History > 2009 > USA > War > Afghanistan (VI)
Our Timeline, and the Taliban’s
Doubts About Certitude
December 16, 2009
The New York Times
By MAUREEN DOWD
It is the greatest example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
In a bit of unpoetic justice, Bob Gates helped create the mess in Afghanistan
decades ago and now has to try to clean it up.
At the C.I.A. in the ’80s, Gates conspired with Charlie Wilson and the Saudis to
help the insurgents in Afghanistan turn back the occupation of a superpower. Now
he’s guiding the attempt of the occupying superpower to turn back the
insurgents, some of whom are the same ones he armed to defeat the Soviet Union.
Trying to do a good thing that also seemed like a strategically brilliant thing
— help the Afghan Davids repel the raw aggression of the Soviet Goliaths — we
created the monsters that have come back to haunt us, and we learned how little
control we have over history.
We trained a whole generation of jihadists and armed them. We paved the way for
the Taliban takeover and the rise of Osama bin Laden. We created the Islamist
power in the northwest frontier of Pakistan, swelled by millions of Afghan
refugees. We enabled the conditions for bin Laden’s safe haven. We contributed
to the instability of Pakistan.
On a rainy day in Kabul last week, I watched Gates climb into the cockpit of a
Soviet-era helicopter that Americans use to teach Afghans how to fly. The
defense secretary was in one of the same style Mi-17s that he once provided
Stinger missiles to shoot down. The absurdity was not lost on Gates, an avid
history reader who feels our foreign policy has too often been “an exercise in
Gates promised that America would not repeat its disappearing act of 1989.
Flying from Kabul to Iraq, I asked him if, like Paul Wolfowitz with the Iraqi
Shiites, he was driven to war because of guilt at abandoning people we had
promised to stand by.
“I don’t feel guilt about it, but we made a strategic mistake,” he said. “And it
wasn’t just the Afghans. At almost the same time, we basically cut off our
relationship with the Pakistanis. And the mistrust that exists today is a
reflection of that action on our part.”
I asked what he learned in the exhaustive White House review. He said Gen.
Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, convinced him
that “it was less the size of the force footprint than what the forces did on
the ground.” The Soviets, he added, “invaded a country.” Well, so did we. But
the Soviets, he said, killed a million Afghans and tried to impose “an alien
But Gates knows messy conflicts get messier. When we were in Kabul, a senior
NATO commander conceded that civilians may have been killed during a joint
military operation with Afghan forces.
There is a brief window of opportunity when a benign occupying power can
accomplish some good before it is regarded with resentment and resistance.
I showed Gates an article in the newspaper Stars and Stripes reporting that U.S.
trainers considered Afghan soldiers and police a long way from ready, and that
some Afghans in a new unit in Baghlan Province cower in ditches, steal U.S. fuel
and weapons and are suspected of collaborating with the Taliban.
Capt. Jason Douthwaite, a logistics officer in Baghlan, told the military paper
that he felt more like an investigating officer than a mentor: “It’s not, ‘Let
me teach you your job.’ It’s more like, ‘How much did you steal from the
American government today?’ ”
Given the warping effect of ego in Washington, I asked the defense secretary how
he ensures that he doesn’t turn into Robert McNamara?
“I’ve never believed that I was the smartest guy in the room,” he said. “I want
people around me to tell me if they think I’m headed in the wrong direction. And
I read a lot.”
Gates laughs at being called an Eeyore, but he believes “too often there is a
desire for certitude where it’s not possible.” Harking back to Cold Warriors who
thought there could be a limited nuclear war, he demurred, “once things start,
how you get control of it or keep control of it struck me as just inherently a
W. said invading Iraq could help break the cycle of supporting corrupt
dictators. But watching the Karzais acting like a mob family going to the
mattresses, how do we know we’re not simply creating and propping up another
“You have to be realistic about the fact that developments of the kind we want
to see take time,” Gates replied. “If we can re-empower the traditional local
centers of authority, the tribal shuras and elders and things like that and put
an overlay of human rights on that, isn’t that a step in the right direction?
“I’m leery of trying to change history in dramatic, short strokes. I think it’s
Doubts About Certitude,
House Passes Defense Bill,
Rushes Toward Recess
December 16, 2009
Filed at 2:02 p.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House has passed a $636 billion Pentagon spending bill
that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and provides a 3.4 percent pay hike
for military personnel.
Approving the defense bill was one of several major must-do tasks the House must
address before its planned adjournment for the year at the end of the day.
To accomplish that, Democratic leaders attached to the defense bill numerous
temporary extensions of programs about to expire at the end of the year. Those
included two-month extensions for federal highway programs and unemployment
The defense bill includes $128 billion for the war efforts in Iraq and
Afghanistan, but does not have money for the troop surge in Afghanistan recently
ordered by President Barack Obama.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's
earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House launched a frenetic day of legislating Wednesday,
seeking to wrap up such end-of-session tasks as financing the military, helping
the jobless and permitting the government to run up more debt.
Lawmakers, with one eye on the door, plan to conclude the day with a vote on a
$174 billion jobs bill combining help for state and local governments with
spending on infrastructure and extended benefits for the jobless. Half of that
comes from diverting money from the Wall Street bailout fund.
''We've already put more than enough into shoring up Wall Street. Now we need to
focus on creating jobs for the Americans that will rebuild our economy from the
bottom up,'' said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
While House members look to vacations and trips to Copenhagen for the climate
summit, the Senate is likely to work into Christmas week as Democrats make their
final push to pass a health care overhaul bill.
The Senate won't take up the jobs bill until next year and much of Wednesday's
House action would simply postpone until early next year a host of difficult
issues, such as long-term financing of highway and other infrastructure projects
and dealing with controversies surrounding the anti-terror USA Patriot Act.
An exception is the $636 billion Pentagon budget bill, which has been held back
to serve as a locomotive to tug a bunch of unrelated provisions into law as
Congress rushes to finish its work in the dwindling days of this year.
The defense bill includes $128 billion to finance the war efforts in Iraq and
Afghanistan, but does not pay for the increase in troop strength in Afghanistan
recently ordered by President Barack Obama.
Other measures to be included in the defense bill include two-month extensions
of federal jobless benefits approved as part of the economic stimulus package in
February, health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and several provisions
of the Patriot Act that are set to expire.
The spate of two-month extensions is required because the House and Senate have
simply run out of time to iron out Congress' typical flood of year-end business,
as the notoriously balky Senate is tied up with the health care overhaul bill.
''In a world of alternatives, that's the one we have,'' said House Majority
Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledging that the need to revisit so many
controversial items early next year will be a huge headache for Democrats, who
Particularly troublesome is must-pass legislation to make sure the government
doesn't default on its obligations when it hits its $12.1 trillion limit on
borrowing in the coming days. The bill would boost the ceiling by $290 billion,
giving the Treasury another six weeks of borrowing power before Congress will
have to act again.
Plans for a far bigger increase in the federal debt limit that would have
ensured lawmakers didn't have to vote on it before next year's midterm elections
Democratic leaders had proposed a huge increase of about $1.8 trillion, but ran
into trouble from fiscal conservatives in their own party, particularly Senate
moderates who wanted to tie the ceiling increase to creation of a task force on
Hoyer also said the House will approve a stopgap measure to ensure that the
Pentagon isn't deprived of money because of congressional delays in approving
the defense bill.
House action on all those bills would conclude its major tasks for the year. It
still would have to wait for the Senate, where debate could spill over into
Christmas week, depending on Senate action on the health care bill.
A host of tax issues would be ignored entirely, including action to prevent the
estate tax from expiring Jan. 1. The tax is set to disappear in 2010 but return
in 2011 at a rate of 55 percent for estates over $1 million. Also off the agenda
is the extension of about 30 business-related tax breaks that will end Dec. 31.
It's expected that Congress will have to act retroactively to address these tax
issues next year.
Action on the defense bill would close out congressional action on 12 spending
bills to fund agency operating budgets for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
On the Net:
House Passes Defense
Bill, Rushes Toward Recess, NYT, 16.12.2009,
Legislator Sees Echoes of Vietnam
in Afghan War
December 13, 2009
The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — David R. Obey has served in Congress since Barack Obama was in
grade school. He does not waste time with pleasantries, and he does not mince
words. So when President Obama called Representative Obey recently to talk about
Afghanistan, the congressman raised a topic sure to make the young commander in
chief uncomfortable: Vietnam.
“I came here in ’69, and I determined that I would give Nixon a year to see what
he could do, because he had inherited the war, so I bit my tongue for a year,”
Mr. Obey said, recounting how he reminded the current president of the mistakes
of that earlier war. “I said the same thing with Obama.”
In fact, Mr. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, did not wait quite a year — Mr. Obama
has been in office just 11 months. And his is not an isolated complaint. As the
third-most senior member of the House, Mr. Obey gives voice to what Speaker
Nancy Pelosi calls the “serious unrest” in her caucus over Mr. Obama’s troop
buildup plan for Afghanistan. And as chairman of the House Appropriations
Committee, which controls how tax money is spent, he is in a position to
constrain the president through the power of the purse.
With the president estimating that the buildup will cost $30 billion, Mr. Obey
is proposing a “war surtax.” The idea is unlikely to pass, but it is already
reminding the nation of the high cost of an increasingly unpopular war. At the
White House, officials are bracing for the president’s first real battle with
“We have some work to do,” conceded Rob Nabors, a former top aide to Mr. Obey
who is now the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and
Budget. “Other people talk about forcing the administration to jump through
hoops. Mr. Obey is not going to force us to jump through hoops, but he is going
to force us to confront some of the most uncomfortable questions having to do
with Afghanistan, and he’ll force us to do it in a very public setting.”
The debate could get its first real airing on Capitol Hill this week, when
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
appear before members of the appropriations panel to testify on the new
Afghanistan strategy and its cost. The hearing will be led by Representative
John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who, like Mr. Obey, supports a war tax.
“Obama is going to have to do a real sales job,” said Steve Elmendorf, a
Democratic lobbyist who spent years as a senior aide on Capitol Hill. “You have
people who are uncomfortable with the policy, and people who are uncomfortable
with how to pay for it. And Obey, as chairman of the committee that holds the
purse strings, is uncomfortable with both.”
At 71, Mr. Obey (pronounced OH-bee), who represents the rural northwest corner
of Wisconsin, is something of a character on Capitol Hill. With a beard and
bifocals, he has the slightly rumpled look of the college professor he once
aspired to be. (He was pursuing a graduate degree in Russian studies when he
left academia for politics.) When he is animated, as is often the case, he tends
to squint and lace his conversation with mild profanity, as in, “I am damn tired
of a situation in which only military families are asked to pay any price
whatsoever for this war.”
Even his friends call him prickly, and he is prone to scuffles with colleagues.
Once, Mr. Obey so irritated Tom DeLay, the former House Republican leader, that
Mr. DeLay shoved him. “Pushing me,” Mr. Obey said wryly, “is not the worst thing
Tom DeLay ever did for this institution.”
He relaxes by playing the harmonica (he is in a band called the Capitol
Offenses); his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at a friend’s funeral “had everybody
in tears,” said Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin. His aides are fiercely loyal.
“People around him put up with his peculiarities,” said Scott Lilly, who spent
nearly 30 years with Mr. Obey, “because they really do like him.”
In Congress, Mr. Obey has spent decades championing federal spending on health,
education and social programs, an agenda rooted in his Catholic faith, which, he
has said, demands that he try to “make this an equal society for everybody.” A
campaign poster of Franklin Roosevelt — “my hero,” he says — looks over his
shoulder in his sun-streaked Capitol office, where a window offers testimony to
his power: a view of the Washington monument.
“The main thing for Obey is his longstanding commitment to the domestic policies
that he cares about, especially when the competition for the money is a war he
disagrees with,” said David Canon, a professor of political science at the
University of Wisconsin.
So at a time when Congress “has been lectured ad nauseam” about paying for a
health care overhaul without raising the deficit, Mr. Obey says the same
standard must be applied to the war. He knows he will have difficulty getting
his surtax passed; Ms. Pelosi opposes it. But he will have little trouble
getting Democrats to scrutinize the president’s war budget request.
“His questions are very similar to those within our caucus: Do we have credible
partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan? What is the mission? What’s the risk?”
said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat and member of the House
leadership. She sees the surtax as Mr. Obey’s way of forcing the nation to think
about “shared sacrifice,” adding, “He’s a smart, savvy legislator.”
But Mr. Obey is also a loyal Democrat, which puts him in a ticklish position.
Before he proposed the surtax, he called Mr. Nabors to give the president a
heads-up. That resulted in the president’s call. Mr. Obey used the conversation
to ask the president if he had seen a documentary by the public television
journalist Bill Moyers featuring archival audiotapes of President Lyndon B.
Johnson wrestling with escalating the Vietnam War.
“It is stunning,” he remembers telling Mr. Obama, “to listen to Johnson talk to
Dick Russell, the conservative old wise head in the Senate from Georgia — it is
terrible, gut-wrenching to listen to them both say, ‘Well, we know this is damn
near a fool’s errand, but we don’t have any choice.’ ”
If Mr. Obama objected, he did not say. But in a speech at West Point outlining
his Afghanistan strategy, he pointedly rejected the Vietnam analogy, saying it
“depends on a false reading of history.”
Mr. Obey came away from the speech unconvinced that Mr. Obama’s strategy could
succeed — not because he doubts the president, he said, but because he has
little faith in the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After 40 years in
Congress, a career that has spanned eight presidents, he is not about to quit
asking questions now.
“I didn’t come here to be Richard Nixon’s congressman, Reagan’s congressman,
Obama’s congressman,” Mr. Obey said. “I’m here representing the Seventh District
Legislator Sees Echoes
of Vietnam in Afghan War, NYT, 13.12.2009,
Defense Secretary’s Trip
in Two Theaters
December 13, 2009
The New York Times
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
ERBIL, Iraq — It is an axiom of war that no battle plan ever survives the
first encounter with the enemy, but the travel plans of the defense secretary
last week barely survived encounters with his own troops and allies.
No one in the entourage of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was calling the
trip a metaphor for the mire ahead in Afghanistan, but no one was calling it a
previctory lap either. As Mr. Gates told troops in Iraq, previewing the infusion
of 30,000 new American troops to Afghanistan: “I think it will look a lot like
the surge here in the first six or eight months of 2007. The first six to eight
months were pretty tough here.”
The trip’s snags played out through the week and across both theaters of war.
Mr. Gates found himself grounded by weather in Kabul, stood up by the prime
minister in Baghdad and startled by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who
blurted out at a palace news conference that the Afghans would not be able to
pay for their own security forces until 2024.
The timing of Mr. Karzai’s pronouncement was not ideal: this coming week Mr.
Gates has been summoned to explain to Congress the expected $30 billion a year
it will cost for the escalation of the Afghan war.
Mr. Gates, who maintained his usual laconic reserve as the disarray unfolded,
was by Friday more openly reflective when he acknowledged to American troops in
Kirkuk, the oil-rich region north of Baghdad, how hard a sell the wars were at
home. “One of the myths in the international community is that the United States
likes war,” he said. “And the reality is, other than the first two or three
years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in America.”
The first leg of his trip was to Afghanistan, but a cold fog that enveloped
Kabul on Wednesday delayed Mr. Gates from flights to see Afghan troops outside
the city and to talk to American soldiers at a besieged base in the Taliban
heartland of Kandahar. To pass the time, his staff arranged a tour of the new
NATO command center at the Kabul airport, which gave a sense of the growing
scale of the conflict: in a darkened former gymnasium dominated by enormous
video screens, more than 150 people at computer terminals took in battlefield
reports from around Afghanistan and monitored the war around the clock.
Then Mr. Gates got the word: there was enough visibility to fly. He headed out
to a waiting fleet of helicopters, got within steps of a Black Hawk and was told
to wait once again. Time passed, the sky grew murkier, but word rumbled among
his entourage on the tarmac that it would soon be a go. Mr. Gates wandered over
to a group of reporters. “I hope they know what they’re doing,” he said.
Moments later, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the NATO and American second in
command in Afghanistan, made a slashing motion across his throat: the defense
secretary was grounded. Another time-filler was improvised: Mr. Gates popped in
to talk to employees at the fortress-like American Embassy, but he did not stop
in at the bar, a trailer on the embassy grounds called The Duck and Cover.
