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The Afghanistan Retcon

Posted by The Agonist on September 20th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Spencer Ackerman points to the US military assiduously trying to rewrite history.

The Afghanistan troop surge is almost over. But before it ends on October 1, U.S. and NATO military officials are retroactively redefining its goals. Once it was about blunting the momentum of the Taliban. The new line is that it was about getting the Afghan military prepared to take over the country.

As he returned from a trip to Turkey on Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the point of the surge was to “buy us some time to push back on some Taliban initiatives” and “to buy us some space to grow the Afghan security forces.”

Echoing the chairman, Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, a top NATO planning officer in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that the surge “effectively covered and enabled the training and fielding of the Afghan national security force” — an “amazing outcome” — and “directly delivered the time and space for the ANSF to stand up and assume the lead for the security of Afghanistan.”

That was not the point of the surge when President Obama sold it to the American people. “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government,” Obama said at West Point in December 2009 when he announced his decision to order an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Increased training for the Afghans was always part of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. But it wasn’t a main focus of the surge. Most of the increased U.S. forces went to fight the Taliban, so much so that nearly a year later, NATO had a shortfall of troops dedicated to training the Afghans.

Gone are the glowing words about “momentum” and “pushing back the Taliban”. Attacks are only down a measly three percent on last year. Arif Rafiq writes:

Beyond al Qaeda, the U.S. president has achieved little of strategic importance in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is incorrect, if not disingenuous, when he says that the Taliban’s momentum has been “blunted.” The Taliban’s spear is sharp as ever. Last week, on Sept. 14, it cut through Camp Bastion, one of the most secure foreign bases in Afghanistan. There, in a complex attack that cost $10,000 or $20,000 at most, it destroyed six jets valued at up to $180 million. The ratio of cost to achievement of the $100 billion-a-year war in Afghanistan is indefensible

Our own JPD, in commenting on an earlier post, writes that “The American public actively doesn’t want to talk about Afghanistan. This is much more than they won’t notice – they’ll actively punish any candidate that talks about it too much.” That’s quite possibly true, although it’s truer of the many media pundits and Beltway insiders who cheerled this disasterous misadventure and now want it kept quiet long enough for them to disassociate themselves from it. Still, I’m an idealistic old duffer, enough of one to think that a true leader tells people the bad news no matter the effect it might have on his personal fortunes. I find myself wondering if Romney and Obama can go a whole foreign policy debate without mentioning Afghanistan even once. Surely they’re going to have to try to defend the indefensible then.

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