Shrapnel From Afghanistan VIII

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In mid-January 2010, I made my second and last trip to Pakistan…

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I returned convinced that Pakistan would work with the United States in some ways ~ such as providing supply lines through Pakistan, which were also highly profitable ~ while at the same time providing sanctuary for the Taliban and other extremists, so that no matter who came out on top in Afghanistan, Pakistan would have influence.  If there was to be any reconciliation, the Pakistanis intended to control it.  Although I would defend them in front of Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse ~ and endangering our supply line from Karachi ~ I knew they were really no ally at all…

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In Afghanistan, McChrystal continued executing his plan to devastate the Taliban on their home turf in southern Afghanistan, first in Helmand and then in Kandahar province.  After focusing his efforts in the south, he would swing the main effort to the eastern part of the country along the Pakistani border…

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Then disaster struck…

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I went in to see the president a little after three p.m. on the twenty-second.  The first words out of his mouth were “I’m leaning toward relieving McChrystal…”

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excerpts

from the memoirs entitled

“Duty”

by

U.S. Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates

Copyright 2014

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Obama then asked, “What if Petraeus took command?”  I told Obama that if Dave would do it, it would address my worst fears ~ Petraeus knew the campaign plan, knew Karzai, knew the U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan, knew the Europeans, and knew the Pakistanis…

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I am convinced the Rolling Stone article gave the president, egged on by those around him in the White House, and himself distrustful of the senior military, an opportunity he welcomed to demonstrate vividly ~ to the public and to the Pentagon ~ that he was commander in chief and fully in control of the military.  Absent any effort by McChrystal to explain or to offer mitigating circumstances, I believe the president had no choice but to relieve him.  The article simply was the last of several public missteps by the general in the political minefield, a risky battlespace where he had little combat experience…

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Karzai, who attended the Afghan part of the meeting (NATO summit in Lisbon on November 20-21), had proposed at his inaugural a year earlier that foreign forces end their combat role by the end of 2014, transitioning security responsibility for the entire country to the Afghans ~ not coincidentally, at the end of Karzai’s last year in office.  Obama embraced that date two weeks later in his December 2009 announcement…

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Major General J. F. Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne and Karzai’s and my host the previous May at Fort Campbell, provided a realistic picture of the tough fight in the east.  There were some areas, like the Pesh River Valley, he said, where a long-term U.S. troop presence was actually destabilizing.  The locals hated both us and the Taliban, and we were better off leaving them alone…

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As much as President Bush detested the notion, our later challenges in Afghanistan, especially the return of the Taliban in force by the time I became defense secretary, were, I believe, significantly compounded by the invasion of Iraq.  Resources and senior-level attention were diverted from Afghanistan.  U.S. goals in Afghanistan ~ a properly sized, competent Afghan national army and police, a working democracy with at least a minimally effective central government ~ were embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naive) when compared to the meager human and financial resources committed to the task, especially before 2009…

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The December 2009 decisions and related troop surge provided sufficient military forces to break the stalemate by rooting the Taliban out of their strongholds and keeping them out while training a much larger and more capable Afghan army…

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For us, the chance of success will be significantly enhanced with a modest continuing NATO military presence after 2014 for training, logistics, intelligence, air support, and counterterrorism ~ along with financial support for the Afghan security forces.  If we signal early that we will support such a role, it will inform friends, foes, and those on the fence that we will not repeat our strategic mistake in the early 1990s of abandoning Afghanistan.  We know all too well the consequences of that mistake…

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I am eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetary.  I have asked to be buried in Section 60, where so many of the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest.  The greatest honor possible would be to rest among my heroes for all eternity.

