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Petraeus Angered By Karzai Telling the Truth in Afghanistan

The US will formally unveil a plan to NATO that would extend US involvement in Afghanistan through 2014. The transfer of security to the Afghans would begin over the next 18-24 months.

This is predicated on the Afghans actually being able to create a security force that would take the lead against their homegrown insurgency. Sustaining that force would cost more than the gross national product of Afghanistan. Yet this is still the plan, and the 2014 date comes from Hamid Karzai’s prediction of when the Afghan security forces would be ready to control the country. But Karzai actually sounds more like he wants the US to get out the door quicker than that:

President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that the United States must reduce the visibility and intensity of its military operations in Afghanistan and end the increased U.S. Special Operations forces night raids that aggravate Afghans and could exacerbate the Taliban insurgency.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Karzai said that he wanted American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers would only worsen the war. His comments placed him at odds with U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus, who has made capture-and-kill missions a central component of his counterinsurgency strategy, and who claims the 30,000 new troops have made substantial progress in beating back the insurgency.

“The time has come to reduce military operations,” Karzai said. “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.”

David Petraeus is apparently furious with this statement, warning that Karzai could undermine the war effort. Of course, he never considered that night raids and bombings and capture-and-kill missions could undermine the war effort, and deepen the commitment of the insurgency to strike back. I’m no big fan of Karzai, but it seems to me that he might have some insight into the willingness of his people to endure night raids. He does have some stake in the matter.

There’s also the matter of having a war where the occupying force is almost constantly at odds with the ruling government in the country. That could have animated the Council on Foreign Relations study which counseled a drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.

The 25-member task force of the Council on Foreign Relations, led by two key officials in the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, is urging the White House to make some tough decisions on the war, which is costing billions of dollars a month at a time when the United States is dealing with massive deficits and a painfully slow economic recovery.

“The cloudy picture and high costs raise the question of whether the United States should now downsize its ambitions and reduce its military presence in Afghanistan,” the council’s task force said in a 98-page report.

“We are mindful of the real threat we face. But we are also aware of the costs of the present strategy. We cannot accept these costs unless the strategy begins to show signs of progress.” […]

“If the December 2010 review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan concludes that the present strategy is not working, the task force recommends that a shift to a more limited mission at a substantially reduced level of military force would be warranted,” the Council on Foreign Relations report said.

The December review will show progress in Afghanistan; it’s just impossible to know whether that progress is real. Independent analysts have found none of the same evidence as the military, which is driving the review. This report, not from hippies but a number of Washington greybeards, says that 10-20,000 troops would be all that’s needed to fight the kinds of militants who present any remote threat to US national security.

Or, we can keep terrorizing the Afghan people and disobeying the political leadership. That’s always worked before.

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David Dayen

David Dayen