On Tuesday night, President Obama announced his new “strategy” for Afghanistan. It held few surprises, just disappointments. The President’s rhetoric soared, as usual. The content did not. Instead, he sent the country down the road with a series of assumptions and plans that can be called, at best, a wing and a prayer.
Sarwar Kashmeri, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's International Security Program, interviewed Mark Mardell, North America editor of the BBC, for the New Atlanticist Podcast Series. Mardell discussed President Obama's recently announced Afghanistan strategy.
Most of the postmortems of President Obama's Afghanistan strategy speech focused on the announcement of an 18 month timetable after which a drawdown and handover to local forces would begin. Opposition Republicans took the president at his word and warned about signaling weakness, whereas critics in his own party saw the deadline as a cynical gesture to buy time. The reality seems to be that deadline is a signaling mechanism but a very flexible one.
Although perhaps delivered with less emotion than some would like from such a gifted orator, President Obama delivered his Afghanistan strategy. We can expect additional strategic and operational details to emerge in the coming weeks but the speech outlined some broad guidelines that military and other planners can use as strategic direction.
From his former incarnation as strategic adviser to Pakistan's politico-religious parties, the one-time Pakistani intelligence chief Hamid Gul has resurfaced as de facto minister of propaganda and disinformation for the Taliban insurgents. In a dramatic reincarnation for the "meray mutabiq" ("my opinion") program on Geo television, Gul said the Taliban has 88,000 troops and 35,000 civilian police in Afghanistan ready to take over when U.S. and NATO forces leave. U.S. estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000 Taliban insurgents, many of them jobless youth looking for food. Few Americans are dying, Gul explained, as they get their Afghan puppets to do the fighting.
As strategists and commentators dissect President Obama's West Point speech, the conversation all too often gets stuck on troop levels. What is missing is a strategic assessment and a willingness to transfer America's hard-won lessons learned in Iraq, especially in the Al Anbar province, to Afghanistan.
President Obama's speech outlining his Afghanistan exit strategy was much anticipated. It was addressed to the American people, of course, but also to our NATO and ISAF allies and the people in Afghanistan and its neighbors. Naturally, not everyone is pleased.
There is no doubt about it now. This is Obama's War. He took full ownership of it last night. From the history to the conduct of operations, warts and all. He acknowledged how and why the United States went into Afghanistan, why it has stayed, and why it will leave under his timetable, with all its caveats. But to many the speech may not provide the basis for winning the war, because the objectives are still uncertain and more importantly, Obama has uncertain allies around the world and in the region. Without help from all of them, the United States alone will not be able to prosecute a successful counterinsurgency nor exit as gracefully as the president's timetable implies.