During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama repeatedly accused the Bush administration of allowing the US to get distracted from the real war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan by getting bogged down in Iraq. Attempting to shed an image of an anti-war zealot, Obama insisted that he would put many more troops into the Af-Pak theater and fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban with robust numbers of American and NATO troops. When he first took office, he added 21,000 troops to the theater, but got no support at all from his new friends in Europe.
Now it appears that we have reached another Obama expiration date, punctuated by a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot from National Security Adviser Jim Jones to the commander of the Marines Obama sent to Afghanistan (via Jules Crittenden):
Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?
Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.
Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”
Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.
In other words, don’t expect any more help if you run into trouble. What a great message to send the Marines as they begin their biggest operation in Afghanistan:
Thousands of U.S. Marines descended upon the volatile Helmand River valley in helicopters and armored convoys early Thursday, mounting an operation that represents the first large-scale test of the U.S. military’s new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.
The operation will involve about 4,000 troops from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which was dispatched to Afghanistan this year by President Obama to combat a growing Taliban insurgency in Helmand and other southern provinces. The Marines, along with an Army brigade that is scheduled to arrive later this summer, plan to push into pockets of the country where NATO forces have not had a presence. In many of those areas, the Taliban has evicted local police and government officials and taken power.
Once Marine units arrive in their designated towns and villages, they have been instructed to build and live in small outposts among the local population. The brigade’s commander, Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, said his Marines will focus their efforts on protecting civilians from the Taliban and on restoring Afghan government services, instead of mounting a series of hunt-and-kill missions against the insurgents.
No one doubts that the NATO effort has to include a vast modernization of Afghanistan in order to succeed. The country has just one modern highway. Even if Afghanistan had a modern armed security force, which it is slowly building, it has no way to get around the country reliably in winter. Farmers cannot rely on summer crops to last them through the winter, thanks to a lack of electricity and refrigeration. Opium allows them to store their harvest and sell it year-round to survive the harsh winters. The Taliban uses that to build loan-sharking services that enslave the farmers and their families.
But before we can build a modern Afghanistan, we have to ensure security throughout the country. That may take more than the 21,000 extra troops we sent. At the very least, a wise CinC would not rule out that possibility, especially one that promised a more energetic fight against the radical Islamists that live in the Af-Pak region. It will take a long time to succeed in Afghanistan on a military and economic basis, and 21,000 was not a magic number for success. It was just a good start in refocusing our effort.
Besides, telling the new troops that no one has their back on the eve of a major offensive is just plain stupid in terms of morale. More than a few Marines must have a few Whiskey Tango Foxtrots of their own at the moment.