In Baghdad on Thursday the skies were clear, but Mr. Gates landed in the middle
of a raging political crisis for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who was
defending his record on security before an Iraqi Parliament incensed by five
devastating bombing attacks earlier in the week. Held up before the lawmakers
for six hours, Mr. Maliki canceled a meeting with Mr. Gates, who returned to
Camp Victory, the sprawling United States military headquarters in Baghdad,
where he dined with top commanders and then smoked cigars with them on the patio
of one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces overlooking a mucky artificial lake.
Mr. Gates did meet with Mr. Maliki early on Friday, the same day he finally
managed to talk to some troops. That was in Kirkuk, where in a town hall-style
session he was asked unusually pointed questions. Why, one wanted to know, is
the United States still at war after eight years?
“I think it’s a mistake to look at Afghanistan as sort of one eight-year war,”
Mr. Gates responded in the same even tone he had used all week. “We had a war in
2001, 2002, which we essentially won. And the Taliban was kicked out of
Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was kicked out of Afghanistan, many of them killed. And
then things were very quiet in Afghanistan.”
Without blaming President George W. Bush’s administration, which he once served,
for sidelining the conflict in favor of Iraq, Mr. Gates said the second war in
Afghanistan started in late 2005 and early 2006. “But the United States really
has gotten its head into this conflict in Afghanistan, as far as I’m concerned,
really only in the last year,” he said.
Late Friday, Mr. Gates returned to Washington after what his staff acknowledged
was a very hard week. But it was nothing, they said, compared with the marathon
in Afghanistan that lies ahead.
Defense Secretary’s Trip
Encounters Snags in Two Theaters, NYT, 13.12.2009,
Obama’s Condolence Problem
December 12, 2009
The New York Times
By PAUL STEINBERG
THE recent revelation that the families of service members who are suicides do
not receive presidential condolence letters created a stir, evoking questions of
fairness and raising concerns about a lack of compassion from our leaders.
Yet the issue is far more complicated than that. Indeed, there is nothing wrong
with stigmatizing suicide while doing everything possible to de-stigmatize the
help soldiers need in dealing with post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts.
The key question is to what extent any action we take after a suicide
inadvertently glorifies it. Early Christians realized that they were losing too
many believers to the attractions of martyrdom. A halt to this epidemic of
provoking martyrdom by suicide was brought about in the fourth century when St.
Augustine codified the church’s disapproval of suicide and condemned the taking
of one’s own life as a grievous sin.
Canonical law ultimately pushed civil law in too harsh a direction. Only in 1961
did England repeal its law making suicide a crime. As late as 1974 in the United
States, suicide was still considered a crime in eight states.
Has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction? Now that first-rate
treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress have evolved and are readily
available, and people with emotional problems do not have to suffer quietly, are
we taking away the shame of suicide?
For more than 30 years, we in the mental-health field have been aware of the
prevalence of copycat suicides. Whenever the news of a well-known figure killing
himself hits the front pages, a significant bump in suicides, reflecting copycat
deaths, invariably follows in the next few days. Strikingly, there is no
corresponding decline in suicides in the weeks after this bump — forcing us to
conclude that the victims are people who would not have otherwise killed
The hard truth is that any possible glorification of suicide — even reports of
suicide — make the taking of one’s life a more viable option. If suicide appears
to be a more reasonable way of handling life’s stresses than seeking help, then
suicide rates increase.
Certainly, a presidential condolence letter after one’s death is not exactly the
same encouragement for suicide as the purported Muslim promise of a gift of 72
virgins after death. But the increasing number of suicides in the military
suggests that we need to find the right balance between concern for the spouses,
children and parents left behind, and any efforts to prevent subsequent suicides
in the military.
As a psychiatrist formerly working on college campuses, I, along with my
colleagues, was concerned with how we handled the funerals and aftermaths of
even accidental deaths of students. Compassion for those left behind arose
naturally; at the same time, we did not want to glorify the death to a point
that lonely, distressed students might consider death better than life.
A difficult balancing act, to be sure. For people under 30, suicide is highly
correlated with impulsivity and suggestibility. Thus college campuses and
military installations, with their young populations, must be particularly aware
of the possibility of copycat suicides and the dangers of a veneration of death.
President Obama, as commander in chief, has to balance the wishes of families
with the demands of public health. In light of the condolence-letter
controversy, the administration is appropriately reviewing the policy that has
been in place for at least 17 years — and may indeed want to consider leaving it
as it is. But as a country, let’s focus our energies on doing everything we can
to diminish inadvertent incentives that might increase self-inflicted deaths.
Paul Steinberg, a former director of the counseling and psychiatric service
at Georgetown University, is a psychiatrist.
Problem, NYT, 12.12.2009,
2 Top Aides Show Unity to Congress
on Afghan Strategy
December 9, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The two ranking Americans in Afghanistan, a soldier and a
diplomat, publicly put aside their differences and told Congress on Tuesday that
they fully supported President Obama’s new strategy to add 30,000 troops there
to reverse Taliban gains and prepare Afghans to better control their own
The officials, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in the
country, and Karl W. Eikenberry, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan,
began a full day of hearings before the House and Senate cautioning lawmakers of
the high costs — in lives as well as dollars — still to come in a war already
eight years old, but expressed faith in the new battle plan that Mr. Obama
announced last week after a three month review.
“The decisions that came from that process reflect a realistic and effective
approach,” General McChrystal said in his prepared remarks. “The mission is not
only important; it is also achievable. We can and will accomplish this mission.”
Ambassador Eikenberry, a retired three-star Army general and former commander in
Afghanistan himself, said that that administration for the first time was
providing adequate resources and attention to non-military goals — governance
and development — that ultimately would gauge the mission’s success.
“Our overarching goal is to encourage good governance, free from corruption, so
Afghans see the benefits of supporting the legitimate government, and the
insurgency loses support,” Ambassador Eikenberry said in his prepare remarks.
Both men, sitting beside each other before a battery of cameras, sought from the
outset to defuse any awkward tension that might have been displayed between two
colleagues who are said to have become rivals as they staked out conflicting
positions on the war’s course. They called each other “old friends,” even though
colleagues say they’ve been anything but in recent days.
“General McChrystal and I are united in a joint effort in which civilian and
military personnel work together every day, often literally side-by-side with
our Afghan partners and allies,” Ambassador Eikenberry said in his statement.
In fact, neither man got exactly what he wanted from Mr. Obama’s review, at
least in terms of troops. General McChrystal favored as many as an additional
40,000 forces, while Ambassador Eikenberry, according to people who read the
classified diplomatic cables he sent back to Washington, opposed any significant
increase until the Afghan government aggressively demonstrated its seriousness
in tackling governance, corruption and development problems.
In Tuesday morning’s hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, both
officials aimed to put the expansion to 100,000 American troops by late next
year in the context of three decades of civil war in Afghanistan. A hearing
before the Senate Armed Services Committee was to follow.
“While U.S. forces have been at war in Afghanistan for eight years, the Afghans
have been at it for more than 30,” General McChrystal said in his remarks. “They
are frustrated with international efforts that have failed to meet their
expectations, confronting us with a crisis of confidence among Afghans who view
the international effort as insufficient and their government as corrupt or, at
the very least, inconsequential.”
That said, Ambassador Eikenberry noted that the government of President Hamid
Karzai must aggressively fight corruption and work closely with the United
States to build able governance and competent Afghan security forces that
eventually can take over the fight against the Taliban.
“We expect the Afghan government to take specific actions in the key areas of
security, governance and economic development on an urgent basis,” Ambassador
Eikenberry said in his prepared remarks. “In the eighth year of our involvement,
Afghans must progressively take greater responsibility for their own affairs.”
Each official restated the goals that Mr. Obama described to the nation last
week in his televised address from the United States Military Academy at West
Point, N.Y.: defeat al Qaeda and prevents its return to Afghanistan; disrupt and
degrade the Taliban insurgency; separate the militants from the Afghan people;
and strengthen Afghan’s security forces.
The additional 30,000 American forces to secure population centers and to train
Afghan security forces “will provide us the ability to reverse insurgent
momentum and deny the Taliban the access to the population they require to
survive,” General McChrystal said.
“This means we must reverse the Taliban’s current momentum and create the time
and space to develop Afghan security and governance capacity,” he added.
Both General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry cast the enemy as a complex
and resilient insurgency. The most prominent threat to Mr. Karzai’s government
comes from the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, who ruled
Afghanistan until the American invasion in October 2001, after the Sept. 11
attacks, they said.
The Taliban and two other groups, the Haqqani network and Hezb-e Islami
Gulbuddin, draw support from “external elements” in Iran and Pakistan, have ties
with al Qaeda, and co-exist within narcotics and criminal networks, both fueling
and feeding off instability and insecurity in the region, General McChrystal
“The hazard posed by extremists that operate on both sides of the border with
with freedom of movement across that border, must be mitigated by enhanced
cross-border coordination and enhanced Pakistani engagement,” General McChrystal
But both the general and the envoy said that new strategy would work and offered
several reasons why. One, the officials said, the Taliban does not have
widespread popular support in Afghanistan, and instead dominates much of the
countryside through fear and intimidation.
Second, with a battle-tested American force and a stream of new civilian
specialists entering the country, the officials said the American and foreign
allies have already started to help Afghans establish more effective security
and more credible governance. “This is not a force of rookies or dilettantes,”
General McChrystal said.
The officials rejected comparisons to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the
1980’s. “Afghans do not regard us as occupiers,” General McChrystal said. “They
do not wish for us to remain forever, yet they see our support as a necessary
bridge to future security and stability.”
Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal warned that the United States will
suffer additional casualties as fresh troops pour into Taliban strongholds in
the southern and eastern portions of the country, and acknowledged that the
materiel cost, which administration officials have put at an additional $30
billion in the first year, will be steep.
“The mission in Afghanistan is undeniably difficult, and success will require
steadfast commitment and incur significant costs,” General McChrystal said.
Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the military will begin drawing down American forces in
July 2011, but the pace and size of that withdrawal will depend on conditions on
“By the summer of 2011, it will be clear to the Afghan people that the
insurgency will not win, giving them the chance to side with their government,”
General McChrystal said.
“Our efforts are now empowered with a greater sense of clarity, capability,
commitment, and confidence,” he added.
Unlike the previous eight years, however, this campaign will aim to include a
much greater role for civilians. By early 2010, Ambassador Eikenberry said, the
United States will have almost 1,000 civilians from agencies as diverse as the
Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Agriculture Department in country. About
400 of those specialists will deploy to the field in support of security
missions, the ambassador said. A year ago, there were 67 civilians operating
outside of Kabul.
2 Top Aides Show Unity
to Congress on Afghan Strategy, NYT, 9.12.2009,
Pakistan and the War
December 8, 2009
The New York Times
President Obama has articulated a reasonably comprehensive strategy for
Afghanistan, but there is no chance of defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda unless
Pakistan’s leaders stop temporizing (and in some cases collaborating) and get
fully into the fight.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, former President George W. Bush tried to buy off
Pakistan’s military leaders who pocketed billions of dollars in American aid and
continued to shelter the Taliban. Mr. Obama must demand more while finding ways
to bolster the country’s weak civilian leadership and soothe anti-American
In a world of difficult strategic and diplomatic challenges, this may well be
Mr. Obama’s toughest.
In his speech last week, Mr. Obama laid down a marker for Islamabad, declaring
“we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and
whose intentions are clear.” In private, administration officials have been even
more explicit, warning Pakistani leaders that if they don’t act the United
States will, including with more attacks by unmanned aircraft.
Such strikes have killed several top extremists, but the program is hugely
unpopular in Pakistan and Mr. Obama must be judicious about expanding it. That
means three things: extremely careful targeting, no civilian casualties or as
few as possible, and no publicity.
Drones won’t be enough. Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders must finally be
persuaded that this is not just America’s war, it is central to their survival.
In recent months, the Pakistan Army has gone after Taliban fighters in the Swat
Valley and Waziristan. Yet the Army leadership is refusing to strike at the
heart of the Taliban command in Baluchistan Province.
In part, they are hesitating because of legitimate fears of retaliation. But
there are also many Pakistani officials — and not just in the intelligence
services — that continue to see the Taliban as an ally and long-term proxy to
limit India’s influence in Afghanistan. To change that thinking, Mr. Obama will
first have to persuade Pakistanis that the United States is in it for the long
haul this time. The president sent conflicting messages in his speech, promising
Pakistan a long-term partnership “built on a foundation of mutual interest,
mutual respect and mutual trust,” but also suggesting that there will be a quick
drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama privately has promised Pakistani military and civilian leaders what
one aide described as a partnership of “unlimited potential” in which Washington
would consider any proposal Islamabad puts on the table. Congress has already
authorized a $7.5 billion aid package, over five years, for schools, hospitals
and other nonmilitary projects. But this won’t mean anything if it does not
follow through and actually finance the program. The White House should also
press Congress to pass long-stalled legislation to establish special trade
preference zones in Pakistan.
Presuming security needs can be met, President Obama should visit Pakistan so he
can tell Pakistanis directly that their fears of abandonment — or domination —
are unfounded. Mr. Obama also must keep nudging India and Pakistan to improve
relations. That may be the best hope for freeing up resources and mind-sets in
Pakistan for the fight against the extremists.
Mr. Obama told a small group of journalists at a White House lunch last week
that reducing tensions between the two nuclear rivals, though enormously
difficult, is “as important as anything to the long-term stability of the
region.” He is right.
Pakistan and the War,
Administration Presses Pakistan
to Fight Taliban
December 8, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER
and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan
to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more
aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani
side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in
Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.
The blunt message was delivered in a tense encounter in Pakistan last month,
before President Obama announced his new war strategy, when Gen. James L. Jones,
Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, the White House
counterterrorism chief, met with the heads of Pakistan’s military and its
United States officials said the message did not amount to an ultimatum, but
rather it was intended to prod a reluctant Pakistani military to go after
Taliban insurgents in Pakistan who are directing attacks in Afghanistan.
For their part the Pakistanis interpreted the message as a fairly bald warning
that unless Pakistan moved quickly to act against two Taliban groups they have
so far refused to attack, the United States was prepared to take unilateral
action to expand Predator drone attacks beyond the tribal areas and, if needed,
to resume raids by Special Operations forces into the country against Al Qaeda
and Taliban leaders.
A senior administration official, asked about the encounter, declined to go into
details but added quickly, “I think they read our intentions accurately.”
A Pakistani official who has been briefed on the meetings said, “Jones’s message
was if that Pakistani help wasn’t forthcoming, the United States would have to
do it themselves.”
American commanders said earlier this year that they were considering expanding
drone strikes in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, but General Jones’s comments
marked the first time that the United States bluntly told Pakistan it would have
to choose between leading attacks against the insurgents inside the country’s
borders or stepping aside to let the Americans do it.
The recent security demands followed an offer of a broader strategic
relationship and expanded intelligence sharing and nonmilitary economic aid from
the United States. Pakistan’s politically weakened president, Asif Ali Zardari,
replied in writing to a two-page letter that General Jones delivered from Mr.
Obama. But Mr. Zardari gave no indication of how Pakistan would respond to the
incentives, which were linked to the demands for greatly stepped-up
“We’ve offered them a strategic choice,” one administration official said,
describing the private communications. “And we’ve heard back almost nothing.”
Another administration official said, “Our patience is wearing thin.”
Asked Monday about the exchange, Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said,
“We have no comment on private diplomatic correspondence. As the president has
said repeatedly, we will continue to partner with Pakistan and the international
community to enhance the military, governance and economic capacity of
Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The implicit threat of not only ratcheting up the drone strikes but also
launching more covert American ground raids would mark a substantial escalation
of the administration’s counterterrorism campaign.
American Special Operations forces attacked Qaeda militants in a Pakistani
village near the border with Afghanistan in early September 2008, in the first
publicly acknowledged case of United States forces conducting a ground raid on
But the raid caused a political furor in Pakistan, with the country’s top
generals condemning the attack, and the United States backed off what had been a
planned series of such strikes.
During his intensive review of Pakistan and Afghanistan strategy, officials say,
Mr. Obama concluded that no amount of additional troops in Afghanistan would
succeed in their new mission if the Taliban could retreat over the Pakistani
border to regroup and resupply. But the administration has said little about the
Pakistani part of the strategy.
“We concluded early on that whatever you do with Pakistan, you don’t want to
talk about it much,” a senior presidential aide said last week. “All it does is
get backs up in Islamabad.”
