Tuesday, October 06, 2009

He's cleaning up a mess

Eight US soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a NATO outpost in Nuristan province on Saturday. Here is part of the reaction of Veterans for Bush operative Pete Hegseth, posting at National Review's The Corner --

The big difference between the Surge violence in Iraq in 2007 and the increase in violence in Afghanistan today, is that in 2007 our troops knew reinforcements were coming, and would be added to the fight wherever necessary. Men like Eric Geressy fought in enemy strongholds, knowing that additional forces were coming and would be all around them — squeezing al-Qaeda like a pimple.

Right now, I can’t imagine our troops in Afghanistan feel the same way. Our Soldiers and Marines are manning remote combat outposts, surrounded by enemy fighters, with no idea whether the reinforcements they so desperately need will ever come. Nonetheless, our troops are bravely following orders and taking the initial steps necessary to implement the counter-insurgency strategy President Obama approved in March and General McChrystal has been implementing aggressively.

A casual reader might conclude that Hegseth is claiming that the soldiers got stranded at the outpost because of some new Obama strategy. But that wouldn't be true and we know it can't be true because the Saturday attack bears striking resemblance to one in July 2008 in the same province in which 9 US soldiers was killed.

The circumstances that led to the latter incident, the so-called Battle of Wanat, are still unresolved. Dumped into last week's news was a statement from General David Petraeus that he has ordered another inquiry into the battle, which apparently will be the 3rd such investigation. This one will will "also address circumstances beyond the tactical level." Which sounds like an investigation of strategy.

So the point is that a major attack happens in July 2008 and the investigations are still going on. A repeat attack happens in October 2009 and Hegseth is wondering "Where Is the Urgency on Afghanistan?" A question better addressed to the commander-in-chief for 2008 who at the time was being hailed as a genius by Hegseth for the surge in Iraq. The one that kept Afghanistan short of troops.

UPDATE: Max Boot, on an Afghanistan-Iraq tour, has an interesting couple of lines on the Nuristan incident --

One of those "impertinent questions" concerns the deployment of small coalition outposts in remote regions of Regional Command-East along the border with Pakistan. Here small numbers of soldiers were isolated and subject to daily attack in bases that could be supplied only by air. What was the point of having soldiers so far from population centers, [General Stanley] McChrystal demanded? Previous commanders had asked the same question, only to hesitate to remove them because they knew that this would represent a propaganda boost for the Taliban. McChrystal went ahead with the consolidation even after insurgents nearly overran Combat Outpost Keating in Nuristan Province in early October, killing eight American soldiers, just days before it was to be dismantled. He insists, rightly, that a successful counterinsurgency strategy must be focused on the people, not on terrain, and that's where he's putting his troops.

This makes clear that Hegseth has the situation pretty much backwards. It was the old strategy to have thinly-defended combat outposts. Obama wants to implement a new strategy.

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