this war?  To defeat all of these groups and the ultimate goal —– Al Qeada.

Peter Feaver over at Foreign Policy’s Blog Shadow Government offers the following assessment:

1. It is not good to have a document like this leaked into the public debate before the President has made his decision. Whether you favor ramping up or ramping down or ramping laterally, as a process matter, the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters without it appearing concurrently on the front pages of the Post. I assume the Obama team is very angry about this, and I think they have every right to be.

2. A case could be made that the Obama team tempted fate by authorizing Bob Woodward to travel with General Jones (cf. “whisky, tango, foxtrot”) in the first place and then sitting on this report for nearly a month without a White House response. You cannot swing a dead cat in Washington without meeting someone who was briefed on at least part of the McChrystal assessment, and virtually every one of those folks is mystified as to why the White House has not responded as of yet. The White House will have to respond now, but I stand by my first point: leaks like this make it harder to for the Commander-in-Chief to do deliberate national security planning.

3. Without knowing the provenance of the leak, it is impossible to state with confidence what the motives were. For my part, I would guess that this leak is an indication that some on the Obama team are dismayed at the White House’s slow response and fear that this is an indication that President Obama is leaning towards rejecting the inevitable requests for additional U.S. forces that this report tees up. By this logic, the leak is designed to force his hand and perhaps even to tie his hands.

4. The leak makes it harder for President Obama to reject a McChrystal request for additional troops because the assessment so clearly argues for them. The formal request is in a separate document, apparently, but it is foreshadowed on every page of the Initial Assessment. Presumably, the McChrystal assessment and request is shared by Petraeus and, I am told, also by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That does not make it irrefutably correct, but it does make this issue now the defining moment in civil-military relations under President Obama’s watch. Obama has the authority and the responsibility to make a decision that runs counter to what his military leaders are requesting, but it is a very difficult thing for him to do.

5. The toughest part in the report from the point of view of the Obama White House is the twin claim that (i) under-resourcing the war could cause the war to be lost, and (ii) the resources need to show up in the next year. The former puts the responsibility for success/failure squarely on the desk of the President and the latter, because of the long lead times needed to send additional resources into the theater, says that failure could result from choices made or not made in the next few weeks. And it said that a few weeks ago.

6. Paradoxically, however, the report does not make it impossible for President Obama to reject the likely military request for additional forces. Because the report is so candid about all of the challenges we face in Afghanistan, many of the arguments against additional forces are substantiated somewhere in the report: the myriad failures of the Afghan government, the self-defeating restrictions imposed on NATO forces, etc. The only anti-surge argument that I have not seen substantiated (though I read this quickly, so I may have missed something) is the extraordinarily seductive one that suggests we can afford to simply walk away from Afghanistan and conduct “off-shore-counter-terrorism-operations” indefinitely.

7. This document will remind anyone who worked on the issue of the internal debate over the surge strategy in Iraq circa Fall 2006. While the Bush administration Iraq Strategy Review did not produce a 66-page report that leaked, we covered much this same terrain and wrestled with many of the same thorny trade-offs and uncertain bets. The report is basically calling for an Iraq-type surge gambit, asking President Obama to do more or less what President Bush did in 2007: (i) change the strategy, (ii) adequately resource the new strategy, and (iii) overcome the strong domestic political opposition to doing (i) and (ii). If successful, the McChrystal assessment claims that this will buy time to allow for a safer eventual shift back to a train and transition strategy. It will not win the war in the short-run, but it will shift the trajectory of the war and allow for the possibility that our side can prevail in the long run. This is eerily similar to how the pro-surge group within the Bush team thought of the Iraq surge.

The question that one must ask. Is this all really worth it? The normal reflexive answer would be yes. Because we must acknowledge that those people that died in those Trade Centers, The Pentagon, and in PA; died because our Government’s attitude towards Terrorism and National Security had become lax. —– In other words, we were caught with our proverbial pants down.

My question to the President is this; are you sir, going to allow a group of far left wing, socialists dictate your foreign policy? Are you going to allow the Nation to drift back into a September 10’th mentality?  I mean, because the FBI has already nabbed a group of people in New York; that had intentions to make another strike. Because I can tell you right now, Mr. President; If you abandon this fight, they will strike again, and next time, it will not be with planes. It will be much worse. That is not Neo-Conservative hype; that is, my friends, reality of the situation at hand.

What needs to happen is this; President Obama needs to wrap up in Iraq; as soon as possible. Once this is complete, President Obama needs to refocus his strategy on this war.  It is not going to be easy. Some say this could be President Obama’s Vietnam. Which I happen to think is a line of balderdash. Vietnam failed; for one, because the media outright LIED about our progress in the Tet offensive and because President Johnson did not have the gonads to stand up to the left wing of the Democratic Party and inform them, that they did not run the White House and that he did!  Instead he folded and said he would not run for reelection. This gave way to embarrassing defeat of the South in Vietnam and caused us to have to leave in shame.

President Obama must stand up and lead. He must shrug off the left wing of his Party and fight this war, until these issues are resolved. Yes, there will be casualties; this happens in war, get used to it people. We must stand and fight; other wise, the 2,996 people who perished, will have perished in vain.

Others from all sides of the political area: ABCNEWS, The Cable, Marc Lynch, The Atlantic Politics Channel, Swampland, New York Times, Salon, Guardian, msnbc.com, The Washington Independent, The Daily Dish, FiveThirtyEight, Counterterrorism Blog, David Rothkopf, Hullabaloo, Registan.net, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Mudville Gazette, The New Republic, Newshoggers.com, MoJo Sections, Foreign Policy, BBC, The Washington Note, At-Largely, Achenblog, Daily Kos, Classical Values, Think Progress, The Atlanticist, The Foundry, Danger Room, Weekly Standard, LiveWire, Wonk Room, democracyarsenal.org, Below The Beltway, SWJ Blog, PoliBlog, The Anchoress, The BLT, Hot Air, Flopping Aces, MoJo Blog Posts, Center For Defense Studies, Christian Science Monitor, The Faster Times, EU Referendum, The Opinionator, Crooks and Liars, Outside The Beltway, BLACKFIVE, QandO, Political Punch, Commentary, Shakesville, Truthdig, Firedoglake, Washington Monthly, Don Surber and Taylor Marsh and more via Memeorandum

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