American Elephants


Getting to Know the People of Afghanistan. by The Elephant's Child
January 12, 2010, 8:49 pm
Filed under: Heartwarming, Military, National Security, News | Tags: , ,

The American military in Afghanistan is intent on protecting the Afghan people. To win the confidence of the people and get their cooperation, the people must feel safe.

According to a new BBC poll, Afghans are much more likely than Americans to think that their country is on the right track (70% approval).  They think more highly of their President Karzai ( 72% approval) than Americans do of President Obama.  And they really don’t like the Taliban, 90% prefer their present government over the Taliban.  And 68% say they support the presence of American troops.

Afghanistan has many tiny villages in hard to get-to places, so it’s hard to know how representative such a poll is, but the results are better than one might expect.

The Weekly Standard has a most interesting article on the military’s move to engage the people of Afghanistan.  An important innovation are the Human Terrain Teams (HTTs).  These teams consist of five to nine civilians with military, intelligence, or social-science expertise, analytical skill, and cross-cultural training.  The teams are embedded with units in the field, and ideally, each team includes at least one Afghan-American, one or more women, and a PhD-level social scientist.

Their mission is to “fill the socio-cultural knowledge gap” in ways that are valuable to the soldiers they advise.  They are specially charged with helping devise non-lethal approaches to improving security in a given place.  These are not civil affairs units, off building schools and digging wells, but eyes and ears for the military officers who plan and lead operations.

HTTs are to learn all they can about the people among whom their units operate — their tribal background and power structures and livelihood, their recent experiences with local government and with Kabul, their contacts with the Taliban and warlords and coalition forces, and any matters of special concern to the commander.  They do this by developing personal relationships in the surrounding communities and systematically interviewing Afghans.  As they go, they are to analyze their findings and then package them in forms digestible by soldiers.

The article explains the rationale for the innovation, and the training the teams receive before they deploy.  It’s very encouraging, and will give you a much better understanding of the military’s mission in Afghanistan.



Can We Have a Little Clear Thinking Here Please? by The Elephant's Child
January 5, 2010, 1:22 am
Filed under: Islam, Military, National Security, Terrorism | Tags: , , , ,

Just an observation.  We are a nation at war.  It is not a bunch of separate wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and so on.  It’s not an “overseas contingency operation,”and their actions are not “man-caused disasters.”   To claim that the war in Afghanistan is a “good war” and the war in Iraq was a “bad war” shows a lack of understanding of either effort.

We call it the War on Terror.  Terror is their chosen weapon.  We have no trouble referring to the air war or the submarine war. Prissy complaints about language are out-of-place.

They want to kill Americans because we will not submit to Islam.



A Speech Before the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. by The Elephant's Child
December 2, 2009, 3:30 am
Filed under: Islam, Military, National Security, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

President Obama’s speech announcing his strategy on Afghanistan at The United States Military Academy at West Point was an odd speech.  He announced a surge of 30,000 troops, partly in the hope that NATO would make up the rest of the 40,000 that General Stanley McChrystal requested.  His strong words about the necessity for success were belied by his defensiveness about doing so.

To be fair, the President is stuck between a rock and a hard place.  He clearly doesn’t want to be involved in Afghanistan, and is much more comfortable with his hard left base who oppose all war on general principles.  He made sure to mention that he “opposed the War in Iraq which left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort.”

Obama seems unable to recognize that his constant attempts to blame everything on Bush, denigrate everything that the Bush administration did, is not only classless, but exactly what has created a “highly polarized and partisan background.”  When politics permeates everything, it doesn’t stop at the water’s edge, as our tradition demands.

The Left opposed the War in Iraq by claiming that the “right war” was instead in Afghanistan — going after al Qaeda.  That allowed the Left to avoid being characterized as anti-war;  but now, faced with Afghanistan, they have no excuses and are united in opposition.  And they really don’t want to spend any money on the war.  The money is needed for their dream of socialized medicine, and that is going to be very expensive indeed.  Spending the rest of the stimulus money on the war or scaling back health care is, of course, not an option.  They’ll tax “the rich” some more.