During his speech at West Point last week, Mr. Obama said that “our success in
Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” But for
the rest of the speech he referred to the country in the past tense, talking
about how “there have been those in Pakistan who’ve argued that the struggle
against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing
little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence.”
He never quite said how his administration views the Pakistanis today, and two
officials said that Mr. Obama used that construction in an effort not to
alienate the current government or the army, led by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Even before Mr. Obama announced his decision last week, the White House had
approved an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal
areas. A missile strike from what was said to be a United States drone in the
tribal areas killed at least three people early Tuesday, according to Pakistani
intelligence officials, The Associated Press reported.
Pakistani officials, wary of civilian casualties and the appearance of further
infringement of national sovereignty, are still in discussions with American
officials over whether to allow the C.I.A. to expand its missile strikes into
Baluchistan for the first time — a politically delicate move because it is
outside the tribal areas. American commanders say this is necessary because
Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader who ran Afghanistan before the 2001 invasion,
and other Taliban leaders are hiding in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan
Pakistani officials also voice concern that if the Pakistani Army were to
aggressively attack the two groups that most concern the United States — the
Afghan Taliban leaders and the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan — the
militants would respond with waves of retaliatory bombings, further undermining
the weak civilian government.
Publicly, senior American officials and commanders take note of that concern.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Pakistan in late October
with offers of a strategic partnership. But General Jones followed Mrs. Clinton
two weeks later carrying more sticks than carrots, American officials said.
Pakistan to Fight Taliban, NYT, 8.12.2009,
Gates Calls July 2011 the Beginning,
Not End, of Afghan Withdrawal
December 7, 2009
The New York Times
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
WASHINGTON — Perhaps only a “handful” of American troops will be leaving
Afghanistan in July 2011, the date President Obama has set to begin a gradual
withdrawal, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview broadcast
“We will have 100,000 forces, troops there,” Mr. Gates said on ABC’s “This
Week,” “and they 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.”
“I don’t consider this an exit strategy,” he continued, “This is a transition.”
He said it would begin in less-contested parts of Afghanistan before expanding
to the most obdurate Taliban strongholds, largely in the south and east.
The White House used appearances on the Sunday talk programs to convey that the
deadline would mark the start, not the end, of troop withdrawal. “2011 is not a
cliff, it’s a ramp,” Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, said.
“And it’s when the effects of this increase will be, by all accounts, according
to our military commanders and our senior civilians, where we will be able to
see very, very visible progress and we’ll be able to make a shift,” General
Jones said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Mr. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who unusually appeared
together on three Sunday programs, emphasized that the July 2011 date did not
signal a wholesale abandonment of Afghanistan that could further destabilize the
They said it was important to impart a sense of urgency to the Afghan government
about the need to move expeditiously to assume responsibility for their own
“We will not provide for their security forever,” Mr. Gates said.
But the message he and Mrs. Clinton conveyed also seemed meant for Pakistan,
which fears the reverberations of any overly hasty American pullout, and for
Republican critics of any notion of a fixed withdrawal deadline.
“We’re not going to be walking away from Afghanistan again,” Mrs. Clinton said.
“We did that before; it didn’t turn out very well.”
Mr. Gates also said that “I think it has been years” since American intelligence
had a good idea of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, though the Qaeda leader
is thought to be either in Pakistan’s rugged North Waziristan region or just
across the border in Afghanistan.
General Jones, also asked about Mr. bin Laden’s location, answered: “The best
estimate is that he is somewhere in North Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani
side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border.”
Both Secretaries Gates and Clinton favorably mentioned President Hamid Karzai’s
recent assurance that Afghan security forces could resume control of some
provinces within three years, and over the bulk of the country in five.
While the new strategy aims in part to lure lower-level Taliban fighters away,
partly through offers of jobs, Mrs. Clinton expressed doubt that key Taliban
leaders could be thus enticed. Any defecting Taliban member, she said, would
have to renounce al-Qaeda, forswear violence and vow to live by Afghan laws. As
to whether senior leaders would do that, she said, “I’m highly skeptical.”
Mr. Obama’s new strategy — built around the rapid deployment of 30,000
additional American troops and thousands more NATO forces — has faced some of
its toughest criticism from his fellow Democrats. It has received stronger, if
conditional, support from some Republicans.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam War veteran and member of the Armed
Services Committee, has generally supported Mr. Obama’s plan.
“I think he made the right decision,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But the
mention of the July 2011 date, he said, had left policy makers throughout the
region — including in Pakistan and India — “trying to figure out whether,
really, they can go all in and support this effort.”
He and other Republicans fear that the 2011 date will encourage Taliban and
al-Qaeda forces to simply outwait their enemy.
The appearances by Mr. Gates and Clinton — two of the president’s most important
advisers, and also two of the more hawkish — appeared designed to explain the
“After saying that “some, a handful, or small number” of troops would leave in
July 2011, Mr. Gates added that further departures would come only when American
commanders on the ground assessed that local conditions had sufficiently
“We’re not talking about an abrupt withdrawal,” Mr. Gates said, “we’re talking
about that something that will take place over a period of time.”
But he also sought to prepare Americans, and their allies, for a short-term
increase in casualties.
“The tragedy is that the casualties will probably continue to grow, at least for
the time being,” he said, because, as during the so-called troop surge in Iraq,
the new coalition troops would be going to some of the most hostile parts of the
Mr. Gates added, however, that “we’ll have an increase in casualties at the
front end of this process, but over time it’ll actually lead to fewer
casualties” as security grows.
Gates Calls July 2011
the Beginning, Not End, of Afghan Withdrawal, NYT, 7.12.2009,
How Obama Came to Plan
for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan
December 6, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — On the afternoon he held the eighth meeting of his Afghanistan
review, President Obama arrived in the White House Situation Room ruminating
about war. He had come from Arlington National Cemetery, where he had wandered
among the chalky white tombstones of those who had fallen in the rugged
mountains of Central Asia.
How much their sacrifice weighed on him that Veterans Day last month, he did not
say. But his advisers say he was haunted by the human toll as he wrestled with
what to do about the eight-year-old war. Just a month earlier, he had mentioned
to them his visits to wounded soldiers at the Army hospital in Washington. “I
don’t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years,” he said then.
The economic cost was troubling him as well after he received a private budget
memo estimating that an expanded presence would cost $1 trillion over 10 years,
roughly the same as his health care plan.
Now as his top military adviser ran through a slide show of options, Mr. Obama
expressed frustration. He held up a chart showing how reinforcements would flow
into Afghanistan over 18 months and eventually begin to pull out, a bell curve
that meant American forces would be there for years to come.
“I want this pushed to the left,” he told advisers, pointing to the bell curve.
In other words, the troops should be in sooner, then out sooner.
When the history of the Obama presidency is written, that day with the chart may
prove to be a turning point, the moment a young commander in chief set in motion
a high-stakes gamble to turn around a losing war. By moving the bell curve to
the left, Mr. Obama decided to send 30,000 troops mostly in the next six months
and then begin pulling them out a year after that, betting that a quick jolt of
extra forces could knock the enemy back on its heels enough for the Afghans to
take over the fight.
The three-month review that led to the escalate-then-exit strategy is a case
study in decision making in the Obama White House — intense, methodical,
rigorous, earnest and at times deeply frustrating for nearly all involved. It
was a virtual seminar in Afghanistan and Pakistan, led by a president described
by one participant as something “between a college professor and a gentle
Mr. Obama peppered advisers with questions and showed an insatiable demand for
information, taxing analysts who prepared three dozen intelligence reports for
him and Pentagon staff members who churned out thousands of pages of documents.
This account of how the president reached his decision is based on dozens of
interviews with participants as well as a review of notes some of them took
during Mr. Obama’s 10 meetings with his national security team. Most of those
interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal
deliberations, but their accounts have been matched against those of other
participants wherever possible.
Mr. Obama devoted so much time to the Afghan issue — nearly 11 hours on the day
after Thanksgiving alone — that he joked, “I’ve got more deeply in the weeds
than a president should, and now you guys need to solve this.” He invited
competing voices to debate in front of him, while guarding his own thoughts.
Even David Axelrod, arguably his closest adviser, did not know where Mr. Obama
would come out until just before Thanksgiving.
With the result uncertain, the outsize personalities on his team vied for his
favor, sometimes sharply disagreeing as they made their arguments. The White
House suspected the military of leaking details of the review to put pressure on
the president. The military and the State Department suspected the White House
of leaking to undercut the case for more troops. The president erupted at the
leaks with an anger advisers had rarely seen, but he did little to shut down the
public clash within his own government.
“The president welcomed a full range of opinions and invited contrary points of
view,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview last
month. “And I thought it was a very healthy experience because people took him
up on it. And one thing we didn’t want — to have a decision made and then have
somebody say, ‘Oh, by the way.’ No, come forward now or forever hold your
The decision represents a complicated evolution in Mr. Obama’s thinking. He
began the process clearly skeptical of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for
40,000 more troops, but the more he learned about the consequences of failure,
and the more he narrowed the mission, the more he gravitated toward a robust if
temporary buildup, guided in particular by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Yet even now, he appears ambivalent about what some call “Obama’s war.” Just two
weeks before General McChrystal warned of failure at the end of August, Mr.
Obama described Afghanistan as a “war of necessity.” When he announced his new
strategy last week, those words were nowhere to be found. Instead, while
recommitting to the war on Al Qaeda, he made clear that the larger struggle for
Afghanistan had to be balanced against the cost in blood and treasure and
brought to an end.
Aides, though, said the arduous review gave Mr. Obama comfort that he had found
the best course he could. “The process was exhaustive, but any time you get the
president of the United States to devote 25 hours, anytime you get that kind of
commitment, you know it was serious business,” said Gen. James L. Jones, the
president’s national security adviser. “From the very first meeting, everyone
started with set opinions. And no opinion was the same by the end of the
Taking Control of a War
Mr. Obama ran for president supportive of the so-called good war in Afghanistan
and vowing to send more troops, but he talked about it primarily as a way of
attacking Republicans for diverting resources to Iraq, which he described as a
war of choice. Only after taking office, as casualties mounted and the Taliban
gained momentum, did Mr. Obama really begin to confront what to do.
Even before completing a review of the war, he ordered the military to send
21,000 more troops there, bringing the force to 68,000. But tension between the
White House and the military soon emerged when General Jones, a retired Marine
four-star general, traveled to Afghanistan in the summer and was surprised to
hear officers already talking about more troops. He made it clear that no more
troops were in the offing.
With the approach of Afghanistan’s presidential election in August, Mr. Obama’s
two new envoys — Richard C. Holbrooke, the president’s special representative to
the region, and Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired commander of troops in
Afghanistan now serving as ambassador — warned of trouble, including the
possibility of angry Afghans marching on the American Embassy or outright civil
“There are 10 ways this can turn out,” one administration official said, summing
up the envoys’ presentation, “and 9 of them are messy.”
The worst did not happen, but widespread fraud tainted the election and shocked
some in the White House as they realized that their partner in Kabul, President
Hamid Karzai, was hopelessly compromised in terms of public credibility.
At the same time, the Taliban kept making gains. The Central Intelligence Agency
drew up detailed maps in August charting the steady progression of the Taliban’s
takeover of Afghanistan, maps that would later be used extensively during the
president’s review. General McChrystal submitted his own dire assessment of the
situation, warning of “mission failure” without a fresh infusion of troops.
While General McChrystal did not submit a specific troop request at that point,
the White House knew it was coming and set out to figure out what to do. General
Jones organized a series of meetings that he envisioned lasting a few weeks.
Before each one, he convened a rehearsal session to impose discipline — “get rid
of the chaff,” one official put it — that included Vice President Joseph R.
Biden Jr., Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Gates and other cabinet-level officials. Mr. Biden
made a practice of writing a separate private memo to Mr. Obama before each
meeting, outlining his thoughts.
The first meeting with the president took place on Sept. 13, a Sunday, and was
not disclosed to the public that day. For hours, Mr. Obama and his top advisers
pored through intelligence reports.
Unsatisfied, the president posed a series of questions: Does America need to
defeat the Taliban to defeat Al Qaeda? Can a counterinsurgency strategy work in
Afghanistan given the problems with its government? If the Taliban regained
control of Afghanistan, would nuclear-armed Pakistan be next?
The deep skepticism he expressed at that opening session was reinforced by Mr.
Biden, who rushed back overnight from a California trip to participate. Just as
he had done in the spring, Mr. Biden expressed opposition to an expansive
strategy requiring a big troop influx. Instead, he put an alternative on the
table — rather than focus on nation building and population protection, do more
to disrupt the Taliban, improve the quality of the training of Afghan forces and
expand reconciliation efforts to peel off some Taliban fighters.
Mr. Biden quickly became the most outspoken critic of the expected McChrystal
troop request, arguing that Pakistan was the bigger priority, since that is
where Al Qaeda is mainly based. “He was the bull in the china shop,” said one
admiring administration official.
But others were nodding their heads at some of what he was saying, too,
including General Jones and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
A Review Becomes News
The quiet review burst into public view when General McChrystal’s secret report
was leaked to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post a week after the first
meeting. The general’s grim assessment jolted Washington and lent urgency to the
question of what to do to avoid defeat in Afghanistan.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H.
Petraeus, the regional commander, secretly flew to an American air base in
Germany for a four-hour meeting with General McChrystal on Sept. 25. He handed
them his troop request on paper — there were no electronic versions and barely
20 copies in all.
The request outlined three options for different missions: sending 80,000 more
troops to conduct a robust counterinsurgency campaign throughout the country;
40,000 troops to reinforce the southern and eastern areas where the Taliban are
strongest; or 10,000 to 15,000 troops mainly to train Afghan forces.
General Petraeus took one copy, while Admiral Mullen took two back to Washington
and dropped one off at Mr. Gates’s home next to his in a small military compound
in Washington. But no one sent the document to the White House, intending to
process it through the Pentagon review first.
Mr. Obama was focused on another report. At 10 p.m. on Sept. 29, he called over
from the White House residence to the West Wing to ask for a copy of the first
Afghanistan strategy he approved in March to ramp up the fight against Al Qaeda
and the Taliban while increasing civilian assistance. A deputy national security
adviser, Denis McDonough, brought him a copy to reread overnight. When his
national security team met the next day, Mr. Obama complained that elements of
that plan had never been enacted.
The group went over the McChrystal assessment and drilled in on what the core
goal should be. Some thought that General McChrystal interpreted the March
strategy more ambitiously than it was intended to be. Mr. Biden asked tough
questions about whether there was any intelligence showing that the Taliban
posed a threat to American territory. But Mr. Obama also firmly closed the door
on any withdrawal. “I just want to say right now, I want to take off the table
that we’re leaving Afghanistan,” he told his advisers.
Tension with the military had been simmering since the leak of the McChrystal
report, which some in the White House took as an attempt to box in the
president. The friction intensified on Oct. 1 when the general was asked after a
speech in London whether a narrower mission, like the one Mr. Biden proposed,
would succeed. “The short answer is no,” he said.
White House officials were furious, and Mr. Gates publicly scolded advisers who
did not keep their advice to the president private. The furor rattled General
McChrystal, who, unlike General Petraeus, was not a savvy Washington operator.
And it stunned others in the military, who were at first “bewildered by how over
the top the reaction was from the White House,” as one military official put it.
It also proved to be what one review participant called a “head-snapping” moment
of revelation for the military. The president, they suddenly realized, was not
simply updating his previous strategy but essentially starting over from
The episode underscored the uneasy relationship between the military and a new
president who, aides said, was determined not to be as deferential as he
believed his predecessor, George W. Bush, was for years in Iraq. And the
military needed to adjust to a less experienced but more skeptical commander in
chief. “We’d been chugging along for eight years under an administration that
had become very adept at managing war in a certain way,” said another military
Moreover, Mr. Obama had read “Lessons in Disaster,” Gordon M. Goldstein’s book
on the Vietnam War. The book had become a must read in the West Wing after Mr.
Emanuel had dinner over the summer at the house of another deputy national
security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, and wandered into his library to ask what
he should be reading.
Among the conclusions that Mr. Donilon and the White House team drew from the
book was that both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson
failed to question the underlying assumption about monolithic Communism and the
domino theory — clearly driving the Obama advisers to rethink the nature of Al
Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Pakistan Question
While public attention focused on Afghanistan, some of the most intensive
discussion focused on the country where Mr. Obama could send no troops —
Pakistan. Pushed in particular by Mrs. Clinton, the president’s team explored
the links between the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda, and
Mr. Obama told aides that it did not matter how many troops were sent to
Afghanistan if Pakistan remained a haven.
