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Yesterday the Senate confirmed General David D. McKiernan as Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. General McKiernan was already serving as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. In what some might view as needless complexity, there are some U.S. forces in Afghanistan independent of the international (NATO) coalition that also includes U.S. forces. McKiernan's new position reflects an effort to reduce that complexity, solidify and clarify the command structure and improve coordination of efforts, as explained in this brief White House statement:
For Immediate ReleaseThe General was in D.C. for confirmation and meetings with the President, and gave a press conference while in town in which he stressed - among other things - the need for additional U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan. That led to headlines like this one from the L.A. Times: "More U.S. troops needed in Afghanistan 'quickly,' general says", and stories like this one from the AP:
Office of the Press Secretary
October 2, 2008
Statement by the President on Senate Confirmation of General David D. McKiernan as Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan
Today, the Senate confirmed General David D. McKiernan as Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. This newly created position and realignment of the command structure provides General McKiernan authority over nearly all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ensuring greater coordination in operational planning and execution. General McKiernan will continue to serve as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force.
General McKiernan's new responsibilities will strengthen both U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan. I congratulate General McKiernan on his confirmation and commend the Senate for its quick action on this important nomination.
General: Urgent need for troops in Afghanistan nowThe International Herald Tribune chose to use "the 'S' word" in their coverage:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and its allies should rush more troops "as quickly as possible" to Afghanistan, the top American commander in that country said Wednesday, warning that the fighting could worsen before it get better.
U.S. general urges troop surge in Afghanistan...but the Washington Post reported McKiernan would rather not use that term - "The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge' ".
WASHINGTON: The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that he needed more troops and other aid "as quickly as possible" in a counterinsurgency battle that could get worse before it gets better.
Some less charitable observers might question that semantic argument (old school reporters would have hammered the General for that), but I can't pretend to know why the general wants to avoid the exact word. Immediately after the announcement of the Iraq "surge" congressional Democrats began debates in which they exclusively used the term "escalation" for the president's proposal (a term that harkened back to the Vietnam-era but didn't catch on in this century), so one could infer the mere choice of simple terms - usually agreed to as expediant for expressing an idea - is now politicized to the point the general isn't comfortable using one that could potentially lead to accusations of political bias. On the other hand (and more likely) the General could be trying to avoid giving the impression that fixing Afghanistan is simple - we just do exactly what we did in Iraq over the past year and a half. No one is making that argument, but likewise the general consensus is that we do need more troops in Afghanistan, and their primary mission will initially be (as in Iraq) counterinsurgency.
Which brings us to the Vice Presidential debate - an event that occurred within hours of McKiernan's Senate confirmation and press conference.
PALIN: OK, I'd like to just really quickly mention there, too, that when you look back and you say that the Bush administration's policy on Afghanistan perhaps would be the same as McCain, and that's not accurate.McKiernan wants an increase in troops, but doesn't want it called a "surge". Since neither campaign is arguing against additional troops in Afghanistan, the argument apparently comes down to what exactly they will be doing there - or what exactly a "surge principle" is. Palin's explanation is "not the exact strategy but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq". Biden offered no additional clarification. A debate moderator could have pressed both for details, but that opportunity slipped away last night. One thing is certain - now that the issue is "politicized" we're not likely to hear General McKiernan explain which candidate is correct.
The surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan, also. And that, perhaps, would be a difference with the Bush administration.
Now, Barack Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.
That's not what we're doing there. We're fighting terrorists, and we're securing democracy, and we're building schools for children there so that there is opportunity in that country, also. There will be a big difference there, and we will win in -- in Afghanistan, also.
IFILL: Senator, you may talk about nuclear use, if you'd like, and also about Afghanistan.
BIDEN: I'll talk about both. With Afghanistan, facts matter, Gwen.
The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not -- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.
