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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 74/No. 26      July 12, 2010


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(lead article)
White House fires top
general in Afghan war
Imperialists face mounting challenges
U.S. Army/Jon Rosa
U.S. and Afghan soldiers at military outpost in Sayed Abad, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, load Chinook helicopter in preparation for air assault mission June 15.

The events surrounding the forced resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, highlight challenges Washington faces after nearly nine years of war.

U.S.-led forces have gained no further clear-cut advantage against Taliban forces since routing them from power in 2001. There is growing frustration among troops and combat officers with the course of the war and tactics of the top U.S. military leadership, which they hold responsible for increasing troop deaths. And the Pakistani government, Washington’s key strategic ally in the conflict, is currently moving to secure its influence in Afghanistan in a way that diverges from Washington’s plan.

General McChrystal was forced to resign June 23, less than two days after a Rolling Stone article in which McChrystal and his aides revealed their disdain for key figures in the Barack Obama administration and top diplomats assigned to Afghanistan and Pakistan. McChrystal is being replaced by his boss, Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command and a chief architect of the “counterinsurgency” strategy employed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McChrystal had replaced Gen. David McKiernan in May 2009, making this the second time President Obama has dismissed his top commander of the Afghan war.

Only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got “good reviews” from the McChrystal team. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” an adviser is quoted as saying in the article. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’”

In McChrystal’s review last year, he warned of defeat if the White House did not send sufficient reinforcements over the next year. The report was leaked to the press, increasing pressure on the White House. A few months later Obama announced he would deploy 30,000 more troops, close to McChrystal’s recommendation of 40,000. At the same time Obama announced a “deadline” to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011.

The main source of growing discontent among combat troops has been the increasing restrictions on the rules of combat, such as limiting the use of air and artillery strikes and constraints on breaking into Afghan homes.

Stepped-up offensive operations, combined with these restrictions, have resulted in more frequent and longer ground battles. More than 100 U.S. and NATO troops were killed in June, the highest month for coalition deaths since the war began.

While entailing more risk to U.S. soldiers, the attempts to lessen civilian casualties is a pillar of Washington’s counterinsurgency strategy. It begins with an overwhelming ground offensive to drive the Taliban from major population centers. Troops are then stationed among the population to prevent the Taliban from regaining influence as they prop up a pro-U.S. power structure and work to convince residents that they are better off working with the new regime than with a weakened Taliban.

At his confirmation hearing June 29, General Petraeus laid out a course to maintain the same basic strategy, while pledging to review the contentious rules of engagement. Petraeus described U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan as an “enduring one.” He said that July 2011 will mark the beginning of a “transition phase in which the Afghan government would take more and more responsibility for its own security,” and echoed recent comments by Obama that the date is not “when we will be rapidly withdrawing our forces and switching off the lights.”

A June 29 opinion piece in the Washington Post criticized what it called Obama’s “misguided” and fallacious deadline, blaming it for pushing Afghan president Hamid Karzai to seek premature deals with the Taliban, weakening support among NATO allies, emboldening the Taliban, reducing incentive for the Pakistani government to break from Taliban and other anti-U.S. Islamist forces, and undercutting efforts to convince Afghanis that they will be protected from Taliban retribution.

Against this backdrop, the Pakistani government is seeking to broker a deal between the Afghan government and the various Islamist groups fighting in Afghanistan with which it has influence. Most recently, Islamabad has been pressing to begin reconciliation efforts with Sirajuddin Haqqani, a key target of Washington who commands a major force waging war in Afghanistan.

U.S. strategy is to further weaken and split the Taliban movement, forcing enough elements into negotiations on terms more favorable to Washington’s interests.

CIA director Leon Panetta said June 27 that there is no evidence the Taliban or Haqqani network, are interested in a peace deal that Washington would accept, which includes renouncing ties to al-Qaeda. “Unless they’re convinced that the United States is going to win and that they’re going to be defeated, I think it’s very difficult to proceed with a reconciliation that’s going to be meaningful,” he said.
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U.S. troops out of Afghanistan!

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