PAUL R. DUNN: Has Obama's Afghan Mission Impossible Now Become Possible?
America's new strategy calls for a troop surge in Afghanistan. The infusion of more troops will cost about $1 million per soldier invested.
No armed force can long operate in such an expensive manner. That's why, several months ago in The Pilot, I called President Obama's Afghan war his "Mission Impossible."
One way to reduce war costs would be to train most Afghan army and police recruits in the U.S., including nearby Fort Bragg.
The cost of stationing U.S. instructors in Afghanistan is exorbitant and puts them at unneeded risk. Teaching Afghans here introduces them to our way of life. More important, it offers a positive experience that can change prevalent negative attitudes about America in their country. It can allow more recruits to be more quickly trained under optimum conditions than the present flawed system.
Can mostly uneducated, illiterate and up-to-now poorly paid Afghan soldiers make good fighters? In the American Revolution and Civil War, it was proven that unlettered men, if highly motivated, could be excellent in the field. For much of the 20th century, the U.S. military has successfully taught foreign warriors on our soil.
When asked by President Obama for a new plan of action for Afghanistan, Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal predictably urged additional troops, rumored at 40,000. Obama opted for 10,000 less, but with concurrent assurances from NATO allies of added forces.
To make the war plan palatable to a skeptical Democratic base, the strategy includes this caveat: Once newly trained and armed Afghan military and police become effective in combating the Taliban, the U.S. will begin to exit the country.
Before the ink dried on that plan, Secretaries Clinton and Gates began to qualify that tricky little caveat. Whether as explained at West Point to the cadets or as presented to seasoned soldiers who've endured one or more tours in Afghanistan, that "fast exit" wrinkle deserves close scrutiny.
In the remote villages of Afghanistan, it announces to the already dubious Afghan tribesmen that America will soon be gone, while the wily Taliban will certainly remain. Tribal loyalties to the weak Karzai government that America and NATO support cannot be enhanced by the caveat.
My hunch (and hope) is that the military adviser Obama listens most attentively to is Colin Powell. His doctrine, that "U.S. military power only be used in overwhelming strength to achieve well-defined strategic national interests," is consistent with the new planned force enhancements. But there are several big "ifs" associated with success.
First, our NATO allies must remain highly involved. Second, Afghan tribal leaders must give enthusiastic support to its own army and security forces. Strong local support remains a huge question mark -- particularly in remote places, where tribal loyalties transcend commitments to a central government and the growing of poppies for opium profits is a way of life.
It is a delicate situation made riskier by uncertain future events in the neighborhood. Should, for example, Israel launch a sneak attack against Iran's atomic infrastructure -- as it did to Iraq and Syria, claiming "existential threats" -- the Muslim world can explode, undoing years of U.S. sacrifices. Neighboring Iran, India, Pakistan, China and Russia all have often conflicting interests here.
Historically, Afghans have proven to be noble and brave fighters when the cause was one in which they deeply believed. They've fought hard and expelled every foreign invader. If they see the U.S. and NATO as occupiers, we cannot prevail. If they accept us as reliable friends and allies, then Obama and his generals will have gotten it right.
The paradox of President Obama's Nobel Peace award is that while he is seen abroad as a pragmatic man of high intellect and peaceful motivation, he's also viewed as a commander-in-chief ensnared in two nasty wars that he inherited from an ideological president possessed of neither trait.
Obama has garnered world praise and pocketed its highest peace accolade while emulating an earlier Nobel laureate, Teddy Roosevelt whose credo was, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Teddy would be pleased to learn of his antecedent's Nobel prize, but the American soldier on patrol in the icy cold hills of Helmet Province may find little to smile about.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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