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end

Shrapnel From Afghanistan VII

helm-fotr-high-elven-uc-jan2005-b&w

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In a June 24 video-conference, McChrystal told me for the first time that he had found the situation in Afghanistan much worse than he expected.  In the south, he said, insurgents controlled five of thirteen districts in Helmand province.  Kandahar was under pressure, and much of the region was “not under our control.”  The Afghan forces in the south were at only about 70 percent of authorized strength, and there was a big retention problem.  In the east, the Haqqani network was expanding its operational reach, “but our guys have a pretty good handle on the situation there.”  Overall, he said, governance was very bad and creating a lot of problems: “There is no legitimacy.”  When I asked him if he had enough ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), his answer provoked the only smiles in the session:  “Sir, I am genetically predisposed to never say I have enough.”…

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excerpts

from the memoirs entitled

“Duty”

by

U.S. Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates

Copyright 2014

~~~

The priority, I said (in a memo to President Obama), should be to expand the Afghan security forces as quickly as possible.  Additional U.S. and allied forces should be considered a temporary “bridge” to train those Afghans while keeping the situation on the ground from deteriorating further, at least until the Afghans could protect their own territory and keep the Taliban and al Qaeda out…

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We could not realistically expect to eliminate the Taliban; they were now a part of the political fabric of Afghanistan.  But we could realistically work to reverse their military momentum, deny them the ability to hold or control major population centers, and pressure them along the Pakistani border…

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All this would give us a mission that the public and the politicians could easily understand: “Deny the Taliban momentum and control, facilitate reintegration, build government capacity selectively, grow the Afghan security forces, transfer security responsibilities, and defeat al Qaeda.”…

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The original military plan had the deployments spaced out over more than a year.  The president correctly pointed out that that could hardly be characterized as a “surge” to recapture momentum.  He asked Petraeus how fast the surge had arrived in Iraq.  About six months, Petraeus said.  Obama decided the arrival of the troops in Afghanistan had to be significantly accelerated.  The military leadership ultimately agreed to get most of the troops there by the end of August 2010 ~ a logistical nightmare, but they managed it…

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to be continued…

Shrapnel From Afghanistan VI

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The first significant American encounter with a revitalized Taliban came in eastern Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, when four Navy SEALs were ambushed in a well-organized attack, and a helicopter with SEAL and Army Special Forces reinforcements sent to assist them was shot down…

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The Taliban were joined in their depredations by other extremist groups, most notably those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (to whom we had provided weapons when he was fighting the Soviets) and Jalaluddin Haqqani…

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Two thousand six had been the bloodiest year since 2001…

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I made my first visit to Afghanistan in mid-January 2007, less than a month after being sworn in…

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excerpts

from the memoirs entitled

“Duty”

by

U.S. Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates

Copyright 2014

~~~

My intent upon becoming secretary had been to give our commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan everything they needed to be successful: I realized on this initial visit to Afghanistan I couldn’t deliver in both places at once…

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That Afternoon we helicoptered east across the snow-covered mountains to Forward Operation Base Tillman, at an elevation of some 6,000 feet in eastern Afghanistan, only a few miles from the Pakistan border and near a major Taliban infiltration route…

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I was met by Captain Scott Horrigan, the commander at FOB Tillman, who gave me a tour.  His troops were partnered with about 100 Afghan soldiers in this fortified outpost in the mountains…

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Captain Horrigan was overseeing road building, negotiating with local tribal councils, training Afghan soldiers ~ and fighting the Taliban.  His base was attacked by rocket and mortar fire at least once a week.  The range of his responsibilities and the matter-of-fact way he described them and conducted himself took my breath away…

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We had to transition from European-favored comprehensive nation-building toward a more focused counterinsurgency, no matter how much it upset the Europeans.  If we had learned one lesson from the surge in Iraq, it was that we had to give the people a sense of security before anything else could work…

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Given Afghanistan’s history, if the people came to see us as invaders or occupiers, or even as disrespectful, I believed the war would be lost…

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And so, with some 33,000 U.S. troops in-country, several thousand more en route, almost 31,000 coalition troops there, and the commander’s pending request for another 20,000 troops or so, a troubled war in Afghanistan would be handed off to a new president…

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To be continued…