But we do have the transcript of McKiernan's press briefing. Here are his comments regarding how the additional troops would be used and additional strategies that may be adopted:
It's not just additional boots on the ground. It's enablers to go with them. But at the same time, I would tell you that it's not just a question about more soldiers. It's a question about more governance, about more economic aid, about more political assistance for the government of Afghanistan, as well as military capabilities.Those "principles" - securing the population first, developing the indigenous security forces to take over, and "reconciliation" issues, all of which are the needed first step to enable the Afghan government to become fully functional (because the solution isn't 100% militay) - are exactly the playbook used for "the surge" in Iraq. Specific application to Afghanistan will vary, but these are the fundamentals of counterinsurgency operations.
But what we need is additional military capabilities to provide security for the people in Afghanistan. And until we get to what I call a "tipping point," where the lead for security can be in the hands of the Afghan army and the Afghan police, there's going to be a need for the international community to provide military capability.
Q Thank you. This is actually a follow-up to Jennifer's question. Secretary Gates last week expressed some skepticism about whether more U.S. troops were really the answer in Afghanistan. He said that the answer may be -- in his mind was building up the Afghani army rather than having more U.S. troops. Is there a gap in thinking between you and the secretary?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, I don't think there's a gap at all. I think we're totally in agreement that ultimately what we want to do -- winning this campaign -- is about building Afghan capacity and capability. So recently there's been a -- an international support to increase the size of the Afghan army. We need to increase the size of the Afghan police. We need to continue to reform the Afghan police. But until such time as we get to a capable Afghan security organization that can provide security for the people, there's going to be a reliance on international forces. So I don't think the idea is incompatible at all.
Q General, President Karzai has spoken in recent days about the fact that he's reached out to Mullah Omar, he's enlisted the Saudis as mediators in that, and called on him basically to try and work to create a stable Afghanistan. How do you judge those efforts? Is that compatible with the NATO or U.S. objective, to reach out to someone who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, the idea of reconciliation certainly needs to be a government of Afghanistan-led effort. What I have said -- as a military officer, I've said that the -- ultimately the solution in Afghanistan is going to be a political solution, not a military solution. We're not going to run out of bad guys there that want to do bad things in Afghanistan.
So the idea that the government of Afghanistan will take on the idea of reconciliation, I think, is appropriate, and we'll be there to provide support within our mandate. It won't be a military-led operation.
So where does the General's conops for Afghanistan diverge from the Iraq lessons of the past two years? He's actually clear on that point in the briefing:
Q Thank you, sir. I'm wondering if any thought was being given to migrating the lessons of the Iraq Awakening to Afghanistan to get some of these tribal leaders to have their fighting forces work with you, either because it's the right thing or just for the money, or is the situation so different that that's not applicable?So there you have it. But while the awakening movement was critical to progress in Iraq, it wasn't a planned component of the "surge" -related strategy. It was an independent development begun by shieks but facilitated by U.S. forces in Anbar in late 2006, then adopted by the additional troops deployed in other areas as a result of the surge.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think the similarity is the fact that we need to leverage the tribal system in Afghanistan as was done in Iraq, as -- for a community, bottom-up based approach to security and connection with the government. That part's the same.
What I find in Afghanistan, however, is a degree of complexity in the tribal system which is much greater than what I found in Iraq years ago.
And I also find that of the over 400 major tribal networks inside of Afghanistan, they have been largely, as I said earlier, traumatized by over 30 years of war, so a lot of that traditional tribal structure has broken down.
But the question and the need to engage the tribes, to engage tribal authorities and use those values at a local level to enhance security, governance, needs of the people to be able to express grievances with the government of Afghanistan, I think, is an important concept and one that we have to continue to work in support of the government of Afghanistan.
Q And are you considering or looking into a program that would be similar to the Sons of Iraq, where you would actually start paying some of the tribes, that the U.S. money would go to some of the tribes to get --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, the difference in Afghanistan is that needs to be an Afghan-led effort to engage the tribes. And there is a program called the Afghan Social Outreach Program which President Karzai is -- tasked one of his ministers to lead. But one of the real differences, again, between Afghanistan and Iraq was, if you recall, Afghanistan was in the midst of a civil war when we intervened. And that potential is still there, so this needs to be an Afghan-led effort on how to engage the tribes and what the incentives are and how to use the traditional tribal authorities to help with community security and community assistance.
