But at the very least, those pushing for an expanded mission after 2017 would like to see the United States and its NATO allies maintain at least two or three bases from which drones could be flown and Special Operations Forces could readily strike at militants. The Central Intelligence Agency also wants a larger presence to help protect its assets in Afghanistan.
For now, the option that is being most seriously considered is a proposal made this past summer by Gen. Martin Dempsey, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops for the counterterrorism mission.
The officials said that the Pentagon had also presented other options that range from just an embassy force of about 1,000, which mainly protects American diplomats in Kabul, to maintaining the current force of roughly 9,800, which would also allow American forces to continue training and advising the Afghans.
Still, Mr. Obama and some of his closest advisers remain skeptical of the military’s ability to continue training and advising Afghan forces, other officials said. Building the Afghan Army and police was the main imperative of American-led coalition for much of the past five years, and it has cost the United States more than $65 billion since the war’s outset. Yet even with roughly 17,000 NATO troops still on the ground — including the 9,800 Americans — the Taliban still managed last month to take Kunduz, seizing a city for the first time since 2001.
Afghan forces struggled to retake Kunduz, despite American airstrikes clearing a path and American Special Operations forces at times joining the fight. The city appeared to be back in government hands on Tuesday for the first time in more than two weeks after the Taliban said they were pulling out in order to avoid, as they said in a statement, the “unnecessary waste of ammunition.”
The battle for Kunduz also laid bare the risks posed by air power when, on Oct. 3, an American strike was called in by Afghan troops. The air attack hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing 22 patients and medical staff — and no insurgents.
The president is determined to avoid a repeat of the strike on the hospital, for which he personally apologized, and wants any mission after next year to be as narrow as possible, officials said.Seemingly the entire U.S. national security establishment is circling the wagons around a robust military presence to train and assist the Afghan Armed Forces regardless of the price tag.
Beyond the military, though, a powerful cross-section of the American foreign policy and national security establishment is also pushing for as broad a military commitment in Afghanistan as possible. The latest salvo is a paper to be released on Wednesday by the Atlantic Council, a think tank, which bluntly declares: “U.S. and NATO force levels and presence around the country, as well as intelligence assets, should be maintained at or close to present levels.”
The main argument of the paper, which was written by James B. Cunningham, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, centers on the need to continue helping Afghan forces, and to give the next American administration as much flexibility as possible.
But the most striking element of the paper, which was provided to The New York Times ahead of its release, is the list of more than 20 former senior officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, who have signed on to it. The list includes Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state who served under President Clinton; Stephen Hadley, who was national security adviser to President George W. Bush; two former defense secretaries,Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta (who also ran the Central Intelligence Agency); and four former American ambassadors to Afghanistan. The paper’s two sponsors are Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.
After 14 years of war in Afghanistan, the list of American officials who have worked with the Afghans is long. And many have in the past year stepped forward to urge Mr. Obama to keep American troops in Afghanistan; in March, when President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan was in Washington, a group of 23 former ambassadors and senior officials made their point in an open letter to the president.
“Those of us who worked with the Afghans over the last decade or more feel that we’ve established a relationship that is of some enduring value,” said James Dobbins, the Obama administration’s former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and one of the signatories to the Atlantic Council paper.
He argued that Afghanistan may be the most democratic country in the Muslim world today, and that its government was unambiguously the most pro-American. But without American troops, he said, Afghanistan’s future is grim.
“I can’t promise you that retaining a commitment at the current level will ultimately yield a completely peaceful settled and stable Afghanistan,” he said.
But leaving behind too few troop was lead to “an Afghanistan in complete turmoil.”
“You like Syria?” he said. “How would you like to have another one?”Of course the United States helped create the chaos in Syria. No acknowledgement of that. Nor is there acknowledgement of the gist of a story by Rod Nordland and Joseph Goldstein, "Afghan Taliban’s Reach Is Widest Since 2001, U.N. Says," from a few days back:
The data, compiled in early September — even before the latest surge in violence in northern Afghanistan — showed that United Nations security officials had already rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either “high” or “extreme,” more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.
