President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today, where CNN reports he delivered the thanks of a grateful nation, and holiday greetings, to troops stationed there. He also visited wounded troops, and presented five Purple Hearts.
“I wanted to make sure that I could spend a little time this holiday with the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” said the President. “On behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to thank you.”
He also discussed strategy, assuring the troops our coalition is “strong and is growing,” and advising them to check WikiLeaks for their orders in the event of a breakdown in field communications. (Well, he didn’t come right out and say that, but as long as it’s there, we might as well use it.) “You’re going on the offense,” he added. “[We’re] tired of playing defense.”
Are we still supposed to bug out of Afghanistan in July? I know the strategy has been changed around a lot, over the course of various speeches and press conferences. I hope the Taliban is equally confused, and does not have access to WikiLeaks.
Going on offense against the Taliban is a great tactic, which our troops will implement with their customary excellence, but it’s hard to envision a truly offensive strategy working under the limitations of a tight timetable, combined with the difficulty of rooting top Taliban leadership out of Pakistani territory.
Pakistan strenuously denies the presence of Taliban bigwigs in its provinces, even as they keep turning up on America’s Funniest Predator Drone Videos. A recent article from AfghanistanNews.net says the city of Quetta serves as their Casablanca, and Pakistani government is shocked, shocked to find any Taliban there. Pakistan requires American strike drones to operate within “boxes” of tribal territory, none of which include Quetta. If President Obama is serious about going on offense, it’s time to think outside the box.
The Taliban exploits the uneasy relationship between radicalized elements of the Pakistani population and their government, which makes negotiations with the United States delicate. Hopefully, no one will ever publish details of those confidential negotiations on a web site. Political realities will continue to hamper the ability of coalition forces to knock out the top Taliban leadership, so this is not a contest that seems likely to end with the Taliban “king” getting suddenly wiped off the board.
It’s still possible to win without bagging the big shots, but that involves doing massive damage to the foot soldiers… and that is very difficult when operating within short-term artificial timetables. Wars of attrition end with morale failure, not the physical death of every individual enemy soldier. Morale is much harder to break when the enemy knows he only needs to hold on for another six or seven months.
If anyone can do it, it’s the armed forces of the United States. The love, appreciation, and holiday cheer conveyed by the President at Bagram Airfield are heartfelt gifts from every patriotic American. The troops deserve that, and more. Once again, we must ask too much of them. We should demand the same level of resolve from President Obama and his Administration. You don’t go on offense to work out a stalemate you can walk away from. You do it to win.