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Outside View: Beware false choices

Whether we like it or not, we are in the midst of a tragedy. The resources likely needed to eliminate the insurgency and turn Afghanistan into a self-sustaining state almost certainly exceed the capacity of the outside world to commit them.

Obama says may decide troop strategy before Afghan run-off
US President Barack Obama said Wednesday he may decide on a new Afghanistan war strategy before the country's run-off election next month -- but may not announce it publicly. Obama also delivered an apparent hint in an interview with NBC News that the new war plan, to be produced from an exhaustive review of US Afghan and Pakistan strategy, would include at least some new troop deployments. "I think it is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a run-off is determined, we may not announce it," Obama said, as a fresh wave of speculation was whipped up around his crucial decision. "Our basic attitude is that we are going to take the time to get this right," Obama said. "We are not going to drag it out, because there is the sense that the sooner we get a sound approach in place and personnel in place, the better off we are going to be." Those remarks appeared to be in line with the idea that the president will need to sign off on any extra troop deployments soon to allow Pentagon planners to get the forces in place by the next Afghan spring.

US Congress may set new curbs on Pakistan aid
The US Congress this week may approve tough new restrictions on military aid to Pakistan, which has decried similar curbs on economic assistance as undermining its sovereignty, aides said Wednesday. The fresh limits include efforts to track where US military hardware sent to Pakistan ends up, as well as a warning that US aid to Pakistan must not upset "the balance of power in the region" -- a reference to tensions with India. The limits are in a 680-billion-dollar US Defense Department spending measure for 2010 that the Senate will take up after the bill cleared the House of Representatives in a 281-146 vote on October 8. If, as expected, the Senate approves the legislation, it will go to US President Barack Obama to sign into law -- and could worsen a flare-up between Washington and Islamabad about stings attached to US aid dollars. Pakistani officials have bitterly complained about restrictions in US legislation aimed at tripling non-military aid to 7.5 billion dollars over five years, denouncing some limits the package sets on security assistance as attacks on its sovereignty. US lawmakers have increasingly called for closer tracking of US aid to Pakistan, amid growing concerns about US strategy in Afghanistan as Obama weighs sending more troops to fight the eight-year-told war. The military spending bill would impose new restrictions on how Pakistan gets reimbursed out of a 1.6-billion-dollar fund for logistical and military support of US-led efforts to battle Islamist insurgents. The measure requires that the US secretaries of state and defense certify that "whether such reimbursement is consistent with the national security interest of the United States and will not adversely impact the balance of power in the region." The bill also says the Pentagon must certify that Islamabad is waging a "concerted" fight against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other fighters before it can receivemonies in a 700-million-dollar package to aid Pakistan battle extremists on its soil. The measure also directs the Pentagon to track how Pakistan uses military hardware it receives in order "to prohibit the retransfer of such defense articles and defense services without the consent of the United States." The legislation also calls for the White House to send lawmakers a report every 180 days on progress toward long-term security and stability in Pakistan. The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the legislation on Thursday, aides said. (AFP Reports)
by Harlan Ullman
Washington (UPI) Oct 21, 2009
In politics, catchy phrases often become sound bites. Sound bites become slogans that are transformed into partisan rallying points irrespective of logic or veracity. In this process, highly complex issues are invariably defined in terms of simplistic and misleading false choices.

Well before the "axis of evil" was born and shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush pronounced that "you are either with us or against us." That was brave talk indeed responding to American outrage over the al-Qaida attacks that killed more of us than at Pearl Harbor 68 years ago. Unfortunately, that was a false choice. Allies are needed in war, and the choice translated into a form of American unilateralism. And the notion of "consultation" with allies became one of merely informing them of American decisions -- a practice that apparently has carried over into the Obama administration.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was among the first to declare Operation Iraqi Freedom a "war of choice." The implication was that the war in Afghanistan to root out al-Qaida and topple the Taliban was a war of "necessity," and hence was the "good war" unlike Iraq, which was a huge blunder. But the fact is that states go to war based on interests and judgments. Hence, it is highly simplistic to declare one war of necessity and another of choice.

Eight years of frustration, violence and carnage in Afghanistan have given rise to another slogan that is also a colossally false choice. The choice is determining whether to focus on a "counter-terror" or "counterinsurgency" campaign. The first, according to the many texts on the subject, emphasizes law enforcement and intelligence. The British-IRA battle in Northern Ireland was largely counter-terrorism in which the Army played a key but supporting role.

Counterinsurgencies are wars in which the "enemy" chooses not to wage conventional battles. Instead, terror and guerrilla tactics are the tools of choice. But the reality is that counterinsurgencies are largely civil wars or revolutions in which one group intends to overthrow another.

In Afghanistan, it is impossible to succeed without using the full set of capabilities needed to defeat both terror and the insurgents. While the Taliban represent a wide cross-section of many different factions -- from determined jihadist to part-time mercenary -- the intent of the insurgency is to seize power. As Lenin reminds us, the purpose of terror is to terrorize. Hence, insurgents and terror are inseparable in fact and in solution.

As the Obama administration grapples with a range of unpalatable selections of what to do in Afghanistan, it must reject the notion of an "either or" choice between counter-terror and counterinsurgency strategies. The first step is determining what outcomes can be achieved and at what costs or price with or without the assistance of the Afghan government. That government is in the midst of a profound electoral crisis with President Hamid Karzai currently rejecting the U.N. commission's conclusion of a fraudulent election and the need for a runoff.

To some, Karzai's truculence -- which from his perspective of regime survival is understandable if unacceptable -- offers the basis for an exit strategy. How can NATO and others commit 100,000 troops or more to a state that has neither a legitimate nor even fully cooperative government in this existential fight against the Taliban? Others argue that irrespective of who sits in Kabul, Western interests demand following the recommendations of the military leaders in the field and the deployment of tens of thousands more troops to achieve a measure of security deemed vital for Afghanistan to survive.

Whether we like it or not, we are in the midst of a tragedy. The resources likely needed to eliminate the insurgency and turn Afghanistan into a self-sustaining state almost certainly exceed the capacity of the outside world to commit them. Yet, a withdrawal could have catastrophic consequences in the region and the world at large even if the Taliban chose to focus inwards, as jihadists would claim this as another victory over the Western superpowers in the form of NATO and the United States.

This column has recommended various courses of actions to sail between the Afghan version of Scylla and Charybdis by focusing on population centers as the major points of leverage for improving governance and development under the umbrella of better protective security. But whatever strategic choice is made, it should not be between one of counter-terror and counterinsurgency.

That distinction is a false choice and will lead to failure because it overly simplifies a hugely complex set of challenges, dangers and realities. And that false choice has another fatal flaw. It says nothing about Pakistan, which, after all, is the strategic issue that will ultimately determine success or failure in the region.

(Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council in Washington and chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Pakistan aid package becomes law
Washington (UPI) Oct 20, 2009
All it took was a simple statement to resolve a huge controversy over a well-meaning $7.5 billion U.S. aid package to Pakistan and avert what could have become a major issue in U.S.-Pakistan relations at a time when neither country can afford it. The controversy grew from claims in some Pakistani quarters that the aid package, known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, was designed to ... read more

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