Obama is trying to have it both ways.  He doesn’t like the war, and wants “to end the era of war and suffering,” but it had better be cost-effective and cost-effective within 18 months.

The Left got onto this “exit strategy” thing with Iraq, demanding to know what Bush’s “exit strategy” was.  Those a little more familiar with war find the question foolish.  The exit strategy is when you win, when you accomplish your objective, but not a date which the enemy can just wait for.

We want President Obama and his strategy to succeed in Afghanistan.  We want success on the battlefield.  There is a lot of talk about “nation building”, but our aim is to protect the citizens and to train the Afghan army to protect the citizens.  The people fear the Taliban, and will not help unless and until they feel secure.

My sense of this is that President Obama is completely uncomfortable with war.  He has little knowledge of combat or battle, and little understanding of the military or how it works.  “Victory” was never mentioned.  He said “As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.  And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces.  I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one.”

I suspect that he never watches war movies, nor has read accounts of battles.  It’s just unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory.  Which is why he thinks an exit strategy is important, and a goal of eliminating nuclear weapons is plausible. And why he dithered for three months about simply making a choice.

And why he brags about his small efforts to recognize the military like “signing a letter of condolence to each family, reading letters from parents and spouses, and traveling to Dover to meet flag-draped coffins.” The commitment and pride with which Americans volunteer to serve in the military must be near incomprehensible.

“Ive spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships,” he said.  “And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world — one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.” Soaring words, but with little relation to the real world. An odd speech, very odd.

I will support the effort in Afghanistan unreservedly.  I hope the President does as well. The men and women who serve deserve our full support.



Most of the Pessimism About Afghanistan is Only Half-Truth. by The Elephant's Child
November 14, 2009, 12:29 am
Filed under: Middle East, Military, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

President Obama is apparently going to throw out whatever was undecided after all his meetings with everyone concerned, and unconcerned, with Afghanistan except General McChrystal.

Mr. Obama is trapped between a rock and several hard places, with his supporters on the hard left urging him to abandon the whole thing on one side; the General who is the world-renowned expert in counterinsurgency and the other Generals who have been fighting this war on the other side, and everything in between.

The President would like to find a nice middle road that will please everybody and reflect well on him — and that undoubtedly doesn’t exist.  The choices are all crappy.  Unfortunately, making hard choices  is the job of the President.

President Obama seems to want a clear “exit strategy.”  He wants to know when the Afghan army and police will be up to the challenge, so he can make a promise to his very, very angry left about how soon we will leave.

The far left wants us out of Iraq and Afghanistan right now, as far as I can tell, because they hate George W. Bush, and they want to repudiate his wars to prove how much they hate him.  Bush Derangement Syndrome is still very much alive, particularly in the White House.

There are all sorts of spurious arguments about why we should abandon Afghanistan immediately.  The length of the war is usually mentioned, as if all wars were expected to last 5 years and not a moment longer.  Doesn’t work like that. Historically we have a range from the Hundred Years War, to the Six Day War.  Wars begin when someone is attacked and end when someone surrenders.  Endings (“exit strategies”) cannot be planned in advance, war is an uncertain activity.

There is the “graveyard of empires” argument, the we can’t do “nation-building” argument (counterinsurgency is not “nation-building).” You can’t create a democracy in the Middle East argument. (We did. You may not have noticed, but we won in Iraq.  General Petraeus says it’s more like “Iraqracy,” a form of their own.   They are increasingly having their fights and arguments in their Parliament rather than shooting each other).  That’s what we wanted.

What is important about Afghanistan are the consequences.  And the consequences should not arise from domestic popularity polls.  There are consequences that arise from an undefeated al Qaeda, there are consequences that arise from either al Qaeda or the Taliban undefeated and becoming bigger and stronger because they drove the Great Satan out. We have already experienced the consequences of a strong and resurgent al Qaeda.

David Kilcullen, one of the world’s leading authorities on counterinsurgency and a key adviser to NATO as well as the British Government and the U.S. State Department said that Obama’s delay in reaching a decision over extra troops has been “messy,” and creates uncertainty the Taliban could exploit. He said:

Obama, in a speech to troops in Jacksonville , Florida, a fortnight ago, had said he would never lightly put them in harm’s way.

