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Robert Naiman

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With Training in Disarray, Secretary Clinton Can Shorten the War and Save Sgt. Bergdahl

Posted: 09/06/2012 5:26 pm

The front page of Sunday's Washington Post reports that the senior commander for Special Operations forces in Afghanistan "has suspended training for all new Afghan recruits until more than 27,000 Afghan troops working with his command can be re-vetted for ties to the insurgency."

Afghan troops and police have killed 45 NATO soldiers this year, forcing NATO officials to acknowledge that "Many of the incidents might have been prevented if existing security measures had been applied correctly," the Post says. Insider attacks are responsible for nearly 15 percent of this year's coalition fatalities.

"The vetting process for Afghan soldiers and police was never properly implemented, and NATO officials say they knew it," the Post says. Officials now say that the laxity in security that was for years the norm is no longer acceptable, the Post says. This begs the question: why was it acceptable before?

For a decade, coalition officials watched as Afghan security services overlooked key elements of the vetting process -- sometimes for the sake of expediency and sometimes because of corruption.

Many Afghans, even those who were vetted, were never issued official badges, making it impossible to tell who was supposed to have access to any particular facility. In Helmand province, thousands of Afghan police officers lack identification cards, according to U.S. officials.

"For years, there have been thousands of guys without proper identification. Our troops had no way of knowing who they were, or if they picked up their uniform in a bazaar," said a U.S. official...

Is there anyone who still dares to claim that we have to do whatever the generals say, when it is obvious that the generals act to deceive when they claim that everything is going fine, according to their plans? They continue to insist that everything is going fine, until some screw-up becomes so spectacular that they finally have to do something about it. And when they finally act, this always begs the question: if you're so on top of everything, why didn't you enact this reform before, and save the lives of American troops, which you claim to hold dear?

If we learn nothing else from this episode, we must learn this: we must stop behaving as if the word of the generals is the word of God.

And it's crucial that we learn this lesson right away, because this week the generals and their amen corner in Congress are pressing Secretary of State Clinton to make a decision that is likely to prolong the war, and to keep a U.S. soldier in captivity and in danger of being killed by a U.S. drone strike longer than necessary.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Clinton faces a Congressionally-imposed deadline this week on whether to designate the Haqqani network -- part of the Afghan Taliban -- as a terrorist group. Some U.S. officials say doing so would make it more difficult to restart peace talks with the Taliban, and obstruct a prisoner exchange with the Taliban that would free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held since 2009 by the Haqqanis.

Officials in the White House and the State Department are pushing back against the military, the Post says. They say designation would be symbolic and would have little real impact, and that the military is using the Haqqanis as an excuse to deflect attention from the military's own failure to achieve what it claimed it could achieve when it demanded that Obama send more troops to Afghanistan.

A U.S. official who opposes designation says it would only make peace negotiations harder:

Administration policy "heavily depends on a political solution," this official said. "Why not do everything we can to promote that? Why create one more obstacle, which is largely symbolic in nature?"

What does "heavily depends on a political solution" mean? It means that the administration is counting on the ability, at some point, to achieve a political agreement or agreements with some or all of the Afghan Taliban. There is no plausible story that the training program now underway will be adequate to deal with the insurgency if there is no political agreement. But if there were a political agreement, so that most of the insurgency were removed from the battlefield by political means, then the training program underway could be sufficient to help deal with any remaining holdouts. After a political process ended the bulk of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland, a group of holdouts emerged, calling themselves "the Real IRA," and continued to carry out armed actions. After a political deal in Afghanistan, perhaps a "Real Taliban" will emerge and continue to carry out armed actions. The training program now underway could deal with that. It cannot deal with anything like the present insurgency.

If you want to know why we're still at war in Afghanistan, long after most people have given up on it, a key fact to realize is this: the only way the war is going to end is through peace talks. Who obstructs peace talks prolongs the war.

If you wanted to pass legislation in Congress saying that the war is great and should continue indefinitely, you couldn't do it. The war is too unpopular: even Republican convention-goers applaud when Clint Eastwood mocks it. So, if you want to prolong the war, what you do instead is you obstruct peace talks and the prisoner exchange. It's a stealth means of prolonging the war.

And this is why it would be really useful right now if some people in Congress would speak up. It would be great if a few people in Congress would have the fortitude to clear their throats and say: "Dear Secretary of State Clinton: we understand that peace talks and the prisoner exchange -- and therefore an earlier end to the war and the release of Sgt. Bergdahl -- would be threatened by designating the Haqqani network a terrorist group. Please don't do it."

"Never waste a good crisis," Secretary Clinton has said. Now she should heed her own counsel. She should take advantage of the military's spectacular failure in the training program to thwart their plans to scotch diplomacy and prolong the war.

 

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