That assessment, which has not been publicly released but is routinely shared by the United Nations with countries in the international coalition, appears at odds with the assessment of its American commander, Gen. John F. Campbell, in his testimony to Congress last week.
“The Afghan security forces have displayed courage and resilience,” General Campbell testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “They’re still holding. The Afghan government retains control of Kabul, of Highway One, its provincial capitals and nearly all of the district centers.”
Afghan officials in many districts currently under attack by the Taliban depict a significantly different situation. Even Highway One, a ring road connecting all of Afghanistan’s main cities, has long suffered repeated Taliban ambushes and roadblocks in southern Afghanistan; over the past two weeks the insurgents repeatedly cut the highway in the Doshi and Baghlani Jadid districts of Baghlan Province — long an uncontested government stronghold. Few government officials now use the highway along much of its route.
In many districts that are nominally under government control, like Musa Qala in Helmand Province and Charchino in Oruzgan Province, government forces hold only the government buildings in the district center and are under constant siege by the insurgents.
“We do not have any way to escape,” said Wali Dad, the police chief in Charchino, where 400 police officers have been surrounded and pinned down for months. “If we get any means of escaping, I will not stay for a second in the district. The government is failing in their governing, and it’s better to let the Taliban rule.”
General Campbell testified that the Afghan security forces had “reversed almost all of the Taliban gains in northern Helmand after a considerable effort.” He also said they had retaken Musa Qala and held on to other districts, like Sangin and Kajaki, that had been threatened in that area.
On Saturday, however, officials in Musa Qala said the government held only the district government compound, with no freedom of movement outside it because of Taliban threats.
“Only the government can enter the district center, and there are no government activities outside the district center,” said Haji Mohammad Sharif, the district governor.
The United Nations data suggests that the tempo of the insurgency has increased in many parts of the country where there had been little Taliban presence in the past, including some areas in the north with scant Pashtun populations. The Taliban have been a largely Pashtun-based insurgency and have been historically strongest in Pashtun-majority areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, with some pockets in the north, such as Kunduz.
"We have had fighting in 13 provinces of Afghanistan over the past six months, simultaneously,” President Ashraf Ghani said this month in response to criticism after the fall of Kunduz.It is a compendium of failure that begs for a policy reversal. Since Obama has already gone the surge route, the logical next step would be to sit down to the bargaining table and hammer out a transition. But we know that won't happen, not only because of the national security elite singing in one voice calling for an indefinite commitment, but also because of the (re)appearance of specific propaganda favorites.
For instance, the old chestnut by Alissa Rubin, "Taliban Waged a Calculated Campaign Against Women in Kunduz"; as if the United States cared anything about the rights of women. This is the same U.S. military that condones sexual slavery as practiced by its mercenary Afghan militia allies.
Another propaganda favorite justifying indefinite, unilateral U.S. military force projection is the image of ISIS on the march, gobbling up and despoiling turf. Mujib Mashal delivers such a report with "Afghan ISIS Branch Makes Inroads in Battle Against Taliban."
The failed occupation will continue. More districts will fall to Taliban. The U.S. and its Afghan puppet government will maintain a cosmetic presence in the district centers. Gradually Kabul will be encircled. But the U.S. elites will have their drones bases and possibly an expanded CIA program for mayhem and murder. The Carter Doctrine can be maintained, I suppose the Beltway thinking goes, as long as you have a sharp stick to stir up the hornet nest.
There is also a pacifying spillover in the homeland. Ever since 9/11 we sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Back then, we invaded Afghanistan instead of uprooting Al Qaeda's backers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Now, almost 15-years later, we're still in Afghanistan, still losing hearts and minds, and the Saudis have expanded their jihadist terrorism, aided by the CIA, cracking apart the Sykes-Picot Middle East. The U.S. homeland is more militarized than at any time since the Vietnam War.
Then it took Congress to defund the Vietnam War to shut it down. The same thing is going to have to happen now in Afghanistan. The problem is that we are far less democratic a nation than we were 40 years ago. Congress is completely captive to wealth. Both political parties have nothing to do with the interests of ordinary voters. It is going to take a collapse of the system, a crackup, a revolution to get us back on the right path.