Afghanistan slayings cloud exit strategy

03/12/12 6:19 AM

Afghanistan slayings cloud exit strategy

A U.S. soldier’s shooting rampage that killed 16 people in southern Afghanistan on Sunday seems certain to amplify calls for accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but the greatest practical implication for President Barack Obama may be a decline in allies’ support for the mission.

The shooting spree follows an incident last month in which U.S. soldiers at Bagram Air Base near Kabul burned copies of the Quran as part of an effort to dispose of books that prisoners were suspected of using to communicate with one another. The Quran burning — which U.S. commanders called “unintentional” — triggered violent protests across Afghanistan, a lockdown of the U.S. embassy and attacks that led to the deaths of six U.S. soldiers.

Taken together, the episodes fuel perceptions that the decade-long fight in Afghanistan may be unwinnable and that no matter what strategy the U.S. pursues, the large presence of foreign troops in the country is triggering unforeseen, inevitable events that make stabilizing and empowering the Afghan government impossible.

The sense of chaos in Afghanistan could also spur nascent efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, which recently set up a negotiating office in Qatar. The Obama administration is seriously considering moving five Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo to a detention facility in Qatar, as a sign of goodwill aimed at encouraging the talks.

Some Republicans in Congress have resisted such a transfer, but growing calls to find a way to quickly bring home U.S. troops could tamp down that resistance.

Analysts said Sunday that the massacre and the Quran-burning incidents are significant setbacks to the current strategy but not enough reason to abandon it.

“We’re going to see this kind of debate, but it’s upsetting to me because it comes just as things were going on a pretty good vector in Afghanistan,” said William Martel of Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “A long term with us out of there and the Taliban potentially resurgent is a bad scene every way I look at it. I’m hoping people can keep their eye on the ball. … I understand we want to get out of there and I understand the Afghans want us to get out of there, but the extremists aren’t going anywhere.”

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution called the recent events “absolutely terrible” but that it’s not the moment to give up. “The fundamentals haven’t changed, and there is no better strategy somehow now available,” he said. “Admittedly, the chances of the current strategy working passably well have taken another hit, though I still rate them as better than 50/50.”

About 60 percent of Americans now see the war as not worth it and 54 percent favor a U.S. withdrawal even if the Afghan Army has not been adequately trained, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday.

However, that disenchantment with the war has not yet translated into serious political pressure on the White House. Most Democrats in Congress have been reluctant to clash publicly with a Democratic president, particularly given Obama’s plan for a major drawdown later this year and an exit by 2014.

Republican lawmakers have generally supported a more robust presence in Afghanistan. When they criticize Obama’s Afghanistan policy, it’s usually to complain that he is planning to withdraw troops too quickly.

But among rank-and-file GOP voters, support for the war is eroding. Republicans are now evenly split on the issue, with 47 percent saying the war was worth it and 47 percent saying it wasn’t, according to the new Washington Post/ABC poll.

“There is a growing voice in the Republican Party that it’s time to get out and go home,” GOP strategist Chip Saltsman said in a video segment posted on the Fox News website Sunday. “It’s not something that you see a lot of the national leaders talk about because it’s a new part of the Republican Party.”

Until recently, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was the only major Republican presidential candidate reaching out to GOP voters wanting to wind down the Afghan war. However, in recent days, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been sounding increasingly negative about the effort.

“I think it’s very likely that we have lost, tragically lost, the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not doable,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.” He also suggested that U.S. troops may be trapped in a dynamic in which their hard work and sacrifice is too easily undermined by centuries-long resentments.

“Our being in the middle of countries like Afghanistan is probably counterproductive,” Gingrich said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “We’re not prepared to be ruthless enough to force them to change, yet we’re clearly an alien presence.”

Romney was silent Sunday about the shooting spree. During a debate last June, he showed hints of impatience with the Afghan mission, but he quickly reiterated support for it after Republican Party hawks expressed concerns that he was wavering on the issue. He’s also criticized Obama for planning too hasty a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Lawmakers who favor a continuing, large U.S. military presence in Afghanistan said that they hope the spate of bad news will not cause the U.S. or its allies to lose faith.

”This is tragic and will be investigated, and that soldier will be held accountable for his actions under the military justice system. Unfortunately, these things happen in war,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC’s “This Week.” “You just have to push through these things.”

He insisted that victory remains within reach.

“The surge of forces has really put the Taliban on the defensive. The Afghan army is better trained and better equipped than ever. The goal is to withdraw our forces by 2014, put Afghans in the lead,” Graham said on ABC. “We can win this thing. We can get it right.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that “it is one of those things that you cannot explain except to extend your deepest sympathy to those victims and see that justice is done.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged that many are likely to link the Quran-burning incident and Sunday’s shootings.

“Very, very sad, especially following that incident dealing with the Qurans, just not a good situation,” Reid said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In what may be a preview of the administration’s talking points, Reid said the U.S. withdrawal is moving forward and pointed to the peace talks as a kind of exit strategy.

“We’re on the right track to get out of Afghanistan just as soon as we can,” Reid told CNN. “We’re moving pretty quickly right now. And I think some of the things that are going on we didn’t expect would happen this quickly. There’s peace talks starting in Qatar. The Taliban have set up offices there. There’s conversations going on. So, I think we’re going to find out that hopefully we can get out of there as scheduled and things will be stabilized when we do that.”

A senior defense official told POLITICO Sunday that while the shooting spree has generated local protests, that is not evidence that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is failing.

