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More Details On Afghanistan Escalation

We’re starting to learn about the operational details of the deployment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Instead of a year-long phase-in, the President would have them all in country within six months – somebody ask Spencer Ackerman if that’s even possible. There’s also now a focus on protecting the corrupt central government from the Taliban, apparently a catalyst to the actual mission of denying those 8 dozen core Al Qaeda a safe haven.

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.

They’re actually calling it a “surge” in the White House, although it will be apparently paired with some kind of time horizon for exit. Some would say that the best exit strategy would involve not further entering. There’s also going to be a residual force:

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 — in a way similar to what the United States has done in Germany, Japan, South Korea and Bosnia.

There would have to be a “residual treasure chest” as well, because Afghanistan’s GDP simply cannot support the kind of security force envisioned.

The reactions to all this have been interesting. On the left there’s definitely a lot of opposition. Last night Alan Grayson quipped “The Constitution didn’t contemplate a standing Army, much less an Army standing in Kabul,” and called for the troops to come home, rejecting the notion of a surtax in place of withdrawal. Michael Capuano, running for US Senate in Massachusetts, released a powerful new ad saying he would never vote to fund escalation in Afghanistan:

The Center for American Progress, a close ally of this White House, released a statement a few days ago calling for a flexible timetable for withdrawal (which is probably close to where the President will go).

On the other side of the world, veterans of the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan see the US falling into the exact same traps:

“More soldiers is simply going to mean more deaths,” said Gennady Zaitsev, former commander of the KGB’s elite Alpha commando unit, which took part in some of the most critical operations of the war.

“US and British citizens are going to ask, quite rightly, ‘why are our sons dying?’ And the answer will be ‘to keep Hamid Karzai [the Afghan president] in power’. I don’t think that will satisfy them.”

For Gen Rodionov, the news emanating from the conflict is disturbingly familiar.

“They [the US and its allies] have to understand that there is no way for them to succeed militarily. The only way is politics. And Karzai has no popularity amongst the people, he just runs a mafia.”

On the other side of reality, Dick Cheney warned about “weakness” and other approved neocon talking points, all the while showing that classic Cheney acceptance of responsibility:

Cheney was asked if he thinks the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan because of the attention and resources that were diverted to Iraq. “I basically don’t,” he replied without elaborating.

By the way, a 90-minute interview? Really Politico? As if anything this guy says matters?

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David Dayen

David Dayen