Beyond the Khyber Pass
Here's a sobering thought to those who want to pull out of the unstrategic Middle East, redeploy to Afghanistan and "get" Osama Bin Laden. Yahoo reports: "Attacks on Khyber trucking threaten US supply line".
KHYBER AGENCY, Pakistan - Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating chaos along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for U.S. and NATO forces....
Abductions and arson attacks on the hundreds of cargo trucks plying the switchback road through the Khyber Pass have become commonplace this year. Many of the trucks carry fuel and other material for foreign troops based in Afghanistan.
The heart of the problem is that much of the problem, including Osama Bin Laden, is in Pakistan and not Afghanistan. But Afghanistan's the good war, the approved conflict, the bipartisan consensus effort. And therefore Afghanistan it is. The story continues:
U.S. and NATO officials play down their losses in these arid mountains of northwestern Pakistan — even though the local arms bazaar offers U.S.-made assault rifles and Beretta pistols, and the alliance is negotiating to open routes through other countries.
The most high-profile victim of the lawlessness has been Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan. The 56-year-old was snatched from his Mercedes limousine three months ago while driving toward the border. He wasn't freed until Saturday. Pakistan's government denied it was part of a prisoner swap last week with militants.
A senior government official said Azizuddin's kidnapping was carried out by one of dozens of criminal gangs operating in the region, who then sold the ambassador to the Taliban.
Last year, I noted an American Forces Press Service reported that contingency plans are being prepared to supply coalition forces in Afghanistan if Pakistan is lost. The most important quote from the Press Service report was that "the U.S. military is examining different contingencies for supplying American troops in Afghanistan if supplies can no longer be shipped through Pakistan "because 75 percent of all of our supplies for our troops in Afghanistan flow either through or over Pakistan." This is the unexamined strategic background of Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, reported last year in Breitbart.
Asked whether he would move U.S. troops out of Iraq to better fight terrorism elsewhere, he brought up Afghanistan and said, "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."
Earlier this month, Obama drew criticism when he said he would send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists even without local permission, if warranted.
But whether shallow incursions into Pakistan would work at all is questionable. Cross-border raiding by US forces may have been going on for some time. And in fact, the strikes on NATO supply lines may be a function of pressure on the Taliban. The harder one hits the Taliban, the more effort they put into disrupting the NATO supply lines which support the fight against them. In January I wrote: "The Asia Times says that the US has built a base right on the Afghan-Pakistan border for the purposes of raiding into Pakistan, with or without Islamabad's approval. ... The Asia Times article darkly hints that al-Qaeda will redouble its efforts to inflame Pakistan and attack NATO supply lines in order to compensate for its loss of sanctuaries in the tribal areas." The enemy is in the logistical rear of the US effort, but politically that is difficult to acknowledge. It would be as if the US offensive against Germany had to be supplied through a country heavily populated by ardent fascists, but everyone was afraid to mention the possible complications of that fact.
But what would have been madness in decades past is par for the course today. With Washington locked in a game of strategic trivial pursuit, the deadliest sin a politician can be guilty of is to change his mind; say something which may contradict what he may have said six years ago. Thinking has become the ultimate crime; demagoguery the ultimate virtue and a studious avoidance of strategic thought something to be achieved at all costs.
The one central issue that has never been resolved or even officially debated because of political sensitivity is what is the strategic center of gravity of the enemy? Is it the theology of militant Islam? Is is venture capital support for terrorist entrepreneurs? Is it states seeking to develop WMDs? Is it Islam itself?
Neither party seems inclined to give an answer. President Bush has given the impression that the enemy consists of renegades to the "religion of peace". Barack Obama appears to agree -- about the "religion of peace" part -- and seems to suggest the enemy is much as President Bush has described them. Except that they are in Afghanistan and not in Iraq.
Yet no major party has articulated a comprehensive strategy for dismantling the enemy center(s) of gravity. Indeed there is marked reluctance to even describe what these are. But without this strategic context, without a consensus of what the US war aims are, even the most massive redeployment of troops will simply be a showy kind of floundering.
The campaign in Iraq acquired a kind of post-facto strategic importance. Al-Qaeda was roundly humiliated. Iran was threatened by a rival Shi'ite democratic polity. Maybe a Saddam WMD program was aborted. Maybe. But some of these real achievements are retrospective. Maybe God does bless America, because the politicians don't.
The question that must be asked with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan is: what do we hope to achieve? And how does it relate to dismantling the enemy's centers of gravity. It's not enough to say "I will talk to everybody". What will you talk about? It's not enough to say "we will go after the renegades of the Religion of Peace" without describing what the Religion of Peace itself advocates.
But in all likelihood the temporizing will continue. Strategy has become the hostage of the 30-second soundbite. How strange it is that a society as complex and technological as Western civilization has a short-term memory only slightly longer than that of a goldfish.
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