Many of the intelligence reports ordered by the White House during the review
dealt with Pakistan’s stability and whether its military and intelligence
services were now committed to the fight or secretly still supporting Taliban
factions. According to two officials, there was a study of the potential
vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, posing questions about potential
insider threats and control of the warheads if the Pakistani government fell.
Mr. Obama and his advisers also considered options for stepping up the pursuit
of extremists in Pakistan’s border areas. He eventually approved a C.I.A.
request to expand the areas where remotely piloted aircraft could strike, and
other covert action. The trick would be getting Pakistani consent, which still
has not been granted.
On Oct. 9, Mr. Obama and his team reviewed General McChrystal’s troop proposals
for the first time. Some in the White House were surprised by the numbers,
assuming there would be a middle ground between 10,000 and 40,000.
“Why wasn’t there a 25 number?” one senior administration official asked in an
interview. He then answered his own question: “It would have been too tempting.”
Mr. Gates and others talked about the limits of the American ability to actually
defeat the Taliban; they were an indigenous force in Afghan society, part of the
political fabric. This was a view shared by others around the table, including
Leon E. Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., who argued that the Taliban could
not be defeated as such and so the goal should be to drive wedges between those
who could be reconciled with the Afghan government and those who could not be.
With Mr. Biden leading the skeptics, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen
increasingly aligned behind a more robust force. Mrs. Clinton wanted to make
sure she was a formidable player in the process. “She was determined that her
briefing books would be just as thick and just as meticulous as those of the
Pentagon,” said one senior adviser. She asked hard questions about Afghan troop
training, unafraid of wading into Pentagon territory.
After a meeting where the Pentagon made a presentation with impressive
color-coded maps, Mrs. Clinton returned to the State Department and told her
aides, “We need maps,” as one recalled. She was overseas during the next meeting
on Oct. 14, when aides used her new maps to show civilian efforts but she
participated with headphones on from her government plane flying back from
Mr. Gates was a seasoned hand at such reviews, having served eight presidents
and cycled in and out of the Situation Room since the days when it was served by
a battery of fax machines. Like Mrs. Clinton, he was sympathetic to General
McChrystal’s request, having resolved his initial concern that a buildup would
fuel resentment the way the disastrous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan did in
But Mr. Gates’s low-wattage exterior masks a wily inside player, and he knew
enough to keep his counsel early in the process to let it play out more first.
“When to speak is important to him; when to signal is important to him,” said a
senior Defense Department official.
On Oct. 22, the National Security Council produced what one official called a
“consensus memo,” much of which originated out of the defense secretary’s
office, concluding that the United States should focus on diminishing the
Taliban insurgency but not destroying it; building up certain critical
ministries; and transferring authority to Afghan security forces.
There was no consensus yet on troop numbers, however, so Mr. Obama called a
smaller group of advisers together on Oct. 26 to finally press Mrs. Clinton and
Mr. Gates. Mrs. Clinton made it clear that she was comfortable with General
McChrystal’s request for 40,000 troops or something close to it; Mr. Gates also
favored a big force.
Mr. Obama was leery. He had received a memo the day before from the Office of
Management and Budget projecting that General McChrystal’s full 40,000-troop
request on top of the existing deployment and reconstruction efforts would cost
$1 trillion from 2010 to 2020, an adviser said. The president seemed in sticker
shock, watching his domestic agenda vanishing in front of him. “This is a
10-year, trillion-dollar effort and does not match up with our interests,” he
Still, for the first time, he made it clear that he was ready to send more
troops if a strategy could be found to ensure that it was not an endless war. He
indicated that the Taliban had to be beaten back. “What do we need to break
their momentum?” he asked.
Four days later, at a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 30, he
emphasized the need for speed. “Why can’t I get the troops in faster?” he asked.
If they were going to do this, he concluded, it only made sense to do this
quickly, to have impact and keep the war from dragging on forever. “This is
America’s war,” he said. “But I don’t want to make an open-ended commitment.”
Bridging the Differences
Now that he had a sense of where Mr. Obama was heading, Mr. Gates began shaping
a plan that would bridge the differences. He developed a 30,000-troop option
that would give General McChrystal the bulk of his request, reasoning that NATO
could make up most of the difference.
“If people are having trouble swallowing 40, let’s see if we can make this
smaller and easier to swallow and still give the commander what he needs,” a
senior Defense official said, summarizing the secretary’s thinking.
The plan, called Option 2A, was presented to the president on Nov. 11. Mr. Obama
complained that the bell curve would take 18 months to get all the troops in
He turned to General Petraeus and asked him how long it took to get the
so-called surge troops he commanded in Iraq in 2007. That was six months.
“What I’m looking for is a surge,” Mr. Obama said. “This has to be a surge.”
That represented a contrast from when Mr. Obama, as a presidential candidate,
staunchly opposed President Bush’s buildup in Iraq. But unlike Mr. Bush, Mr.
Obama wanted from the start to speed up a withdrawal as well. The military was
told to come up with a plan to send troops quickly and then begin bringing them
And in another twist, Mr. Obama, who campaigned as an apostle of transparency
and had been announcing each Situation Room meeting publicly and even releasing
pictures, was livid that details of the discussions were leaking out.
“What I’m not going to tolerate is you talking to the press outside of this
room,” he scolded his advisers. “It’s a disservice to the process, to the
country and to the men and women of the military.”
His advisers sat in uncomfortable silence. That very afternoon, someone leaked
word of a cable sent by Ambassador Eikenberry from Kabul expressing reservations
about a large buildup of forces as long as the Karzai government remained
unreformed. At one of their meetings, General Petraeus had told Mr. Obama to
think of elements of the Karzai government like “a crime syndicate.” Ambassador
Eikenberry was suggesting, in effect, that America could not get in bed with the
The leak of Ambassador Eikenberry’s Nov. 6 cable stirred another storm within
the administration because the cable had been requested by the White House. The
National Security Council had told the ambassador to put his views in writing.
But someone else then passed word of the cable to reporters in what some in the
process took to be a calculated attempt to head off a big troop buildup.
The cable stunned some in the military. The reaction at the Pentagon, said one
official, was “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” — military slang for an expression of
shock. Among the officers caught off guard were General McChrystal and his
staff, for whom the cable was “a complete surprise,” said another official, even
though the commander and the ambassador meet three times a week.
A Presidential Order
By this point, the idea of some sort of time frame was taking on momentum. Mrs.
Clinton talked to Mr. Karzai before the Afghan leader’s inauguration to a second
term. She suggested that he use his speech to outline a schedule for taking over
security of the country.
Mr. Karzai did just that, declaring that Afghan forces directed by Kabul would
take charge of securing population centers in three years and the whole country
in five. His pronouncement, orchestrated partly by Mrs. Clinton and diplomats in
Kabul, provided a predicate for Mr. Obama to set out his own time frame.
The president gathered his team in the Situation Room at 8:15 p.m. on Nov. 23,
the unusual nighttime hour adding to what one participant called a momentous
wartime feeling. The room was strewn with coffee cups and soda cans.
Mr. Obama presented a revised version of Option 2A, this one titled “Max
Leverage,” pushing 30,000 troops into Afghanistan by mid-2010 and beginning to
pull them out by July 2011. Admiral Mullen came up with the date at the
direction of Mr. Obama, despite some misgivings from the Pentagon about setting
a time frame for a withdrawal. The date was two years from the arrival of the
first reinforcements Mr. Obama sent shortly after taking office. Mr. Biden had
written a memo before the meeting talking about the need for “proof of concept”
— in other words, two years ought to be enough for extra troops to demonstrate
whether a buildup would work.
The president went around the room asking for opinions. Mr. Biden again
expressed skepticism, even at this late hour when the tide had turned against
him in terms of the troop number. But he had succeeded in narrowing the scope of
the mission to protect population centers and setting the date to begin
withdrawal. Others around the table concurred with the plan. Mr. Obama spoke
last, but still somewhat elliptically. Some advisers said they walked out into
the night after 10 p.m., uncertain whether the president had actually endorsed
the Max Leverage option or was just testing for reaction.
Two days later, Mr. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and a critic
of the Afghan war. The president outlined his plans for the buildup without
disclosing specific numbers. Ms. Pelosi was unenthusiastic and pointedly told
the president that he could not rely on Democrats alone to pass financing for
The White House had spent little time courting Congress to this point. Even
though it would need Republican support, the White House had made no overtures
to the party leaders.
But there was back-channel contact. Mr. Emanuel was talking with Senator Lindsey
Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who urged him to settle on a troop number
“that began with 3” to win Republican support. “I said as long as the generals
are O.K. and there is a meaningful number, you will be O.K.,” Mr. Graham
The day after Thanksgiving, Mr. Obama huddled with aides from 10:30 a.m. to 9:15
p.m. refining parameters for the plan and mapping out his announcement. He told
his speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, that he wanted to directly rebut the comparison
On the following Sunday, Nov. 29, he summoned his national security team to the
Oval Office. He had made his decision. He would send 30,000 troops as quickly as
possible, then begin the withdrawal in July 2011. In deference to Mr. Gates’s
concerns, the pace and endpoint of the withdrawal would be determined by
conditions at the time.
“I’m not asking you to change what you believe,” the president told his
advisers. “But if you do not agree with me, say so now.” There was a pause and
no one said anything.
“Tell me now,” he repeated.
Mr. Biden asked only if this constituted a presidential order. Mr. Gates and
others signaled agreement.
“Fully support, sir,” Admiral Mullen said.
“Ditto,” General Petraeus said.
Mr. Obama then went to the Situation Room to call General McChrystal and
Ambassador Eikenberry. The president made it clear that in the next assessment
in December 2010 he would not contemplate more troops. “It will only be about
the flexibility in how we draw down, not if we draw down,” he said.
Two days later, Mr. Obama flew to West Point to give his speech. After three
months of agonizing review, he seemed surprisingly serene. “He was,” said one
adviser, “totally at peace.”
Reporting was contributed by Elisabeth Bumiller, Helene Cooper, Carlotta
Gall, Carl Hulse, Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti, David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt,
Scott Shane and Thom Shanker.
How Obama Came to Plan
for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan, NYT, 6.12.2009,
Our Timeline, and
December 4, 2009
The New York Times
By MAX HASTINGS
IT is hard to be optimistic about the outcome of President Obama’s troop “surge”
in Afghanistan. The additional forces sound large in headlines, but shrink small
in the mountains. The commitment is intended as an earnest indication of
America’s will. But neither the number of troops nor the timeline that mandates
a drawdown in less than two years is likely to impress the Taliban, who think in
decades, or for that matter the Afghan people.
Most decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic now privately believe we are
in the business of managing failure, and that is how the surge looks. The
president allowed himself to be convinced that a refusal to reinforce NATO’s
mission in Afghanistan would fatally weaken the resolve of Pakistan in resisting
Islamic militancy. Meanwhile at home, refusal to meet the American generals’
demands threatened to brand him as the man who lost the Afghan war. Thus the
surge lies in the realm of politics, not warfare.
As the president said, the usual comparisons with Vietnam are mistaken. Today’s
United States Army and Marine Corps are skilled counterinsurgency fighters.
Their commanders, especially Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in
Afghanistan, are officers of the highest gifts. Combat and casualties are on a
much smaller scale than in Southeast Asia four decades ago.
The critical fact, however, is that military operations are meaningless unless
in support of a sustainable political system. One Indochina parallel seems
valid: that war was lost chiefly because America’s Vietnamese allies were
If we lose in Afghanistan, it will not be because American soldiers are
defeated, but because “our” Afghans — the regime of Hamid Karzai — cannot
deliver to the people honest policing, acceptable administration and visible
quality of life improvements. I’m hardly the first to say this. Yet the yawning
hole in Mr. Obama’s speech at West Point, and in American policy, is the absence
of a credible Afghan domestic and regional strategy.
It would be hard to overstate the cultural chasm separating Afghans from their
foreign allies and expatriate returnees. Scarcely a single Western soldier
speaks their languages. In the entire country there are only a few hundred
competent administrators, and most of them are corrupt. Last year, I met an
Afghan minister who had spent more than half his young life as an exile. He
spoke and acted like a Californian. To Pashtun tribesmen, he must seem like a
“Democracy has been a disaster for our country,” an Afghan businessman once told
me, in tones of withering scorn. Like most of his kind, he may live in Kabul,
but he has one eye on the airport.
In Pakistan, there is great uncertainty about the impact of the surge. The
West’s purpose is not to remake Afghanistan, an impossible task, but to promote
regional stability and encourage the Pakistanis in their struggle against
The strategic importance of these objectives is not in doubt. The question is
whether they are attainable, and whether an increased troop commitment in
Afghanistan will do much to advance them. The Islamabad government sincerely,
even passionately, wants the United States and its allies to continue their
Afghan campaign. But among Pakistan’s vast population, the West is much more
unpopular — indeed, hated — than it was in 2006 or, for that matter, 2001. There
is a danger that the surge will intensify that popular alienation, further
fueling Islamic extremism and thus terrorism.
Little progress can be made toward regional stability without reducing tensions
between Pakistan and India. India’s dalliance with the Afghan government, which
has been given hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian aid, has increased the
deep paranoia of the Pakistani Army and intelligence service. The status quo
will only lead powerful elements of Pakistan’s security forces to continue to
support Islamic militants as proxies against India.
Few responsible participants in the Afghan drama, even the most pessimistic,
urge a precipitate withdrawal. We are too deeply committed for that. What seems
important is to recognize that politics and diplomacy are the fundamentals,
though they cannot progress unless security improves. Even the most limited
stabilization program will founder unless all the regional powers, including
Iran, become parties to it. It is difficult to imagine that the Karzai
administration can raise its game sufficiently to gain a popular mandate strong
enough to stop the Taliban.
President Obama said on Tuesday, “Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a
broad-based popular insurgency.” Yes, the Taliban command limited support, and
have relatively few hard-core fighters. But many Afghans, especially Pashtuns,
unite in dislike both for the Western “occupiers” and the Kabul regime.
Progress depends, as General McChrystal seems to recognize, on reaching
accommodations with the tribes from the bottom up, not the top down. The
smartest surge will be one of cash payments to local leaders. You can buy a lot
of Afghans for a small fraction of the cost of deploying a Marine company.
Perhaps the greatest problem for Western policymakers is that Taliban leaders
watch CNN and Al Jazeera. They know that the British public has turned against
the war, probably irrevocably, and that American opinion is deeply divided. They
believe they have more patience than us, and they may be right.
The president’s troop surge was perhaps politically inescapable. But any chance
of salvaging a minimally acceptable outcome hinges not on what American and
allied soldiers can do on the battlefield, but on putting together a coherent
political strategy. Mr. Obama’s speech represented a gesture to his generals
rather than a convincing path to success in Afghanistan.
Max Hastings is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and the author of the
forthcoming “Winston’s War.”
Our Timeline, and the
Taliban’s, NYT, 4.12.2009,
Afghanistan Speech by Obama
Wins Over Some Skeptics
December 3, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
A month ago, Donnie Jones, a 40-year-old Republican who lives outside Dallas,
told pollsters that he was not sure President Obama had a plan for the war in
Afghanistan. But after hearing the president speak Tuesday night, Mr. Jones
feels reassured that Mr. Obama not only has a plan, but also one he can
Margaret Gilbert, 62, a Democrat from Portsmouth, Va., told the same pollsters
that she did not want the United States to send more troops to Afghanistan. But
after listening to Mr. Obama, Ms. Gilbert now believes that he has no choice.
And Dave Cegledi, a 66-year-old independent from Olmsted Falls, Ohio, says he
does not like Mr. Obama any more today than he did in November. But Mr. Cegledi
thinks the president gave a good speech — good enough, indeed, that he might
vote for him for re-election if the strategy for Afghanistan works.
Mr. Obama intended his speech on Tuesday at West Point to rally Americans behind
his plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and to set an 18-month
timetable for starting a withdrawal. And interviews on Wednesday suggested that,
while opinions on the war remained wildly diverse, Mr. Obama managed to persuade
a significant number of people on both sides of the political aisle, though it
was impossible to know how many.
Many Democrats who opposed the war said they now understood the need for
escalation, in some cases to the point of supporting it. And Republicans who had
thought Mr. Obama unwilling or unable to send more troops praised his decision,
though many also criticized him for articulating a timetable for bringing troops
“I like the fact that he’s sending more troops,” said George Bronner, 45, a
Republican from Knoxville, Tenn. “This speech does change my opinion about
Obama, and it changes it for the better. I didn’t think he was going to step up
to the plate and get more people over there.”
The people interviewed on Tuesday night and Wednesday were randomly selected
from a list of respondents to a poll conducted last month by CBS News, which is
a frequent partner with The New York Times on national polls. In that poll, 53
percent approved of Mr. Obama’s overall job performance, compared with 36
percent who did not, but only 38 percent approved of his handling of the war in
Afghanistan. Opinions on troop levels were almost evenly divided, with 39
percent supporting a decrease, 32 percent calling for an increase and 20 percent
saying to keep it the same.
The telephone poll was conducted Nov. 13-16 with 1,167 adults nationwide and has
a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Clearly, Mr. Obama’s plan poses a risk of alienating supporters who had wanted
him to swiftly scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan. Betty
Holstine, a Democrat from Belle, W.Va., said that she had turned against the war
after deciding that the death toll was too great and that she was now on the
verge of turning against Mr. Obama as well.
“I was so eager to trust somebody to make things better,” Ms. Holstine, 70,
said, “and perhaps I put too much faith and trust in the man. I just felt really
disappointed and betrayed that it simply isn’t happening.”
Similarly, Dorothy Lingenfelser, a Republican from Lawrence, Kan., who a month
ago said she approved of Mr. Obama’s performance, said she was furious with him
for sending more troops.
“I think we ought to take care of people in the United States before we go take
care of them in Afghanistan,” Ms. Lingenfelser, a 77-year-old retired factory
worker, said. “I liked Obama before, but now I’m through with him.”
More common were Democrats who said they continued to support Mr. Obama even as
they held their nose about his plan.
“Sending more troops is a very bad idea,” said Robert Labar, 60, a Democrat from
Modesto, Calif. “But I know that the right guy is in the White House, and we
just have to go along with what he wants to do.”
And there were several Democrats who said the president had convinced them of
the need to dispatch more troops.
“I believe him; I trust him,” said Dianna Sampson, 60, a Democrat from Dayton,
Ky., who a month ago said she wanted to reduce troop levels. “He met in a room
with a lot of people, and this is what they came up with. It wasn’t just this
idea out of the blue.”
Though most of the Republicans interviewed said they were pleased that Mr. Obama
was sending more troops, many expressed skepticism about his motives.
“I think it’s good Obama is putting extra troops into Afghanistan, but I know
he’s not doing it because he wants to,” said Suzanne Miller, 60, a Republican
from La Grande, Ore. “He is trying to earn points with Republicans and
conservatives who don’t agree with his health care program.”
And there was little evidence that most of the people who last month expressed
disapproval of Mr. Obama were now prepared to embrace him warmly, as most said
they continued to dislike his policies on health care and the economy.
“I’m trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but he’s not doing
anything that would push me toward liking his policies,” said Scott Taylor, 40,
an insurance agent from Franklin, Ind., who supports sending more troops to
Republicans, independents and even a few Democrats also expressed concern about
Mr. Obama’s announcement that he would start bringing troops home in mid-2011.
Some said he had given away too much information to the enemy; others said 18
months would not be enough time to stabilize the country.
“I don’t think that after 18 months the Afghan army will be large enough or
trained enough to continue the work on its own,” said Louis Bruso Jr., 58, a
computer programmer and independent voter from Jamaica, Vt. “My hope is that we
leave enough troops there to help the Afghan army.”
Mr. Obama seemed to do well among independents, several of whom said they felt
more comfortable with him after the speech.
“He did a better-than-fair job,” said Fran Turner, 75, an independent voter from
San Antonio, who told the pollsters last month that she opposed Mr. Obama’s
performance as president. “Not a perfect job, but a good job.”
In particular, Ms. Turner said she was pleased Mr. Obama had taken his time in
making a difficult decision, something many Republicans found fault with.
“I go back to the old saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once,’ ” she said. “Once
you’ve jumped in, you’re in. Bush jumped in, and he didn’t know how to get out.
Obama is thinking twice and cutting once. I really like that.”
Robbie Brown contributed reporting from Atlanta, Emma Graves Fitzsimmons from
Chicago, Dan Frosch from Denver, Malia Wollan from San Francisco, Katie Zezima
from Boston and Marjorie Connelly from New York.
Afghanistan Speech by
Obama Wins Over Some Skeptics, NYT, 3.12.2009,
Afghans See Sharp Shift in U.S. Tone
December 4, 2009
The New York Times
By CARLOTTA GALL
KABUL, Afghanistan — For Afghans, the change in tone was unmistakable. Unlike
Bush-era speeches pledging unending support, President Obama suddenly introduced
a timeline and a period of 18 months before the start of a drawdown of troops.
The timetable set off alarm here. It was the subject of television discussions
and journalists’ questions to the American ambassador, Karl W. Eikenberry, a
retired lieutenant general, as well as to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the
commander of American forces here.
If Tuesday night was about President Obama sending a message to the American
public that the war in Afghanistan would not be open-ended, then Wednesday in
Kabul was about reassuring the Afghans of America’s long-term commitment.
To underscore that, General Eikenberry signed an agreement with the Afghan
foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, at a ceremony to open the first United
States consulate in Afghanistan in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, with
another planned in the city of Herat.
“I want to emphasize that we have a very comprehensive approach and a long-term
friendship and partnership with Afghanistan,” General Eikenberry said. President
Obama discussed further assistance in energy, water management, mines,
agriculture and improvement of the civil service in his video conference call on
Tuesday with President Hamid Karzai, he added.
He explained to the mostly Afghan journalists gathered that when the drawdown
begins in 18 months, the number of troops on the ground would be as much as
35,000 more than at present and the Afghan forces stronger.
Mr. Spanta said he was reassured in an hourlong call on Tuesday with his
counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But he admitted that the
18-month timeline for the start of a transition to Afghan authority had served
something of a shock therapy to the Afghan government.
“Can we do it?” he said. “That is the main question. This is not done in a
moment. It is a process. They have to have strategic patience with us.”
In a clear sign of his government’s uneasiness at the flagging American
enthusiasm for the Afghan war, Mr. Spanta said he had just presented a proposal
to Mr. Karzai to work out a new strategic partnership with the United States to
secure the kind of predictable, long-term assistance that close American allies
like Israel and Egypt enjoy.
All parties involved agreed that a great deal of the job ahead was about
“We have to manage the public,” said a senior Afghan government aide, speaking
anonymously so he could talk more freely.
President Obama was very much speaking to the American public in his speech, he
said. American military officials had assured them that the 18-month timeline
was more for the American public opinion than any unmovable deadline for the
The Afghans had to persuade their own public, the aide said. “Our own problem is
that people have a war-torn mentality; they will side with the winner, and we
have to show them that the Afghan government can be the winner,” he said.
The Taliban jumped in with their own draft of reality. President Obama was
ignoring the interests of his own people, who were suffering an economic
downturn, the group said in an e-mail message. “It clearly indicates that the
United States has broad, long-term, brazen plans not only for Afghanistan but
also for the region,” said the statement, bearing the heading of the Islamic
Emirates of Afghanistan.
The Taliban are prepared for a long and patient resistance against the increase
of American troops, the statement said, warning that sending more troops will
only lead to more casualties for NATO and American troops and cause more Afghan
For Mr. Karzai, who is under exceptionally strong pressure to choose a clean and
competent cabinet, and to move decisively to combat corruption, the speech
itself was not overly harsh. “Tough love,” one aide called it. Far stronger
words are being used in private to push for reforms and the appointment of
effective minister and officials, one Western official said.
One idea that has raised concern in the Karzai government was a plan to bypass
the central government and give direct assistance to effective regional
governors and ministers, and Mr. Spanta soundly rejected the idea.
Mr. Karzai, who has been smarting ever since he was forced to accept that he did
not win the presidential election outright, avoided any comment on the
A statement from the presidential palace stated only that the government
welcomed President Obama’s new strategy for the support it offered in
development and training for Afghan institutions and in protecting the Afghan
people, and commended it for the recognition that terrorists were operating in
the region beyond Afghanistan’s borders in Pakistan.
“Afghanistan will spare no effort in achieving the above objectives,” it said.
Mr. Spanta was the only minister who commented on the speech. He praised Mr.
Obama’s comments pinpointing that Afghanistan suffered from extremist safe
havens in Pakistan, the first time an American president had stated it so
publicly that the center of terrorism was across the border in Pakistan, Mr.
Spanta said. “This is the first time we heard that from the president,” he said.
“It is a tremendous change and progress.”
But for some it was not enough. “Faced with a surge the Taliban will go to
Pakistan,” said Nader Khan Kutawaisi, a member of Parliament from Paktika
province, which borders Pakistan’s tribal areas. “It is better to concentrate on
their safe havens. As everyone knows they have a big headquarters in Quetta and
shadow governors living there and I know people went to congratulate one
governor for Id,” he said, referring to Id al-Adha, the Muslim holiday
celebrated last week.
Yet generally Afghan officials have commended the new strategy — much of which
has already been in place since General McChrystal took command for six months —
to lower civilian casualties, protect the Afghan people, train more Afghan
forces and hand over more responsibility to them.
In particular, those officials pitted on the front line against the Taliban
insurgents said a rapid surge of 30,000 troops this winter was desperately
needed, since Afghan forces could not fight off the current insurgency on their
“It’s a very good idea,” said a senior security official who has been in the
forefront of tracking Al Qaeda and Taliban since 2001. The United States had
very good human intelligence on Taliban on both sides of the border in
Afghanistan and Pakistan but they did not have enough good fighters in the
Afghan army and police, he said.
“They need the Americans,” he said. A surge of extra forces could undercut the
insurgency in six months since many of the Taliban were ready to negotiate and
could be persuaded to swap sides with a concerted effort, he said.
In Kabul, an increase in troops was generally seen as a gesture of welcome
strength. Yet in the south, where the civilian cost has been highest and there
is a deep weariness of the war, the mood has been generally against an increase
in troops since many fear it would only increase the civilian cost. The test
would be in how the extra troops perform, one government official said.
Afghans See Sharp Shift
in U.S. Tone, NYT, 4.12.2009,
Defends Policy on Afghanistan
December 3, 2009
The New York Times
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton and the nation’s top military officer on Wednesday laid out a
muscular defense of President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops
to Afghanistan, but they made clear that his plan to begin withdrawing those
forces by July 2011 was flexible.
At two hearings on Capitol Hill, where they faced deep skepticism about
different parts of Mr. Obama’s war plan from both parties, they also said that
the arrival of the additional forces, while speedy, would not be as fast as Mr.
Obama suggested in a speech to the nation on Tuesday night.
Although most of the additional troops would arrive in Afghanistan in the first
six months of next year, as the president announced, Adm. Mike Mullen, the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they would not all be in place until
the fall of 2010.
At the same time, American diplomats said that NATO allies had expressed
surprise at Mr. Obama’s commitment to begin withdrawing by July 2011. Richard C.
Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and
Pakistan, met Wednesday with officials from several countries to explain the
president’s thinking, similar to what Mr. Gates, Mrs. Clinton and Admiral Mullen
were doing before Congress.
The Democrat who leads the House defense appropriations subcommittee,
Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, said Wednesday that he expected
the White House to seek $40 billion by the spring to pay for the additional
troops, or $10 billion more a year than the president estimated in his speech.
Administration officials said they did not support efforts of some Democrats in
Congress to pay for the additional troops with a surtax on incomes, meaning that
war costs would continue to add to the deficit.
In a full day of testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the
House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Gates, Mrs. Clinton and Admiral Mullen
faced repeated criticism that the target date to begin withdrawals — less than a
year after all the 30,000 troops arrive — would be an invitation to Al Qaeda and
the Taliban to prepare and plan.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, started the day by grilling Mr.
Gates and Admiral Mullen, and said it made no sense to set an exit date if the
withdrawal was also going to be based on conditions on the ground, as the
president said in his speech.
Eight hours later on the House side, Mr. Gates was still answering the same
question when he said: “I have adamantly opposed deadlines. I opposed them in
Iraq, and I oppose deadlines in Afghanistan.” In Afghanistan, he said, “This
will be a gradual process.”
The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, made the same
point while speaking to reporters in Kabul, the Afghan capital. He said he was
“absolutely supportive of the timeline” laid out by Mr. Obama, but he also
cautioned that the timeline was flexible and “is not an absolute.”
“It’s not, ‘At 18 months, everybody leaves,’ ” the general said.
The July 2011 date, Mr. Gates, Mrs. Clinton and Admiral Mullen said, was in
large part meant to be a wake-up call to the Afghans that the United States
would not be in the country forever. “How do you demonstrate resolve and at the
same time convey a sense of urgency to the Afghans that they must step up to the
plate and begin to take responsibility for their own security and to protect
their own country against the extremists?” Mr. Gates told the House committee.
Although members of both parties expressed doubts about the war plan, there were
few political fireworks. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California
Republican who opposes the war, dismissed Mr. Obama’s strategy as “maybe a
different facade, but it’s the same old policy.”
Over all, the hearings had little of the drama that characterized Capitol Hill
hearings on the war in Iraq. In the morning, Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of
Indiana, offered his congratulations to Mrs. Clinton on the engagement of her
The hearings did offer a glimpse of a few details and some of the thinking
behind the president’s strategy. The testimony from the three officials showed
that the White House would keep to its longstanding goal to build up the Afghan
security forces to 240,000 by 2011, and not expand to 400,000 as General
McChrystal had proposed.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who has been a proponent of training
more Afghan security forces, showed his own skepticism on that issue, and
questioned whether sending so many additional troops might keep the Afghans from
building up their security forces on their own. “Where I have questions is
whether the rapid deployment of a large number of U.S. combat forces, without an
adequate number of Afghan security forces for our troops to partner with, serves
that mission,” he said.
In his opening statement, Mr. Gates, who pushed for the 30,000 additional
American troops and was singled out by the White House as influential in Mr.
Obama’s decision, sharply differed with some of Mr. Obama’s advisers who have
argued that the United States should focus on rooting out Al Qaeda from
Pakistan, and that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not present a serious long-term
threat to the national security of the United States.
On the contrary, Mr. Gates said, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are inextricably
“While Al Qaeda is under great pressure now and dependent on the Taliban and
other extremist groups for sustainment, the success of the Taliban would vastly
strengthen Al Qaeda’s message, to the Muslim world, that violent extremists are
on the winning side of history,” Mr. Gates said. He added, “The Taliban and Al
Qaeda have become symbiotic, each benefiting from the success and mythology of
When pressed by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, on why the United
States had to invest so much military power and money in Afghanistan when Al
Qaeda still had the ability to establish havens in other countries, Mr. Gates
replied that Afghanistan was unique.
Not only was it the place where the 2001 attacks against the United States were
planned, he said, it “is still the wellspring of inspiration for extremist
He said that the “guidance and strategic leadership” for Al Qaeda came from the
group’s leaders who were in the border area with Pakistan, and that there was an
“unholy alliance” that had developed in the past year between Al Qaeda, the
Taliban in Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He added, “If anything, the situation, I think, is more serious today than it
was a year ago because of the attacks of the Taliban in Pakistan on Pakistan,
and the effort of Al Qaeda in collusion with the Taliban in Pakistan to try and
destabilize Pakistan itself.”
Reporting was contributed by Jackie Calmes, Christopher Drew and Mark Landler
from Washington, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Obama Team Defends
Policy on Afghanistan, NYT, 3.12.2009,
The Afghan Plan: A Range of Voices
December 3, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Obama Speeds Troops and
Vows to Start Pullout in 2011” (front page, Dec. 2):
In 1968, about 30,000 Americans had already died in the Vietnam War. Two of that
generation’s brightest leaders, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert
F. Kennedy, joined together to speak out against our continued involvement in
that war. But they did not live out the year, and the void left by their passing
can be seen on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that bears more than 58,000
Barack Obama was elected as our president and our commander in chief because he
reminded many of us of those two leaders. Now, a year after his historic and
uplifting election, he has decided to pour more troops into a war in Afghanistan
that has dragged on for more than eight long years.
Unfortunately, in making that decision, President Obama has failed to show the
strength that King and Kennedy showed when we were bogged down in Vietnam. He
has failed to seize the opportunity to tell us, unequivocally, that we must
leave Afghanistan now, and the failed policies that bogged us down there in the
A year ago, Mr. Obama promised to bring “change” to our country. This is
definitely not it.
