According to the Associated Press, President Obama's Afghanistan strategy may now be focusing solely on al-Qaeda, not the Taliban, and may even go so far as to return the Taliban to governing power in some regions of Afghanistan, including seats in the central government.
Some people with a better memory than Obama may remember that al-Qaeda and the Taliban worked hand-in-hand together on a number of things, including suicide bombing missions to squelch political opposition.
This is the SAME Taliban that sheltered bin Laden and refused to extradite him and his al-Qaeda killers to stand trial in the United States following 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, three years prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Even though courtroom testimony and satellite phone records proved bin Laden's guilt, the Taliban claimed the US did not have evidence of his crimes and that "without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin... he is a free man."
So, despite General Stanley McChrystal's insistence that American forces on the ground in Afghanistan need some serious back-up, Obama appears reluctant to oblige, and instead, seems likely to provide only as many troops needed to keep al-Qaeda at bay.
Though aides stress that the president’s final decision on any changes is still at least two weeks away, the emerging thinking suggests that he would be very unlikely to favor a large military increase of the kind being advocated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal…
Obama’s developing strategy on the Taliban will “not tolerate their return to power,” the senior official said in an interview with The Associated Press. But the U.S. would fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government — something it is now far from being capable of — and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to al-Qaida, the official said…
Bowing to the reality that the Taliban is too ingrained in Afghanistan’s culture to be entirely defeated, the administration is prepared, as it has been for some time, to accept some Taliban role in parts of Afghanistan, the official said. That could mean paving the way for Taliban members willing to renounce violence to participate in a central government — though there has been little receptiveness to this among the Taliban. It might even mean ceding some regions of the country to the Taliban...
Obama kept returning to one question for his advisers: Who is our adversary, the official said.
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Interestingly, this little nugget of "strategy" comes just days after Defense Secretary Robert Gates stressed how "the United States could not afford to give al-Qaeda and the Taliban" a "propaganda victory."
And as I pointed out earlier today, troop morale is already suffering. Any guesses on what this kind of news is going to do to our men and women on the ground over there, Mr. President?
Defense Secretary Gates might not be completely on board, and, according to Fox News, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might also have some objections:
The AP also reports what this strategy shift would mean for the size of the US war effort:A State Department spokesman said Thursday that Clinton believes the Taliban and Al Qaeda are both a threat and the U.S. is fighting the whole idea of killing in the name of religious extremism.
However, the New York Times was the first to report on these latest developments this morning, and included other interesting observations:
There now are no more than 100 al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Instead, the U.S. fight in Afghanistan is against the Taliban, now increasingly being defined by the Obama team as distinct from al-Qaida. While still dangerous, the Taliban is seen as an indigenous movement with almost entirely local and territorial aims, less of a threat to the U.S. than the terrorist network.
Obama's team believes some elements in the Taliban are aligned with al-Qaida, with its transnational reach and aims of attacking the West, but probably not the majority and mostly for tactical rather than ideological reasons, the official said.
"They're not the same type of group,"said. "It's certainly not backed up by any of the intelligence."
It's unclear to me at this juncture what Obama's intention is in creating a pseudo separation between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Let's say the Taliban does "renounce violence" and pinky swears it won't harbor al-Qaeda terrorists. Does this mean we pull back our troops?
Some analysts say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have actually grown closer since the first American bombs fell on the Shomali Plain north of Kabul eight years ago Tuesday.
“The kind of separation that existed between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 really doesn’t exist anymore,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised General McChrystal. “You have much more ideological elements in the Taliban. In the east, they’re really mixed in with Al Qaeda.”
Frances Fragos Townsend, who was President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said the two groups remained linked.
“It’s a dangerous argument to assume that the Taliban won’t revert to where they were pre-9/11 and provide Al Qaeda sanctuary,” she said. Referring to General McChrystal, she added, “If you don’t give him the troops he asked for and continue with the Predator strikes, you can kill them one at a time, but you’re not going to drain the swamp.”
What happens if we later find out that al Qaeda terrorists are being harbored in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan? Does this mean Obama would finally grant McChrystal the extra troops he'd asked for originally? We'd have to fight in retaking land we had already controlled when McChrystal's first request was acknowledged?