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Afghan War Review: Slow Progress at a 'Very High Price'

3 years ago
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Nine years since U.S. forces struck into Afghanistan to destroy the 9/11 terrorists, almost all of the war's objectives remain unreached.
In a few significant ways -- notably the stability of Pakistan's nuclear-armed government -- things have gotten worse. Al-Qaeda remains a dangerous threat to the United States, according to senior intelligence estimates. A record number of U.S. troops are on the ground in Afghanistan, and the Taliban continue to kill Americans and Afghans in increasing numbers. Billions of dollars of U.S. aid has powered an alarming rise in corruption, increasingly cited by Afghans themselves as a reason for a U.S. pullout.
That is why the new White House review of the war, a portion of which was released with fanfare on Thursday, is couched mostly in the future tense. More than any other conflict in American history, the fight with Islamist extremists is a "generational'' struggle, in words first heard at the George W. Bush White House.
"This continues to be a very difficult endeavor,'' President Obama said Thursday. But he insisted that "we are on track to achieve our goals.''
Under the current U.S. war strategy, American troops will be needed in Afghanistan at least until 2014 and probably longer. The White House gave no indication Thursday how many troops will be withdrawn in July, when Obama had promised that service members "will begin to come home.'' Beyond that point, how many troops will be needed, and for how long? "We don't know,'' Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted Thursday.
Even in the short-term -- the 12 months since President Obama adopted a new war strategy and sent 30,000 more troops to carry it out -- the cost has been steep without significant improvement. "Progress comes slow and at a very high price in the lives of our men and women in uniform,'' the president acknowledged at a White House briefing ,as dozens of war protestors clamored outside in a light snowfall.
Indeed, American war deaths are up 35 percent over last year, with 729 U.S. troops killed since the president unveiled his new strategy at West Point on Dec. 1, 2009. The roster of American battle wounded more than doubled, from 2,144 to 4,996. During the 12 months of the new strategy, the war's dollar cost has leaped from $3.5 billion per month to $5.7 billion a month. Reflecting this gloomy picture, a new poll shows a healthy majority of Americans -- 60 percent -- believe the war has not been worth fighting.
Against this backdrop, the White House seemed to be promising just more of the same. Administration officials unveiled no new military initiatives against the Taliban, did not describe any aggressive new action to shut down the insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan -- a country which receives $2 billion a year in U.S. aid -- and did not mention any new effort against the corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, also financed by the United States and western governments.
On the ground, the White House reported, 97,500 U.S. troops have pushed the Taliban out of some areas they have controlled, mostly in southern Afghanistan's Helmand and Kandahar provinces. But in the unclassified "overview'' of its secret assessment, the White House acknowledged that these gains are "fragile and reversible'' because only future growth of Afghan military and police forces will be able to keep the Taliban out.
And on the key goal of closing down the safe havens the Taliban and al-Qaeda enjoy in Pakistan, the White House said the United States is "laying the foundation for a strategic partnership'' with Pakistan that may pay off in the future. Shutting down the terrorist sanctuaries "will require greater cooperation with Pakistan,'' the report said.
"Al-Qaeda is hunkered down,'' the president said, adding that while it will take "some time'' to defeat the terrorist organization, "make no mistake, we are going to remain relentless ...'' Meantime, according to the White House report, "terrorist plotting continues against the United States and our allies and partners.''
The public portion of the White House review contains none of the data gathered by the Pentagon and State Department over the past few weeks, and makes no reference to the benchmarks developed by the National Security Council staff to measure specific initiatives relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nor does the White House report contain the disquieting assessments gathered by the staff of Gen. David Petraeus this fall and released recently by the Pentagon.
Still, some good news continues to come from small U.S. troop units working directly with local Afghans on security, economic development, and local government.
In the Dand district of Kandahar, for instance, an Afghan Army battalion of 700 men recently began operations, and the local police, under the tutelage of American GIs, are mounting mobile patrols rather than sticking close to their built-up checkpoints.
Local government, under the direction of district governor Ahmudullah Nazek, recently convened a conference of some 250 locals representing every region, tribe and village in the district. The assembled elders chose 40 men from different tribes to form a district council to make decisions on economic development and to devise ways to resolve local conflicts. It was "inspiring'' to see the bearded elders rise above tribal differences, Army Lt. Col. John Paganini said in an e-mail Thursday.
Paganini commands the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, which has been working in Dand since last spring.
"We have not had any enemy approach'' to turn themselves in, he wrote. "But we see telltale signs that the population is much less willing to accept enemy operations inside their villages. That is markedly different from the spring.''
"I'm sure this sounds like everything is going well, and for the most part, things are,'' Paganini wrote.
Citing such tactical and local successes, Gates noted that "the sense of progress among those closest to the fight is palpable ... the military progress made in just the past three-four months has exceeded my expectations.'' Lauding the U.S. troops working in such tough and dangerous conditions, Gates added: "I regret we will be asking more of them in the months ahead.''
U.S. military commanders often point out that the Afghan war didn't really start in earnest until 2008, when resurgent Taliban forces were sweeping across the country and the declining violence in Iraq enabled the Pentagon to refocus on Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the same point Thursday, as if pleading for patience. "This administration, I think it's fair to remind us all, inherited an extraordinarily difficult situation'' in Afghanistan. "There was no strategy, there was no clearly defined mission, and our people, both military and civilians, lacked the resources they needed to get any progress accomplished.
"Today," she said, "we have a very different story to tell ... key parts of our strategy are indeed working well.''
Reminded that the public doesn't share her optimism, she responded, "I'm aware of the popular concern and I – I understand it. But I don't think leaders and certainly this president will not make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling. That would not be something that you will see him or any of us deciding.''

