Obama Does Af-Pak.
True to his campaign promise, Barack Obama is escalating the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan. So far, he’s ordered an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan, and he’s now asking that Congress approve $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years.
The stated reason for this escalation is of course al Qaeda. Strengthened by recent Taliban victories, the President contends that al Qaeda is again planning to attack the United States. For this reason, the U.S. must “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan” and “prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
The problem with this claim is that al Qaeda isn’t really much of a threat, not anymore. As Robert Dreyfuss has reported, many former intelligence officials believe that the U.S. military all but obliterated the group shortly after 9/11. According to one former CIA operations officer: “We had a lot of success with airstrikes. We came in with B-52s and F-16s, and at Tora Bora we dropped a 15,000-pound device on them. We blew them to bits. If you wanted to do a body count, you would have needed to pick up the pieces with Q-Tips.”
Gary Bernsten, who headed the CIA unit responsible for capturing al Qaeda, recalls: “In Tora Bora we estimated there were about a thousand who fell back, and many of those were killed. They broke into two groups, finally. One group, of about 130, was captured in Pakistan. Another group, about 180 people, got away.”
Counterterrorism officials, Drefuss notes, “no longer believe that bin Laden has the ability to command cells of followers—let alone to plan, organize and manage large-scale terrorist actions.” In late 2006, Brian Jenkins of the RAND Corporation estimated that there were less than 500 total al Qaeda members. And this number included “a core of only tens to scores of individuals involved in managing this thing.”
Despite all this, Obama warns that “Al Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within,” which in turn poses a serious risk to the Afghan government. But, as Juan Cole reminds us, last summer Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the idea that al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan. When al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, Gates noted, “they had the partnership of a government. They had ready access to international communications, ready access to travel, and so on. Their circumstances in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and on the Pakistani side of the border are much more primitive. And it's much more difficult for them to move around, much more difficult for them to communicate."
All this kind of makes you wonder if this whole thing is really about al Qaeda after all. Pepe Escobar argues that it’s about oil, and I can’t say I think he’s wrong. (It’s no secret that U.S. politicians and oilmen have long been dreaming of building an oil pipeline in Afghanistan.)
Whatever the case, it seems clear that Obama’s war is going to make us less safe. You see, the terrorists are at war with us for one reason and one reason only: they hate what we’re doing to their fellow Muslims throughout the world. They hate that we support evil, Muslim-oppressing dictators in places like Egypt, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. They hate that we have troops stationed throughout the Middle East. They hate that we give billions upon billions of dollars to the murderous Israeli government. And they hate that our bombings and drone strikes are killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Islamists don’t blow up themselves up because they hate American values or because they want to propagate Islam. Islamic terrorism is a desperate and (obviously) perverted response to American terrorism. And until we end our terrorism, there’s no reason to believe that they will end theirs.
April 1, 2009
Adventures in Imperialism
Obama Does Af-Pak.