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Thursday, October 29, 2009

McChrystal Lite is a Recipe for Disaster

The thing about those darn generals on the ground is that more times than not, they know what they are doing. For instance, General David Petraeus only asked for about 20,000 more troops for his surge in Iraq. There were several reasons for that. First, 80% of the violence happened in Baghdad or in the burbs surrounding it. So, the troops would be used almost exclusively in a fairly small area. Second, the main problem was the strategy and not the troop level. We were then involved in a counter terrorism strategy. We would identify terrorists and go in with a search and destroy mission and kill or capture them. Of course, there would be several more that would invariably show up after this.

So, Petreaus wanted to change it to a counter insurgency. That strategy involved three prongs: clear, hold and build. The clear part meant that troops would go into the roughest and toughest neighborhoods and go door to door until each and every terrorists was rooted out. This was tough fighting and it not only required a new strategy but more troops. That's what the 20,000 in new troops were for. After that, some of the troops would stay around and hold the territory. That's because we learned the hard way that if we didn't stay around the terrorists would come back. Beyond that, economic development would follow.

General McChrystal is following a similar philosophy but Afghanistan is not Iraq. The violence isn't centered in one urban area mostly. There isn't really an urban area period. Afghanistan is full of empty space, rural areas, and all sorts of places for the terrorists to hide. Counter insurgency works by taking space away from the enemy, holding that space, until the enemy has less and less space.

The president wants to give McChrystal some of the troops he wants but not all the troops he wants. The problem is that by doing that we won't have enough troops to clear the terrorists from all their hiding places. McChrystal didn't merely pick that number from the clear blue sky. That's how many troops he needs to clear out all the terrorists from all their spheres in Afghanistan. Without clearing the enemy, you can't move to the hold portion. The president, if this is correct, wants to do counter insurgency on the cheap. That's a recipe for disaster. That means we'll clear them from some places and those terrorists will merely move en masse to where we aren't because we won't have the troops to go there.

That's, in fact, what those involved in the strategy are saying will happen. They are saying that we will take back the urban areas and leave much of the rural areas for the Taliban. That's a recipe for disaster. In fact, it's exactly what Ralph Peters predicted weeks ago.

The "Vote Present" Strategy: Send a token increase of 10,000 or so troops, make cosmetic changes to the mission, try to please everyone partially -- and kick the can down the road.

The evidence on the ground, the lessons of history, and our real security needs strongly favor the Biden approach, but giving Gen. Stan McChrystal the full surge he wants would be far better than "more of the same, with new slogans."

This president has to make a decision. A real decision. But it looks like he's going to wiggle, squirm and dodge, then go in front of the teleprompter to vote "present" again.

Peters predicted 10,000 troops extra. The current word is about 20,000 new troops but the idea is the same. President Obama would change strategies. It would be a more dangerous strategy but he wouldn't give his general enough troops to make that strategy work. That's a recipe for disaster.

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