Don’t look now, but President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy is collapsing on his head.
The troops that Obama added to the war in 2009 were supposed to head south into Helmand and Kandahar. Instead, the whole war is going south. Fast.
Last year, in two reviews of Afghan policy, the president twice escalated the war, more than doubling the US troop commitment. At the time, he gave the Pentagon til the end of 2010 to prove that General McChrystal’s vaunted counterinsurgency-cum-nation-building policy would work. The headlong rush to add troops resulted, first, in an all-out military campaign to seize and control Marja, a dusty, worthless village of 60,000 in Helmand province; and, second, a planned assault on Kandahar, the city of one million that is the birthplace of the Taliban.
Oops. Marja was a complete failure, and the Kandahar "offensive" ain’t happening.
This is, or should be, devastating for Obama. The Marja offensive, last February, was touted as a demonstration of the "clear, hold and build" COIN that McChrystal was hired to implement. That in itself was silly, because Marja is a tiny town of little or no real strategic importance. By March, when the Marja operation was deemed completed, it was widely cited by the administration as a great victory. But over the last two months, reporters who’ve actually been there report back that it’s still a mess, plagued by violence, that the Taliban has come back in force. The Taliban is carrying out a reign of terror there, killing civilians and government officials alike and battling US and Afghan forces to a standstill.
The Marja operation was also described as a prelude to going into Kandahar, an operation that was described as "decisive" in the nine-year-long war. But yesterday, after a week of media reports suggesting that the Kandahar offensive was being delayed, McChrystal said himself in a news conference that there would be no US or Afghan effort to move into Kandahar anytime soon. In the spring, the military was leaking madly that the move into Kandahar would start in June, but if it happens at all now it won’t be until the fall. In his news conference, McChrystal was asked if the Kandahar operation would be decisive. Here’s the Q&A:
Q: General, will we know by the end of the year if the Kandahar operation is decisive, if it’s worked?
GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: I think we’ll know whether it’s progressing. I think it will be very clear by the end of the calendar year that the Kandahar operation is progressing. I don’t know whether we’ll know whether it is decisive. I think historians will tell us that. But I think, by the end of the year, we’ll have enough progress around Kandahar to be clear to the Afghan people that a substantive change and improvement has been made, and we’ll continue on that point.