That’s not the situation we are in.  As an analogy, you have a building on fire, and it’s got a bunch of firemen inside.  There are not enough firemen to put it out.  You have to send in more or you have to leave.  It is not appropriate to stand outside pontificating about not taking lightly the responsibility of sending firemen into harm’s way.  Either put in enough firemen to put the fire out or get out of the house.

Before his Fort Hood trip this week, Obama said the visit “absolutely has an impact because it reminds me that these aren’t abstractions.”  He needs reminding?

If the American people are opposed to sending more troops, or to our being in Afghanistan, a good part of the opposition is directly due to the indecision and lack of leadership from the White House. The more Obama dithers, the more the public doubts that he will give our troops wholehearted support, and those doubts are also consequences.



Blackfive’s Uncle Jimbo Shares His Thoughts About Afghanistan. by The Elephant's Child
October 29, 2009, 2:11 am
Filed under: Freedom, History, Military, Terrorism | Tags: , , ,


Uncertainty, Indecision, Naivety, Doubt, Worry II by The Elephant's Child
October 23, 2009, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Islam, Military, Terrorism | Tags: , , ,

toon102109_FULL2
On August 30, 55 days ago,General Stanley McChrystal submitted his request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan, and outlined his counterinsurgency strategy. President Obama is still reviewing the strategy and what everybody thinks of the strategy and who is for it and who is opposed, and playing golf and making speeches and having fundraisers. A decision has not been forthcoming, but he said maybe in another two weeks.

(h/t:  the marvelous Michael Ramirez)



Gravitas. Dick Cheney Speaks at the Center for Security Policy. by The Elephant's Child

Vice President Cheney gave a speech last night at the Center for Security Policy.  Once again, he proved why he is probably the most consequential vice president in the Nation’s history.

An excerpt from the speech:

Most anyone who is given responsibility in matters of national security quickly comes to appreciate the commitments and structures put in place by others who came before. You deploy a military force that was planned and funded by your predecessors. You inherit relationships with partners and obligations to allies that were first undertaken years and even generations earlier. With the authority you hold for a little while, you have great freedom of action. And whatever course you follow, the essential thing is always to keep commitments, and to leave no doubts about the credibility of your country’s word.

So among my other concerns about the drift of events under the present administration, I consider the abandonment of missile defense in Eastern Europe to be a strategic blunder and a breach of good faith.

It is certainly not a model of diplomacy when the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic are informed of such a decision at the last minute in midnight phone calls. It took a long time and lot of political courage in those countries to arrange for our interceptor system in Poland and the radar system in the Czech Republic. Our Polish and Czech friends are entitled to wonder how strategic plans and promises years in the making could be dissolved, just like that – with apparently little, if any, consultation. Seventy years to the day after the Soviets invaded Poland, it was an odd way to mark the occasion.

You hardly have to go back to 1939 to understand why these countries desire – and thought they had – a close and trusting relationship with the United States. Only last year, the Russian Army moved into Georgia, under the orders of a man who regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. Anybody who has spent much time in that part of the world knows what Vladimir Putin is up to. And those who try placating him, by conceding ground and accommodating his wishes, will get nothing in return but more trouble.

What did the Obama Administration get from Russia for its abandonment of Poland and the Czech Republic, and for its famous “Reset” button? Another deeply flawed election and continued Russian opposition to sanctioning Iran for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In the short of it, President Obama’s cancellation of America’s agreements with the Polish and Czech governments was a serious blow to the hopes and aspirations of millions of Europeans. For twenty years, these peoples have done nothing but strive to move closer to us, and to gain the opportunities and security that America offered. These are faithful friends and NATO allies, and they deserve better. The impact of making two NATO allies walk the plank won’t be felt only in Europe. Our friends throughout the world are watching and wondering whether America will abandon them as well.

Big events turn on the credibility of the United States – doing what we said we would do, and always defending our fundamental security interests. In that category belong the ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the need to counter the nuclear ambitions of the current regime in Iran.

A full transcript of the speech is available here.




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