Seattle, Dec. 2, 2009
The writer’s brother, Lt. Col. Kevin Shea, was killed in Falluja, Iraq, on Sept.
To the Editor:
Many of my fellow progressives disagree with President Obama’s decision to send
an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. In my view, he deserves the benefit
of the doubt on this decision.
The reckless assault on Iraq was based on hubris, ignorance and an absurdly
Pollyannish view of the likely consequences (not to mention the lack of a clear
connection with any national interest of the United States). Both this country
and the Iraqi population have suffered deeply as a result.
In contrast, President Obama has been forced to choose among a series of bad
options in Afghanistan. He has done so with admirable deliberation and thought.
He may or may not have made the right decision. Time will tell. But the process
by which he reached his determination cannot be faulted, and I believe that it
is premature to say, without knowing the eventual outcome, that it is wrong.
Davis, Calif., Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
I have been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, which I deemed misguided and
unjust. Yet I was an eyewitness to the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11,
and have no illusions about the threat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies
continue to pose to America.
For that reason, I fully support President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. While
many questions remain about the stability of governments in the area, the
resolve of our allies and the feasibility of reaching our goals by mid-2011,
make no mistake: we have no choice but to do all we can to ensure that Al Qaeda
can never again mount the kind of attack it did on that infamous day.
Thomas J. Minet
Montclair, N.J., Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
Those of us who were devoted to getting Barack Obama elected president in
November 2008 are saddened by the situation he finds himself in. He is between a
rock and a hard place.
But if nothing else, the history of Afghanistan clearly shows us that that
country is a no-win situation. Even if the president’s plan, revealed on Tuesday
night, “works” and United States troops return home in 2011 or so, what will
stop the Taliban from waiting out the situation and raising their terror after
New York, Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
On Tuesday night President Obama did what a commander in chief ought to do. He
made a decision and defended it. What he did not do was call on the American
people to sacrifice in any meaningful way.
There was no mention of bond sales to finance the war. No rationing to conserve
our resources. No draft to spread the burden of war more fairly. Any of these
would have given each citizen an opportunity to express support or opposition.
All of these would place the decision where it should ultimately belong — on
this country’s citizens.
Santa Cruz, Calif., Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “The Afghanistan Speech” (editorial, Dec. 2):
President Obama’s newly unveiled Afghanistan escalation is certainly “high
risk.” But it is also likely to be low reward.
It is hard to imagine that we can mold the corrupt, helpless Karzai regime into
a stable Afghan state over the next 18 months with an additional 30,000 troops.
Most experts estimate that a “successful” counterinsurgency would take many more
soldiers and many more years.
The unstated aim of the “surge” seems to be to pacify the country long enough to
foster the illusion of stability so that Mr. Obama can withdraw United States
forces without appearing to have “lost” Afghanistan. But the real choice is
between an open-ended guerrilla war or a fast, responsible exit.
This split-the-difference plan epitomizes the worst-of-both-worlds fallout of
“compromising” between polar positions.
To paraphrase a young John Kerry, Mr. Obama is asking one of those 30,000
soldiers to be the last to die for a mistake.
Chicago, Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
Here we go again! The United States is committed to another unwinnable war in a
country that will remain a democracy only while it is protected by America.
Afghanistan is fraught with so much corruption that even its “democratic”
elections are suspect.
The suggestion that we have a mission and we will start an exit in 2011 would be
laughable were it not so dangerous to our troops and our economy. Already,
administration officials are saying a pullout will be dependent upon what is
going on in two years.
This is, at best, another Iraq, and at worst, another Vietnam.
Salvatore J. Bommarito
New York, Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
By coupling a troop surge with an exit timetable in Afghanistan, President Obama
has indulged in an oxymoron of military strategy. It was President Dwight D.
Eisenhower who enunciated the axiom that all wars are unpredictable. Mr. Obama
has scant ability to foresee what tactics may be dictated two years from now.
New York, Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
I heard President Obama’s speech and he spoke brilliantly as usual, but I was
appalled by its content, by his profound lack of understanding of the enemy. To
announce to the world that America has a plan to begin pulling out forces in 18
months is a monumental blunder.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda are probably laughing their terrorist heads off. During
this period they’ll back off, go into hiding in the Afghan and Pakistani
mountains, and train for conquest when we begin drawing down substantial numbers
Doesn’t President Obama understand that this enemy has infinite patience in
achieving world conquest and will use wait-and-ambush tactics?
Rego Park, Queens, Dec. 2, 2009
To the Editor:
As a baby boomer, I lived in fear of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. The
Middle East was never mentioned. Since 9/11 my childhood fear has returned, but
it is ill defined, along with the enemy.
Right now I need to fear the Pakistani-Afghan border activities and the buildup
of Al Qaeda, but only in Afghanistan. That’s going to be fixed by “winning” a
I like to win. Did we win yet in Iraq? Was Al Qaeda ever in Iraq? Is Al Qaeda
also in the Philippines, Somalia, Algeria, Eritrea, Chechnya, Tajikistan,
Somalia, Yemen and Kashmir? And let’s not forget the Taliban. Do we help Al
Qaeda by quashing the Taliban?
Somewhere in all the rhetoric is the truth, perhaps lending some sense of
understanding and security. What are our motives? Who is the enemy? How many
more countries will we leave in chaos after failed democratization?
One distant enemy, one fear, was so much easier.
Beverly Hills, Calif., Dec. 2, 2009
The Afghan Plan: A Range
of Voices, NYT, 3.12.2009,
to Send More Troops to Afghanistan
December 3, 2009
The New York Times
By ALAN COWELL
PARIS — As political and military leaders across the globe
pondered the import of President Obama’s announcement of his Afghan strategy,
the NATO secretary general said Wednesday he believed other members of the
alliance would contribute 5,000 soldiers — and possibly more — to make a
“substantial” increase to the 43-nation coalition fighting the Taliban.
Speaking at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, the official, Anders Fogh
Rasmussen, said he anticipated “at least 5,000 more forces from other countries
in our alliance and possibly a few thousand more” to bolster NATO’s current
contingent of around 42,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. The figure fell somewhat
short of American hopes, voiced by officials before the president’s speech, that
the NATO allies would contribute up to 8,000 additional soldiers.
In a formal statement from NATO headquarters, Mr. Rasmussen spoke of “a
substantial increase” in the contribution by NATO allies in response to
President Obama’s appeal form ore non-American forces.
Elsewhere, the appeal drew an ambivalent response.
France and Germany immediately ruled out an immediate commitment of more ground
forces. But Poland was reported to be considering increasing its contingent by
600 soldiers from its current level of 2,000, Reuters reported, and a Spanish
newspaper said Spain might increase its deployment by 200 soldiers to 1,200.
Britain pledged to press other allies to boost their contingents and Italy
hinted at an unspecified increase beyond its current 2,800 soldiers in the
patchwork of foreign troops in Afghanistan, known as the International Security
Apart from NATO’s response to the president’s plan to send around 30,000 more
American soldiers, officials in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan were
examining the implications on their countries, both of them gripped by
intertwined Taliban insurgencies.
In Kabul, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that despite some tough
language in President Obama’s speech and an outline for a drawdown of troops
starting in 18 months, the president “sharply stated his commitment to
Mr. Spanta said he was not worried about Washington’s target of 18 months for
Afghan security forces to take responsibility for security. “I personally
believe it must go faster. We must take up the burden and I am not alone in
thinking this,” he said. He was speaking after signing an agreement with the
American ambassador to Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, to open the first United
States consulate in Afghanistan in the relatively peaceful northern city of
The opposition leader, Abdullah Abdullah, who pulled out of the presidential
election in November accusing President Hamid Karzai of widespread fraud,
welcomed the extra troops.
“Unfortunately, we should not need more troops after eight years but we do,” Dr.
Abdullah said in comments relayed by an aide. He cast doubt on the likely
ability of the Afghan government to assume control in two to three years. “That
cannot be guaranteed by anyone, that’s the question mark,” he said.
Across a long and mountainous border in Pakistan, distrust of American
intentions runs deep, partly because the United States abandoned the region
after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, and there is
widespread fear in the security establishment of a repetition of those events.
Newspapers, anticipating the speech, struck a skeptical tone. The News, a daily,
acknowledged in an editorial that Mr. Obama was trying to change the substance
of American-Pakistani relations, but that the trust deficit was so deep that “it
is unlikely that Islamabad will be more attentive to an apparently war-weary
U.S. and NATO than it was to a fire-breathing Bush administration eight years
An editorial in The Nation, a nationalist daily strongly critical of the United
States, struck a more strident tone: “The time has come for Pakistan to demand
rather than to continue giving in to U.S. interests.”
Mr. Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, did not say where he expected
additional coalition forces to come from. Britain, the second biggest
contributor after the United States, has promised to add 500 to its
9,0000-strong Afghan deployment. But other allies have been more reticent. Prime
Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday that Britain would “continue to play its
full part in persuading other countries to offer troops to the Afghanistan
With more than 2,800 soldiers on the ground — and a relatively high casualty
rate among them — Canada welcomed Mr. Obama’s decision, with Foreign Minister
Lawrence Cannon saying the “additional U.S. resources will help to provide a
more secure environment for the Afghan people,” Reuters reported.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Mr. Obama’s speech on Tuesday night
“courageous, determined and lucid, giving new impetus to the international
commitment” but he did not commit to adding to France’s nearly 3,750 troops now
in the war zone.
“France expects clear commitments from Afghan authorities, in answer to the
strong commitments of the international community, on policy, economic and
social development and on fighting drug trafficking,” he said.
But the foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said in a radio interview that
France had increased its force levels in September and, in its area of
operations, “our zone doesn’t need a troop increase. Our area is well taken care
But he did not rule out further adjustment, referring to an international
conference on Afghanistan set to take place in London in late January. “We will
see how to adjust things then.”
Germany, too, is awaiting the gathering in London to decide whether to increase
the size of its contingent. “We hear the wishes of the United States, but we
will not decide in the coming days. We will decide only after the Afghanistan
Several German newspapers have reported that Washington is pressing for up to
2,500 more German soldiers. Germany, the third largest contributor in the
alliance with 4,300 troops on the ground, is currently debating a one-year
renewal of a parliamentary mandate for the deployment which sets a maximum level
of 4,500 troops.
An increase would need fresh parliamentary approval.
In a statement issued in Kabul on Wednesday Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top
commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the president’s
review of Afghan strategy had “provided me with a clear military mission and the
resources to accomplish our task.”
General McChrystal had sought up to 40,000 American reinforcements in addition
to the 68,000 already there.
“We will work toward improved security for Afghanistan and the transfer of
responsibility to Afghan security forces as rapidly as conditions allow. In the
meantime, our Afghan partners need the support of coalition forces while we grow
and develop the capacity of the Afghan Army and police. That will be the main
focus of our campaign in the months ahead,” he said.
“We face many challenges in Afghanistan, but our efforts are sustained by one
unassailable reality: neither the Afghan people nor the international community
want Afghanistan to remain a sanctuary for terror and violence. The coalition is
encouraged by President Obama’s commitment and we remain resolute to empowering
the Afghan people to reject the insurgency and build their own future.”
After meeting with President Karzai in Kabul Wednesday, General McChrystal said
the Afghan leader was “very upbeat, very resolute this morning.”
Apart from the political and military consequences of the American strategy,
others in the region are looking for an economic component in Washington’s
In a letter this month to Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, Mr. Obama
extended an offer of expanded, long-term cooperation, including helping Pakistan
address “immediate energy, water, and related economic crisis.”
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” said a Pakistani official. “We have to solve it
“The speech creates a window of opportunity,” said Feisal Naqvi, a lawyer in
Lahore. “But the partnership has to have some visible aid component.” The United
States government, he said, “has to woo the people of Pakistan.”
Carlotta Gall and Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul,
Afghanistan, Sabrina Tavernise from Islamabad, Pakistan, Nadim Audi from Paris,
and Victor Homola from Berlin.
NATO Looking to Send
More Troops to Afghanistan, NYT, 3.12.2009,
The Afghanistan Speech
December 2, 2009
The New York Times
Americans have reason to be pessimistic, if not despairing, about the war in
Afghanistan. After eight years of fighting, more than 800 American lives lost
and more than 200 billion taxpayer dollars spent, the Afghan government is
barely legitimate and barely hanging on in the face of an increasingly powerful
In his speech Tuesday night, President Obama showed considerable political
courage by addressing that pessimism and despair head-on. He explained why the
United States cannot walk away from the war and outlined an ambitious and
high-risk strategy for driving back the Taliban and bolstering the Afghan
government so American troops can eventually go home.
For far too long — mostly, but not only, under President George W. Bush —
Afghanistan policy has had little direction and no accountability. Mr. Obama
started to address those problems at West Point, although the country needs to
hear more about how he intends to pay for the war and how he will decide when
Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own.
The president’s prolonged and leak-ridden policy review had fanned doubts here
and abroad about Mr. Obama’s commitment. He showed no reluctance on Tuesday
night. He said he decided to send more troops because he is “convinced that our
security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” which he called “the
epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda.”
“This is no idle danger,” Mr. Obama said, “no hypothetical threat.” He warned
that new attacks were being plotted in the region, and raised the terrifying
prospect of an unchecked Al Qaeda taking over a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Mr. Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops — and ask NATO allies
for several thousand more — is unlikely to end the political debate. Republicans
are certain to point out that it is still short of the 40,000 requested by the
top field commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and object to the president’s
pledge of a quick drawdown. Many Democrats and the president’s own vice
president had opposed any escalation.
At this late date, we don’t know if even 100,000 American troops plus 40,000
from NATO will be enough to turn the war around. But we are sure that continuing
President Bush’s strategy of fighting on the cheap (in January 2008, the start
of Mr. Bush’s last year in office and more than six years after the war began,
there were only 27,000 American troops in Afghanistan) is a guarantee of defeat.
Mr. Obama said he planned to move those 30,0000 troops in quickly — within six
months — to break the Taliban’s momentum, secure key population centers, speed
up training of Afghan security forces and then hand over control to Afghan
authorities. He said he expected to be able to start drawing down American
forces in July 2011. But he made no promise about when all American combat
troops would be gone, saying only that the decision would be based on conditions
on the ground.
Over all, we found the president’s military arguments persuasive.
The Afghan people have no love for the Taliban’s medieval ideas and brutality,
but the Karzai government’s failure to provide basic services or security has
led many to conclude that they have no choice but to submit. Driving the Taliban
back swiftly and decisively from key cities and regions should help change that
calculation. Coupled with an offer of negotiations, it may also peel away less
There is no point in doing that unless there is a minimally credible Afghan
government to “hold” those areas. There is no chance of that unless Mr. Karzai
ends the corruption and appoints competent officials. One of Mr. Obama’s biggest
challenges is figuring out how to goad him into doing that, without further
damaging the Afghan leader’s legitimacy, or driving him even deeper into his
circle of unsavory cronies and warlords.
In his speech Mr. Obama sought to put Mr. Karzai on notice, but more gently than
we would have. “The days of providing a blank check are over,” he said, vowing
that his government “will be clear about what we expect from those who receive
We hope that the president and his aides — who failed to stop Mr. Karzai from
trying to steal his re-election — are a lot more specific and a lot more
forceful with the Afghan leader in private.
Mr. Obama faced a similar balancing act with Pakistan. He forcefully argued that
Pakistan’s survival also depends on defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban but gave
the Pakistani government more credit than we would have for seeing that.
Pakistani officials insist they understand the threat but question Washington’s
staying power. Mr. Obama said the United States will support Pakistan’s
“security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent.” But it will
take a lot more cajoling and pressure to finally persuade Islamabad to stop
hedging its bets and fully take on the extremists.
For years President Bush sought to disguise the true cost of the Afghan and Iraq
wars. So it was a relief to hear the president put a credible price tag on his
escalation — he said it is likely to cost an additional $30 billion next year —
and promise to work with Congress to pay for it. He and Congress need to address
that issue quickly and credibly.
We are eager to see American troops come home. We don’t know whether Mr. Obama
will be able to meet his July 2011 deadline to start drawing down forces.
For that to happen, there will have to be a lot more success at training Afghan
forces and improving the government’s effectiveness.
Still, setting a deadline — so long as it is not set in stone — is a sound idea.
Mr. Karzai and his aides need to know that America’s commitment is not
open-ended. Mr. Obama’s generals and diplomats also need to know that their work
will be closely monitored and reviewed.
