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Excerpt: "Why is the war in Afghanistan failing? How was the 2009 troop surge sabotaged by White House and military infighting and incompetence?"

Why is US policy failing in Afghanistan? (photo: Reuters)
Why is US policy failing in Afghanistan? (photo: Reuters)

6 Ways the US Failed in Afghanistan

By The Daily Beast | Editorial

04 July 12


hen Washington Post senior correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran went to Afghanistan to report on the troop surge ordered by President Obama in 2009, he found vicious bickering in the leadership that sabotaged a peace deal, generals who dispatched troops to the wrong places, and rogue commanders who killed civilians and cost soldiers their lives. The result is Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. The author of the National Book Award finalist Imperial Life in the Emerald City gives another nightmarish account of a failed war and squandered opportunities. Here are the most devastating revelations.

Helmand, The War’s Biggest Waste of Time

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal took command in Afghanistan in 2009, he wondered why nearly 11,000 U.S. soldiers in that year’s troop surge had been sent to a sparsely populated province called Helmand, and only 4,000 were headed to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city. Hundreds of U.S. troops were killed or injured defending ghost towns in Helmand, for no good reason.

Blame Canada (and Britain)

In 2005 President George W. Bush decided to reduce American forces in Afghanistan and deploy them in Iraq. NATO was asked to help stabilize the region. The Canadians got Kandahar and the British got Helmand.

The British had 9,000 troops in Helmand by 2009. Canada, on the other hand, had deployed only 2,830 soldiers to Kandahar province. Most of them were at headquarters or in support roles, while fewer than 600 were on patrol.

When Andrew Exum of the counterinsurgency advisory group Center for a New American Security asked U.S. Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker why more Canadians had not been sent into Kandahar, Tucker said he did not want to tell the Canadians what to do. Exum wrote in his notebook, “This guy is a jackass.”

‘Nobody Bothered to Ask’

Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged then President-elect Barack Obama to rush the approval of a 17,000-troop increase in 2009—before the new White House could finish a review. The British had asked for as much U.S. assistance in Helmand as possible, but the Canadians had not, and U.S. generals did not want to force the Canadians to cede their territory. So more than half of the forces were about to head to Helmand in the first major military deployment of Obama’s presidency. “Nobody bothered to ask, ‘Tell us how many troops you’re sending here and there,’” Chandrasekaran writes, quoting a senior White House official.

When McChrystal asked for 40,000 more troops later in 2009 and presented his request to Obama in the White House Situation Room, the 14-member War Cabinet also never asked why so many Marines were headed to Helmand.

The Rogue Commander

Col. Harry Tunnell commanded a brigade that included the 1–17 battalion, which patrolled Arghandab in central Kandahar province. He disagreed with Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory, compiled as the COIN manual. Tunnell didn’t believe in protecting villages and winning over residents through reconstruction; he only wanted to kill the bad guys. He called his unit the “Destroyer Brigade,”  and his vehicles were painted with the motto “Search and Destroy.” Most egregiously, the 1–17 battalion was using the new eight-wheeled armored vehicle, called a Stryker, in places where soldiers should have been walking. They hit roadside bombs, and in one incident seven soldiers and an interpreter were killed. By the end of the 1–17’s deployment in Arghandab, 21 soldiers had been killed, the highest death toll of any U.S. Army battalion in Afghanistan.

Tunnell also sent a battalion to far western Kandahar province, and they were subsequently charged with “murdering unarmed Afghans for sport and keeping their fingers as trophies.” An investigation absolved Tunnell of any direct blame, but by then Tunnell had relinquished command of the brigade.

Infighting: McChrystal and Eikenberry

In the fall of 2009, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, sent a cable to the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling into question McChrystal’s rationale for the troop surge. McChrystal was livid and thought that Eikenberry should have sent the cable to him first. When Obama decided to impose a deadline on the surge, McChrystal was very critical. Then came the Rolling Stone article that quoted him and his aides calling National Security adviser Jim Jones a “clown,” special representative Richard Holbrooke “a wounded animal,” and Vice President Joe Biden “bite me.” McChrystal resigned the next day.

Infighting: Holbrooke and Lute

The late diplomat and special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was the best hope to secure a peace deal with the Taliban. But many members of Obama’s team hated him, and the White House’s failure to resolve the dispute sabotaged a chance at a negotiated settlement. Holbrooke was tough to work with. He wanted to sign off on every nonmilitary initiative, but he and his staff were too disorganized to deal with all the paperwork. Eikenberry and Deputy National Security adviser Doug Lute were frustrated and eventually it turned into a nasty dispute. Holbrooke helped select Eikenberry and put him on a short leash, calling him late almost every night and making threats to embassy officials. Holbrooke looked down on Lute, ignored his requests, and made him and his National Security Council staff revise many memos.

Instead of stopping the fighting, the Obama White House let it persist, and even encouraged it—Obama’s team didn’t like Holbrooke, who had campaigned for Hillary Clinton. The only one to protect him and believe in his diplomatic genius was Clinton, but that wasn’t enough. Obama disliked him and sidelined him, while Lute and Jim Jones tried to get him fired. “The consequence was profound: The Obama White House failed to aggressively explore negotiations when it had the most boots on the battlefield,” Chandrasekaran writes. your social media marketing partner


