Deadly attack by Taliban tests new strategy

Deadly attack by Taliban tests new strategy

US commanders had been planning since late last year to abandon the small combat outpost in mountainous eastern Afghanistan where eight U.S. soldiers died Saturday in a fierce insurgent assault.

The pullout, part of a strategy of withdrawing from sparsely populated areas where the United States lacks the troops to expel Taliban forces and to support the local Afghan government, has been repeatedly delayed by a shortage of cargo helicopters, Afghan politics and military bureaucracy, U.S. military officials said.

The attack began in the early morning hours. Taliban-linked militiamen struck from the high ground using rifles, grenades and rockets against the outpost, a cluster of stone buildings set in a small Hindu Kush valley that has been manned by 140 U.S. and Afghan forces. By the end of a day-long siege, eight Americans and two Afghan security officers were dead, marking the highest toll for U.S. forces in over a year.

The deaths brought into stark relief the dilemma the Obama administration faces in Afghanistan. Without more soldiers and supplies, the Taliban and allied insurgents are gaining ground, but committing more forces could sink the country deeper into an increasingly deadly and unpopular war. [continued…]

‘Almost a lost cause’

Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 27 were wounded during the July 13, 2008, attack, which raged for several hours and was one of the bloodiest of the Afghan war. Among the dead was [1st Lt. Jonathan] Brostrom.

In recent months, the battle of Wanat has come to symbolize the U.S. military’s missteps in Afghanistan. It has provoked Brostrom’s father to question why Jonathan died and whether senior Army officers — including a former colleague and close friend — made careless mistakes that left the platoon vulnerable. It has triggered three investigations, the latest initiated last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And it has helped drive a broader reassessment of war strategy among top commanders in Afghanistan, who have begun to pull U.S. troops out of remote villages where some of the heaviest fighting has occurred. Senior military leaders have concluded that they lack the forces to wrest these Taliban strongholds away from the enemy and are instead focusing on more populated and less violent areas. [continued…]

McChrystal faulted on troop statements

National security adviser James L. Jones suggested Sunday that the public campaign being conducted by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan on behalf of his war strategy is complicating the internal White House review underway, saying that “it is better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who commands the 100,000 U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, warned bluntly last week in a London speech that a strategy for defeating the Taliban that is narrower than the one he is advocating would be ineffective and “short-sighted.” The comments effectively rejected a policy option that senior White House officials, including Vice President Biden, are considering nearly eight years after the U.S. invasion. [continued…]

The distance between ‘we must’ and ‘we can’

Over the next few weeks, Barack Obama must make the most difficult decision of his presidency to date: whether or not to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as his commanding general there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has reportedly proposed.

This summer, Mr. Obama described the effort in Afghanistan as “a war of necessity.” In such a war, you do whatever you need to do to win. But now, as criticism mounts from those who argue that the war in Afghanistan cannot, in fact, be won with more troops and a better strategy, the president is having second thoughts.

A war of necessity is presumably one that is “fundamental to the defense of our people,” as Mr. Obama has said about Afghanistan. But if such a war is unwinnable, then perhaps you must reconsider your sense of its necessity and choose a more modest policy instead. [continued…]

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