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55 Comments

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melissatahoma1

If we pull our troops out, what will we as Americans look like? We will look like we gave up and will let the terriorists kill our civilians. The troops are over there to fight for us because if it was their choice. They still want to be there and fight for our country is they are choosing to be there. We cannot stop now when we are on track to get something out of this war. Even though is upsets me to see people dying, they are doing it for us and we should be greatful rather than being critical of the government.

December 17 2010 at 10:12 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
circlebprod

when this war was started I was in support of it, but I won't argue with anyone about it, I have my opinion and you have your's, which is the way it should be, I have been to war, VN 2 times, I don't like war any more than anyone else, however somtimes it is necessary, and in those times, fight the war, win the war, and bring our troops home, but at no time should we send our troops to war and not allow them to win like we are doing now or in Viet Nam, yes it is sad when women and children are killed, but I don't like killing men either, but that's what you do in war, you kill people. So now that we are not going to win, (no reflection on our troops, they do what they are allowed to do) lets bring our troops home

December 17 2010 at 9:52 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
rnoches

It seems clear that the previous administration began, and then almost abandoned, the war in Afghanistan. Now that Al Qaeda and the Taliban have carried the war into Pakistan, it becomes far more serious. First Pakistan is not enthralled with the idea of full military engagements taking place in their country by Americans. Then there is the issue of the stability of the Pakistan government that has many who sympathize with the extremist. Finally, we have the nuclear threat that would be a worst-case scenario threatening the entire world if those weapons came into the hands of the terrorist. Many Americans do not seem to understand the unique and wide span of problems president Obama inherited. Although many scoff when he even attempts to mention the magnitude of problems, he has had to face. Many seem to think once elected; President Obama would instantly resolve even the most complex problems we faced. . The problem is some of the issues he strapped on will take years even decades to resolve -- the mess was that bad. However, with the baggage the previous administration tossed President Obama, there also came very fertile ground for the Republicans who sharply criticize him without the tenant responsibility to offer clear solutions. In fact, many of the complaints I heard from Republicans were completely unfounded and more often than not untrue. It is unfortunate that many voters seemed to have left their brains at home when they went to vote

December 17 2010 at 3:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
surferlaments

as an ex-army veteran, i agree, bring our troops home. we are really not in this war to win it. we give our precious soldiers lives and billions of dollars to countries that generally hate us. we try to "buy" our will and are just trowing the taxpayers money away. damn the politicians. either bring the troops home now..... or let's bomb the hell out of the middle east once and for all.

December 17 2010 at 12:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
slammerartist

George W. Bush didn't have a clue , and this guy is just following in his footsteps !

December 17 2010 at 12:16 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
woodwaterwheel

Bring our boys home. We can't be the worlds policeman nor can we afford the human and financial price.

December 16 2010 at 11:40 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to woodwaterwheel's comment
Nana

I find it rediculous that anyone would criticize President Obama about the fruitless wars in afgan and Iraq. Why didn't you criticize the republicans that got us into the war in the first place. And while you are at it: Criticize the republicans that have put into effect a very easy way to rip off our government through the Medicare system. Billions of dollars are being ripped of simply because of the inability to manage Medicare properly. Incase you haven't looked Republicans have been in office for the last several years until now and now you expect a miracle to get us out of the messes that have plagued our contry. President is the best person that has been in office in the last 12 years. Let's be honest about it.