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+10 # indian weaver 2012-07-04 15:48
Whoever has the biggest Dick (er, the same as the most heat seeking missiles and rocket launchers) wins. Being right is simply carryhing a big gun (witness Trayvon Martin's murder in Florida). Can I buy a dozen heat seeking missiles with associated software and hardware, how much and where (oh yes, in Mexico they are selling that stuff back to us that we sent to them)? What'll it take to wake up the U.S. Defense Dept, and all the U.S. soldiers who are endangering The People of amerika Leon Panetta is creating Patriots here in amerika by the minute who despise him and everything about him including his family, and creating 1000s of terrorists who hate our assess worldwide). Apocalypse Now, and it is now, is making a big comeback in private bunkers and gun shops daily, all across the land, before ammo becomes illegal. We all know that the USA failed in Afghanistan (and Iraq, and Viet Nam, and ...) a million ways, a million lives destroyed to make our politicians wealthier with our tax money laundered thru these fake police actions (not wars - just money laundering operations basically). Saying "6 ways" is just being polite.
+3 # RICHARDKANEpa 2012-07-04 19:09
Obama and the US lost a golden opportunity to get out when bin Laden died. Al Qaeda holds South Koreans and Filipinos and Chinese as hostages and pirates pick on everyone but the US, and China though China only defends Chinese ships.

If the currency starts collapsing before before the US starts to leave, al Qaeda taking hostages will collapse it faster no matter how the US responds.

Fortunately the US managed to surprise everyone by getting out of Iraq a month before Obama said we would stopping al Qaeda from a show off call.
+5 # Valleyboy 2012-07-05 04:24
The US is not "failing" in afghanstan.

The defence industry and their banking funders are making untold billions.

The CIA are selling the heroin to fund right wing paramilitary groups around the world.

Who knows, one day Unocal might even get their pipeline eh?!
+3 # futhark 2012-07-05 07:43
Let's get to the root of the problem: the Afghanistan invasion was made under false pretenses. Nothing that was happening in Afghanistan had any bearing on the 9/11 attacks. Once the people of the United States demand an objective and scientific investigation of 9/11, learn how they have been snookered into believing the lies of Cheney, Bush, and Obama, and have had their naive beliefs exploited for criminal purposes, they must require that the U.S. military forces be withdrawn and that Afghanistan be allowed to heal and follow its own destiny among nations.

Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth
+1 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-05 09:20
@ futhark

Yes. Thank you.
0 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-05 09:19
Remarkable reminder of a now lost Afghanistan (no, not that long ago, the pics were taken in 1969):

"Along the Silk Road

Before the long standing conflict in Afghanistan, one would be forgiven for thinking that a culturally and artistic civilization ever existed there. One would also be forgiven for not thinking that at one stage Kabul was ever called the Paris of Central Asia. During the 1960’s Kabul was developing a vibrant cosmopolitan mood that was once an exotic destination for the world’s fashion elite.

Kabul was emerging as a vibrant destination full of teaming traffic, fashionable stores, and an endless procession of young Americans and Europeans looking for adventure. Centuries old bazaars, Moghul gardens, museums and restaurants all added to this tapestry, along the so-called hippie trail.

They are a stunning set of photographs ... that paint a bright future for the country that has been ravaged by war.

The accompanying article also featured the Capital’s bright young things; amongst them a young fashion designer named Safia Tarzi.


The question arises, now after seeing these pictures is 'What would Afghanistan be like today, if there had been no wars?'"
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2012-07-05 11:22
All WARS Fail. There is nothing good about Wars. There is nothing Humane about War so why should it succeed.
I hope they all fail.
Military...the Brass should be on front lines instead of picking up paychecks and playing golf. Bout time they put their experience on the line instead of sacrificing Children. We are still savages, sacrificing Children,(not Government or Military Brass Kids) for our Greed.
Freedom to Pay Taxes so others live well and have Benefits. Freedom to work at substandard jobs, while Resucks sell our Jobs overseas. Freedom to watch Children die, commit suicide, have disease and health issues for what.
Pa has taken Welfare away from people.Corbett didn't give back the raises in the State, nope He took away money from people in rehab, with mental and physical problems to get even with slouchers and Democrats. Another child will be on the street, no roof, no food, no heat. Thanks Governor Corbett and your Slime Balls for reminding us why the USA should not be Republican run.

Reform...great word. Could help slimline all Agencies, rework slouched systems but no lets tear all programs for poor down with no alternatives.
Mr Corbett you can have my $60 a month, I hope you and yours choke on every cent of it. I wouldn't be on SSI if not for disability and now lack of jobs. I cannot work in slave market for Amazon and the like doing 12 hour shifts for lil better than minimum wage Thanks
+1 # wrodwell 2012-07-05 15:01
The Genius of Politicians in full display.
During the last 11 years, we've witnessed the Bush Administration' s perfidy and incompetence managing the two foreign wars along with a grotesque increase in "security" laws and secretive bureaucracies here at home. Then, along comes the feckless Obama Administration whose "change" has actually been to put the country on a parallel path with the Bush Administration' s practices. This is the legacy of our political "leadership" during the past 11 years. Incompetence and corruption at home and abroad; at least there's a certain consistency here. This 11 year period has seen the rise of a paranoid Big Brother-like security apparatus, two foreign wars that have financially devastated the country, unchecked and reckless banking practices that almost caused another Great Depression, all abetted by long-standing and unbridled political lobbying that has received iron clad reinforcement thanks to the not so Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision. The Heist is underway and is gathering steam like a snowball rolling downhill. As a result of these accumulated exigencies the country too, is on a downward spiral. If the country is to be "great" again, the citizenry better wake up before it's too late. Until then, in G$D We Trust.
+1 # stemonti 2012-07-05 20:48
I find the title (and the underlying premise) of the article rather wrong-headed, and here's why:
A compelling case can be made that the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was and is illegal (hence, a war crime). If someone wrote an article titled "6 ways Mr Smith failed to rob a bank", why would anybody other than bank robbers care to read it?

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