Thursday, July 24, 2008

Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Wednesday's WaPo editorial finds Obama's strategic vision eccentric for its focus on Afghanistan. Among others, both Yglesias and Ackerman find fault with the editorial, and point out that the WaPo editors think fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is not as important as securing Iraqi oil supplies.
Obama has called for increased US military action in Afghanistan by withdrawing troops from Iraq. This position is apparently supported by Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, based on Admiral Mullen's characterization of the Afghanistan conflict as "urgent" and "growing."
Yet, the WaPo editorial says this shift in focus is "eccentric", as "there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan." This may very well be true - at present. However, al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, is apparently hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Taliban, close allies of al-Qaeda, are growing more active, even forcing US troops to abandon an outpost along the Afghan-Pakistan border after 9 US soldiers were killed, following a massive jail break in Kandahar earlier in the year that freed 400 Taliban inmates and hundreds of other prisoners. Apparently, the Taliban control more of Kandahar ($$) than does the Afghan government.
Further, according to an unnamed "senior Defense Department official", al-Qaeda activity was increasing in Afghanistan as of Dec 2007, with al-Qaeda seeking to return to its former base of operations. Al-Qaeda apparently has a new Afghan chief, who has called for more foreign recruits - apparently succeessfully. According to Taliban sources, from the USA Today report:
"al-Qaeda has financed the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, [senior Taliban Qari Mohammed] Yusuf told the AP. In the chaos created by the Taliban groups, al-Qaeda has been able to steadily recruit, re-establish its public relations wing, plot new attacks and re-establish areas of operation on both sides of the border." [emphasis mine - RS]
In response to the growing violence, troop levels in Afghanistan have been increasing, so that as of April this year, there were 32,000 US troops out of an international force of 70,000 in Afghanistan (compared to ~150,000 US troops in Iraq). Still, another 3 brigades have been requested by the US commander, which fits with Obama's call and probably the basis of Admiral Mullen's assessment. Since the security situation in Iraq has been improving as per Admiral Mullen, a shift in focus seems feasible - and perhaps essential.

So - what exactly is eccentric about Obama's strategic vision, again?

No comments: