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US Striving to Regain Pakistan’s Trust: Admiral Mullen

WASHINGTON: The United States is working hard to regain Pakistan’s trust following years of estrangement in the pre-9/11 period, but the effort is going to take time, America’s top military officer said.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman Joint Chief Staff, said of regaining the Pakistanis’ trust.

“I’ve seen significant commitments in the whole of (US) government,” Mullen said in an interview at Aspen Security Forum, Colorado.

The military leader also said Pakistan was making extraordinary efforts to ensure the safety of its nuclear assets.

Strong relations with Pakistan are important to stamping out terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan that threatens the United States, Mullen added.

The admiral noted that he recently returned from his 18th trip to Pakistan since becoming chairman.

“I believe the leadership in Pakistan recognises the importance of how it all turns out in Afghanistan,” he stated.

“We are in agreement that Afghanistan needs to be stable and peaceful. How we get there and the long-term commitment is critical. That’s a huge part of the engagement strategy with Pakistan.”

The US and Nato strategy in Afghanistan is to dismantle the leadership of al-Qaeda to make the terrorist group ineffective, he said, adding that “the al-Qaeda leadership resides in Pakistan,” Mullen claimed.

Improving US-Pakistan relations that ebbed sharply in the 1990s — in the wake of the Soviet Union’s pullout from Afghanistan as a result of US-assisted fight by the Mujahideen — is important also in light of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, Mullen noted.
He said he has discussed the issue with the Pakistan army.

“These are the most important weapons in the Pakistani arsenal. That is understood by the leadership, and they are making extraordinary efforts to protect and secure them. These are their crown jewels. As much as we are focused on this (terrorism) threat (on the western border) and the Pakistanis are more focused than they used to be, they see a threat in India (on the eastern border) and (having nuclear weapons) is their deterrent. They see this as a huge part of their national security,” he remarked.

As for efforts by Iran and North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons, Mullen described a different situation.

“There isn’t any reason to trust (Iran),” he said. “There is an uncertainty associated with Iran that is very consistent with Iran for a long time.”

North Korea’s desire for nuclear weapons and its increasing aggressiveness are causes for concern, the chairman said.

Mullen said he had put North Korea at the top of the list of nuclear proliferation concerns.

It is important to continue sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and other countries that ignore international law on nuclear weapons, Mullen said.

Stanley McChrystal’s war path on White House

  • Stanley McChrystal — the Runaway General
  • Excerpts from the Rolling Stone interview with General Stanley McChrystal
  • The White House must decide whether stability in the war effort outweighs the need to discipline the commander.
  • As President Obama weighs whether to relieve his Afghanistan commander over inappropriate comments in a magazine article, he is also wrestling with the future of a war that he has taken on as his own.
  • If he fires Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Obama will be forced to consider revising his strategy, which relies on large numbers of U.S. troops and a far-reaching counterinsurgency effort to promote governance and development in Afghanistan.
  • The White House now has to decide whether stability at the top of the war effort outweighs the need to discipline a commander who twice has seemed to publicly challenge civilian oversight of the war.

The article in this week’s Rolling Stone depicted Gen Stanley McChrystal – the top US military commander in Afghanistan – as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to persuade even some of his own soldiers that his strategy could win the war.

The interview describes McChrystal as “disappointed” in his first Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama. The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. “McChrystal thought Obama looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated’ by the roomful of military brass,” said the magazine about the general’s first meeting with his new commander-in-chief, a week after the latter took office.

McChrystal’s one-on-one meeting with the president a few months later did not go much better either. “It was a 10-minute photo-op,” the magazine quotes an adviser to McChrystal. “The Boss was pretty disappointed,” the aide had said, referring to the general.

The Rolling Stone article, which quotes several McChrystal aides anonymously, portrays a split between the US military and Obama’s advisers at an extremely sensitive moment for the Pentagon, which is fending off criticism of its strategy to turn around the Afghanistan war.

  • Firing McChrystal would also probably ignite fierce debate in Congress, with some Republicans charging that Obama had sacrificed an effective wartime commander because of comments that, while intemperate, did not challenge the course set by civilians.
  • Opponents in Congress of the current strategy would probably respond by pressing even harder for a shift in strategy.
  • In December, Obama essentially sided with McChrystal, who recommended a troop buildup and a dedicated counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.
  • And he rebuffed, at least for the moment, Vice President Joe Biden and other advisors, who expressed skepticism about the strategy.
  • Obama set a July 2011 deadline for beginning a troop drawdown in Afghanistan and promised to review the strategy in December — in effect giving McChrystal a year to show results.
  • McChrystal’s approach already has been under fire, because stabilization efforts have proved less successful than expected in Helmand province and the general has extended an operation around the city of Kandahar because of delays in getting Afghan support.
  • Officials who back the current strategy say that firing McChrystal would set back that effort even further.

Obama appointed McChrystal to lead the Afghan effort in May 2009. He was, however, not happy with the proposals the general was making – calling, among other things, for another 40,000 troops – to avoid a ‘mission failure’, writes the magazine.

“The White House was furious. McChrystal, they felt, was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president’s ass,” states the Rolling Stone piece.

“I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article. “I was selling an un-sellable position,” he added.

Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan only after months of study, which many in the military found frustrating. And the White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counter-insurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.

A diplomatic incoherence among several officials in the Obama administration dealing with the war in Afghanistan, opines the magazine, has effectively allowed McChrystal’s team to call the shots and “hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan”.

The magazine goes on, “part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a ‘clown’ who remains ‘stuck in 1985′.”

“Politicians like [John] McCain and [John] Kerry, says another aide, ‘turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticise him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful,” quotes the magazine.

Only US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystals advisers. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” an adviser tells Rolling Stone, adding, “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs’.”

The assessment of McChrystal’s team of Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the official charged with the reintegration of the Taliban is not nearly as rosy: “‘The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal’,” the magazine quotes a member of the general’s team. “‘Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He’s a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, [and] pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto’,” quotes the magazine.

McChrystal, says the magazine, does not bother concealing his annoyance over the diplomat. “At one point during a trip to Paris, he checks his BlackBerry. ‘Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke’, he groans. ‘I don’t even want to open it’, he says. He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket.”

McChrystal, a widely respected former special operations chief, has enjoyed mostly sympathetic US media coverage since he took over the NATO-led force last year with a mandate from Obama to launch a major counter-insurgency offensive.

In the interview, McChrystal said he felt betrayed by US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner. If Eikenberry had the same doubts, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counter-insurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“‘Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books’,” McChrystal told the magazine, adding, “‘Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so’.”

  • The most logical successor would be Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who is already in Afghanistan serving as McChrystal’s deputy. Replacing McChrystal with Rodriguez would signal continuity, rather than a shift in approach.
  • Another name being mentioned as a possible successor was Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. He has command combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Even if he remains the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal is almost certain to emerge from the furor as a damaged figure, less able to defend his war strategy against those in the administration hoping to change it.
  • “I strongly believe McChrystal will return, but the damage is done,” said a senior military official sympathetic to McChrystal.
  • Among the issues Obama will have to decide is whether McChrystal can remain effective as commander in the wake of the furor.
  • “Does he come back weakened or gun shy or hesitant to make that case?” asked one senior official. “We need him engaged.”

The article depicts the strained relationship between McChrystal and Eikenberry. “According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can’t stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He’s also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO’s allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general.”

The job instead went to British ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal’s influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival.

“‘In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight’,” the magazine quotes a US official familiar with the negotiations.

The Rolling Stone article appeared to catch him and his staff in unguarded moments, including a drinking session at an Irish pub in Paris.

In the article, McChrystal joked sarcastically about rehearsing an answer for US Vice-president Joe Biden, known as a sceptic of the general’s strategy of hurling thousands more troops into the fray.

“‘Are you asking about Vice President Biden?’ McChrystal says with a laugh.

‘Who’s that?’” the article quotes him as saying. “‘Biden?’ suggests a top adviser. ‘Did you say: Bite Me?’”

Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan – the brainchild of McChrystal – will see NATO and US numbers peak at 150,000 later this year before a draw-down scheduled to start next year.

Afghan War Becoming a Bloody Farce

Since last summer, President Obama has publicly doubted whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corruption and incompetence make him a fit partner for our policy goals in Afghanistan. Now, according to Saturday’s New York Times:

“Mr. Karzai (has) lost faith in the Americans and NATO to prevail in Afghanistan.”

Regretfully, both presidents are correct. Neither of them has a national partner in whom he can place any reasonable confidence. The two governments cannot agree on a common fighting strategy. Nor can those facts be materially changed in time to make a difference, given President Obama’s firm commitment to start withdrawing troops no later than the middle of next year.

The current price for staying is approximately one American troop fatality a day (plus several wounded and an undisclosed number of killed and wounded American contract employees). British troops are being killed at the same rate proportional to their troop level. The fatality rate for the remainder of NATO forces (proportionally) is about one-fifth the Anglo-American level of sacrifice.

As these truths become more broadly understood and accepted, I think more Americans — Republicans and Democrats, hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives — will come around to the lamentable conclusion that a continued, substantial U.S. militarily presence inAfghanistan will do no good for the United States or the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.

As the New York Times article Saturday went on to observe regarding Mr. Karzai’s state of mind:

People close to [Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011. ‘Karzai told me that he can’t trust the Americans to fix the situation here,’ said a Western diplomat in Kabul. … He believes they stole his legitimacy during the elections last year. And then they said publicly that they were going to leave.

I made this same point three months ago in this space when I reiterated my call from November for us to get out of Afghanistan:

If we need a credible ‘local partner,’ our local partner needs a reliable, supportive ‘large brother’ (to wit: the United States). But by first hesitating to support Mr. Karzai, then saying we will support him — but only for 18 months, then publicly admonishing him to end the endemic corruption, then leaking the fact that his own brother is a major drug smuggler, we have undermined and infuriated him, without whom we cannot succeed inAfghanistan.

Then this spring, as the toxic relations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai became the subject of newspaper headlines rather than mere diplomatic gossip, Mr. Obama invited Mr. Karzai to the White House to be treated right royal. Fine food and fine words could not undo the fatal damage done to the alliance by the public White House words of the previous year. Mr. Karzai was intent on undoing American policy, and he has succeeded.

The essence of Mr. Obama and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s strategy for counterinsurgency and “population-centric” mini-nation-building was to: (1) Build up allied troop levels quickly, (2) as a first step, drive the Taliban out of Marja, an insignificant town of 60,000 in Helmand province, and set up some governance to demonstrate the feasibility of our “clear, hold and build”strategy , and (3) go on in June to execute the Kandahar Offensive, which would overwhelm and replace the Taliban in their spiritual homeland stronghold. Gen. McChrystal called this the “decisive” battle of the nine-year-old Afghan war. But as early as April, the London Times reported, “Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, threatens to block NATO offensive (in Kandahar).” This entire strategy was premised on inducing Mr. Karzai to let us help him set up minimally competent local governance on which the local people could rely. It was openly said that we would get rid of Mr. Karzai’s powerful mobster brother, Wali, in Kandahar as a necessary precondition for good governance.

But Mr. Karzai, who had lost faith in the U.S., didn’t cooperate. No decent governance could be set up in Marja, where Taliban executions of U.S. friendly locals are being carried out in daylight, in public.

Mr. Karzai has refused to remove his brother, and the White House has moved up the date to judge our success in Afghanistan from June 2011 to December 2010. U.S. Brig. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, director of operations for southern Afghanistan, told the London Times: “Our mission is to show irreversible momentum by the end of 2010. That’s the clock I’m using.” Gen. McChrystal has shifted hisstrategy away from population-centric nation-building to Special Forces night raids against the Taliban.

Then, last week, Gen. McChrystal begrudgingly announced, “The Kandahar operation (previously scheduled to ramp up in June and largely conclude by August) will unfold more slowly and last longer than the military had planned.” According to British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, who commands allied forces in Kandahar, “One would hope that by November-time, one is demonstrating positive trends.”

Thomas Paine, during the Revolutionary War, argued in The Crisis that there are serious moments in the life of a country when “to deceive is to destroy; and it is of little consequence, in the conclusion, whether men deceive themselves, or submit, by a kind of mutual consent, to the impositions of each other.”

We are at such a moment in this forlorn war in Afghanistan. Only self-deception can justify the continued sacrifice of our finest young men and women in uniform. Given the two presidents in command and their irreversible dispositions toward this war and each other, failure is virtually inevitable. For a lesson in how wartime allied presidents ought to struggle to work together for victory, consider the Franklin D. Roosevelt/Winston Churchill partnership.

What is not inevitable is the number of American (and allied) troops who must die before failure becomes undeniable.