Otherwise, Mr. Obama will be hard pressed to keep his promise that this war,
already the longest in American history, will not go on forever.
The Afghanistan Speech,
With Troop Pledge,
New Demands on Afghans
December 2, 2009
The New York Times
By DEXTER FILKINS
President Obama’s commitment Tuesday night to redouble America’s
campaign in Afghanistan left unanswered what is perhaps the most decisive
question of all: will the Afghans step up too?
In ordering the accelerated deployment of 30,000 fresh American troops to the
country, Mr. Obama made clear that he would demand a far greater effort from
President Hamid Karzai to stanch corruption in his government and from Afghan
soldiers and police officers to fight Taliban insurgents.
The extra American soldiers, the president said, would be on the ground only for
a limited time to ensure the Afghans followed through.
But that is the heart of the problem: in laying down the gauntlet for the
Afghans, Mr. Obama is setting criteria for success that he and his field
commanders may be able to influence, but that ultimately they will not be able
The most immediate challenge is President Karzai himself, the onetime Western
favorite who presides over what is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt
governments in the world. The graft permeating the Afghan government is so vast
that for ordinary Afghans, it has begun to call into question the very
legitimacy of Mr. Karzai’s government — and for Americans, the wisdom of
fighting and dying to support it.
Only last month, Mr. Karzai was declared the winner in nationwide elections that
were tainted by extraordinary levels of fraud — nearly all of which independent
election observers found was orchestrated on his behalf. Mr. Karzai’s own
brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is suspected of bring a central player in the
country’s opium trade, a primary source of money for Taliban insurgents.
“We have to have a better government because all these soldiers will be sent to
benefit this corrupt government,” said Noorulhaq Uloomi, an Afghan member of
Parliament. “This government is corrupt from top to bottom.”
Mr. Obama appears to be hoping that a precise timetable for the beginning of an
American withdrawal — 18 months from now — will goad Mr. Karzai to act. In this
way, Mr. Obama is trying to resolve a central conundrum of American policy: how
to force Mr. Karzai to curb corruption in his government without substantially
weakening him if he fails.
One clue to President Obama’s approach is that he intends to curtail the amount
of American money going directly to Mr. Karzai and the central government in
Kabul. Instead, the president intends to channel more American money directly to
local officials in the provinces.
But beyond that, Mr. Obama did not specify in his speech what he would do if Mr.
Karzai failed to make the changes the president is calling for.
Mr. Karzai, now in his eighth year as president, has consistently resisted
previous American demands that he clean up his government. Only last month, he
reportedly refused the latest American demand, made by Ambassador Karl
Eikenberry, that he remove Ahmed Wali Karzai from his base in Kandahar.
Moreover, much if not most of the corruption that pervades Mr. Karzai’s
government involves not so much Afghan officials’ stealing American money as it
does their enriching themselves off the country’s booming opium trade. Afghan
police officers say that high-ranking jobs in the force, for instance, are often
auctioned off for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars; the Afghans who
secure those jobs then often use their positions to reap even more money by
facilitating the movement of narcotics.
Yet for all the worries about corruption, President Obama’s far larger gamble is
the plan to train the Afghan police and army to take over for the Americans —
and eventually allow them to go home. Even by their numbers alone, the Afghan
forces are woefully inadequate: there are currently about 90,000 Afghan soldiers
and about 93,000 Afghan police officers. In a country of about 30 million, that
is nowhere near the number that will ultimately be needed to bring order to that
fractious land. (Security forces in Iraq, which has a smaller population, now
total about 600,000.)
President Obama and his field commanders intend to rapidly expand the rank of
Afghans under arms to about 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police officers.
They also intend to augment those forces by supporting local defense forces —
Afghan militias — in villages and towns. Turning groups of former insurgents
into neighborhood defense forces was a decisive factor in reducing the violence
But the far more worrying prospect is the quality of the Afghan troops and
officers. While many Afghans have demonstrated an eagerness to fight the
Taliban, the Afghan Army and police have shown themselves unable to maintain
themselves in the field, to purge their ranks of corruption, to mount operations
at night or to operate any weapon more complicated than a rifle.
One example often cited by American trainers: the bureaucratic skills and
literacy levels necessary to administer a large force have not materialized,
even after years of mentoring. When it comes to paying their soldiers, keeping
them fed, providing them with ammunition and equipment, tracking who is on leave
and who is injured, most Afghan units perform very poorly. These tasks —
essential to the readiness of any army — are almost invariably performed by
American or NATO soldiers.
Indeed, American trainers often spend large amounts of time verifying that
Afghan rosters are accurate — that they are not padded with “ghosts” being
“paid” by Afghan commanders who quietly collect the bogus wages.
“The focus of the training program has always been ‘more soldiers’ at the
expense of quality training,” said an American involved in training Afghan
forces, who demanded that his name be withheld because he was still working with
Afghan soldiers. “There are no ‘tests.’ A soldier does not have to master any
task prior to graduating. Attendance equals graduation.”
When it comes to such grim assessments, the struggle in Afghanistan is colored
by that other American war, the one in Iraq. In that country, for nearly four
years, the war went horribly wrong — and then, suddenly, conditions markedly
improved. Many factors contributed to the turnaround, not least the rapid and
temporary influx of American forces known as the “surge.”
President Obama is hoping for a similar turnabout now. But Afghanistan is a
different country from Iraq, and one that makes a temporary surge of soldiers
more of a gamble.
In Iraq, both the population and insurgency are concentrated in cities.
Afghanistan, by contrast, is a largely rural country, with the population spread
across a mountainous and remote terrain. The Afghan insurgency is, too, making
it far more difficult to pin down.
In the end, training Afghan soldiers and pressuring Afghan officials will
succeed only if the American-led war has the support of ordinary Afghans
themselves. And it’s among them — in the streets — that the war will ultimately
be lost or won.
“We’re in a battle to win over what the average Afghan wants for their country,”
an American military official said, “and whether they have more faith in their
Carlotta Gall and Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from
Kabul. C. J. Chivers also contributed reporting.
With Troop Pledge, New Demands on Afghans,
Two Messages for Two Sides
December 2, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER and ADAM NAGOURNEY
WASHINGTON — President Obama went before the nation on Tuesday
night to announce that he would escalate the war in Afghanistan. And Mr. Obama
went before the nation to announce that he had a plan to end the war in
If the contrasting messages seemed jarring at first, they reflect the obstacles
Mr. Obama faces in rallying an increasingly polarized country that itself is of
two minds about what to do in Afghanistan. For those who still support the war,
he is sending more troops. For those against it, he is offering the assurance of
the exit ramp.
He used language intended to appeal to different parts of the spectrum, at times
echoing former President George W. Bush in reasserting America’s moral authority
in the world while repudiating what he sees as the mistakes of the Bush years
and insisting that “America has no interest in fighting an endless war in
Afghanistan.” He tried to persuade people on both sides of the divide — and a
Congress that must finance the war — to swallow their misgivings and come
together long enough to see if his strategy works.
“It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united,” he told a
national television audience from the United States Military Academy at West
Point, evoking the memory of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, organized from
Afghan soil. “I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity
again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we, as Americans, can still
come together behind a common purpose.”
Yet his answer to perhaps the most vexing decision to confront him yet in his
presidency is one that may frustrate both sides more than it satisfies them, as
suggested by the initial reaction. “The way that you win wars is you break the
enemy’s will, not announce when you are leaving,” Senator John McCain, the
Arizona Republican, said Tuesday before meeting with Mr. Obama at the White
House, where he delivered much the same message in person.
Norman Solomon, national co-chairman of the Progressive Democrats of America’s
antiwar campaign, hung up from a conference call with fellow activists to say
that they were all “totally unhappy” and to compare Mr. Obama’s decision to the
escalations of Vietnam. “This is a clear case of a president getting in deeper
and deeper and proclaiming to see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Still, for all the complaints, the response was much more measured than when Mr.
Bush announced his own “surge” of extra troops to Iraq nearly three years ago, a
reminder that Mr. Obama is in a stronger position than his predecessor was then
and a sign that the blend of policies may temper opposition.
Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri and chairman of the House Armed
Services Committee, said Mr. Obama’s plan generated little of the fireworks of
the Bush years when he briefed Congressional leaders of both parties at the
White House on Tuesday afternoon before flying to West Point. “No one
dissented,” Mr. Skelton said. “Not a lot of us spoke.”
When he got to West Point, Mr. Obama spoke for 33 minutes to an audience of
baby-faced soldiers, some of whom may be sent off to the unforgiving mountains
of Afghanistan in the months and years ahead. He spoke firmly and at times
rapidly, never smiling. Uncharacteristically, he looked away from the
teleprompters and directly into the camera near the end of his speech: “America,
we are passing through a time of great trial.”
Mr. Obama addressed multiple players, warning Afghan leaders to step up their
efforts, reassuring Pakistanis of American solidarity and appealing to NATO
allies for more troops. And he directly took on concerns and arguments raised by
To Democrats who supported his campaign last year only to rebel at a further
troop buildup, he noted that he had opposed the war in Iraq from the start and
he rejected comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam. “If I did not think
that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people
were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our
troops home tomorrow,” he said.
And yet, Mr. Obama at times sounded like Mr. Bush in justifying this war. He
celebrated the United States as a nation “founded in resistance to oppression”
and talked about its long record of sacrifice in “advancing frontiers of human
He also warned of the perils on an unchecked Qaeda. “This danger will only grow
if the region slides backwards, and Al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must
keep the pressure on Al Qaeda,” he said.
The president also used the moment to directly reject other options. To
withdraw, he said, would “create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks.” To
keep troop levels the same, he said, “would simply maintain a status quo in
which we muddle through.” And to fail to set a time frame for withdrawal, he
said, “would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade.”
Although Mr. Obama had spoken during his presidential campaign of the need to
send troops to Afghanistan, that was hardly a central theme of his campaign, and
he made it clear Tuesday that he was aware of the unease among Democrats that
the expanded effort in Afghanistan would take resources away from domestic
priorities. He repeatedly cited the poor economy and explicitly stated that cost
was a factor in his deliberations.
Still, Mr. Obama may have made his task even harder with his public display of
uncertainty in the three months since Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal first warned of
failure in Afghanistan without more troops. Now he has to demonstrate that he
really is committed to the war — and to the strategy he has come up with to win
His message is “heavily laced with language aimed at mollifying his base, which
is strongly antiwar, rather than reassuring the middle and those who support the
war now,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University specialist on wartime public
opinion and a former Bush adviser. “It’s a triangulation heavy on trying to win
over the people who probably can’t be won over. And a lot of that messaging
could sow doubts.”
Two Messages for Two
Sides, NYT, 2.12.2009,
Obama Adds Troops,
but Maps Exit Plan
December 2, 2009
The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
and HELENE COOPER
WEST POINT, N.Y. — President Obama announced Tuesday that he
would speed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in coming months, but he
vowed to start bringing American forces home in the middle of 2011, saying the
United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended
Promising that he could “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” Mr. Obama
set out a strategy that would seek to reverse Taliban gains in large parts of
Afghanistan, better protect the Afghan people, increase the pressure on
Afghanistan to build its own military capacity and a more effective government
and step up attacks on Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
“America, we are passing through a time of great trial,” Mr. Obama said. “And
the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our
cause is just, our resolve unwavering.”
The military escalation Mr. Obama described and defended in his speech to a
national television audience and 4,000 cadets at the United States Military
Academy here, the culmination of a review that lasted three months, could well
prove to be the most consequential decision of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
In his 33-minute address, he sought to convince an increasingly skeptical nation
that the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the continued existence of
Al Qaeda across the border in Pakistan — what he called a “cancer” on the region
— were direct threats to the United States, and that he could achieve the
seemingly contradictory goals of expanding American involvement in the war even
as he sought to bring it to a close.
The scene in the hall was striking and somber: row after row of cadets, in their
blue-gray uniforms, listening intently to a strategy that could put many of them
in harm’s way. “If I did not think that the security of the United States and
the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly
order every single one of our troops home tomorrow,” Mr. Obama said. “So no, I
do not make this decision lightly.” He called on foreign allies to step up their
commitment, declaring, “This is not just America’s war.”
He delivered a pointed message to Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan,
saying, “The days of providing a blank check are over.”
Addressing critics who have likened Afghanistan to Vietnam, Mr. Obama called the
comparison “a false reading of history.” And he spoke directly to the American
people about the tough road ahead.
“Let me be clear: none of this will be easy,” Mr. Obama said. “The struggle
against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well
beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free
society, and our leadership in the world.”
With the economy weak and the issue of jobs foremost on Americans’ minds, the
president conceded that the new strategy would carry an expensive price tag,
which he put at an additional $30 billion in the first year.
Yet with some Democrats talking of a war surtax, Mr. Obama offered no details of
how he intended to pay for his new policy, saying only that he was “committed to
addressing these costs openly and honestly.”
White House advisers said they expected the administration would do so in the
coming weeks, as officials including Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testify on Capitol Hill starting
The approach laid out by Mr. Obama — not so much a new strategy as a doubling
down on the one he embraced earlier this year — incorporated the basic goals and
came close to the force levels proposed in the counterinsurgency plan that Gen.
Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, put forward in
In that report, General McChrystal said, in stark language, that unless
significantly more troops were sent, the war in Afghanistan was likely to be
But by including an explicit timetable to begin a withdrawal, Mr. Obama
highlighted the seemingly conflicting pressures defining the debate over how to
proceed: to do what is necessary to ensure that the region is not a launching
pad for attacks on the United States and its allies, and to disengage militarily
as quickly as possible.
Senior administration officials suggested, however, that any initial withdrawal
starting in mid-2011 could be very limited, depending on the military situation
at that point.
“The pace, the nature and the duration of that transition are to be determined
down the road by the president based on the conditions on the ground,” said
Michèle A. Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy.
The initial political reactions showed the crosscurrents facing the White House.
Republicans applauded the buildup of troops but questioned the commitment to a
timetable for bringing them home.
“Setting a draw-down date before this surge has even begun is a mistake, and it
sends a mixed message to both our friends and our enemies regarding our
long-term commitment to success,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
But among many Democrats, the response ranged from noncommittal to outright
“I see no good reason for us to send another 30,000 or more troops to
Afghanistan when we have so many pressing issues — like our economy — to deal
with in this country,” said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New
Mr. Obama is calculating, administration officials said, that the explicit
promise of a drawdown will impress upon the Afghan government that his
commitment is not open-ended.
Mr. Obama was less clear publicly on how he planned to address the issue of
Pakistan, which many administration officials say will prove to be a far more
intractable problem in the long term than Afghanistan.
Administration officials said that Mr. Obama had signed off on a plan by the
Central Intelligence Agency to expand C.I.A. activities in Pakistan. The plan
calls for more strikes against militants by drone aircraft, sending additional
spies to Pakistan and securing a White House commitment to bulk up the C.I.A.’s
budget for operations inside the country.
The expanded operations could include drone strikes in the southern province of
Baluchistan, where senior Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding,
The new Afghanistan strategy draws heavily on lessons learned from Mr. Bush’s
“surge” and strategy shift in Iraq in 2007, which Mr. Obama opposed.
In addition to the influx of troops and the training of the Afghan Army,
administration officials said they were taking other lessons from the Iraq
buildup, like empowering local security forces to stand up to Taliban militants
in their communities and enhancing the training of national forces by embedding
American troops with Afghan counterparts and later pairing American and Afghan
units to fight side by side.
The 30,000 troops that Mr. Obama is sending are part of what one administration
official characterized as a short-term, high-intensity effort to regain the
initiative against the Taliban.
Administration officials said that they were hoping to get a commitment for an
additional 5,000 to 8,000 troops from NATO allies — perhaps as early as Friday
at a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels — which would bring the number of
additional troops in Afghanistan to close to the 40,000 that General McChrystal
Mr. Obama is sending three of the four brigades requested by General McChrystal.
The first Marines will begin arriving as early as Christmas, and all forces will
be in place by May, a senior administration official said.
The 30,000 new American troops will focus on securing and protecting the
country’s top population centers, including Kabul, Khost and Kandahar, the
Taliban’s spiritual capital. Military officials said that two brigades would go
south, with the third going to eastern Afghanistan.
Military officers said that they could maintain pressure on insurgents in remote
regions by using surveillance drones and reports from people in the field to
find pockets of Taliban fighters and to guide attacks, in particular by Special
The strategy also includes expanded economic development and reconciliation with
less radical members of the Taliban.
