Obama to go with whack-a-mole plan leaving some Taliban sanctuaries untouched
President Obama’s advisers are coalescing around a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers, administration officials said Tuesday, describing an approach that would stop short of an all-out assault on the Taliban while still seeking to nurture long-term stability.It appears that Obama is going for the LBJ split the baby approach to troop request. There is no pretty way to explain the whack-a-mole approach that will be used outside of the designated areas.
Mr. Obama has yet to make a decision, but as officials described it, the debate is no longer over whether to send additional troops but how many more will be needed to guard the most vital parts of the country. The question of how much of the country should fall under direct protection of American and NATO forces will be central to deciding how many troops Mr. Obama will dispatch.
At the moment, the administration is looking at protecting Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad and a few other village clusters, officials said. The first of any new troops sent to Afghanistan would be assigned to secure Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban, which is seen as a center of gravity in pushing back insurgent advances.
But military planners also are pressing for enough troops to safeguard major agricultural areas, like the hotly contested Helmand River valley, as well as regional highways essential to the economy — tasks that would require significantly more reinforcements beyond the 21,000 deployed by Mr. Obama earlier this year.
One administration official said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has briefed Mr. Obama’s advisers on how he would deploy any new troops under the approach being considered by the White House. The first two additional combat brigades would go south, including one to Kandahar, while a third would be sent to eastern Afghanistan and a fourth would be used flexibly across the nation, said the official, who like others insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations.Administration and military officials emphasized that the strategy will include other elements, like accelerated training of Afghan troops, expanded economic development and reconciliation with less radical members of the Taliban. But such a strategy would be open to complaints that American and allied forces were in effect giving insurgents free reign across large swaths of the nation, allowing the Taliban to establish mini-states complete with training camps that could be used by Al Qaeda.
Military officers said that they would 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 guide attacks, in particular by Special Operations Forces. But a range of officials made the case that many insurgents fighting Americans in distant locations are motivated not by jihadist ideology but by local grievances and therefore are not much threat either to the United States or the Kabul government.At the heart of this strategy is the conclusion that the United States cannot completely eradicate the insurgency in a nation where the Taliban is an indigenous force — nor does it need to in order to protect American national security. Instead, the focus would be on preventing Al Qaeda from returning in force while containing and weakening the Taliban long enough to build Afghan security forces that would eventually take over the mission.
This will lead to a longer and more bloody war than a comprehensive counterinsurgency approach which would provide an adequate force to space ratio. That would have provided enough force to cut off enemy movement to contact and retreat from contact.
The approach described will only accomplish that in a few communities that will still be vulnerable to attacks from out side the area where the enemy can develop sanctuaries.