Obama to shift focus away from Taliban

Posted on October 8, 2009

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Pick your preferred source on this one, whether it’s the AP or the Times of London. The Obama administration appears to be headed down a course that would see the focus of military operations in Afghanistan shift away from fighting the Taliban toward simply hunting al-Qaeda. During the shift the administration is apparently willing to accept the Taliban have “some role” in Afghanistan’s government, and perhaps even cede territory to them on the ground.

This is the so-called counterterrorism option, and while the administration says it won’t let the Taliban retake power, if you give them an inch, they will undoubtedly be emboldened to seize a mile. The aim is to use Predator drone attacks and special forces in going after al-Qaeda targets, a thought process that leaves out the fact that you don’t just push a button one thousand miles away and kill yourself some terrorists – you need intel on the ground in order to make such attacks surgical and effective.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though – just take a look at what CBS’ Afghanistan correspondent Lara Logan has to say about it. Having spent a great deal of time in-country, she calls such a move “disastrous” and “catastrophic” in that it leaves the troops we have there currently undermanned and vulnerable to a surge in military momentum that favors the Taliban. Hell, even Code Pink are rethinking their support for Afghanistan demilitarization.

The move to redefine the Taliban as some kind of accidental enemy of the United States is designed to provide rhetorical cover to avoid sending more troops, acting more aggressively or generally working to provide a winnable strategy in the region. By saying the Taliban isn’t really our enemy (even after they’ve harbored terrorists and killed our soldiers) the administration can simply declare victory and get back to enacting its sweeping domestic agenda.

What a shift from last year when candidate Obama was pledging to refocus and redouble our efforts in Afghanistan (including increasing troop levels) and even knocking then Pakistani Pres. Musharraf for making peace deals with the Taliban. Now we’re poised to do the same thing ourselves in the name of political expediency and saving face. The move is also designed to provide the appearance of “doing something” to remove the distraction of Afghanistan from the President’s true focus – that of his domestic agenda. Indeed, the whole of Obama’s foreign policy so far seems to be a mere holding pattern at best and outright scaling back at worst.

It appears that Obama is now prepared to ignore the urgent advice of General McChrystal, a man he himself installed as Afghanistan commander ostensibly because Obama trusted his judgment and his expertise. I know soldiers who have served past and present in Afghanistan and no decision to send more troops in should be taken lightly. But with troop morale low, soldiers on the ground recognize they need some help. Instead of that assistance, we’ll simply be shifting our priorities instead.

I want all of our brave soldiers to come home safely and honorably, and I want Afghanistan to be a stable country free of the specter of al-Qaeda and terrorism. I don’t know how reclassifying the Taliban squares with those goals, but I can’t imagine how it would be helpful. Ceding ground to the Taliban may prove to be a viable political option, but it looks to me to be the forerunner of disaster in Afghanistan.

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Posted in: News, Politics