Q General, a question on this concept of some sort of Afghanistan awakening.
You said that the goal in this would be getting the Afghan government to empower these local tribes. But to some extent too, when you talk to folks they say, well, this is a strategy that was to some extent rejected early on because, you know, how would this impact the central government, empowering these local tribes; would that lead to decentralization. And, I mean that gets into issues of governments, and you said you're more of a security guy, too. So I guess the security question is, you know, would that be a security issue?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: First of all, I've never used the term "Afghanistan awakening." So don't -- please don't ascribe that to me.
What I've said, though, is that there is a traditional tribal structure in Afghanistan out in the rural areas, and that's 70 percent of the population. And it seems to me that with the lead of the government of Afghanistan engaging those tribes and connecting them to governance, whether it's at the provincial level or the district level, seems to be a smart thing to do to assist with the security of a huge country. But that has to be, again, a -- we are in support of the government of Afghanistan doing that. We don't do that. ISAF doesn't do that.
In fact, Democrats have been arguing that the Awakening Movement is the only reason for reduced violence in Iraq. Biden's argument ("the priciples won't work") in the debate might be based on his Party's interpretation of the cause of our success in Iraq, though he might be a bit confused as to what that has to do with the surge (Party line: nothing whatsoever).
Update: Facts is facts ...but these are opinions, passed off as "fact checks" in mainstream media reviews of the VP debate.
Sarah Palin on AfghanistanCNN:
Showing off her foreign policy credentials, Sarah Palin jumped into an argument with Biden about a recent statement by the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, suggesting that an Iraqi-style surge would not work in that country. Palin referred to the Afghan commander three times as "General McClellan," when, in fact, his name is General David McKiernan. (There was a Civil War general named General George McClellan, who was fired by President Lincoln for not taking the fight to the enemy.) McKiernan called for an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but argued that the key to victory lay in a long-term counter-insurgency effort "that could last many years" followed by a political solution. Biden summed up the general's statement more accurately than Palin.
The Statement:So, McKiernan says he wants three additional brigades, associated aviation (including UAV's) and suport assets in Afghanistan ASAP - but doesn't want to call it a "surge". Biden claims the General said the surge principle wouldn't work in Afghanistan, and CNN and the Washington Post declare those two statements mean the same thing.
Sen. Joe Biden said at the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate that "our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan."
Gov. Sarah Palin, who lauded the successes of the "surge strategy" in Iraq, asserted in the debate that "the surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan."
But Sen. Joe Biden disagreed, saying "our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan. … He said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan."
Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was quoted on Oct. 2 in The Washington Post as saying that "no Iraq-style 'surge' of forces will end the conflict" in Afghanistan, even though more U.S. troops are needed to take on a growing insurgency.
"Afghanistan is not Iraq," McKiernan said in Washington on Oct. 1. He also said "the word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge.' " He called for a "sustained commitment" leading to a political and not just a military solution.
He said Afghanistan is a "far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq." The newspaper paraphrased him as citing the country's "unique challenges" — "the mountainous terrain, rural population, poverty, illiteracy, 400 major tribal networks and history of civil war."
The Verdict: True.
Not only is that wrong, but in his D.C. press conference that day McKiernan very carefully spelled out how the principles of the surge would be applied in Afghanistan, too - though the specific applications would vary to meet the unique requirements of that country. Not only that, but he also carefully explained (three times) why one of the Democrats' favorite talking points on the "real" reason for success in Iraq would not work there. Admittedly you've got to be sharp enough to spot a "principle of the surge" when you see (or hear) one, but In short - pretty much exactly what Governor Palin described.
The "surge" has become a political buzz word meant to make the dems look bad on foreign policy. McKiernan is probably miffed that he's been injected into partisan politics and trying to remain in the apolitical role.Posted by LT Nixon at October 3, 2008 03:32 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(1) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)