Obama Trips Up On Al Qaeda

Redwood Valley


On Thursday, September 24, 2009 President Barack Obama vowed in a speech to the UN General Assembly “not to permit safe heaven for Al-Qaeda to launch attacks from Afghanistan. In confronting them, America will forge lasting partnerships to target terrorists, share intelligence, coordinate law enforcement, and protect our people. He declared his administration’s strong economic support to Pakistan, a front line ally in the fight against terrorism. We have set a clear and focused goal: to work with all members of this body to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies’ a network that has killed thousands of people of many faiths and nations, and that plotted to blow up this very building”.


Oddly enough, General Stanley McChrystal, who is in charge of US and NATO counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan directly contradicted the President’s findings in a speech on the 8th anniversary of 9/11 attacks: He said that: “I see no indication of any large Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan”. The US currently has more than 47,000 troops on the ground and is building towards a total strength of 68,000 by year-end. All of these troops are engaged in battle with Taliban and Pashtoon tribal insurgency, none are fighting directly with Al Qaeda. Nevertheless, McChrystal, who seemed oblivious of having dismissed the President’s ostensible raison d’etre for the conflict, continued to defend the war, maintaining that it was winnable given increased effort and insisting that, while he had no evidence to back it up, he “strongly believes” our actions have prevented other terroris attacks.

All of this has left us a bit confused, so we went back to read the good General’s report to the Pentagon concerning the need for more troops to win the war. We expected that this would more clearly support the Administration’s objectives. While this report has not been made ‘public’ for fear of restricting Obama’s freedom to choose amongst various sources of advice, it was deliberately leaked to Bob Woodward, the highest profile investigative reporter in Washington. The leak was designed to gain maximum publicity and was snatched up by all the main stream media immediately. You might think that leaking a report the President had not seen would result in General McChrystal’s immediate dismissal or at least a rebuke. But the Pentagon had apparently reviewed and approved the leak and McChrystal is planning to testify about it before Congress quite soon.


So what did this ‘purloined’ report actually say about increasing our forces and gaining victory in Afghanistan? “Greater resources will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the ‘new’ strategy. Conversely inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a strategy the mission should not be resourced.” Wandering without a map through this thicket of Pentagon-ese, (do they teach this as ‘creative writing’ at West Point?) we called upon Strategic Forecasting, Inc., more commonly known as STRATFOR, a ‘global intelligence company” that Barron’s calls “The Shadow CIA”. They were quick to explain that “The serving commander of all US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is saying that without more troops, the mission likely will fail. There is no ambiguity here. The most important point is that nowhere does it say that with more troops the US will win. Adding to this is the logical inference that General McChrystal, a very sharp and capable commander, will not command any expanded force in Afghanistan unless there is a new strategy as well.” Maybe Obama will tell us about this ‘new strategy’ in one of those marvelous rhetorical creations that are so far his only notable legacy.

HOW DID WE GET THIS FAR? 1978 – 1980: US poured $5 billions into support for Islamist guerillas lead by Osama bin Laden to fight against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan with major tactical assistance from Pakistan.

1989: Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan after the loss of 1.5 million Afghan lives and the wrecking of Afghan society.

1990 – 2000: US loses interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taliban seizes power in Afghanistan and imposes its own brand of Moslem fundamentalism.

2001: US decides to retaliate for 9/11 attacks by carpet bombing Kabul and driving the Taliban from power, although not a single Afghan was involved in the 9/11 attack. Al Qaeda, initially a Saudi financed terrorist group led by the former US ‘asset’ Osama bin Laden, is declared the mastermind of 9/11.

2003 – 2006: US withdraws much of its military from Afghanistan and concentrates upon the Iraqi war. War lords and corrupt politicians assume the reins of government in Kabul but Taliban insurgency regains strength out in the countryside. Osama bin Laden continues to elude capture and is all but forgotten in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

2009: Obama makes the war in Afghanistan his own and searches for a rationale to justify the loss of 840 US soldiers and 575 NATO troops, plus the expenditure of nearly $200 billion during a time of economic recession at home.


In Afghanistan we are fighting a mixture of Taliban fundamentalists and Pashtoon patriots intent upon getting back control of their own country. They are winning the fight and are estimated to have established a permanent presence in 80% of the country, up from 54% last year. (GlobalSecurity.org.) At the same time, STRATFOR feels Al Qaeda itself is “continuing a serious decline” and may not any longer be a force to reckon with on either side of the border. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says that Al Qaeda has significantly diminished influence in Pakistan and Foreign Office statements support his assessment. STRATFOR feels that “Al Qaeda is changing from a centralized organization with global goals to a regional ‘franchise’ with more parochial aims.” In other words, small autonomous bases in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and elsewhere may blow up a hotel, a government building or a logistics depot now and then, but that’s about it.

Within Pakistan, Al Qaeda operatives have been involved in bombings and assassinations mainly in urban areas and may have engineered the murder of Benazir Bhutto last year. However, they are not an equipped military force capable of being of tangible assistance to the Taliban. Our special US State Department representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke tried last week to give Obama a boost by suggesting that: “Al Qaeda is still there, ever dangerous and publicly asking people to attack the United States and publicly asking nuclear engineers to give them nuclear secrets from Pakistan”. This was at a reception in Washington hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Afghanistan (IndianExpress.com. 09/16/09). I had to wonder if Holbrooke thinks Osama bin Laden might have a mini-Los Alamos squirreled away somewhere in the Bora-Boras that can readily convert these coveted nuclear secrets into a deliverable bomb.

Back in Iraq, where we once considered Al Qaeda the principle thorn in our side, they are no longer considered a threat to the existence of the Iraqi State: They have fallen out of favor after being abandoned by the Sunnis back in 2006. (Joel Wing, The Progressive Realist 09/02/09). However, they are still capable of individual attacks upon hotels, government buildings and military installations and this is to our advantage since it keeps fear alive in the US media.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a defense and foreign policy expert at the Libertarian CATO Institute in Washington asks: “If Al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan, why on earth are we in Afghanistan? We went there to defeat Al-Qaeda. If this isn’t the arena for Al-Qaeda anymore, then our mission seems to have no rational purpose whatever. Even if the Taliban were able to re-establish control, it’s not at all certain that they would allow Al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a training and logistical base again. After all, the Taliban were driven from power because of their association with Al-Qaeda back in 2001.” (NPR 9/24/09)

Poor rational Mr. Carpenter: he is not able to see that our mission was never about Al Qaeda, but always about reaffirming US military dominance in the Middle East and Central Asia so we can start pipelining gas from the Middle East through Afghanistan (soon to be renamed Pipeline-istan) all the way to India. If Al Qaeda is nearly dead then we’ll resuscitate them to keep the fear alive. We must insist upon a submissive government in Afghanistan as we do in Iraq (where we are keeping hold of five huge military bases indefinitely). Our most immediate task in Kabul is to pull an attractive Afghan carpet over Karzai’s election rigging and the corruption that seem endemic to all our diplomatic triumphs. Imagine Afghanistan as another client state like Egypt and Jordan: then we can get down to the serious work of laying pipe!