“There’s no sense that our Afghan partners are reconsidering the strategy to which we are both committed,” the official said, pointing to recent successes, such as a deal between the Afghan and U.S. governments over control of prisons.

Obama is hosting a NATO summit in Chicago in May that is supposed to showcase international agreement on seeing the 10-year-old Afghan mission through and keeping enough foreign troops in Afghanistan to allow successful handover of security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

However, there are already signs that the coalition may be fraying. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier this year that he plans to pull French troops from Afghanistan by next year. The NATO consensus has been maintained, in large part, by allowing many countries to state their ongoing support for the mission while providing little in the way of concrete assistance.

The Obama administration, too, has floated the possibility of an accelerated departure from Afghanistan. Last month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he’d like to see U.S. troops stepping back from a combat role in Afghanistan “by the mid to latter part of 2013.”

Administration officials downplayed Panetta’s comments but hinted that such a timetable might be on the agenda for the Chicago summit.


03/12/12 6:21 AM

While I generally support and admire Obama, the war in Afghanistan doesn't make any sense to me. I hope that the U.S. withdraws in the near future.


03/12/12 10:57 PM

I wish we would have called it a victory when OBL was killed. Of course it would have taken a long time to get everyone out and it would have been somewhat prone to political attacks at that time, but I think any excuse to leave is good.


03/13/12 12:52 AM

chrisdonohue posted:
I wish we would have called it a victory when OBL was killed. Of course it would have taken a long time to get everyone out and it would have been somewhat prone to political attacks at that time, but I think any excuse to leave is good.

The issue is the Taliban wasn't defeated. They just retreated south into Waziristan. When we leave, they'll move north and retake what they lost.

We could agree that nothing is going to prevent that now, but from a policy standpoint, I don't think Obama wants to be the guy who lost the war Bush "won", if you catch my meaning.


03/13/12 10:00 AM

I think we can effectively prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the current government with our air-power. It's time for the ground troops to come home.


03/13/12 2:37 PM

RhettButler posted:
While I generally support and admire Obama, the war in Afghanistan doesn't make any sense to me. I hope that the U.S. withdraws in the near future.

yeah killing civilians, burning books and pissing on corpses has spread enough democracy to last for long time


03/13/12 4:32 PM

Why should we care about fighting the Taliban? We came in to fight al Qaida and their power to launch attacks against us has been pretty much eliminated. We fight the Taliban because they fight us, and they fight us because we are in their home region. If we leave Afghanistan, the taliban isn't going to follow us home; and neither is al Qaeda because we kicked their asses and many of them actually thought 9/11 turned out to be a bad idea. So we leave and the Taliban take over--who gives a fuck? The afghan people will never really like us or trust us or any government we set up; so now that we shot OBL in his stupid fuckin head and threw his body into the ocean, we have nothing more to do in Afghanistan. I think it's all just politics. Or maybe people in government think we need to stay in the region for a while because things are always so unstable around there, I don't know.


03/13/12 5:49 PM


03/13/12 7:21 PM

gaaira posted:
RhettButler posted:
While I generally support and admire Obama, the war in Afghanistan doesn't make any sense to me. I hope that the U.S. withdraws in the near future.

yeah killing civilians, burning books and pissing on corpses has spread enough democracy to last for long time

It's hard to believe they're still not getting it tongue sticking out smiley. You would think they'd like democratization.

While I appreciate that the Taliban's rule, their horrific oppression of women, was intolerable, I cannot understand how the US believe the war is at all winnable. The invasion was illegal, and the atrocities and scandals, while not a reflection on all American soldiers and their conduct, only increases resentment and bitterness towards the western world, and in particular America. As far as i've read support for american presence has dropped. However i'm only basing my opinions on polls as far back as 2009, support may have increased or decreased further.

It can be argued that American presence is counter-productive. That the war is, as I said before, increasing resentment towards America and perpetuating the conflict. It is also counter-productive to the war on terror. Hard to have a war against a practice that you have openly engaged in yourself I suppose. It also tends to, as the quote says, increase terrorist recruitment and increase anti-western feeling.

''[/i]The continued occupation of a fiercely independent and tribal Afghanistan -- as well as the death of tens of thousands of civilians -- engenders anti-Americanism and fuels terrorist recruitment. Military operations have also pushed violent jihadists across the border and further destabilized a nuclear-armed Pakistan -- a far greater threat to our national security than any tenuous al-Qaeda "safe haven" in Afghanistan''[[i](Link below).

Washington post article, 2010

I apologise for being a cynical wanker. My criticisms are no bearing on my opinion of America and its people. There are many positives to America, and i'm always disappointed when I see anti-americanism spreading, as I can appreciate that the crimes of its administrations do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of all Americans.

Also concerning the polls i've read and the info i've cited, they are a little outdated. If anyone has a better understanding of the situation and finds mine faulty feel freee to correct me.

Apologies by the way, I went slightly off topic, I know the issue is about the exit strategy, but I felt I needed to explain my opinion concerning the war itself in relation to its actual purpose. I suppose I believe it's irrelevant when US troops leave Afgahnistan. I can see this being another Vietnam. Being forced to leave without achieving any of the intended goals, with the exception of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

BBC poll 2009


Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 03/13/2012 07:48PM by thedownwardslip.


03/21/12 10:35 AM

Maybe we should leave, our military is obviously incapable of bringing peace to the country of afganistan, obmama bin laden is dead, what's left?

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