December 17 2010 at 4:41 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
russell249

As much as I admire President Obama, I disagree with him on the progress in the war in Afghan. I believe that the war in Afghan and Iraq has been a total failure. Over five thousand brave men/women have lost their lives. Thousands have lost limbs and destroyed mentally. What for??? As I observed 12/07, I was reminded that, the reason the US dropped NUKES on Japan, was to save American lives! Are American lives worth as much today? Everyday, I read of our troops being slaughtered and maimed and those savages in Afghan and Iraq are not paying the price for attacking US troops. I support my President. But, I belive that he is attempting to satisfy the idiots who support sending more Americans into Afghan/Iraq to die for nothing!!!

December 16 2010 at 11:34 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
Ray and Carmen

This is such a horrid, pointless burden to our Soldiers, to the US deficit, to the Afgan people. I intially supported this war when we were picking our battles and by and large kept the bulk of the Armed forces within striking distance (iraq) but not entrenched right on Afgan soil. I feel as Long as Kharzi is left in power, nothing good will come of our efforts, as this man is as corrupt as the day is long. They say, that he is all we have, well if that is true then it seems to indicate that the Afganistan people are not ready or prepared to live in their country as free subjects governed by some sembalance of Democracy. I lost all support for this war when Kharzi verbally threatened to join the Taliban when the State Department tried to hold him accountable for the misappropriation of the funding we are supplying. What does Afganistan have to offer this country that would ever make up up for the human and financial cost? NOTHING!! At least with Iraq, we can hope that in the decade to come we may see some return for the Billions we spent there, or at least in the form of an oil producing country that may sell us the oil we need at a decreased price. No Guarauntee's there, but in the end all of the human sacrifice we made in Iraq where at least supported by the majority of the people. They proved this when on three seperate occasions they turned out to vote for the leaders of their future by as much as 80% of the population. Doing this cost many of them their lives, and put all of them at severe risk from any number of adverseries. It is true that the planning of horrid 9/11 terrorist attack took place on Afganistan soil with the complete support of the Taliban ruling goverment. We have long since accomplished as much retribution as we will ever be able to get. We attacked Afganistan annilitated the Taliban forces and toppled that Government. It has been confirmed that the Taliban have regrouped an are a constant threat to retake power the moment we leave. What are we supposed to do then stay there forever, the Talibans origin and power source is Pakistan and they are not going anywhere. I think the Taliban have the message loud and clear as to what would happen again if they ever allow Al-Quaida or any other group to plan a terroist attack against America on their soil. So the point is made, now lets get out, or stay and fight the type of war that we fought in WWII or the type of War General Sherman prosecuted upon the South during the Civil War. Since I fully understand the the liberal minority and Liberal press would never allow this, then the choice is really quite clear. We have given Afganistan almost ten years to formulate a working Government that would spare these poor people the horror they suffered under the Taliban, they have failed miserably. Time to leave now before one more Soldier dies. Before we go, I would say that we open the gates for any women that want to get out of afganistan to do so. As for the men, well they have tacitly tolerated the halftime executions of women so they can stay. Maybe if the USA is able to affect a large enough migration of Women from Afganistan the men may start to reconsider the harsh Sharia Law System they implemented. Until then, Not one more drop of American Blood should be shed in this God Forsaken Country.

December 16 2010 at 11:24 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
rockymtn1500

A very high price is correct. The price is to high and not worth the sorry results we are getting from the Afghans. This insane war is costing the USA 12 BILLION dollars a MONTH ! We have troops in 700 overseas bases in 120 different countries. The USA is flat broke and deep in debt, bring our troops home and put them on our porous borders. Get us OUT of these 3rd world Hellholes !

December 16 2010 at 11:17 PM Report abuse +21 rate up rate down Reply
Howard an Laura

We the people that pay our taxes to pay the elected president ask to bring our babies home.In the past year or two our troops are commiting suicide. Does this mean nothing to our American people elected officials. WE the people put you in a position to help our freedom; not to hinder others because of your mistakes. Bow out of a country we have already helped to the best of our ability. We are done . Enough is Enough. Stop killing Americans for your future. The future of the war against Afganistanmurders is over for America. The terrorist have proven there point. The American officals have put we the people on alert to we the people no longer matter.

December 16 2010 at 11:09 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply

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