December 8, 2009

COIN 101

American officials are blanketing their Pakistani counterparts with pressure. President Obama and his team are working the phones with President Zardari and company. Joint Chief of Staff Michael Mullen held a ritual dance with Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

All came bearing the gift of US support. Just say the word. Though General Stanley McChrystal has told Congress that the Taliban in Afghanistan is his main focus, apparently he has room on his plate for more.

The Haqqani network, while intricately connected with the Taliban, technically operates independently. Still, targeting it in Afghanistan makes perfect sense, but McChrystal isn’t thinking about Afghanistan.

McChrystal said if the Pakistan government became "intolerant" of the Haqqanis network on its side of the border, his forces could finish off the group. In Pakistan. How thoughtful. Perhaps it says something, when the situation seems to clear-cut, that the word has yet to be given.

President Obama has again slipped off the block. After extending a hand to Pakistan in his speech (aside from the nuclear reference), the White House and Pentagon are crusading to infiltrate the FATA with CIA, JSOC, and maybe ground forces.

Attention has been diverted away from Obama's actual strategy. At a time when shaping hearts and minds is critical, American military expansion and Indian interference still dominate perceptions in Pakistan. US troops have always been a red line, but America seems bent on unilaterally crossing it.

This is not COIN. However, the finale burst from comments McChrystal made about Osama bin Laden.

"I believe he is an iconic figure at this point whose survival emboldens al Qaida as a franchise organization across the world," he said. "I don't think we can defeat him until he is captured or killed... It would not defeat al Qaeda to have him captured or killed, but I don't think we can finally defeat al Qaeda until he is finally captured or killed."

McChrystal must be forgiven on one level. Octopus Mountain is critical of American officials who parrot lines and speak with silver tongues. McChrystal is speaking the truth; al-Qaeda is likely to survive bin Laden's death even though it's necessary for any definition, or perception, of victory.

But his admission does nothing for President Obama. In the aftermath of "Where's Osama," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said America has produced no credible intelligence on him for years. He's more likely to die in 18 months than be killed or captured.

Again McChrystal revealed his eagerness to cross the border. When asked what happens if bin Laden is outside of Afghanistan, he replied, "It is outside of my mandate," with the implication to make it his mandate. If he wants to go after the Haqqani network, he certainly would go after bin Laden.

President Obama wants to kill bin Laden just as bad, but he would have chosen a different way for McChrystal to express it. Especially this last part. If Bin Laden's death is one half the battle, that leaves what McChrystal calls a "prerequisite" for destroying al-Qaeda as the other half.

"To pursue our core goal of defeating al Qaeda and preventing their return to Afghanistan, we must disrupt and degrade the Taliban's capacity, deny their access to the Afghan population, and strengthen the Afghan security forces," McChrystal said.

Notice the parallel - disrupt, degrade, and deny the Taliban. Disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda. American officials are merging the tasks into one, increasing rather than decreasing the risk, time and resources of protracted warfare. President Obama says his goal is limited, but McChrystal says otherwise.

And he didn't even get all of his troops. We'll see how this COIN goes.

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