Last week President Obama gave a wide ranging interview to the Associated Press. Buried within it were his basic thoughts on Afghanistan, outlined in the key goal of denying safe havens to al-Qaeda. Obama claimed his goal in Afghanistan “can be achieved without us increasing our troop levels.”
Too bad his adviser blew the dirt off this trap. Then again, counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen’s job is to expose deception.
The American people have never received a time frame for Afghanistan. Though any war is difficult to measure, an open-ended war is a recipe for disaster. While Obama’s White Paper briefly delved into nation-building, no price or time limit was cited. Maybe the Obama administration doesn’t know, or maybe it does.
Kilcullen, one of Obama’s top war advisers, claimed in an interview with the UK’s Independent, “We are looking at ten years at least in Afghanistan, and that is the best case scenario and at least half of that will be pretty major combat. This is the commitment needed, and this is what people in America and Britain should be told, and they should be told that there will be a cost involved.”
A 19 year counterinsurgency as the best case scenario.
Questions pop up like mushrooms after a rain storm. One immediately wonders why Kilcullen, if he felt a need to inform the American people, didn’t give this same interview to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or other major American newspaper, or to C-Span. Instead the Independent story was more likely found in the international Muslim media, not exactly mainstream America.
The veracity of Kilcullen’s statements must then be examined. Kilcullen, considered a leading counterinsurgency expert in the world, is a student of General David Petraeus and highly trusted by Obama. During General Stanley McChrystal’s Senate confirmation, he was asked if he would consult Kilcullen during his command in Afghanistan.
“Yes I will,” McChrystal responded. “David Kilcullen is a friend of mine, I think he talks a lot of sense.”
Yet Kilcullen’s advice on drone strikes was ignored even though Obama implemented his strategy to push Pakistan deeper into the war. After publishing an editorial in the NYT, Kilcullen told the Independent, “These strikes are totally counter-productive. It is a strategic error to personalize the conflict in this way, it’ll strengthen the enemy and weaken our friends. How can one expect the civilian population to support us if we kill their families and destroy their homes.”
Why was Kilcullen’s advice on drone strikes ignored if he is so visionary? Is he really against drones or is this a propaganda ploy to create the appearance of debate in the White House? It’s strange that Kilcullen would be so respected and yet so ignored; Obama has launched five drone strikes in the last two weeks and shows no signs of letting up.
Another oddity was Kilcullen’s defense of McChrystal, whom he claims, “realizes that this is not just a military matter, it is a matter of governance and reconstruction. We now have more troops in the south in Helmand and Kandahar. This gives us the opportunity to build, to some constructive, on our military gains.”
That Afghanistan is more than just a military matter is a ridiculous truism to state after eight failed years. Kilcullen doesn’t sound like he means reconstruction when he speaks of an opportunity to build on military gains; rather, those military gains will be militarily reinforced. Only then can America begin nation-building, but this phase is years away in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the core of the insurgency.
Webs of information to trap Americans, Pakistanis, and Afghans grow ever thicker. Contradictions are normal, disinformation the standard. Perhaps Kilcullen is playing his part. He has been known to exaggerate, most infamously that al-Qaeda could steal a Pakistani nuke within six months, but Kilcullen could also be sincere. If so he must be thanked for springing a trap. Obama is laying statements like IED’s - inconspicuous until they explode.
There is simply no middle ground between “10 years at least” and “I think those goals can be achieved without us increasing our troop levels.” One of these statements is false. If America stays in Afghanistan for another decade, many more troops than presently deployed will be necessary, possibly beyond Iraq's level. More troops are already needed.
President Obama will likely be gone before the war ends, though he still didn’t want to hear 10 years. He doesn’t want Americans or Pakistanis to hear 10 years, but no matter how deep he buries the truth, it’s going to be uncovered sooner or later.