Surging in Afghanistan
While the White House continues to make daily announcements to remind us that the President is talking to advisers about an Iraq plan, working on an Iraq plan, deciding the details of an Iraq plan, about to announce an Iraq plan and . . . wait for it . . . actually scheduling a speech about the Iraq plan (jeeze, do these guys crave attention!), we should ask, what's happening in that other war? You know, the one we began to go after the murderers who attacked us on 9/11? The short answer is, the White House is not "thinking" about Afghanistan but is instead hoping no one will notice that all the attention focused on surging more troops into Iraq means that the "good war" most Americans actually support will continue to worsen.
David Wood of the Baltimore Sun (by way of Boston Globe) summarizes what we're not supposed to be watching: Commanders seek more forces in Afghanistan. Not only are the US and NATO forces already stretched for enough troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban, but some of the US troops already there are scheduled to be part of the "surge" into Iraq.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban forces, shattered and ejected from Afghanistan by the US military five years ago, are poised for a major offensive against US troops and undermanned NATO forces. This has prompted US commanders here to issue an urgent appeal for a new US Marine Corps battalion to reinforce the American positions.
NATO's 30,000 troops in Afghanistan are supposed to have taken responsibility for security operations. But Taliban attacks have risen sharply, and senior US officers here describe the NATO operation as weak, hobbled by a shortage of manpower and equipment, and by restrictions put on the troops by their capitals….
President Bush is expected to announce this week the dispatch of thousands of additional troops to Iraq as a stopgap measure. Such an order, Pentagon officials say, would strain the Army and Marine Corps as they man both wars.
A US Army battalion fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks to deploy to Iraq.
Army Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata and other US commanders say that will happen as the Taliban is expected to unleash a campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar.
The official said the Taliban intend to seize Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, where the group was organized in the 1990s. With NATO unable or unwilling to stem the rising violence, the Taliban are pressing their advantage.
Rather than withdrawing to regroup over the winter, intelligence officials and combat commanders said, the Taliban forces — clad in new cold-weather boots and fleece jackets — are fighting through the bitter cold months.
"It is bleak," said Colonel Chris Haas, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.
Conway said US commanders understand that the Afghan war is an "economy of force" operation, a military term for a mission that is given minimal resources because it is a secondary priority, in this case behind Iraq. [emphasis mine]
To sum up, we're about to have three surges simultaneously (nice parallel with King Abdullah's three civil wars scenario, which is also on track, but that's another story). We will surge US troops into Iraq; to allow that, we will surge US troops out of Afghanistan; to take advantage of that, the Taliban will surge all over Afghanistan. Symmetry.
Where are the grownups?