Afghanistan: the neocons flail on yet another front…


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 16, 2007

Afghan Mission Is Reviewed as Concerns Rise

WASHINGTON ‹ Deeply concerned about the prospect of failure in Afghanistan, the 
Bush administration and NATO have begun three top-to-bottom reviews of the 
entire mission, from security and counterterrorism to political consolidation 
and economic development, according to American and alliance officials.

The reviews are an acknowledgment of the need for greater coordination in 
fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, halting the rising opium 
production and trafficking that finances the insurgency and helping the Kabul 
government extend its legitimacy and control.

Taken together, these efforts reflect a growing apprehension that one of the 
administration¹s most important legacies ‹ the routing of Taliban and Qaeda 
forces in Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 ‹ may slip away, 
according to senior administration officials.

Unlike the administration¹s sweeping review of Iraq policy a year ago, which was
announced with great fanfare and ultimately resulted in a large increase in 
troops, the American reviews of the Afghan strategy have not been announced and 
are not expected to result in a similar infusion of combat forces, mostly 
because there are no American troops readily available.

The administration is now committed to finding an international coordinator, 
described as a ³super envoy,² to synchronize the full range of efforts in 
Afghanistan, and to continue pressing for more NATO troops to fight an 
insurgency that made this the most violent year since the Taliban and Al Qaeda 
were routed in December 2001.

³We are looking for ways to gain greater strategic coherence,² said a senior 
administration official involved in the review process.

One assessment is being conducted within the United States military. Adm. 
William J. Fallon, commander of American forces in the Middle East, has ordered 
a full review of the mission, including the covert hunt for Taliban and Qaeda 

³It¹s an assessment of our current strategy and how we are doing,² said a senior
military officer. ³It¹s looking at whether we¹ve done enough or need to do more 
in terms of expanding governance and economic development, as well as wrestling 
with the difficult security issues that we have been dealing with in 

Senior State Department officials also said that R. Nicholas Burns, the under 
secretary of state for political affairs, was coordinating another internal 
assessment of diplomatic efforts and economic aid ‹ the sorts of ³soft power² 
assistance beyond combat force that officials agree are required for success.

A third review, one that has previously been part of the public discussion, 
involves the strategy of NATO, which last year assumed control of the security 
operation in Afghanistan and has since been criticized by American officials and
lawmakers for not being aggressive enough.

At an alliance meeting in Scotland on Friday, Secretary of Defense Robert M. 
Gates successfully gained a commitment from NATO to produce what senior Pentagon
officials called an ³integrated plan² for Afghanistan.

³The intent is to get people to look beyond 2008 and realize this is a 
longer-term endeavor,² said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, who was
with Mr. Gates in Scotland. He said the plan would ³start off by acknowledging 
the success we¹re having in terms of reconstruction and education and governance
and so forth, but it also will state where we want to be in three to five years,
and how we get there.²

The NATO assessment is to be completed for a meeting of alliance heads of state 
in Bucharest, Romania, next spring. The other reviews are due early next year.

Publicly, administration officials have expressed optimism that the war in 
Afghanistan can be won, but Mr. Gates told Congress this week that his optimism 
was ³tempered by caution.²

In recent months, though, Mr. Bush¹s senior advisers have expressed a growing 

While there is a sense that this year¹s troop buildup in Iraq has turned around 
a dire situation, the effort in Afghanistan has begun to drift, at best, 
officials said. That prompted Mr. Bush¹s national security adviser, Stephen J. 
Hadley, to oversee internal deliberations that resulted in the push for the new 

The NATO-led security assistance mission in Afghanistan has about 40,000 troops;
of those, 14,000 are American. Separately, the United States military has 12,000
other troops in Afghanistan conducting specialized counterterrorism missions.

Mr. Gates has declined to name specific allies that have not fulfilled pledges 
for combat troops, security trainers and helicopters for Afghanistan, or whose 
governments have placed restrictions on their combat forces. But he has noted 
that Britain, Canada and Australia had met their commitments and carry their 
full combat load.

Some members of Congress have not been so diplomatic.

³The Germans, the Spanish, the Italians don¹t send any troops to the south 
except for 250 troops by Germany,² said Representative Joe Sestak, Democrat of 
Pennsylvania. A retired three-star admiral who worked on the staff of the 
National Security Council in the 1990s, Mr. Sestak complained that some allies 
³refuse to do combat ops at night and some don¹t fly when the first snowflake 

As part of the NATO review, alliance diplomats and military officers are closely
watching the actions of Britain, which may be able to commit additional troops 
to Afghanistan as it reduces its deployments in Iraq.

To that end, Britain has opened its own ³strategic review² of the Afghan 
mission, especially in the turbulent southern provinces, which will shape the 
alliance¹s assessment, according to a senior diplomat of a NATO nation.

³Essentially what¹s driving it is that a year ago, we were regarding Afghanistan
as an outstanding success ‹ we established democracy, we were in control of many
parts of the country,² the NATO diplomat said. ³Now we have significant issues 
with certain areas producing opium and the Taliban coming back in certain parts 
of the country, as well.²

The Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative 
Ike Skelton of Missouri, was more direct in assessing possible failure in 

³I have a real concern that given our preoccupation in Iraq, we¹ve not devoted 
sufficient troops and funding to Afghanistan to ensure success in that mission,²
Mr. Skelton said. ³Afghanistan has been the forgotten war.²

Strained by commitments in Iraq, the American military has few troops available 
to expand its forces in Afghanistan. ³It is simply a matter of resources, of 
capacity,² Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told 
Congress this week. ³In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we 

Both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Gates have urged Hamid Karzai, 
the Afghan president, to consider proposals for eradicating poppy fields by 
aerial spraying to halt the rapid increase in opium production. But the Afghan 
president has thus far rejected the idea, and even American officials admit that
vastly increased eradication efforts would be counterproductive unless 
alternative livelihoods were immediately available to the poppy farmers.

The Karzai government also is said to be reluctant to endorse having an 
international coordinator with expanded powers, fearing its own legitimacy and 
credibility could be undermined.

Julianne Smith, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and 
International Studies, said the mission in Afghanistan was at risk of failure, 
as political support in European capitals strained NATO¹s ability to sustain, 
let alone expand its effort there.

³The mission in Afghanistan has been suffering from neglect on all sides,² she 

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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