In addition, Mr. Obama is making tougher demands on the Afghan government; he
spent an hour on the phone Monday with Mr. Karzai, White House officials said,
and pressed him on the need to combat the corruption and drug trafficking, which
many Western officials say has fueled the resurgence of the Taliban.
During the conversation, Mr. Obama, described by one White House official as
“very explicit,” pressed Mr. Karzai on the need to take steps that would show
progress. Mr. Obama congratulated Mr. Karzai on setting up a corruption task
force, but also pressed him on the need to make sure that officials appointed by
the government are untainted by corruption.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from West Point, and Helene Cooper
from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, David E. Sanger, Mark
Mazzetti, Carl Hulse and Mark Landler from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from
Obama Adds Troops, but
Maps Exit Plan, NYT, 2.12.2009,
on the War in Afghanistan
December 2, 2009
The New York Times
Following is the text of President Obama's address on a new strategy for the
war in Afghanistan, as released by the White House on Tuesday:
Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our
Armed Services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about
our effort in Afghanistan -- the nature of our commitment there, the scope of
our interests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bring this
war to a successful conclusion. It's an extraordinary honor for me to do so here
at West Point -- where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our
security, and to represent what is finest about our country.
To address these important issues, it's important to recall why America and our
allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did
not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes
and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and
economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children
without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic
actions of passengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck
at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many
As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda -- a group of extremists who have
distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the
slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda's base of operations was in Afghanistan, where
they were harbored by the Taliban -- a ruthless, repressive and radical movement
that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet
occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had
Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and
those who harbored them -- an authorization that continues to this day. The vote
in the Senate was 98 to nothing. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the
first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked
Article 5 -- the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an
attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all
necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the
world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda's terrorist network and to protect
our common security.
Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy -- and only
after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden -- we sent our troops
into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of
its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on
its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a
conference convened by the U.N., a provisional government was established under
President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was
established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.
Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq. The
wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here.
It's enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant
share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention --
and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America
and much of the world.
Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible
end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and
all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the
character of the men and women in uniform. (Applause.) Thanks to their courage,
grit and perseverance, we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and
we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.
But while we've achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in
Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in
2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe haven there. Although a
legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by
corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al
Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the
Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan,
while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism
against the Pakistani people.
Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction
of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans
serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war.
Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the
reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that's
why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more
troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy
recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and
the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as
disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and
pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.
Since then, we've made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al
Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we've stepped up the pressure on
al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation's army has gone on its largest
offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from
stopping a presidential election, and -- although it was marred by fraud -- that
election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and
Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it
has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat of the government being
overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in
Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe
havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to
effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the
population. Our new commander in Afghanistan -- General McChrystal -- has
reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In
short: The status quo is not sustainable.
As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you
fought in Afghanistan. Some of you will deploy there. As your
Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of
your service. And that's why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted
on a thorough review of our strategy. Now, let me be clear: There has never been
an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has
been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during
this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard
questions, and to explore all the different options, along with my national
security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key
partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people -- and our
troops -- no less.
This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that
it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to
Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the
resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan
capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of
I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because
I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and
always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war
now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate
over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in
tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort.
And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great
Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our
economy and putting people to work here at home.
Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you -- a military that,
along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As
President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American
who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and
spouses of those who deployed. I visited our courageous wounded warriors at
Walter Reed. I've traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18
Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the
terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States
and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would
gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.
So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am
convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the
epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we
were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as
I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months
alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from
the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And
this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can
operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we
must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.
Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's
war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe havens have been the source of attacks against
London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and
Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed
Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear
weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.
These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching
goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in
To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan.
We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and
deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the
capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take
lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.
We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military
strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's
capacity over the next 18 months.
The 30,000 additional troops that I'm announcing tonight will deploy in the
first part of 2010 -- the fastest possible pace -- so that they can target the
insurgency and secure key population centers. They'll increase our ability to
train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more
Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the
United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
Because this is an international effort, I've asked that our commitment be
joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional
troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days
and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in
Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For
what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility -- what's at stake is
the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.
But taken together, these additional American and international troops will
allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow
us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just
as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking
into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist
Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long
haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to
the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own
Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan
people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can
take advantage of improved security.
This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check
are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about
moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we
expect from those who receive our assistance. We'll support Afghan ministries,
governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people.
We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we
will also focus our assistance in areas -- such as agriculture -- that can make
an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They've been
confronted with occupation -- by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda
fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the
Afghan people to understand -- America seeks an end to this era of war and
suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support
efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon
violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek
a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect -- to isolate those
who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops
will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner,
and never your patron.
Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is
inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.
We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that
country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of
Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.
In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle
against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing
little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent
years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become
clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism.
Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and
South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan
share a common enemy.
In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those
days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan
that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual
trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that
threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe
haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear.
America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy
and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis
displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know
America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity
long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its
people can be unleashed.
These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create
the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive
action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.
I recognize there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly
address a few of the more prominent arguments that I've heard, and which I take
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They
argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and
rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of
history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that
recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a
broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the
American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target
for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this
area now -- and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance --
would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and
create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our
Second, there are those who acknowledge that we can't leave Afghanistan in its
current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we already
have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through,
and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove
more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able
to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them
the space to take over.
Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition
to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended
escalation of our war effort -- one that would commit us to a nation-building
project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are
beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to
secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transition
would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It
must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security,
and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.
As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our
means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation
faces. I don't have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I'm mindful of
the words of President Eisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security --
said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration:
the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."
Over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We've failed to
appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the
wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of
work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the
future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has
grown more fierce. So we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.
All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these
costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us
roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I'll work closely with
Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.
But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must
rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our
power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the
potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will
allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last.
That's why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended -- because
the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.
Now, let me be clear: None of this will be easy. The struggle against violent
extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan
and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our
leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of
division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly
regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.
So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end
wars and prevent conflict -- not just how we wage wars. We'll have to be nimble
and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt
to establish a foothold -- whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere -- they must
be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.
And we can't count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland
security, because we can't capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We
have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step
ahead of shadowy networks.
We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. And that's why I've
made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials
from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal
of a world without them -- because every nation must understand that true
security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons;
true security will come for those who reject them.
We'll have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an
interconnected world acting alone. I've spent this year renewing our alliances
and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America
and the Muslim world -- one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a
cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents
are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.
And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values -- for the challenges
that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not.
That's why we must promote our values by living them at home -- which is why I
have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must
make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the
dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human
rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect
for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the source, the
moral source, of America's authority.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our
grandparents and great-grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in
global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple
continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and
develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an
architecture of institutions -- from the United Nations to NATO to the World
Bank -- that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.
We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made
mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has
underwritten global security for over six decades -- a time that, for all its
problems, has seen walls come down, and markets open, and billions lifted from
poverty, unparalleled scientific progress and advancing frontiers of human
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our
union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other
nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples
because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for
-- what we continue to fight for -- is a better future for our children and
grandchildren. And we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples'
children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.
As a country, we're not as young -- and perhaps not as innocent -- as we were
when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for
freedom. And now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the
challenges of a new age.
In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength
of our arms. It derives from our people -- from the workers and businesses who
will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will
pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and
the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and
Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in
uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government
of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth.
This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue -- nor
should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership,
nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time, if we allow ourselves to be
split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in
recent times poisoned our national discourse.
It's easy to forget that when this war began, we were united -- bound together
by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our
homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we
cannot summon that unity again. (Applause.) I believe with every fiber of my
being that we -- as Americans -- can still come together behind a common
purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment -- they are
a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of
storms as one nation, as one people.
America -- we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we
send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our
resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes
might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that
is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the
highest of hopes. (Applause.)
Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the United States of America.
(Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
Obama’s Address on the
War in Afghanistan, NYT, 2.12.2009,
Faster Troop Deployment
December 2, 2009
Rhe New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER
and PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama has decided to expedite the deployment of 30,000
additional American troops to Afghanistan over the next six months, in an effort
to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government
in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces, according to
senior administration officials.
In bringing the total American force to nearly 100,000 troops by the end of May,
the administration will move far faster than it had originally planned. Until
recently, discussions focused on a deployment that would take a year, but Mr.
Obama concluded that the situation required “more, sooner,” as one official
said, explaining some of the central conclusions Mr. Obama reached at the end of
a nearly three-month review of American war strategy.
The officials insisted on anonymity to discuss the strategy for Afghanistan and
Pakistan that Mr. Obama will formally announce on Tuesday night in a nationally
televised address from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The strategy aims to prevent Al Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan, whose
territory it used to prepare the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and to keep
Taliban insurgents from toppling the government there. The 30,000 new American
troops will focus on securing a number of population centers in Afghanistan
where the Taliban are strongest, including Kandahar in the south and Khost in
the east, the officials said. The American forces, they said, will pair up with
specific Afghan units in an effort to end eight years of frustrating attempts to
build them into an independent fighting force.
Mr. Obama has concluded that the strategy for dealing with the Taliban should be
to “degrade its ability,” in the words of one of the officials deeply involved
in the discussions, so that the Afghan forces are capable of taking them on. At
the same time the president’s strategy calls for “carving away at the bottom” of
the Taliban’s force structure by reintegrating less committed members into
tribes and offering them paid jobs in local and national military forces.
“We want to knock the Taliban back, giving us time and space to build the
Afghans up mainly in the security front but also in governance and development
as well,” said one senior administration official. By weakening the Taliban
through a quick infusion of troops, the official said, the administration hopes
to make it a more manageable enemy for the Afghans to take on themselves.
For Mr. Obama, the strategy is a huge gamble in a war that has already gone on
for eight years. Polls show that Americans are increasingly tired of the
conflict and doubtful of American goals.
Success, the administration officials said in their fullest discussion yet of
the thinking behind Mr. Obama’s approach, depends in large part on the
cooperation of an Afghan government whose legitimacy is more in question than
ever in the wake of elections marred by extensive fraud.
It also hinges on the success of a renewed relationship with a Pakistani
government whose civilian leadership is exceptionally weak, whose military and
intelligence services are distrustful of the United States and its commitment
and whose willingness to take on elements of the Taliban directing attacks
against American troops from Pakistani territory is still unproven.
While the number of troops Mr. Obama is deploying falls short of the figure
sought by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, his commander in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama is
also counting on reinforcements from American allies. Those allies currently
have nearly 40,000 troops in Afghanistan, but European and Canadian officials
have said they doubt Mr. Obama will get more than a few thousand more.
The new strategy draws heavily on lessons learned from President George W.
Bush’s “surge” and strategy shift in Iraq in 2007, which Mr. Obama opposed as a
senator and presidential candidate. Mr. Obama’s advisers are even referring to
his troop buildup as an “extended surge.”
However officials said that Mr. Obama in his speech will give a time frame —
something Mr. Bush did not do — for when the United States will start pulling
the reinforcements out and begin turning over security responsibilities to
Afghan forces one province at a time.
Mr. Obama’s aides would not say how specific he would be on Tuesday night about
the time frame of the American presence. But clearly it would be well more than
a year. That would take him to 2011 or 2012 — when Mr. Obama is up for
re-election — before the troop levels would begin to fall again to fulfill the
president’s oft-repeated assertion that he would offer no “open-ended
commitment” to the Afghan government.
It is that date that is bound to be the focus of attention for his own party, at
a time when many Democrats are openly opposed to sending more troops. Some have
questioned how Mr. Obama can simultaneously argue for a troop increase and a
relatively quick pull-back. But in interviews, administration officials said
that without the accelerated deployment, there was little hope of being able to
stabilize the situation in the region enough to start withdrawals.
“This is to speed the process,” one said.
The plan envisions that some troops would remain as a “light footprint” — a
force that would probably stay behind in a reserve or supporting role for years
to come — as the United States has done in Germany, Japan, South Korea and
A critical part of Mr. Obama’s strategy is to succeed in an area where Mr. Bush
failed: Training a reliable Afghan force, not only the national army but a
series of local forces as well. Currently, the Afghan army is in the lead in
only one of 34 provinces in the country, around the capital of Kabul.
In addition to the influx of troops, administration officials said they are
taking other lessons from the Iraq surge, such as empowering local security
forces to stand up to Taliban militants in their communities and enhancing the
training of national forces by embedding American troops with Afghan
counterparts and later pairing similarly sized American and Afghan units to
fight side by side.
“We learned a lot of lessons, painful lessons, out of Iraq on how to do
training,” said one official involved in the discussions.
The lengthy process that led to Mr. Obama’s decision started out with sharp
disagreements among his top advisers, but administration officials said that the
intensive reviews and discussions ultimately led the participants to coalesce
around the new strategy.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. initially opposed any substantial increase in
troops in Afghanistan, arguing that Pakistan was a far more important priority,
since that is where Al Qaeda is now largely based. He was joined in that view by
Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the retired commander now serving as American
ambassador to Afghanistan, who described the growing resentment of the American
military among the Afghan people.
On the other side of the deliberations were Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who
warned that the American mission would fail without more troops and sought
another 40,000, and military leaders who supported him, like Gen. David H.
Petraeus, the regional commander, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among those who helped steer the review toward the
eventual result was Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Mr. Obama spent more than 20 hours in 10 meetings in the Situation Room with his
top national security advisers from Sept. 13 until last Sunday. He also
conducted other meetings with smaller groups or consulted with select advisers.
The early meetings focused intently on what the American goals should be, not
even addressing the question of troop levels until later in the process,
Along the way, they said, the intelligence community produced nearly three dozen
fresh assessments of various related issues, like who the enemy was, where they
were concentrated, what their capabilities were, what would happen under certain
circumstances — including political collapse in Pakistan — and what a “game
changer” would be in the war.
The central mission of the new strategy is the same as that described by the
White House after its last review in March — to focus on destroying Al Qaeda,
the group that mounted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that still appears to
have the reach to attack the United States. But regarding the Taliban, the
administration’s latest review concluded that it needed only to degrade the
capability of its various groups, some of which have close ties with Al Qaeda,
on the assumption that they are indigenous and cannot be wiped out entirely.
Mr. Obama has sought to narrow America’s mission. There will be no talk of
turning Afghanistan into a democracy — one of Mr. Bush’s central goals — and no
discussion of “nation-building,” the officials said. But as they described it,
some rudimentary nation-building is part of the plan, including helping the
central government improve governance and curb corruption.
Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, has made such promises in the past and
never delivered; since he took office last month following an election marked by
widespread fraud, he has made a series of new commitments to the United States,
But clearly Mr. Obama does not trust the central government with much of the new
American aid. Money will go to individual ministries depending on their
performance, American officials have said in recent weeks. The United States,
officials said, will also funnel more money and other assistance through local
leaders to foster change from the bottom up, avoiding the country’s corrupt
That is bound to foster some resentment inside Mr. Karzai’s government because
it creates a direct link between the United States and local governments and
leaders, a process that could further weaken Mr. Karzai’s authority over parts
of the nation.
The meetings that determined Mr. Obama’s policy began with a heavy focus not on
Afghanistan but on its neighbor, Pakistan. Mr. Obama will say far less about
that country on Tuesday night, partly because so much of the activity there
involves classified C.I.A. missions, including drone strikes on suspected Qaeda
and Taliban leadership, and Special Forces raids over the border.
The number of drone strikes has increased drastically since Mr. Obama took
office, although they have been scaled back in recent months because of fears of
civilian casualties, which has led to an anti-American backlash in Pakistan.
But the Pakistani government is also especially sensitive to any suggestion that
it is acting on Washington’s behalf, so Mr. Obama is not expected to be specific
about his efforts to get the country to go after Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader
operating from the western city of Quetta, or the Haqqani network, which directs
attacks in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul.
In recent weeks, senior American officials have flown to Islamabad with offers
of deeper military cooperation, intelligence sharing and aid to encourage it to
do more to take on Qaeda and Taliban elements in the forbidding tribal areas
bordering Afghanistan. Mr. Obama’s advisers said that despite the country’s
political chaos, they have been impressed by Pakistan’s efforts in recent months
to move aggressively against insurgents.
“Pakistan has done a lot,” said one senior official. “Pakistan needs to do a lot
Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Elisabeth
Bumiller and Mark Landler from Washington; Steven Erlanger from Paris; and John
F. Burns from London.
Obama Sets Faster Troop Deployment to
Afghanistan, NYT, 1.12.2009,