Let us say, hypothetically, that American forces kill or capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, enabling President Obama to declare victory and bring our troops home. Would he? Not according to the Pentagon’s plan for a fifty-year “Long War” of counterinsurgency spanning Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines and beyond.
Military intellectuals envision a prolonged cold war against Al Qaeda, with hot wars along the way. It happens that the Long War is over Muslim lands rich with oil, natural gas and planned pipelines. The Pentagon identifies them as hostile terrain where Al Qaeda and its affiliates are hidden.
Among the top experts responsible for this fifty-year war plan, concocted in 2005 in windowless offices in the Pentagon, is Dr. David Kilcullen, a former Australian soldier, an anthropologist, former top adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and current aide to Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Kilcullen is a media favorite, the subject of a long New Yorker profile by George Packer, glowing columns by David Ignatius in the Washington Post and weighty late-night conversations with Charlie Rose.
Kilcullen’s recent book, The Accidental Guerrilla, presents the case for a Long War of fifty or even 100 years’ duration, with chapters on Iraq (a mistake he believes was salvaged by the military surge he promoted in 2007-08), Afghanistan (where he recommends at least a five-to-ten-year campaign), Pakistan (whose tribal areas he sees as the center of the terrorist threat) and even Europe (where, he says, human rights laws create legislative “safe havens” for urban Muslim undergrounds).
Kilcullen testified recently before the Senate that Afghanistan and Pakistan will require two more years of “significant combat,” plus another decade of nation building at an additional cost of $2 billion per month. Given the current military cost of $4 billion per month, that could mean more than $80 billion annually for Afghanistan alone, or $1 trillion if Obama serves two terms, not counting long-term costs like veterans’ healthcare.
“Significant combat” and “hard fighting” (the phrase of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) are euphemisms for the highest American casualty rates in the war’s eight-year history, about fifty per month since Obama’s surge began in July. Another two years of this hard fighting could mean 1,200 American dead beyond the approximately 630 who were killed in Afghanistan during the Bush years. (American mercenaries working for private security companies are not included in the body count.) Unless he changes course, Obama will have to justify 2,000 American deaths, thousands more wounded and $500 billion in budget expenditures for Afghanistan going into his 2012 re-election campaign. Continuing costs for Iraq and rising costs for Pakistan will inflate those numbers considerably.